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Then and Now

June 21, 2018

Up to now this blog has been chronological and has moved on about 8 years. Going back nearly 50 years and remembering my life then, has given me much to think about. In particular, to consider how much has changed.

 

I know that older people hark back to the old days:

 

 “Life was so much simpler then” or “the young today don’t know how difficult it was for us when we were young”

 

I don’t actually feel that. What I do think is that working life is very different. For me, that couldn’t be better. I love change and I’ve made a career of effecting change wherever it has been needed. I’ve been lucky to live in a time when that’s not just been possible, but it’s been welcomed.

 

For the first 10 years of my time as an accountant there were no computers and no mobile phones. Some of you reading this will be old enough to know what it was like. Many will not. My children remember but not in their time at work. My grandchildren will have no experience of a time before screens.

 

Indeed baby Clara seems to have an inherent ability to use her right forefinger for swiping.

 

Communication was laborious: if you wanted to message someone at work, even in the same location, you had to send a memo. This would have either been handwritten, or a secretary would have typed it for you. It would had a carbon copy which you kept, and the original went in a special envelope, usually orange, which you put in an out-tray. It might take a day or so to get a reply, and this was acceptable because there was little alternative.

 

A management fad of the times was MBWA, Management by Walking About. It wasn’t universally popular as it meant that a boss might come and ask you to do something and that could disrupt the rhythm of going through a pile of memos, working more or less when you felt like it. It’s not hugely different today, except for speed. The vast majority of communication is still in the written form, albeit now through emails, messaging and social media.

 

 

 

 

Speaking over distances was limited 50 years ago. We just had landlines and you were reliant on someone being there when you called. If you were calling someone senior, their calls were always answered by a secretary. There were no voicemails, just real people taking messages. We had special pads on our desks to write these messages down. They sometimes had cute bunny pictures on them, but it didn’t make it any more likely that they would be passed on.

 

The real difference today is not the technology but what it has enabled. I’ve touched on how much faster things have become. An internal memo taking a day to arrive when today it takes a second, doesn’t just mean it can be seen more quickly. It changes expectations.

 

Now we expect a response, in minutes sometimes.

 

We can have conversations by messaging, when that was impossible. We can communicate without assistance, so personal secretaries hardly exist any more.

 

For me the greatest difference is that we are all now ‘available’ 24 hours a day. In 1970 I went away for two or three weeks to Europe with Lyn (then my girlfriend, now my wife). No one knew where we were, and nor did they expect to. We hitchhiked and took some trains but left no trail. Calling home involved going to a post office, booking a time and then standing in a special booth while waiting to be connected. It would only have been a couple of minutes as it was so expensive. Imagine that now!

 

Being available is a huge pressure, and being watched through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and email traffic, can be very stressful.

 

The competition for jobs, partners, and business success, is huge. 50 years ago the pressures were different. The lack of information was really testing. Instead of Google we used libraries. It was easy to look unprepared and dangerous to work on assumptions. The counter to this was that it took longer to be found out.

 

Society today is very testing and being an accountant requires more social skills that ever we did.

 

For me, it was exciting and it still is. I was moved recently when reading an obituary of a lady who had just died in her late nineties. Interviewed shortly before her death, she said that she wanted to live as long as possible “so as not to miss what’s still to be invented”.

 

That will be me.

 

 

Next time: Further adventures in the Music business.

 

Mike Jones has been a Chartered Accountant since the early 1970s and has been Finance Director of many well-known brands including HMV, Argos, and Southern Water.

His full profile is here: LinkedIn Profile

 

 

 

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