David Harkins

David Harkins

Dr. David L. Harkins is a social scientist researching the human experience in systems and culture. He is an experienced executive coach and consultant, passionate educator, and keynote speaker. Through his teachings, inspiration, and guidance, he helps individuals and organizations identify and connect with their potential to make a meaningful difference in their communities.

Looking through the wrong end of the telescope

Recently I had the privilege of proposing a couple of new product ideas to a small group of folks. Both ideas involved new media, never before used by the organization in this fashion. Early in the conversation, one member in the group said something like, “…in the 80’s we made a decision not to move away from our printed materials because we want to take a stand on literacy. We believe encouraging people to read the materials we provide is the best way to engage them and support our literacy plan.”


I countered with the need to address alternative learning styles of the target audience and noted the cultural changes. What I left unsaid, but probably should not have, was in 1985 the technology that we use today (especially today’s youth) did not exist. There were no iPod’s, and the music was just beginning to be delivered on CDs. Cell phones were not prevalent except in the wealthiest households, and the Blackberry™ was not yet invented. The Internet, as we know it today, was not available. VCRs were the norm. Text messaging—not even a glimmer in someone’s eye. So, how could anyone possibly believe that our 1980’s thinking about these things is still relevant today?

This outdated thinking makes these brands seem less relevant to today’s world. Many of these organizations have become so rooted in their past that they have put their entire future at risk to preserve their traditions and corporate cultures. They persist in developing marketing and product plans based on what is now an outdated idea of what was current thinking at some tiny point in their history. There is no faster way to kill a brand than to think about future opportunities looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Sadly, this is what many of America’s oldest companies and non-profit organizations do every day.

If you are still making a product, program, or marketing decisions based on 80’s, 90’s or even 2007’s cultural norms or content delivery systems, you need to consider how you can reconnect to the world around you. Start by asking yourself how relevant your company or non-profit organization brands are in today’s world.You may simply find that your message is still sound, it is the messenger that needs refreshing.

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