1940s culture still exists in business world

black and white picture of typewriter on desk with chair

“Remember that the six most expensive words in business are:

‘We’ve always done it that way’.”


Catherine DeVrye




‘”You just don’t understand how we do things around here.’



‘We tried it that way once <and the person who suggested it is no longer here>.’







As a business guy I tend to view the business world as in constant flux.


A sea of constant change where businesses are always in swirl.


change world and new

Fighting against the relentless push & shove of holding on and letting go.


And huge monumental shifts in the earth’s strata.



I tend to focus on the shift.


I tend to see shifts that you just can’t ignore.


Shifts that impact civilizations and cultures … and, ultimately, how business is conducted & prospers.


Shifts that impact the way businesses do business and conduct business and build their business organization.





I tend to forget that tectonic plates shift very very slowly.
And that … well … some land masses do not move at all.



I was reminded of that when a good friend sent me a frustrated note about a business he was working within.

1940s DMan writing

His point?


The 1940’s still are alive & kickin’ in business.



He is right.






Maybe not the 40’s … but certainly a 70’s or 80’s style of an organization.


For all our talk about Apple and Zappo’s and Badu many businesses, many organizations, are holding on to their past.


And think of it as holding on to three main points:


1. Culturally they are steeped <stuck> in tradition.

<holding on to the way they think>


2. Functionally they are steeped <stuck> in ‘why fix it if it ain’t broke.’

<holding on to the way they do things>




3. Organizationally, with employees, they are steeped <stuck> in a white, male leadership and female-driven administrative, or ‘doing’, roles.

<holding on to the idea of what type of person makes what they think come to life functionally>





And diversity?





“We have some people of color.”


Yeah. Right.



1940s typewriter



How they conduct practical aspects of every day business.




Organizationally, with resources, they are steeped <stuck> in traditional communications ‘worked then and is most effective now’ mentality.







A handwritten note is nice. And typewriter font always looks spectacular. But technology enhances speed, efficiency and effectiveness. And technology does NOT kill your culture <unless you permit t to>.



A diverse employee organizationally enhances a broader mind & context & perspective <which should enable better ideas and process>.







Many of you have already tuned out.

You are saying ‘this isn’t relevant to me’ or ‘this isn’t true.’







This is reality.




The bulk of businesses in the world are built upon ‘what I know’ or ‘what I learned as I grew up.’

Most businesses are not built on any more global view or broader business perspective.



Most businesses use local consultants <if any> and those local consultants typically have smaller experience bases and absorb ‘broader view’ through conventions or books.



toiling 3 i know nothing


This all leads to what most high falutin’ business people would see as insufficient reactions to a shifting external world.




We, me included,  speak a nausea about ‘adapt or die.’




We, me included, need to think a little harder about reality and what is going on in the business world.


Because while industries change constantly … sometimes radical and fast … sometimes shifting more subtly … most businesses are small to medium size and they are just doing what they are doing.

The business truth is that most businesses are making as minimal change as possible and doing what they learned as they learned the business.




To be clear.


This means ‘change’ is the last thing these business people are focused on.
And maintaining the status quo is what makes the profit they do make.






It feels good and comfortable to them … so they hesitate <fear> to change anything <and by all appearances, the business numbers, they are doing just fine in their eyes>.





To make a point to the high falutin’ ‘we tell you the truth and what you need to do’ business consultants.



What makes it really difficult is that for every big change … there is a big ‘non-change.’


What I mean is that there is some overhyped ‘a big change is a-comin’’ and lo and behold it was some futurist tripe that never entered into the real world.



Non changes may affect most businesses more than real change does. Mostly because it actually encourages no change.



It encourages a company who can find quaint reason to maintain their 1940’s attitude and behavior <although they most likely use and say all the right words about ‘contemporary thinking’> to not change.


The futuristic tripe actually encourages businesses to maintain the status quo.

50 something change nothing


To maintain ‘what has worked in the past.’







In a parallel universe some businesses read the same tea leaves differently.


Because most businesses really aren’t that sophisticated in its organizational and culture thinking there is a parallel business universe. In this universe there is an opposing group of companies out there – the ‘fly by the seat of their pants because the old way is too slow’ group of businesses.




They reject the 1940’s traditional thinking as so archaic that they completely reject … well … everything.


1940 reinventAnd therefore they just go on instinct.



Their constant go-to-market attitude is ‘good enough to go.’






And they are just as scary as the businesses stuck in the past <just in a different way>.



And I say that having a personal tendency to gravitate to the new business way of thinking rather than the old-style thinking.





Both types of businesses aggravate <frustrate> me.



