A setback I experienced as an industrial designer: Getting really good at a particular CAD package or Photoshop rendering technique, then having my entire bag of tricks become obsolete with new packages. To put it in hockey terms, I was the dummy who was always focused on where the puck was; the smarter design freelancers who replaced me anticipated where the puck would be--and leveled up their skills in those emerging packages to get there before I did.
Regardless of what field you're in, and whether you deal with software, hardware, manufacturing or human beings, change and technological disruption can upend your industry or particular job before you know it.
This was a topic that Autodesk CEO Carl Bass tackled in his keynote at this year's Autodesk University, speaking to a huge crowd of designers, engineers, architects and more. And while it was a measure of comfort to see that people a lot smarter than me have made mistakes a lot worse, the real thing to focus on here is how to avoid those mistakes in the first place.
These excerpts from Bass' talk have been edited for length and clarity.
Carl Bass, Autodesk CEO, on dealing with change:
"When we speak about the future, it's kind of funny--year after year I've been on this stage with Jeff [Kowalski, Autodesk CTO] and I have something to confess: Sometimes when I listen to what's being said on this stage it seems like science fiction. I bet to some of you it seems that way too. It feels like this stuff will take years before it becomes practical for you to use, maybe even never.
"But here's something else I've noticed. As crazy as this stuff seems at the time, I come back a few years later and many of you are actually doing the things that we were just speculating about. You're doing today what a few years ago seemed totally impossible. For example, just this year our customer Space X launched history's first reusable rocket. Beer has been delivered autonomously. And Zaha Hadid, who we unfortunately lost this year, brought us a beautiful building that's being manufactured, not built.
"I want to thank you all for taking these ideas that we've been presenting over the years and making them real. This willingness to embrace new ideas to change the way you think and do your work. That's what it's going to take to succeed in a future that's all about change.
"So Jeff talked about the new technologies and the new dynamics around talent that are going to affect all of us. There are a lot of industries facing such challenges, and and we can learn from that. Let me give you my current favorite example:
"In the last 12 months I've met with more auto executives than I probably have in the last 12 years. Why are they suddenly reaching out for answers? They're anxious, because the world around them is changing. Right now there are three important things that are transforming the auto industry: Autonomous cars, car sharing and electric powertrains. Some of the car companies are being really proactive about these changes--and some are not.
"So let's start with self-driving cars. For a hundred years car companies have been obsessed with creating a great experience for drivers: The feel of the car, the responsiveness, the power, the comfort. Some have even claimed to have mastered 'the ultimate driving experience.'
"But once cars drive themselves, there's no such thing as the driver experience. They need to build the ultimate passenger experience. So how do you do that? They get good at building complex sensing and control systems. Their new cars will need software that responds to the world in milliseconds, then gets smarter the more they drive so that they don't make the same mistake twice. Essentially these companies can't just be building cars, they need to be building drivers.
"There's more: Not only will we stop driving our own cars, we may actually not own them either. Most of the people I work with who are under 30, they don't own a car and they don't want to. It's not because we pay them poorly, it's because they get around with kick-scooters and Uber and car sharing. That's what's really scaring the crap out of all the auto execs I've been talking to.
"For a hundred years car ownership influenced everything the industry did. They designed cars to be sold to drivers. Their strength was in their massive distribution network. Last year alone Americans spent almost 600 billion dollars at car dealerships.
"So now car companies have to figure out how to thrive in a new world where people don't pay to buy cars, but pay to access them instead. Instead of buying one car from a dealership that you'll own for maybe a decade, you'll start thinking about transportation as a service. As a service you'll get from a range of providers. For example, if you need to get across town you can get that car that does 40 miles an hour from Google. If you have a long trip on the highway maybe the Mercedes that does 180 miles an hour, that's more appropriate.
"The companies that embrace this change from ownership to access, these are the companies that are really going to win. It's funny--five years ago I was talking to an auto company and they were unbelievably dismissive of electric cars. They were making fun of it. They said electric cars were a crazy California idea, that it wasn't going to go anywhere. That company spent a bunch of years totally in denial and now where are they? They're struggling to catch up.
"Even though I am personally a crazy Californian, I understand why they dismissed electric powertrains. If you've spent a hundred years learning how to make the best combustion engines and transmissions, that's how you see the world. If you only have hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If you're great at something that's about to become less important, it's almost impossible to see that new thing that's about to become essential.
"So if you're great at internal combustion engines, how do you make the transition to electric? Well, I would suggest you experiment. Think about those naysaying auto execs. What they should have done is create a small team and send them off to build a car with an electric drive train. That way they wouldn't be on the sidelines they would've gotten the experience and they would've been right in the game today.
"So what message can we take from this? I think it's that regardless of the scale of your company, you still need to experiment. Now R&D doesn't need to be this really large research and development facility; R&D could stand for Rachel and Dave. What's important is that you're proactive and not afraid of what these seemingly crazy new ideas represent. So this is just one example of an industry dealing with three massive changes all at the same time. That's what we crazy Californians call disruption.
"Most of us, when faced with this, we want to ignore it. We even want to run away from it. But that's actually the thing I think you need to run towards. The thing to understand is that disruption can be the source of new value. It might really be what makes your company great in the future."
Readers: Bass was obviously very careful not to mention the name of the auto company that had their head in the sand. Any of you want to venture a guess as to which company it was?