The Problem of Linear Thinking

June 10, 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.

Your old road is rapidly agin'; please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand for the times they are a-changin'. Bob Dylan, The Times Are A-Changin’

One of my favorite sweathirts dates back to the early 1980’s. On the front it states “Insufficient memory at this time”. The phrase is one that old-timers in the computer evolution feared in the early days of personal computers. I can still remember plunking down two grand for the Osborne 1, the first commercially successful “portable” personal computer.

It weighed 23.5 lb and ran the CPM operating system. This state-of-the-art machine featured dual 5¼-inch, single-sided floppy drives, a 4 MHz Z80 CPU, 64 kilobytes memory and a 5-inch monochrome CRT display. At the time, it was revolutionary. I still wear that old sweat shirt but now the slogan better fits a person living in an “active adult” community (translated Del Webb).

What reminded me of how far we have come was a keynote speaker, Peter Diamandis, CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, at the 2016 Modex show which I recently attended. In his presentation, he pointed out how fast change is occurring in our society.

He speculated that 40 percent of today’s Fortune 500 companies will be gone in the next 10 years. Technology has set the stage for changes in our personal lives and corporate culture. He challenged the audience to abandon linear thinking, such as the willingness to approach a process of 10 percent annual improvement as opposed to taking an aggressive view of doubling the annual rate.

Looking at the exponential changes in processing technology, what was once thought of Buck Rogers pie-in the sky is happening at a very rapid rate. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality and any number of advances are here and now, and the rate of disruptive technology is continuing its exponential growth.

What brought me down to earth during Diamandis’ presentation was a realization that over the years I, an early techie, had become satisfied with the incremental growth mentality of linear thinking. As a manager of a major trade show, I had become satisfied with maintaining the status quo in tough times and shooting for steady predictable growth in good times.

Technology, new trade show business models and a rising generation of young people who have throughout their young lives dealt with exponential change present a multitude of resources for changing how we run trade shows.

Show managers tend to avoid confrontation and disruption but we need to bring in insightful, young minds to help shake us out of our old routines and to challenge us to take chances. The next generation of show managers have a completely different experiential background and we need to use that to our advantage, even though it will make us uncomfortable. 

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Partner Voices

As event professionals and destinations adjust, adapt and evolve in these uncharted waters, it is imperative that substantial resources be put in place for all of the people responsible for planning and executing trade shows, expositions and conventions. An example is Mohegan Sun, which built an industry-leading, COVID-19 Resource Center with a combination of pictures from recently held successful events (the property reopened on May 1, 2020) along with several widely available and informative documents, such as an evolving operational framework: