March 14, 2023
by Stephen T. Messenger
If I asked the customer, he would have said build a faster horse –Henry Ford
We visited Disney last month and got to go on one of my favorite sentimental rides: The Carousel of Progress. If you’re not familiar, Walt Disney premiered this ride at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
The audience enters to sit in an auditorium where they meet John and his dog Rover, both animatronics, who welcome the audience to the early 1900’s, a time “briming” with technology such as the flat iron, kerosene lamps, and a stereoscope. The dad is incredibly impressed by these “newfangled contraptions” and proud to show them off. His wife… not so much and missed the old ways.
After a few minutes, the audience rotates to the same scene twenty years in the future. Here, John and Rover demonstrate their “newfangled” 1920’s inventions such as the electric light, a car that goes 15 miles per hour, and indoor plumbing. Again, his bride is unimpressed, but happy things are becoming easier.
This happens for a few more rotations until the 21st Century with virtual reality, voice activated appliances, and laser discs. While the mom remains over innovation and often frustrated with technology, others in the family love it.
The Carousel of Complaints
In this ride, it’s fascinating to see how times have changed. It’s more interesting to see how some embrace change while others actively refute it.
In all of our jobs, we constantly hear grumbling when technology changes our lives. The choruses of “That’s not how we’ve always done it,” and “We don’t need a new way,” comes out of the 2010s woodwork.
It’s no one’s fault—change is hard. The people stuck in the 2010 carousel just have trouble understanding the progress in the next scene. They know there’s a better way, but they actively refute change to remain comfortable.
The Carousel of Travel Claims
In my profession, an interesting case study is the way the military processes travel claims. When I first entered the Army, travel reimbursement was completed on a Department of Defense Form 1351-2. This form consisted of over 100 blocks (I just counted) and was used for years. In fact, they still exist, and you can catch a person or two struggling to fill in these boxes during a military move.
In the early 2000’s, the military went digital with the introduction of a computer generated, travel claims process called the Defense Travel System (DTS). The chorus of naysayers sung loud and long. They said it was too complicated, slow, and hard to use.
In the beginning, as with all progress, they were right. But now over 20 years later, it is an intuitive, easy-to-use system that processes travel claims swiftly and efficiently with a digital way to book reservations. And yes, some people still miss the old way.
So now it comes to us. Leaders of organizations are the catalyst of progress. It is our job to visualize a desired future that will most likely disrupt the old way of doing business.
In Jeff Thompson’s book, Lead True, he talks about leading with courage using value-based decisions to better your people, organization, community, and world. He lays out bold goals and innovative practices that buck the norm to achieve a more positive future.
As CEO of a health care system, Thompson facilitated some challenging decisions.
They chose to invest in a local health provider to keep them from going under. The decision saved community jobs, improved the economy, and built relationships across the city.
Instead of patching an aging hospital, they elected to build a new one during an economic downturn. The investment attracted customers from all over because of not only their expert facilities, but their exceptional service.
They spend a costly two million dollars changing to energy efficient light fixtures, pumps, and HVAC with the result saving $1.2 million in the first year and every year after.
In each of these examples, there was opposition. Yet the visionary leaders could look beyond the current environment and see the next carousel of progress ahead in their minds.
The Champion of Progress
The Henry Ford quote at the top is phenomenal. People didn’t want a car at the turn of the 20th Century, they wanted their horse to run faster. People don’t want a new system to process claims faster, they want the old system to be more efficient. And employees don’t want to invest in a new hospital costing millions, they want to make the old one work… but better.
You are the champion of progress. I see it in my own life with energy efficient possibilities, building relationships that don’t exist, and a vision for 2035. There will always be naysayers of progress, but there will always be advocates of it as well.
Be bold and start looking at what’s next on the carousel.