Change takes time, but change also gives us time - time we can use wisely to make sure we are bringing the kind of change the world actually needs.
It was the third day of our first business trip to London, spring 1995. I huddled with colleagues in a cafe outside a convention center, getting ready for the next meeting. On the table sat our paver-stone heavy laptops surrounded by cups of tea.
We - uncivilized 20-somethings, clanking up the first rise of the dot.com roller coaster - had gotten way too enamored with English tea. Were we more change-stressed than we knew? Taking refuge in the comforting timelessness of tea? Whatever the case, we ordered it incessantly, going overboard with the cream and sugar, begging for refills.
"It's not a meal," a waiter gently chided, after one-too-many requests for more cucumber sandwiches.
Another round of tea was on the way. The waiter arrived with a porcelain pitcher of cream precariously balanced on a small saucer. It rattled ominously.
As the waiter reached across the table to set down the pitcher and saucer, the pitcher tumbled off the saucer and splashed its creamy contents all over my laptop, obscuring the screen and keyboard. Slowly the keys emerged as the white cream sunk into the crevices. On instinct, I removed the battery. Cream oozed into the battery bay.
The waiter apologized and disappeared.
We called our legal team, not thinking about what time it was back in our DC office. They picked up immediately (because when the junior team calls from overseas, that's what you do).
"Should we tell them they owe us for damages?" We asked, excited about the prospect of international litigation.
"Gentlemen, do NOT say any such thing."
"Are you sure???" I mean come on, this was an expensive laptop!
"It's probably insured," he replied and told us not to worry about it. He instructed us to put the creamy computer in a garbage bag and bring it home when we returned stateside (It smelled like a zombie cheese factory when we unwrapped it for the IT Support team).
I remembered this trip just the other night when I logged off for the day, and had this small moment of "Well that worked out nicely"...All the connectivity: the remote access, virtual desktop stuff, all the Zoom and MS Teams calls etc, They'd had actually gone really well, even with stakeholders and partners scattered around the country.
For some reason, my mind ran back to the infamous 1995 London trip, the ruined laptop - and specifically, the kind of connectivity we had to deal with back then:
We spent evenings in our hotel rooms with our heavy crude laptops, dialing in - yes dialing overseas with a 2400 baud modem - to our company's PineMail server back in Washington DC, so we could keep up with work.
The phone bill for that trip exceeded the cost of the hotel stay.
If you had come to our team back then and tried to describe MS Teams, Zoom, Slack, iPhones, Airpods, ChatGPT, Crypto not to mention this new instantiation of open-source-friendly Microsoft (WHAT!) it would have sounded like a fantasy. A world where being connected is the norm not the (very expensive) exception? A world with on-demand voice and video and more data and content than we could ever consume? What a dream.
30 years and a pandemic later, we've got it.
The Time it takes
You could say that's the unfortunate thing: Things take time.
But this also might be the fortunate thing: Things take time...Time we can use wisely:
- A lot of changes in the last 30 years came with unwanted side effects that had not been thought through.
- As the world speeds up, and the stakes get higher, a more thoughtful kind of innovation is required.
Between now and the future we dream of, let's use every day we have to diligently lead the right kind of change. The kind of change that is needed by our communities and our world.
Things seem far off in the future and impossible, and then before we know it, they're here. What we do in the intervening time we have can make all the difference.
Thank you for your dedication to leading change in the role you have, and in the corner of the world where you work!