Change…We Deal With It Not Because It’s Easy, But Because It’s Hard

Many years ago, rookie baseball umpire Durwood Merrill found himself behind the plate for a game when legendary fastball pitcher Nolan Ryan was on the mound. The second pitch of the game was so fast that Merrill never saw it. He froze, unable to make the call. Finally, he yelled, “Strike!” The batter then backed out of the box, looked over at Merrill and said, “Ump, don’t feel bad, I didn’t see the ball either!”

You know, the whole world is like that today. Change is happening so fast that none of us can see its impacts clearly. Yet all of us—inspectors, code officials, plan reviewers, businessmen, researchers, sales people, installers—all of us still have to do an essential job every day as we pass through a period of unprecedented change of a magnitude and on a scale the world has not seen before.

As each of you experience on a daily basis, we are living in a world of great expectations and great potential opportunity, where speed, agility and the ability to change and adapt rapidly are absolutely essential to success. It is a world in which survival is by no means assured, where the prize will go to the quickest and the smartest, or to those who persevere the hardest.

We, my friends, are living in a world in which your current practices and policies, developed with the greatest of care yesterday, can be outdated or not even apply tomorrow. We share a world where yesterday’s research and numerous code provisions and standards may no longer apply to all of the new constructions and systems of today.

I am reminded of a bush pilot who landed at a mountain airstrip to pick up a hunter who had been camping for a week. The hunter had bagged two moose and he insisted that he wanted to take both of them with him.

“I can’t do that,” the pilot told him. “With you, your gear and both moose, the plane won’t clear that mountain; it’ll be far too heavy.”

The hunter insisted, “I shot two moose last year and the pilot put both of them on the plane.” So, they loaded both moose and took off. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, they didn’t make it; the plane crashed into the mountainside. No one was injured, and the pilot stumbled from the wreckage and looked around, asking, “Where are we?”

The hunter looked around and said, “We’re about a mile further than we were last year.”

The development of new methods, new products and systems, the changes brought about by continuing innovation and new business procedures are like that. We cannot let past failures frighten us. We might crash a few times, but with each attempt we get a little further, we do a little better, and eventually we get over the mountain.

Many great events of the past—like the collapse of communism, man walking on the moon, NAFTA, and continuing improvements in construction technology—have all combined to help change the world. As a result, for the first time in memory, almost every country on the planet has a market-oriented economic system, and they are all attempting to be players in the global marketplace for goods, technology, services, and capital.

Many of us remember that just before the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989), according to the Hoover Analysis, “Almost 70 percent of mankind was living under Marxist and Socialist economic systems, which greatly inhibited trade, research and investment. But then came the great changes of the decade, and suddenly there were about three billion more people in the capitalist system.”

Stop and think about that. In the past few decades, a whole new world has been born—a world that is helping to fuel the need for better and more flexible responses to the demand for new products, revised products, improved methods and systems created by the more sophisticated buildings and structures and infrastructures that we build and occupy today. The demand to supply safe, quality materials and better systems never seems to stop. You see that in the constant essential changes that occur in the electrical codes with which many of you work (although I am not so sure all the things that we change and tinker with always need radical treatment!). It is a global need that fuels the demand for these changes.

So, the process of change is ongoing and continuous throughout all of our businesses—and it must be so for us to compete in this competitive and continually changing world.

Leaders in Technology

As business people, engineers, designers, sales people and inspectors, competing in this great new fractured world of endless possibilities, we are out on the cutting edge of competition and we’ve got the ultimate weapon—the very best technology in the world.

This in no way means that we do not need new ideas. We not only need them, but we need better ideas, and we need to develop them faster. We need to executive them faster. That is central to what we should be about: the ongoing and never-ending efforts to do what we do more efficiently, more creatively, and more safely.

It has been my good fortune to be a part of the construction industry and our regulatory system for over 40 years, and I have learned that the demands for research and new methods and systems frequently are more severe, and they occur more rapidly than we can generally anticipate. So to be sure, there will probably be more demands and more unique changes to which we all must respond as the 21st century now unfolds—more than we, individually or collectively, can anticipate or imagine.

During my last 34 years at the Reedy Creek Improvement District, one of my primary responsibilities was to consider and respond to the constant need for new products and systems that would assist Walt Disney World as it continued to develop new attractions, resorts, and infrastructures. As a unique local government providing services ranging from communications to fire service to roads to electrical power to building inspections and environmental services, we were and still are in the process of dealing with change. Those concerns have ranged from the appropriate use of various cables in plenum spaces and overhead ceiling and concealed spaces, to fire resistivity of cables, to limitations on the accumulation of cables in buildings—all areas where there are no fixed, guaranteed regulations that are not subject to change by the prevailing authority having jurisdiction. These simple examples of the types of change that affect us all are but a drop in the bucket to what you deal with every day. It seems, and quite appropriately so, that industry is always introducing and testing new technology—and that is as it should be!

