the shop is no longer around the corner

I recently re-watched You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks (to be clear: I didn’t watch it with them, they were in the movie). It came out in 1997 at the cusp of three pivotal shifts and is an interesting look at people dealing with FutureNow and trying to find their way forward without a map.

Email was new and quaint and exciting, big box retailers were driving the small independent shops out of business, and – although the movie doesn’t address it – people and businesses were trying to figure out the whole internet thing by applying old business models to a new medium.

In one scene, Meg Ryan’s character wishes she could ask her deceased mom for advice on how her small bookstore can compete with the mega-store going in just down the street. A friend makes a show out of asking her mom’s picture what to do, holding it to her ear for the answer. The friend puts the photo down and says, “She doesn’t know what to do either.” There was no map, no established answer, no tried and true success model.

Fifteen years later and the big box stores are in the same position Meg Ryan’s cute little shop was in. The internet has evolved into a reliable commerce channel, creating enormous economies of scale AND a level of service that physical stores wouldn’t / couldn’t provide. No store can have enough staff to be familiar with every book, yet the online stores have ratings and comments available from people who have read the book. Online, there is no snobbery from the clerk at the CD store looking upon your musical taste with distain. Prices are low and the option to buy used pushes them even lower.

The bad guy of a decade and a half ago is now the victim. The world changed and no one told them. There is no map, no established answer, no tried and true success model for them to follow.

For better or worse, the world is changing and evolving and moving in faster and faster cycles. We’ve got email figured out and now we’re wrestling with social media. Higher education and banking are likely to take the same sort of leap the music and publishing industries did and others will follow. It doesn’t take much of a futurist to predict that there is another big shift about to happen just a few years down the road.

Here’s the HR / world of work spin: technology is driving massive changes at a societal level, allowing us to do so much more with so much less, eliminating old jobs and creating new opportunities. That’s not going away. It’s scaryexcitingterrifyingthrilling. It requires perpetual learning and thinking and changing and an ability to adapt at an ongoing level that’s never been asked of us before.

Hope, fear, uncertainty, confidence, desire for success, terror of failure are all very real and very human issues. I wonder how Human Resources and Learning & Development will best help individuals and organizations cope-survive-thrive.

Your thoughts?


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