The Challenges of Being Current

» Posted by on Jan 26, 2014 in Experiences | Comments Off on The Challenges of Being Current

In order to do anything well, much less be excellent and succeed, you have to be current.  It really doesn’t matter what it is we are talking about: dancing, acting, building, finances, technology–everything goes through changes.  Even things that were old school and have a certain degree of longevity, also have a certain degree of “modernization” they go through.  Sometimes it’s purely a requirement in order to keep you fresh, interesting, popular.  Sometimes it’s truly a requirement in order to survive.  Musicians must pick up new styles and influences.  Dancers similarly must meld traditional styles with the new.  Consumers need to adapt to new technologies or risk always being a slave to those who adapted and embraced the new.

Business today is faced with greater challenges than ever before from government overreach, from attacks from cyber-warriors, from competitors and even from personal life.  There are technologies now that allow the average person to do things that only the wealthy or those who’ve attracted investment capital once were able to do.  Granted, the latter certainly still have the leg up on the rest of us, but the beauty of technologies that are available make that game much less dramatic.  You frequently see some startup company, aka, a person with a great idea, take to the internet to develop, share, market then sell this idea.  Before you know it, you’re hearing that a major corporation has purchased the startup to incorporate it into their business.  For every success there are a hundred that fail, and that’s the beauty of America…at least for now.  You can try and you can succeed…or fail.  The one thing you must never do is let the main reason for failure be because you resisted being current, up to date.
What are some of the challenges to being current?  I’m convinced the two most common are cost and fear.  The cost of keeping up isn’t always expressed in money.  It can, and often is, expressed in time.  One might lament that he/she would transition from the old way of doing things to the new if only there was enough time to not only learn the new thing, the new way, but transition data, media, tools, etc., as part of that process.  The fear of relying on an entirely new way, leaving the comfort of “the way I’ve always done it”, can  stop someone cold.  We often mistrust new things and not knowing any better we probably won’t know if some new process or technology is the right one to go with then there are competing choices.  Quite often, both cost and few are linked.
professional life, we’ve done quite a bit of work to find out what existing and emerging technologies get us closed to our ideal.  Personally, I love the prospect of having Jarvis from “Iron Man” follow me around virtually, granting me access to information, media, entertainment and work all with voice and gestures.  Sure, our Windows Phones have voice control that works extremely well, and our Windows 8 computers have a much less developed–or practical–voice control.  There are even a few of the Metro apps on Windows 8 that make rudimentary use of your web camera to give you some gesture control–the Food & Drink app is one good example.  But it was the one piece of equipment we never had any intention of purchasing that has dramatically changed not only how we function at home but also our expectations of what we should be able to do.  A gaming console.  We acquired an Xbox One over Christmas.  While still a 1.0 product, with the accompanying glitches and not-ready-for-prime-time features, it still is amazing.  While kids continue to bicker back and forth over which gaming console is the best, both are missing out on a treasure.  When it comes to home entertainment and modest PC-type work, the Xbox One introduces a Jarvis-like capability.  What’s missing?  Ubiquity.  What Microsoft has done is wet the palate for this kind of interface.  What it needs to do is accelerate the improvements in consistency as well as integration with not only the rest of their ecosystem (smartphone, tablet, PC) but other seemingly unrelated ones, too.  Why not, for instance, have a way for me to use voice and gesture to control my home security and automation system?
Another example: our home phone.  For decades we depending completely on a traditional land line for communication.  We resisted even simple cell phones, mostly because we didn’t want to be that accessible.  I had my Windows Mobile PDA, so my mobile electronic needs were being met.  Then technology advanced and you couldn’t find a PDA to save your life.  Smartphones had assimilated the PDA functions completely.  Now, our communication is almost exclusively via some mechanism on our Windows Phones.  Because of the maturing of cloud technologies beyond simple email we now have ubiquitous access to our documents and media regardless of the device or our location.  But we found ourselves wondering why we were paying a ridiculously high home phone bill when we almost never made outgoing calls on it and it had become our “call screener”, most often used by telemarketers.  We’ve always had a home phone so it never occurred to us to look into alternatives–like VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).  We’ve seen (and ignored) the commercials, but it never clicked.  Some simple research (again, using technology) revealed that not all internet phone systems are alike and it might surprise you to find that not all of them let you transfer your land line phone number and not all them support 911 calls.  More importantly, not all of them will save you money.  Vonage, for instance, has a regular rate that is actually more expensive than our current land line service with Verizon.  One thing that they all seem to have in common, however, is that you cannot fax anything over VOIP service.  While I deplore any business that still uses fax (which is a large part of our bloated government), the fact remains many still do and that could be a deal-breaker for some.  That said, we could easily cut our home phone bill by 2/3 if we switch to one of the VOIP services.
Final example: we use XSplit as the software to run our video netcasting.  As far as this kind of software goes, XSplit is new.  We actually started using it while it was still in beta.  The trial version was free, had limited features as such, but was good enough and easy enough that it was worth pre-purchasing it.  Over the two years we’ve been using the software it’s been through a number of updates.  Unfortunately, the last several updates to the 1.x version as well as the betas of the 2.x version simply wouldn’t run on our high-end studio computer.  After numerous texts, emails, trial and error, we found out where the problem was, but not what the exact root cause was.  The developer’s only response was to suggest we install a clean copy of  Windows 8 on the computer.  This is where the cost and the fear came in.  The cost was time and the fear was about the potential for not being able to restore everything else to normal function after doing all this.  Windows 8 has a way to do a “refresh” that keeps your files, automatically reinstalls your Metro apps and your settings…but you have to manually reinstall all legacy drivers and software.  In the end, we had a choice to make.  Stick with an increasingly older version of the software, which worked well, but miss out on new features that were free as part of the upgrade or go through the pain of refreshing Windows on the chance that this would fix the problem with updates.  We took the leap and it worked.  But I can imagine a great many people, if not most, not being nearly courageous enough to go through this.
What is the take-away from all this?  It is almost always worth going through the hassle of getting current.  Sometimes it’s seamless.  Many times it’s very messy.  Everything is a risk, and life is about mitigating the risk down to reasonable levels.  Do the research.  Find multiple sources that independently give you the same responses or recommendations.  Communicate with people you know, people who have already been where you are headed and find out what their experience has been like.  You will inevitably find people who not only have been there and have the skills, but will bend over backwards to help you navigate the uncertainties and ultimately come to a successful transition.  There will always be challenges to being current.  And they are almost always worth it.