Some Things Never Go Out of Style

By Jason Rohlf

Last week I was fortunate enough to get away with my family to Walt Disney World. My kids are 12 and 9—old enough where they didn’t require strollers and naps and can appreciate rides and attractions of all types, yet young enough where a place like Disney World can still completely capture their imaginations. I’ve heard some refer to this time as the “sweet spot” in a child’s life, and I can attest that having them all to ourselves in this place at this stage of their lives was as sweet as it gets.

One of the things I personally love about visiting Disney World is its ability to make me feel like a kid the minute I step inside. My parents were good enough to take me and my brother there a couple of times when I was younger, and one of our visits occurred during Epcot’s first year of operation. This was a theme park that was unlike anything that had existed.

When I first visited Epcot, I fondly remember loving all of the rides in Future World in all of their hokey narration and animatronic glory. I also enjoyed bouncing around the World Showcase, where you could watch 360 degree movies, eat exotic food and go on rides that taught you about each country. These experiences remain ingrained in my mind as some of the fondest of my childhood years, which is why I so enjoyed giving my kids the same experience.

Epcot Map, c. 1982

Despite the warm and fuzzy feelings created by this recent visit, I also found myself wrestling with an uneasiness that I wasn’t anticipating. As we walked into the park on Tuesday, I told my kids that I wished I had a time machine that would let me step into 1983 Epcot. Many of the rides and components of the park that I so fondly remembered were either gone or repurposed. The World of Motion, which gave a history of transportation methods throughout humanity, was one of my favorite rides. But now it’s gone and has been replaced Test Track—a fine ride to be sure, but not the one I so fondly remember. Other rides throughout the parks have either been revamped to capitalize on the commercial success of other Disney ventures (Norway’s Maelstrom is now a Frozen ride, and Pirates of the Caribbean now features Johnny Depp animatronics) or worse yet, removed altogether (I miss 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride).

After reflecting a bit, I realized that what I was struggling with was the conflict between feeling an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for my youth while simultaneously coming to grips with the fact that many of the things I was feeling nostalgic for were gone. My mind inevitably wandered to the nature of our work and how rapidly and dramatically things are changing all around us. New business models, artificial intelligence, advanced cyber threats, political uncertainty—the rate and nature of these changes promises to continuously shift and upend our way of thinking and working. If you let your brain stew on it too long, you can quickly hit a downward spiral of helplessness from which there is no escape.

Yes, you are reading this correctly. Taking my kids to Disney World eventually led me to conclude that the world would change so violently that I might be rendered obsolete. But there is a silver lining. While there were many aspects of the parks that didn’t reconcile perfectly with my fond childhood memories, there were three times as many that actually reconciled perfectly. For example, the Haunted Mansion, Country Bear Jamboree and Swiss Family Treehouse haven’t changed one bit. Experiencing these attractions was like stepping into that time machine and seeing things exactly as I remembered them. But where the parallel between nostalgia for my youth and the challenge and promise of my present-day career really hit home was back at Epcot, right inside of its most iconic symbol: Spaceship Earth.

Unlike the rides that had disappeared into my memory, the main part of the Spaceship Earth ride was exactly as I remembered it: a slow, dark, at times eerie and overall purely fascinating journey through the history of human communication. Starting with cavemen hunting in groups, the story progresses through history-altering advancements realized in Egypt, Greece and Rome to the Arab and Jewish scholars who helped rescue humanity’s gains from obscurity, into the Renaissance, the printing press, telegraphs and telephones, all the way through personal computing and the internet. As an added bonus, the ride now features a delightful improvement that allows you to create a custom video that shows you what your future could look like based on the preferences you select. As hokey and dated as those old animatronic rides can seem, my kids agreed that it was one of their very favorite attractions of all the parks.

How exactly does this tie into the challenges we face in our careers? When I began to think about Spaceship Earth as a ride and an icon that sits in the middle of a park that has so drastically changed over time, I realized that despite the changes that swirl around us each and every day, there are some things that thankfully remain constant. Integrity, focus on the customer’s needs, a desire to solve problems no matter what obstacles present themselves, respect for our fellow humans—these principles have served us well over time and continue to hold up in the present day. And because they serve as the core principles of how we operate here at Onspring, I know that I can always rely on them as the foundation of my work. The fact that we can tweak, revise and improve the way we perform our work while remaining true to our principles only makes us more well-equipped to handle whatever is thrown our way.

Just as I look forward to my next opportunity to spend quality time with my family, so too do I welcome the challenges we face in the professional world. And I can take comfort in knowing that while things may seem to change drastically, there are simply some things that never go out of style.

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