retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

As even casual readers of this column know, I try to find lessons everywhere. Whether it’s from movies, sports, world events, economics, children’s games or fashion, I argue that there is always something for us to consider and learn.

And then there’s Congress ... where the best lesson may be to watch what happens and head the other way.

Well, the hits just keep on coming. The Omaha World-Telegram reported on an amazing discussion in the Senate last week surrounding proposals to limit the fees charged on ATMs. It turns out that Nebraska’s two senators - one a Democrat and one a Republican - aren’t exactly cutting edge on technology. One admitted he has never used an ATM; the other said he might have used one three or four times in his life.

Now think about that for a second. We’re talking about a technology that was invented in the 1960s and has been ubiquitous in the US since the early 1980s. ATMs are found in literally millions of locations around the US including on the way to the Senate floor. Sure, we could forgive Senators for leading unusual lives that somehow remove them from what the rest of us face daily, but this one just seems too much to swallow. (Ironically, the inventor of the ATM died only a few days before this news appeared. He was 84, older than either Nebraska Senator.)

However, making fun of Congressional quirkiness is hardly a lesson or a challenge. Rather, I think we have to consider the attitude of anyone in power ignoring a technology that is popping up all around them.

It wasn’t that long ago that many CEOs I knew bragged that they had a computer on their desk…but they never, ever turned it on. Some mentioned this like a badge of courage. Likewise, their use of e-mail consisted of reading the notes printed on paper by their assistants. It wasn’t until a handful of fellow leaders starting demonstrating the incredible time savings of new technologies for themselves and their companies that we started to see a change. Today we have top executives checking Blackberries (and beyond) just like everyone else.

Now certainly we all have the same problem that there is only so much time in the day and only so many technologies we can learn. I’d hate to find an executive driving a fork lift, running price checks or waiting by the fax machine instead of doing something more productive. Nor would I like to have executives constantly checking You Tube, Facebook or Twitter for updates. The nature of management jobs demands that we leave certain tasks - and technologies - to others. But that doesn’t excuse ignorance or apathy.

We live in a time when more generations are working together than ever. Think of the stunning opportunity to sit down with a junior member of your team to talk about the technologies they use. You might learn things about social media, mobile devices, killer apps and more. At the minimum these talks will make you sound tons cooler and at the upside may give you business ideas beyond anything you could imagine. You might learn about how your employees are using technology to produce benefits in ways you could never imagine or, better yet, the ideas they have to use technology even more productively in the future. You might learn more about what your customers do today and what they are likely to do tomorrow.

So for once, we have Congress to thank. After all, we want to studiously avoid becoming like the distinguished senators from Nebraska who at some point must have wondered about those strange machines outside banks, airports, supermarkets and their offices. (It’s not like Congressmen get money in other ways, is it?)

No one is saying that you have to be expert in every emerging technology, but certainly don’t bury your head in the sand. Or in Congress.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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