So I’m chatting with a group of mainly young professionals, 30 years of age or less, when I tell a sure-fire joke. A real snapper. One that has never failed to get a laugh. The punch line goes, “And the guy says, ‘Let’s go in the darkroom and see what develops.’”
And I am met with silence. Stares. Befuddlement. Awkward glances at shoetops, as I stand there, dopey grin on my face, waiting for giggles never to come.
At that moment, I realized a threshold had been crossed. I felt old.
None of those people got the joke because they didn’t know what a darkroom was, or that it is a place to go and develop film into photographs. They’ve never used film. They’ve only taken pictures with their smart phones and digital cameras. The statute of limitations had passed on once-upon-a-time commonly shared cultural references about darkrooms and developing film. Good grief, have I turned into “the old guy?”
The same thing happens to big companies, too. Speaking of film and darkrooms, when the Eastman Kodak Company declared bankruptcy a few weeks ago, it felt like a piece of Americana had been lost. What’s more American than Kodak? A brand name synonymous with fun, memories, and preserving cherished visual touchstones of people we love, whether here or departed? “A Kodak Moment” became part of the American lexicon, for heaven’s sake.
Yet Kodak permitted itself to get old. It missed – or worse, dismissed – the digital revolution many years ago and never quite caught up. The head start it forfeited to its domestic and foreign competitors became just too big to overcome, and Kodak – when it emerges – will be a shadow of its once-formidable and admirable self.
Even things that felt so new and exciting just a few years ago have turned old. PowerPoint springs to mind. That warhorse has been beaten and abused for so long now, that it feels about as fresh and dynamic as Guttenberg and his printing press. Today, presenters have much more powerful tools at their disposal, with video and interactive touch-screen technology to bring their ideas to life in amazingly powerful ways. A client of mine, in fact, has such innovative approaches to these technologies that clients are amazed they can find them in Pittsburgh and do not have to travel to Manhattan – a common, ridiculous, and insulting assumption, if you ask me.
So why all this talk about getting old? Only to make the point that “old” truly is a state of mind, not a number of birthday cakes you’ve had served in front of you. I know a great lady who, if she told you her age, you’d be absolutely floored. She directs community theater, she tap dances, she runs around with friends to all hours and sleeps in the next day, and never loses her energy, her zest, her grace, her unselfishness, her lovely spirit of giving to others, or her limitless sense of humor.
If you go by how long she’s lived, you might say she’s old. But if you go by how she lives, she’s as young of any of my kids.
Organizations don’t have to grow old. Staying stuck gets you nowhere. Pull yourself out of the muck, take a good look around, and have the guts to change what you’re doing. Lee Iacocca, the famed CEO at Chrysler who revived that company out of the dumps in the early 1980s, once said, “I have always found that if I move with seventy-five percent or more of the facts that I usually never regret it. It’s the guys who wait to have everything perfect that drive you crazy.”
Life ain’t perfect. The fun is in the journey, when you realize that the journey only ends when you do. Keep growing, keep changing, keep pushing, keep going, keep moving forward. Hey, you know what? I’m not so old after all.
Copyright 2012 Transverse Park Productions, LLC