The Shelf Life of Zero

by colbert | April 28, 2011

It has come to my attention that everything has a shelf life of zero. Nothing that exists is good enough the minute it exists.The need for innovation is now a constant. For products, countries, and people.

I spoke at Harvard on Saturday, about Innovation. I introduced the idea of the shelf life of zero.

In the good old days everything had a lovely long shelf life. The store owner on Main Street could make a decent living doing pretty much the same thing for years. The consumer products company (think Polaroid) could invent a technology that would sell for decades. High performing countries could milk their superior infrastructure and capital capacity to dominate economic trade for a long, long time. No longer. The pace of change and the change of pace, has now put everything and everybody in the ugly position of having to stay ahead (or at least even) every day. Ahead of peers, ahead of customers, ahead of friends…it’s exhausting. And I wonder whether we understand as professionals and people how exactly to stay ahead.

We understood that going to college was the way to get ahead with the inference that we would then get a job, start a career, and at some point get to relax our pace of learning and development. That once we hit “manager” status we would get to slow down, imbue the youngsters with our wisdom and know-how, and coast home. Ha. Good old days indeed. Today we all have to learn as much or more, more quickly than when we were fresh-faced, wide-eyed collegians.
So the questions are many: what should we really learn, what should we unlearn, and what should we avoid learning to ensure that we have any capacity to learn, all to ensure that our shelf life is at least zero.

Exhausting indeed.

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