#TBT: The Past Is Gone

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: The Past Is Gone.

For human beings, the past is a presence. It’s with us all the time in both simple and complex ways. When we step off the curb into a busy street, the hundreds of times we’ve successfully crossed a street safely guide our decisions or the story we heard about a person who didn’t. When we open our mouths to talk to speak to our parents, the years and years of talking to them sometimes seems to choose the words for us. It’s the past talking.

That is, of course, unless we’re aware of it and manage to choose the present that we actually want. Easier said than done, obviously.

In business, though, the process of picking the present instead of living the past has gotten a boost in the last couple of years [circa 2010]. This recession is brutal, but it is definitely doing what recessions are supposed to do, which is to trim the dead weight of the past and make the tree, eventually, ready for healthy growth again.

I saw that Continental Airlines is laying off hundreds of phone-based reservations agents, and while it’s always tough for people to lose their jobs, I think most of us would agree that the idea of hundreds of people sitting in a room, logging onto the Continental website on your behalf, taking the same information you’d be typing into that website and then “issuing” you a ticket is not a particularly good use of human capital at this point.

In the last decade, you “had” to keep a legacy staff of phone sales people. For a long time, it was this: “The web is great, but most people still book by phone.” Then it was, “The web is where most people book tickets, but we still have a core of patrons who book by phone.”

Live entertainment faces the exact same thing. Phone sales are part of the past, which is dead and gone and never coming back. A few years ago, a survey that Goldstar did showed that even among the 65+ cohort, the web was the preferred way to buy tickets. Things will have evolved significantly since then.

I’m not saying no one buys tickets or wants to buy tickets via phone from you any more. I’m just saying that for most venues, it’s close enough that if you dropped it, they’d probably just go use the web.

It’s hard to let go of the past in ways big and small. It’s much more comforting to think of the future as a gradual continuation of the present, but it’s not always the case. I’m not really overly concerned about whether venues do phone sales or not. But what I do think is important is that they confront the present not through the lens of the buried past, but of current and future reality.

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