Yielding to the inevitability of change

One of the generational barriers we all face is the need to adapt to the changes around us, according to Plant Engineering Content Manager, Bob Vavra in his monthly column.


These changes have been delivered to us by a stampeding horde of young whippersnapper types who have solved all of the world’s problems for us and who tap their feet impatiently while we more established types try to get up to speed. Oh, and why aren’t we more grateful for their solutions?

Or that’s the way I tend to view things today. I had my day as a whipper and a snapper, and my impatience with the previous generation knew no bounds. It was a faster time, at a faster pace. Things have slowed down quite a bit in all things in my life—except for the rate of change. And I find myself not always happy about change.

If Einstein were around today, he’d likely rewrite his famous formula:


Where A is Angst, M is the volume of Media coming at us, and C is our resistance to Change. As such, the lower our resistance to Change, the lower our Angst will be. 

Of course, Einstein’s original formula was called the “Theory of Relativity”; I suspect this new formula is no less theoretical. How we view change also is relative, mostly to our age and experience. But there are things we all see the same way, and that way is very often wrong.

That point was driven home at the MFG Meeting in March in Phoenix, which was hosted by the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA), and the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA). Jack Uldrich, a thoroughly engaging guy whose unofficial title at his Minneapolis consultancy is “Chief Unlearning Officer” and whose actual title is “Futurist,” drove home the point about how we see the world around us as it was, even as it changes, with a simple example:

What two colors are on a Yield sign? The answer in a second…

The use of the Yield sign metaphor was especially striking because that’s what change is about and that’s what futurists such as Uldrich try to get us to see. He talked at great length about the accelerating pace of change and the need for us to try and keep up. At best, he suggested, we ought not to try to get in the way of change. We’re likely to get run over.

It was surprising that almost every person in the room at the MFG Meeting answered that yellow and black are the two colors on a Yield sign. Everyone in the room was correct to the extent that everyone sincerely believed that was the right answer.

But it’s not. The correct answer, Uldrich noted, is red and white. The Yield sign has been red and white as a matter of both law and practice for the last 30 years. 

I know this because I reached for the smartphone that replaced the cell phone that replaced the brick phone that replaced the touch-tone phone that replaced the rotary dial phone and looked up ‘Yield Signs’ on Google. That’s how much has changed in the way we find information in the time since Yield signs were last black and yellow.

I’ve tested this example with my coworkers of various ages, and the answer keeps coming back as “black and yellow.” There are just some things we always see the same way. It was a transformative example of how we all see the world through the prism of our experiences, rather than seeing the world as it truly is. 

I would love to tell you that I am now a transformed change agent, ready to abandon my old ways of thinking and my outmoded mind-set and leap head-first into the misty realm of the future. Not just yet. I’m still not satisfied with the answers to the questions I’ve asked. I’m not always convinced the changes to a present I’ve grown comfortable with are proper. Change still needs to be filtered; it still needs to be considered. Change for the sake of change is seldom a positive thing. But then, I’m not the first guy of my age to offer that theory, either. 

What I did learn is to be more willing to peek through the mist, to be more willing to embrace change—or at least shake its hand. I do believe the competent among us will keep pace with change; the visionary among us will be waiting for change when it finally arrives.

I’ll at least try not to be the guy holding the brick phone.

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