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The Cost of Hesitation

Posted by Scott Litman on Jun 14, 2017 11:10:11 AM

The line between new tech and now tech disappears fast, and takes latecomers with it.

It’s summer, which means families will be hitting the highways for an old-school American road trip...but not without one indispensable tool: an oversized paper road atlas, that ubiquitous guide to American motorways!

Except... no. Dad got a GPS back in ‘03 and what was once a classic tool and a staple solution became completely irrelevant. When you stop to think about it, it happens all the time. In marketing, it’s happening right now. A machine-learning assistant like Lucy is new territory, but you’re doing your job well enough without her now, right? Why not wait and see if this technology catches on?

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That ignores a big lesson from history: technological advances really do come in leaps, not increments. When you hesitate while your competition is leaping, you never regain your old place in the pack. Let’s take a look at five big technological advances from a competitor’s perspective.


Your competition: Making deliveries using a horse-drawn buggy.

You: Invest in a Ford Model T.

End result: You’re increasing your route, and your rivals switch their business model to providing pony rides at kids’ birthday parties.


Your competition: Thriftily staying connected while out of the office using public payphones and a pocketful of nickels and dimes; or more likely, not doing so, because can’t it wait until office hours?

You: Invest in mobile communications for your team, so they can be responsive throughout the global workday and operate as a unit without having to be in the same building.

End result: Your business has expanded across oceans by the time your competitor’s people get their first Blackberrys.


Your competition: Training for the big race accompanied by 10-14 motivating tunes, courtesy your Sony Discman.

You: It’s intimidating at first, but you figure out how to get your CD library onto your computer and then into your shiny new iPod. You’re soon lacing up your sneakers and seeing how many albums you can run to before your legs give out.

End result: On the day of the 10K, you glide across the finish line in record time—after all, you’ve never been in better shape now that your workout sessions are joyous celebration rhythm/movement synchronicity. Meanwhile, your competitor hasn’t made gains since the last time you faced off—she’s not only far behind you, for some          reason, she’s skipping. 


Your competition: Plans, memos, correspondence—all brainpower output is routed through secretaries armed with IBM Selectric typewriters

You: Invest in desktop computers with word processing capability.

End result: Your labor costs go down, productivity goes up, and the only talent your competitor can recruit are hoping that retirement will come before they absolutely have to learn computers.


Your competition: Creating a brochure is as easy as putting the art department, with its giant drafting tables and typesetters, on the task.

You: Invest in desktop computers with programs that create perfect layouts, plus laser printers to bring them to life from inside the office.

End Result: The cost of making a mistake drops to nothing as errors are easy to correct—which means a truly perfect end product, with last-minute improvements and adaptations, has never been more affordable. And while your competitor is waiting on the printer, you're saving money while getting immediate results.


The lesson? Technology has a way of upsetting the behind-the-scenes way things get done. People and businesses might still just be going from Point A to Point B, but the ones who seize on the ways to do it faster and better are the ones who will be around in the future—and with the seismic shifts new tech creates, the “future” might only mean “two years.” After years of hearing about the potential of AI, the tech is finally becoming a trusted daily presence in the workplaces of early adopters; the old way of doing things is soon to be in the rearview mirror. So, if you take kids on a long road trip this summer, tell them about Rand McNally, Kodak moments, and checking the change slot on a payphone...and enjoy the things that will never be obsolete, like national parks, bug spray, and AAA.

Topics: Insider