You must also deal with software changes, marketing changes, regulations, driving environmental issues, personnel management changes, and especially the pressures, both private and public, to produce our work-product “faster–better–cheaper.” That’s not new, but it is more pronounced now than ever before. These are not unbearable burdens, just typical of the issues that we will all deal with sooner or later. The question is, “How will we handle the challenges of this century, like bad tasting medicine or like an invigorating tonic?”

Change Is Inevitable

I’m sure that we all remember the visions we had as kids when we pictured the 21st century as a time when we’d strap on our jet backpacks and zoom into the sky to get to work or to meet friends for lunch, or we pictured ourselves working in a place so filled with flashing lights and technology that we’d simply push buttons and twist dials all day. Now that may happen, we’ve got 97 years to get it done, but in the meantime we’ve got to respond to the needs of the real world as it exists and changes.

Let’s consider the options available to us as we respond to the changes we will face. We can cope with change, adapt to change, or exploit change, or we can actually create change…on purpose.

There are people who think of change in terms of just coping with the situation. They respond with a victim mentality. Their common reactions to the need for change are pessimism, or the attitude to “”just hang on…someone else will take care of everything. Those people talk about how hard things are, and why they cannot make things work. They believe the demand for change will pass and if they wait long enough things will return to “normal.” Well, I’m here to tell them that things are moving ahead, and that things in this decade will never be normal, as we’ve come to recognize them.

A backwoods farmer, sitting on the steps of his tumbledown shack, was approached by a stranger who stopped for a drink of water. “How’s your wheat coming along?” asked the stranger.

“Didn’t plant none.”

“Really?”” I thought this was good wheat country.”

“Afraid it wouldn’t rain enough.”

“Oh, well, how’s the corn crop?”

“Ain’t got none,” said the farmer.

“Didn’t you plant any corn either?” “Nope, ‘fraid of corn blight.”

“For heaven’s sake,” said the stranger, “What did you plant?”

“Nothin’,” said the farmer, “I just played it safe.”

I suggest to you that we cannot afford to play it safe. We must keep on finding new and better ways, new and better codes and more efficient methods.

Another group of people display an adjustment mentality. They don’t like the change that is occurring, but they grudgingly try to accommodate the changes. They adapt. They just go with the flow. They aren’t going to make a lot of effort to improve, do research, or effect any kind of solution; they just resign themselves to accept the inevitable.

I remember the story of the old janitor at my church who always seemed to please everybody. In spite of conflicting needs throughout the campus, he always seemed to be smiling and going ahead with his work. One day someone asked him what made him so successful in pleasing so many bosses and he slowly leaned on his broom and said, “Well…I just puts myself in neutral and goes wherever I’m pushed.”

Although it seemed to solve his problems, that method won’t work for you and me. We cannot afford to be in neutral, but rather we’ve got to realize that regardless of how far behind the change curve we are, there is a need to keep on keeping on. A man stopped to watch a little league baseball game and as he watched he turned to the youngster closest to him and asked what the score was.

“We’re behind fifteen to nothing,” was the answer.

“Well,” said the man, “I must say you don’t look discouraged.”

“Discouraged?” the boy said, looking puzzled. “Why should we be discouraged? We haven’t come to bat yet!” Friends, you and I continue to get turns at bat, so there’s no need for discouragement, just room for encouragement when we remember that there’s always opportunity to adjust to the changes that are happening all around us.

And then there are the people who are interested in exploiting change. They try to turn it to their advantage. Instead of wasting time and energy resenting the need for changing the way things need to be done, or the need for better systems, they involve themselves in helping search for positive benefits. Change is not only accepted, but it is actively embraced as a great opportunity.

Lastly, there’s the proactive category. Instead of waiting for change to happen, you make it happen. You’re not content to cope with, adapt to, or even exploit change—you create it.

During the Battle of the Bulge, one of the most important battles of World War II, things did not appear to be going well during the early days. General Anthony McAuliff assembled his officers for a pep talk.

“Men,” he said, “We are surrounded by the enemy. We now have the greatest opportunity ever presented to any army. We can attack in any direction!” That may sound overly optimistic to you, but remember—we won the battle. I suggest to you that a proactive position relating to the evolution of new products—marketing, installing, designing—and using these new systems and methods that change has brought about will lead all of us to more wins than losses, and save us a lot of headaches.

My mission here today is to remind all of us that there always has been and there always will be a demand for continuing change in our world, and we must go beyond just coping with it, or adapting to it, or exploiting it—we need to become pioneers of change. Many of you have done that for years and that is great, but the rest of you have to adjust. Sure, there will be some things that won’t work out. You’ll spend some money that won’t produce a high return, or perhaps no return at all. But that’s okay so long as we make only new mistakes. Remember, it is important that we experiment, explore, and search for not just the good or the better, but for the best. Change invites us into the unknown, and it promises new possibilities and unseen opportunities. We can partner with the world of tomorrow and thereby make change a vital part of our lives and our business.

How you can I take our commitment to change is not nearly as important, however, as how we finish the job our employers and clients expect us to do. That’s what matters! We just need to keep on keeping on! I am regularly reminded of a little poem I learned as a young boy

Together, my friends, we must keep swimming around, then as change comes, as indeed it will, we will be ready, not only to benefit, but to contribute!