Newsweek, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post were sold for about 5% of what they were worth a decade ago.
Old fame fades. Old treasures dull. Old values disappear.
What happens when the sun sets on you, dear Reader?
When the clever things you did in your twenties, and the book learning you picked up in school, and even the scars on your back from your thirties, lose their relevance to the modern corporation?
What will you do then?
Because I can tell you, you’re not going to want to take a 95% haircut the way Newsweek and the newspapers did.
All skills become commoditized over time. That means what was hard to do yesterday, becomes easy today, and worthless tomorrow.
J.P. Morgan — the man, not the bank — became America’s most prominent financier by doing what we would today call asset-backed lending. If you’d told him that some day tens of thousands of kids right out of school would be doing the type of lending he did, he would’ve scoffed at you. Would’ve told you about the difficulty of assessing a company and its prospects, the importance of knowing the ins and outs of the resale market, the sharp eye and decisive gut needed to measure a man’s creditworthiness over a handshake.
He felt this skill was specialized and immortal.
But it wasn’t true. Skills pass from the brains of geniuses, to the efficiency of systems, to the dull routine of forms and process.
The entire prospect of the modern business is to create systems to replace this special “in the head” judgment with impersonal routine. It is much safer for companies to rely on a documentable system than the risky circumstance of specialized knowledge walking in and out the front door.
All skills become commoditized, and all businesses pass from glory to gory:
Retailing, once a glamorous industry populated by the Saks’ and Bloomingdale’s and Marshall Fields’ of the world, has become a grind to eke out even a few points of profit in today’s Internet-saturated landscape.
Automobiles, which powered the US and Detroit to global manufacturing supremacy, now mostly make money for companies other than the manufacturers.
Stereos, TVs and other consumer electronics now decline in price by a percent per week!
And the list could go on for miles.
The only way for companies to keep up on the treadmill is to run faster. And faster. And faster.
All skills become commoditized, all positions of influence and domination decrease over time, all that profits fades away.
All, said the Preacher, is vanity.
So your plan must be that you will never let the sun set on your skills, never let your position of value — to your employer, to the market, to the customer — fade away.
So how are you going to confront the almost certain fact that the “you” of the present — your skills, knowledge, insights and experience — will fade in value, and for you to keep up with the world, you must ensure that the you of 2015, of 2016, of 2026, is always becoming a newer, more talented, professional?
I’ll be back next week with the steps you can take to keep ahead of the sun.
In the meantime…
I’m rooting for you.