In general most businesses do the best they can, and try really hard to be contemporary in thinking, but they aren’t.


Not enough people note that the Zappo’s, Apples, Nikes are exceptions.


And we should remember that.



And all this thinking makes me realize I am stuck in the middle.


A radical to the old school.


Old to the new school.


heritage mix old new


I know I am willing to suck it up and step in to a 1940’s mentality company and try to get some movement in updating how they think and how they behave.



Just as I am willing <and more likely to do> to suck it up and step in to the instinctual chaotic business and show them how to slow down enough to be smart. Show them that there are degrees of ‘just good enough to go.’




My place in the business world clearly places me in the in between.



I got stuck into the wretched business in between universe because my career steeped me in methodology and rigor and ‘get everything right before going.’ But as I shifted to different companies I learned the value of ‘speed.’ Therefore I eventually learned how to maintain the rigor <at least thought wise> but get it close to ‘instinctual speed.’



That attitude bridges most company’s needs.











In both situations I described, the businesses stuck in the past and the businesses working solely on instinct, they just don’t know any better. They are simply doing what they believe is best and fall back on what they know <and are comfortable with>.



And because they don’t know any better they fall to the most fundamental thing they can grasp … selling is ‘sales.’




Features & benefits.



This may be the scariest thing of all.



A lot of businesses still try to sell products and services based on functions and benefits.



It is solid rationale.



It is the simplest rationale. I mean … how can you go wrong if the people understand what this widget can do then they will buy it?





That rationale has been unequivocally shattered over the years. Selling shit is just not that simple.


But it remains the simplest business truth <and it is certainly a truth … maybe just not the whole truth>.


And it remains the standard truth in most businesses.







hugh 50 something same old thinking


Tapping into something different … something more powerful, motivating, and memorable like shared values or shared attitude is much more difficult … not more expensive necessarily … just more difficult.




Most small and medium size business people may conceptually understand that purchase decisions are made in the part of the brain that is touched thru emotional connection and not solely on facts and information … but practically?



They have difficulty grasping how to make it happen.







In the end.
Today’s business environment is making some pretty radical changes.



And while it is very easy for me to suggest that if all the shit I outlined above sounds  familiar, it’s time to seriously examine the way in which your organization operates … lets call it the ‘adapt or die philosophy’ <I know I have certainly written and spoken about it ad nausea> … but … I also recognize that the majority of businesses <which consist of the 10’s of thousands of small and medium size> are simply trying to keep their heads above the ocean water.




To be clear <part 1>


stand still but move 2


A 1940’s business style, shit, a 1970’s business style is archaic and creates a stagnant business <albeit that stagnant could still be profitable … just not long term sustainable>.





To be clear <part 2>.




I am not suggesting it’s not important to build on your past successes.



I am also not suggesting every business should simply change for the sake of change.



But, never forget that, even if you don’t change, your competitors and customers may.



It is necessary to change … at least in some ways.



Any organization, regardless of its current or past success, has to remain open to new ideas.




All my ramblings aside.



I could simply point out that past success is no guarantee of future success.



I could simply point out that past ways of doing things look significantly better in the rear view mirror <in memory> than they actually were.




I could simply point out that every older generation believes the following generations are <a> lazier, <b> less smart, <c> too impatient, <d> entitled and <e> too quick to discard successful things of the past.








I could simply point out it is a recipe for disaster to continue to do things the same old way without at least occasionally assessing if your current modus operandi is actually working … or do you just think it’s working for you.






There are 1940’s style businesses strewn across America <and I imagine around the world>.



Here is what I would tell them.



I walk into dozens of businesses and curiously explore them from the inside out all the time.

1940 business


But … here is the scary part.



While I always <always> have a desire to provide constructive advice … that desire is almost always squeezed by the feeling that it may be better if the young people in the organization were mentoring me … telling me what to do or how to ‘fix’ the organization.






Maybe not mentoring … but certainly giving me a framework to input what I know.



Fresh thinking resides in any and all organizations … 1940’s style to futuristic style. You just have to be open to the fresh thinking.



I know I am. I know now that I forced myself to think about this because of my friend’s frustration … that simply flippantly suggesting ‘adapt or die’ in business is … well … silly.

There are thousands of small & medium size businesses going about their business ignoring all my philosophical business tripe <and smarter ones than mine> doing quite well … ‘thank you very much.’


Not all old thinking and ways of doing things is bad or wrong.You just have to figure out what is good and what needs a tune up.



Look around.


There are a shitload of businesses conducting business in an ‘old fashioned’ way … and doing just fine. Drives me crazy. But it is happening.

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Written by Bruce