I’ll never forget the moment the managing partner of the mid-tier accounting firm I was working for looked up at me standing in his doorway for our scheduled 4 pm meeting.
He peered over the top of his reading glasses and beckoned me forward.
I felt like Melanie Griffith’s character in Working Girl, suffering a major case of imposter syndrome while still attempting to appear grown-up, calm and professional.
The year was 1993, and I was 22.
On this day, as with most other days, there was this air of important stuff going on around the big boss.
As I moved forward, the other male suits in the room were dismissed and I was asked to sit down.
Most people ‘at my level’ didn’t even get near this door, let alone inside it.
At the time, I couldn’t even say I was fresh out of uni because I was still trying to finish part-time what was supposed to be a three-year, full-time degree.
I was just a young woman with ambition and an interest in technology.
In my hands was a 16-page business case for the technological future of the firm. It was created using a spreadsheet program called Lotus 123, the gold standard in tech at the time. If you could use it you were guaranteed popularity within the four walls of the firm.
But on this day I wasn’t so sure, because with this tool I had calculated the cost of putting personal computers on the desks of all professional staff (including the partners) plus the implementation of this even newer cutting-edge technology called electronic mail.
I had also worked out what I thought might be the return on investment.
To me, it was a cool idea I thought would make everything more efficient.
But what I held in my hands would rock the firm, a workplace steeped in decades of tradition, to its core.
For decades, things had worked just fine.
The partners each had secretaries who had computers and shared printers. When important matters needed to be communicated to staff, those secretaries would type a memo in Wordperfect 5.1 (anyone remember those blue screens?).
Mailroom staff would distribute the memos into employee pigeon holes.
Similar to the secretaries, my team of computer operators were of assistance to the lower-ranked professional staff, entering coded bank statements into the computers and returning printed trial balances and profit and loss statements.
The pages I was holding that day, were they were accepted, would mean the people I had just talked about would have significant job changes before 12 months were out.
The professional staff would be able to do their own stuff.
The secretaries would no longer type out memos.
So, back to my sit down with the managing partner.
After intensely questioning me for an hour, the meeting ended with him laughing kind of nervously and saying, “I’m assuming you’re including me in this, you’re going to have to teach me too!”
I was elated he had verbally accepted my proposal.
Looking back now, and jokes aside, this was a man who showed incredible courage in even letting me in his door, let alone listening to my proposal.
Was I an innovator… or a disrupter? Likely the answer is both.
The good people thrived, and things happened differently to what they did before everyone up-skilled and got faster at producing accounts, which improved the client experience
And seriously, could anyone imagine a world now without email – especially when things have moved forward so far you can communicate by voice through a virtual reality platform such as eXp’s.
Are holograms next?
I can tell you that what was happening in 1993 is not too different from what is happening now.
It’s just happening a lot faster, as consumers and staff demand more and more.
So I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts on technology, innovation and disruption.
With the speed of change comes great opportunity.
Don’t feel that you have to continue doing things the way you’ve always done them just because you’ve spent a lot of time and money implementing them.
Don’t look back; you’re not going that way.
What will work for you in the future and where are the quick wins?
If you were starting your business today, what would you do differently? And why aren’t you doing that now?
What is the experience you want to provide your customer?
Where are the complaints and the points of friction coming from and how can you innovate to improve on them?
Lastly, it is likely the tools are there for you, maybe already under your nose, in your office right now.
It’s up to you to use them and use them well.
A final thought: If any of you happen to have kids or teenagers at home or young people in the office, start looking at them with the job title of ‘futurist’.
You might be scared of what they may say or what ideas they may have, but in all likelihood, they are probably a bit scared of you too.
Have the conversation with them about how they see themselves finding a place to live when the time comes.
You never know how one conversation with a young person without boundaries can turn you into the innovator… or the disrupter.