On Age and Learning (and Adapting)

Are you developing as you get older or are you stuck in a rut that is “comfortably uncomfortable”?

Over the years, I have seen many people who age gracefully but, at some point, don’t really seem to continue learning to stretch themselves and they merely repeat the efforts of the previous year (decade?)  As I ask my guys in here – do you want 20 years’ of experience or one year’s experience repeated 20 times?

Learning is a constant and, as technology develops and continues to develop (Moore’s Law), the perspective from which you assess your business and the direction of your learning needs to change.


I was discussing this with one of our customers the other week – he works in the trades and is an incredibly competent and highly experienced tradesman.  He does however have a fear of technology and this is starting to hold him back in his progress through his employer.  As we were discussing the issues around the use of IT by his employer, we analysed what would happen to him in the not-too-distant future if he continues to try and deny the changes that IT is imposing on his industry.  His employer is now requiring all quotes, jobs, variations and billing to be prepared on cloud-based software.  This is placing this very senior and experienced tradesman (and exceptional man manager) at a distinct disadvantage and, in discussions with his employer, is holding him back from moving further through the business.  As we continued our chat, he recognised that unless he makes the effort to embrace the changes being imposed, he will go the way of the dinosaur – incredibly well adapted to their environment – until their environment changed.


I am also seeing this in the accounting industry and have made numerous observations about this over the years.  In discussions with an advisor to the accounting industry last week, they indicated that a lot of firms are covering their ears, closing their eyes and shouting “la la la” as loudly as they can hoping against hope that the changes won’t impact them.  The advisor indicated that, based on their observations, the vast majority of firms are adopting this approach.  This form of denial is not exactly sensible or sane.  Just because the majority of the industry is not making the move  to ensure their future doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Commoditisation of the accounting space is happening and happening quickly.  The Economist published an article in January 2014 about this and the fact that (according to the authors) there is a distinct likelihood (94%) that accounting services will be replaced by automation by the early 2030’s.  This creates a conundrum for the owners of accounting firms – what business are they actually in?

My Verasage colleague, Ron Baker, in his seminal book “Implementing Value Pricing – A Radical Business Model for Professional Firms” (Wiley, 2011) provided a summary from Maister, Green and Galfords’s book “The Trusted Advisor” of the things that customers of accounting firms want from their advisors:

  1. Make an impact on our business, don’t just be visible;
  2. Do more things “on spec” (ie: invest your time on preliminary work in new areas);
  3. Spend more time helping us think, and helping us develop strategies;
  4. Lead out thinking.  Tell us what our business is going to look like after five or ten years from now;
  5. Jump on any new pieces of information we have, so you can stay up to date on what’s going on in our business.  Use our data to give us an extra level of analysis.  Ask for it; don’t wait for us to give it to you;
  6. Schedule some offsite meetings together.  Join us for brainstorming sessions about our business;
  7. Make an effort to understand how our business works: sit in on our meetings;
  8. Help us to see how we compare to others, both within and outside our industry;
  9. Tell me why our competitors are doing what they’re doing;
  10. Discuss with us other things we should be doing; we welcome any and all ideas!

Note how very little in this list could be expanded to include “preparation of financial statements and Income tax documentation”.

For those firms that are in “compliance lock” and not doing for themselves what their customers are wanting, how in God’s name are they going to be able to do what they are avoiding  for their customers?  They will be like my tradesman customer – really good at stuff that no longer resonates.  This is a death sentence.

So, as we age, and as the world progresses around us, we need to keep learning – to be alive to what is going on in our industry and outside it.  We need to “read the tea leaves”  to understand the impact that change is going to visit upon us.  We need to adapt.

In a rut

Because, if we aren’t doing this, we surely will go the way of the Dodo (or dinosaur).  At the end of the day, it is a matter of choice.  Get out of the rut.


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