Fresh Perfections

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IMGCAP(1)]Change now is like snow: It accumulates by the minute, by the hour, by the day, sifting down in tiny increments that obscure the bigger picture, so that even if you notice the individual flakes as they come, you rarely see how they’re completely reshaping the landscape around you.

It helps occasionally to let the skies clear and take a long look back, to seek some perspective, as Allan Koltin does in his article in this issue (see page 10), where he revisits a newsletter he wrote about the issues facing the accounting profession in 1988, and finds them vastly different from those accountants struggle with today. No one worried then about succession planning or staffing shortages, Koltin writes, and technology was barely mentioned. In the decades between, in the whiteout blizzard of change, new issues have arisen — as have the opportunities, and those who deal with the former and make the most of the latter.

And they will all change again, though it may not take decades any more.

In 1818, in an unfinished poem called Hyperion about the overthrow of the Titans by the more-familiar Olympian gods like Zeus and Poseidon, English poet John Keats has one of the Titans lament the inevitability of their downfall by saying that, just as he and his fellows had been better than the Chaos that preceded their rule, “So on our heels a fresh perfection treads.”

The future treads on our heels; it crowds up behind us; it jostles us while it waits impatiently for us to finish our turn; it breathes down our necks. If you’re not feeling it yet, you will soon. The future won’t wait, and there are fresh perfections lined up and ready to go.

Or — and this, rather than gloomy lamentations about the inevitability of change, is the point here — we can stay a step ahead of the future; we can be or create those fresh perfections ourselves, rather than letting them overtake us. Look back, and see how far you and the profession have come in 10 or 20 years — and then look forward. Plan a similar leap for the next 10 or 20 years, and figure out where you should be.

If you’re a regular reader of Accounting Today, you’ll know the elements of change that are crowding up behind you: technology of all kinds, but particularly the cloud; demographic changes; the succession and staffing crises; commoditization; massive and frequent regulatory upheaval; and half a dozen other major shifts in everything from marketing to billing to partnership structure. Rather than let them overwhelm you and leave you behind, grumbling like a displaced Titan, beat them to the punch. What will a firm that has successfully negotiated those challenges — or, better yet, incorporated them — look like in five years? 10? 20? If you can identify the necessary changes and make them ahead of your peers, you won’t have to worry about them treading on your heels or breezing past you. You’ll be the fresh perfection that everyone else worries about.

Here’s the only catch: You have to keep it up. Once generational, change is now constant. And while you may not have to match every change — there will always be some perfections that pass you by — you need to keep your eyes open every time, and take advantage of any glimpses into the long distance that you can find.

Because the future no longer comes as a single revolt on Olympus that puts a new pantheon in place for centuries. It comes like snow, accumulating in small increments, minute by minute and hour by hour, until the skies clear and you suddenly realize everything around you is different.

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