Change, in business, is something that comes with the territory. Mostly because if it doesn’t, the business won’t survive.
There’s a (very) old joke among typographers about the Latin tag ‘in perpetua floreat nihil’. Which they translate as ‘nothing looks good in Perpetua’.
What does it actually mean? Well, I like to think of it in the words of a Danish-born technician at the small factory where I got my first job. He’d just installed a new intercom system. It worked well – for just over a day. Then it failed completely. When the boss asked for an explanation he shrugged, grinned, and said ‘These things don’t last for ever, you know.’
(And then fixed it. Of course.)
But he had a point. The true translation of that Latin tag is…
‘Nothing lasts forever’
The factory I’m talking about was a case in point, as it happens. They made souvenir colourslides, and hired me in 1974 as their resident wordsmith. A few years later I was writing and producing audio-visual presentations for them. Each began with a series of 18 slides, and my job was to provide a soundtrack to go with them. On compact cassette. Working in a professional sound studio. And using a 16-track tape deck.
You’ll notice that virtually none of that technology survives today. In fact these days I could make a show like that on my phone…
My job also involved printing. The written notes I prepared to accompany slide sets were litho printed, with the artwork typeset on a professional golfball typewriter and pasted up onto boards. A skill I’d learned while editing and producing the Oxford Speculative Fiction Group’s magazine, Sfinx, during my very enjoyable years at university. Titles for the slides were printed using linotype – some of which I hand-set myself. Something, as It happened, that my father could have done equally well for his newspaper – had the print union allowed him to do so…
Winds of change
And computers? Well, one did eventually arrive. The management team had huge amounts of fun getting our rather arcane product numbering system into a digital format, but the job was done, and it worked. But that didn’t address a more pressing issue.
The slow rise of video.
To me, it was clear which way the wind was blowing. I suggested to my boss that it would be worth my learning a new skill – video production. After all, it was the logical next step given that I was already producing audio tracks in a professional studio. To his credit, he agreed, and I did a very useful training course.
But at the company itself, nothing changed. And when recession hit in the 1980s, sales were already falling through the floor. Something needed to change.
And it did…