Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Like a Broken Record

2012 ASSE President
Richard A. Pollock, CSP
Most SH&E professionals know a little about a lot, and it is often difficult to say anything about what they already know. So, let's cut to the chase and discuss something we both know.

Many of my messages have focused on change and the importance of embracing it. From changes in our world at work and their effects on our profession, to changes in groups such as ASSE, how we govern internally, speak externally, encourage volunteerism and engage members, change is everywhere.

Am I starting to sound like a broken record? Some of you may not know how that sounds, as the needle skips on a scratched album, playing the same line in a song over and over. Like the modern progression from listening to analog LP albums to digital CDs and now MP3s, the world is changing rapidly.

Recognizing and adapting to change is difficult, especially when we experience success. Think about Sony, by far the leader in multimedia delivery in the 1990s. The company saw its greatest success at the height of the Walkman and Discman era, and as the TV industry shifted to digital signal delivery. But Sony was tied to old technology and rapidly outdated manufacturing systems. It lived on its success, failed to see the future and was slow to react to Apple's introduction of the iPod MP3 player. With Betamax videotape stubbornly losing its battle with VHS, Sony refused to gauge customer trends toward DVD and DVR until it finally learned, winning with Blu-ray Discs. Then, as Apple saw dramatic growth thanks to the iPhone and iPad, Samsung also began to pull away from Sony with major advances in TV technology, and through its partnership with Google and Android mobile software. In less than 10 years, the once- mighty Sony is struggling to survive.

Such stories aren't new. Think of Kodak's failure to embrace digital photography and image storage technology. Schwinn failed to react swiftly to consumer interest in mountain bikes, hybrids and high-tech racing bikes. Research In Motion is trying to revive its once- dominant BlackBerry brand. Companies such as these are blinded by success and paralyzed by the fear of change.

That said, companies such as Apple have advanced by adopting a philosophy of continuous improvement and by accepting advanced technology. IBM shifted successfully from manufacturing to business consultancy and software service. Amazon and Google continuously innovate.

These are amazing tales. But what does this mean to us, our profession and ASSE? I would be a fool to say I know, so let me share another story. My grandson, Charlie, is 3 years old and as cute as can be. However, his favorite word is no. It is his first reaction to almost anything he is asked."Will you please finish your hot dog?""No.""Would you like me to read the book about kangaroos tonight?""No.""Would you like to watch Aquabats or Go, Diego, Go! on the iPad?""No." It's his first and safest response, whether he means it or not. I'm sure many of you can relate.

Sometimes I find myself resisting change and saying"no." Maybe I'm tired or stressed. Maybe I'm not educated on a topic or unsure. Perhaps the response is purely emotional, or a reaction to the influence of TV or web media. Politicians vilify change, and the press has a heyday with it. If you want to sway public opinion just inject some doubt to arouse fears that a change will bring about the worst possible outcome. Anything worthwhile can be made to look bad and something to be feared.

However, there is a silver lining. It's May, and in most of the northern hemisphere spring is in full bloom. New life abounds and possibilities are everywhere. Change is happening at ASSE as we create new online education opportunities, prepare for another record-setting conference, move forward to upgrade our governance structure, grow our body of knowledge, and lead the discussions on safety and health sustainability and risk assessment across the globe.

I hope you are feeling a spring in your step and view these changes as opportunities. I also hope you see the challenges of recognizing the change around us and are preparing yourself to take advantage. If the fear of change has you in its grips, fight your way through it with the help of ASSE. Our future is very bright and hope abounds for us all.