Volume 17, Number 8
December 2000

The Chair's Corner

Back to the Future

By Wynn A. Gunderson

Sometimes, you have to look back to see the future. For me, looking back is a long trip. I first experienced technological change while growing up on a small farm in eastern South Dakota, when we installed a home power plant to replace our Aladdin lamps. The excitement I experienced after throwing the first light switch was unforgettable. A few years later, during a mixed-chorus trip to a nearby college, I saw a strange looking device that was transmitting fuzzy, "moving" pictures, called "television." Being skeptical of change, I was certain that television would never catch on because the quality was so poor, and after all, I had the cinema: the local theater where I was regularly scared out of my wits by the sight of blood in Technicolor.

In my early years, I viewed technology as slow in coming, and I was apprehensive of change anyway. My world was already complete, since I had my important needs close at hand. I bought my candy and other goodies out of the barrels and boxes at A.J. Tackaberry's small grocery store, and hand-packed ice cream at the local ice cream store, where it was made on the premises. One of my favorite treats was the tasty pickles served conveniently and simply out of barrel at Tackaberry's. If I'd been told that in the future I would be buying pickles electronically through a cyber-site called grocer.com, I would have reacted in stark disbelief. I would never have felt a change of that kind could possibly improve my life.

The transition of leaving my childhood creature comforts for college taught me that technological advances can be good. Term papers could be more efficiently produced by a typewriter, and acquiring a faster, more sleek automobile could offer greater access to the opposite sex.

When I began practicing law, I became impatient for progress and even longed for changes. For example, when I first started, my production was limited to what could be produced by a manual typewriter. It soon became a huge bottleneck that limited my output, and when trying to hurry, haste made waste. Fortunately, the speed of typing was increased with the advent of the electric typewriter. Next, errors could be quickly corrected with white goop out of a little bottle. Soon to follow was an electric typewriter with a memory and a corrective device. The timing was ideal for me, because just when I was starting to lose my memory, my typewriter gained one.

Of course, even more significant was the introduction of computers. However, this newcomer raised my anxiety level to even greater heights. In my wildest imagination I couldn't see that computers could serve a useful purpose for me. But change comes gradually and surely, and it was inevitable that before too long, all the lawyers in our firm, except a few of us hardcore holdouts, had computer consoles on their desks. I accused those who made the change immediately of using their computers solely to exchange bad jokes.

Although I moved slowly in joining the computer group, I knew I had to change or continue to be a "fossil." It wasn't long until I was "surfing" like everyone else and felt handicapped if my computer wasn't functioning normally. But change being what it is, my first computer was soon only suited to be a boat anchor, and the rest is history.

I haven't always opposed progress. In our firm, I am known as the "father of the fax." When fax machines were first introduced, I attempted to promote them to my partners. Recognize that in a firm our size (16 lawyers), it's difficult to even buy a potted plant. Those who resisted the fax felt UPS and Federal Express were sufficient, but I finally wore them down, and we purchased our first fax machine. The fax machines haven't stopped running since.

The technological revolution has many of us concerned as to where we are headed and whether the changes involved will truly benefit us. If we allow them to, changes can cause us to be fearful and insecure. When I look at past changes and see how misplaced my apprehension and anxieties were, I now realize those changes only offered me greater opportunity.

Spencer Johnson, M.D., author of Who Moved My Cheese?, teaches us some very important lessons about how to overcome the fear of change through a simple parable using metaphors. In describing one of the characters in his book, he states:

He reflected on the mistakes he had made in the past and used them to plan for his future. He knew that you could learn to deal with change: you could be more aware of the need to keep things simple, be flexible, and move quickly. You did not need to overcomplicate matters or confuse yourself with fearful beliefs. You could notice when the little changes began so that you would be better prepared for the big change that might be coming. He knew he needed to adapt faster, for, if you do not adapt in time, you might as well not adapt at all. He had to admit the biggest inhibitor to change lies within yourself, and that nothing gets better until you change.

Dr. Johnson recommends these steps in dealing with change:

  • Change happens.
  • Anticipate change.
  • Monitor change.
  • Adapt to change quickly.
  • Change.
  • Enjoy change.
  • Be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again.

The message that comes from all of this is that we are creatures of habit, and we don't like change because we are fearful it will disrupt our comfortable existence. As Franklin D. Roosevelt has often been quoted, "The only thing we need to fear is fear itself."

The possibility of an electronically based global practice looms as a major change in the future practice of law. Likewise, multijurisdictional and multidisciplinary practices may become commonplace. Don't let these potential changes cause you to be fearful and threaten your security; we have learned from the past that incredible opportunity lies ahead.

I would like to hear any thoughts you have regarding your own journey through the past on your way to the future. Please e-mail your comments to me at wynn@gpgnlaw.com.

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