The Future. Until It Isn’t.

Part of the opportunity that underlies the work of leaders is the opportunity to observe, consider and extrapolate from history, experience and current events a glimpse of what the future might hold for our organizations.  Ultimately and more importantly of course is applying that hypothesis to your business or organization by creating a new product, service or establishing a new, more competitive position.

With that as backdrop we began wondering about some of this country’s grand old organizations, like the International Typographers Union (ITU).  Its beginnings date back to the 1850’s, when a group of 18 or so men gathered to establish an organization to represent the growing interests and needs of typographers in the rapidly growing field.  The business of typography for those not familiar with the medium is fascinating.  If you wonder just how type influences our society, take a look at the illuminating and award winning documentary Helvetica by Gary Hustwit.   From the days of setting wood block type and eventually metal type by hand, through the use of molten lead to the launch of photocomposition or computerized type in the 1960’s, typography has influenced all means of communication.  The move to photocomposition was viewed as evolutionary, but in fact was revolutionary to the industry.

The ITU had a membership over 121,000 typographers in 1964.  By 1986, just twenty-two years later the ITU as most members knew it, ceased to exist.  Typographers sought to apply their experience to other positions within the printing industry or changed careers altogether.  What remained of the ITU was absorbed by the Communication Workers of America Printing, Publishing, and Media Workers Sector led by the man who is now the Public Printer of the United States, William J. Boarman.

It is a cautionary and parallel tale for many industries today.  Revolutionary information technology is competing to capture market share from what were once the exclusive domain of businesses and organizations in a diverse array of markets. As leaders we are being challenged everyday by these new technologies, content delivery mediums and business methods.  While some of these early technology based efforts have fallen short or failed miserably, there is no reason to take comfort.  These are the seeds of the future.

So as a leader, here’s a question you need to consider now.  If your business or organization went out of business today, who would miss you and why?  It’s not a simple question and finding the answer will make all the difference to the seeds of your future.

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