Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French critic, journalist, and novelist, wrote "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose," which has been roughly translated to “the more things change, the more they stay the same" (Les Guêpes, January 1849).
When I was growing up, my elders used that phrase to illustrate that although much appears to change in life, the underlying human condition and human interaction remain unaltered. This phrase may seem out of step with the accelerated and aggressive nature of change today. The world is shrinking, and we are being asked to think of just about everything differently. We may ignore these changes at our peril, or we can embrace them. If the latter, then we should embrace them prudently.
TMA Global and our chapters are facing constant change in our industry and in how we interface with members. TMA was conceived, in part, based upon a face-to-face networking model, which has suited its members’ business experience and average age. Is that premise being challenged in a single generational shift? As our robust NextGen membership demonstrates, people are entering the industry earlier in their careers than previous generations. Raised on a steady diet of technology, the next generation and their contemporaries tend to view the world differently than earlier generations.
If you have teenagers, you know that face-to-face interaction (not just with you but also with their peers) is declining. Even when our kids are sitting next to each other, they are surfing each other’s social media content or texting each other before they actually turn their heads and talk. “Reality” is what is reflected in their eyes from the screens into which they gaze.
Consumers of information in our industry go to Google first with their questions and surf free sources, the volume of which is growing exponentially. Even attendance at in-person seminars is being eroded by webinars and e-classrooms. For younger generations, professional networking often starts with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Google and others are pouring investment into virtual reality to unleash social media from the flat screen and provide a more “real” experience.
Where is this paradigm shift taking us? Overtly trusting the self-generated positive spin that is characteristic of social media and internet “infomercial” articles is perilous. If a person is among the social media contacts of a friend, does that mean we can trust that person? Does our friend actually even know the person? Consider the number of unsolicited requests you get from strangers to add them to your social media contact list. How many of those “invitations” actually turn out to be scams? Is there ever a suitable substitute for getting to know a person face-to-face?
Much has changed, and the pace of change is indeed accelerating. So what has stayed the same? Something is lacking in a “virtual life” for doing business. I believe that facilitating face-to-face interaction remains a central plank in TMA’s value proposition. Our members do not just buy products, they invest in relationships based on trust and competency. Technology and social media may help us stay in touch with each other or find each other in the first place. However, with our reputations with clients and co-workers on the line, do we really want to rely on a person we’ve interacted with predominately through social media? It is still important to our members to look people in the eye and gauge whether they trust them before doing business with them. We run "background checks" on new contacts by asking trusted advisors of their experiences with them.
We must embrace change, but that change must be forged into a tool that we can trust and use to meet our needs. Too often we simply accept the change handed to us and then waste time trying to apply it directly to our needs.
A group of TMA leaders is gathering in Chicago this month to embark on a fundamental strategic review of TMA Global, its mission, purpose, and organization. In this process nothing is sacrosanct. TMA is being tuned to anticipate the changes we see coming and to make itself more nimble in dealing with the challenges that we have yet to identify or encounter. We want to ensure that TMA is centrally relevant to its members, now and in the future, as an essential conduit for doing business and staying informed.