Are Paradigms Worth 20 Cents?

May 7, 2016

Charles Olentine

Charlie Olentine, CEO of Consult NC Inc, has over 25 years experience in B2B publishing and from 2004 to 2016 managed the Top 50 show - International Production & Processing Expo.

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. " - John F. Kennedy

Many of us have as much joyful anticipation of going to a business retreat or planning meeting as having a root canal. However, as I look back on my career, one particular meeting stands out in a very positive way.

The focus of the meeting was to take a look at ourselves and business model and relate it to change. We were shown a video by Joel Barker on paradigms and how they structure our behavior. A paradigm centers on a theory or a group of ideas about how something should be done, made, or approached. The problem is that when we get into a comfort zone we tend to completely overlook new concepts that will completely disrupt how we do business.

Many notable paradigms have had dramatic impacts on businesses. Consider the following:

1.      Swiss watch makers were well-known for their high quality products that revolved around mechanical workings. They actually invented the digital technology for watches but basically gave it to the Japanese who saw a different way of keeping time.

2.      Kodak was instrumental in developing digital photography but could not make the transition from film to data.

3.      Xerox researchers developed one of the first truly desktop publishing system incorporating a mouse and What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) technology. Many of the features became incorporated in the early Apple computers.

4.      IBM reluctantly got into the PC business and found that it did not fit its culture. Both the hardware sector and the software (leading to the rise of Microsoft) were eventually abandoned.

5.      Print publishers went through a transition in the late 1900’s from a film-based printing process to one incorporating direct to plate. Literally hundreds of printing prep houses went out of business. Needless to say, a lot of publishers that could not make the transition to digital have gone out of business.

Paradigms, the way we see and react to our environment, must always be challenged. The rate of change in the technological world in which we live is so disruptive that unless we are constantly challenging the way we position our shows, the products will become obsolete. Reflect back to some of the shows that seemed to be unstoppable with Comdex being one of the classics.

Every aspect of trade show management is subject to rapid change. Is the traditional model applicable or do we transition to a hosted buyer model? How will domestic and/or international travel and geopolitical events affect our shows and how can we use the changes to our advantage? What technologies make sense as opposed to what looks “cool”?

As we approach change, are we pioneers or adopters? Pioneers are risk takers and the returns are great. Adopters take a what-and-see approach to let the ideas sort themselves out, but the key is not to wait too long or your competitors will leave you in the dust.

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