Back in the ‘olden days,’ every Saturday morning around 10 a.m., my mom would take advantage of the most economical child-sitting service in the nation. Each Saturday, the Broadmoor Movie Theatre loosely supervised an auditorium filled with around 100 rowdy preteens at a cost of less than 10-cents-per-hour. Bargains such as these are unheard of these days.
There, I would participate in the sailing of empty popcorn boxes towards the screen, crush bonbons under the rubber soles of my scruffy sneakers. No such thing as ‘Michael Jordans’ for us, no sir! At that time, the world’s greatest tennis shoes cost $3.59, and Jordan was yet to be a twinkle in his daddy’s eye.
I think my favorite part in the whole picture, was the part where Roy Rogers, riding through the dusty California desert and perched upon the back of his trusty steed Trigger, advanced toward a mob of dirty rottin’ scoundrels, as we all waited for that moment, that golden opportunity, when the dastardly villain would show himself, and then we would rise up in unison, and scream, “Look out Roy, he’s behind that tree.”
Roy never heard our fervent warnings of course, because this was only make-believe, and the actual event occurred long before we were to witness it. It didn’t matter to us. For that brief three hours at the Broadmoor Theatre, we rode by Roy’s side, and our purpose, at least in our own minds, was to save Roy from a fate worse than death.
We learned how to play make-believe when we were kids, so we became experts as we grew up as doctors, lawyers, school teachers, soldiers, computer programmers, retail store owners and sales associates. We know now that imagination can cause us a great deal of trouble, but in my dreams, I remember plain as day, riding the range with Roy and picking out the new born calves. Memories of make-believe can seem real at times.
Just as Roy was unable to hear his passionate compadres warn him about the villain behind the tree, we can no longer rely on old information to determine our future accomplishments.
The average distance to Mars is 140 million miles from Earth, depending on the solar orbits. At this very minute, NASA is planning for man’s exploration of our 2nd closest neighbor (Venus being the nearest). Taking into account the speed of light, it would take as long as 22 minutes for a signal from Earth to reach the planet, so if a change in trajectory was required, the delay in time would have to be taken into account. Using the fastest spacecraft known today, the average distance in time would be somewhere near 162 days, making a rescue mission all but impossible.
About the time I was warning Roy about the guy behind the tree, businesses made decisions based on data from previous years. 25 years later, not much had changed, but the competitive threats weren’t nearly as dangerous as they were to become later on.
In the mid-80s, the majority of our customers needed no less than 13 weeks of data to make critical business decisions, but most retailers were lucky to get accurate results for months after the data became available, mainly because data was disbursed over a wide landscape, and had yet to be consolidated into a central location. Because of the disparity in systems (POS, accounting software, data collection methods and trading partners), the true disposition of stores are no better than wild guesses, based on very old history and experiences.
The success of an enterprise is directly proportional to the speed in which incoming data can be gathered, correlated and analyzed.
As the distance between constellations is represented by ‘the speed-of-light’, the distance between failure and success in business is represented by ‘the speed-of-thought’, and the ‘speed-of-thought’ is dependent on our everyday interaction with data, which leads to Donald Rumsfeld’s epiphany, “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
Today, winners and losers are determined by their access to information, and if that information has surpassed its expiration date, its value is as ambiguous as rotting vegetables in the aisles of our stores.
Collecting real-time data that can keep us moving in the proper direction, and having the tools to disseminate it into useful information has never been easier, yet we continue to ignore that fact as if it is unimportant. Don’t allow legacy systems to maroon you on a far distant planet, waiting helplessly for rescuers that have moved on to reality.