I live in a town with a lot of old houses. By the town’s definition, that’s 50 years or more, although there are a lot of homes that are well over 100 years old. I should know: I live in one. Oh sure, a lot has been changed, both in my house and in many others, but the original structure and feeling of the building has been preserved. It’s part of what I liked about this town until recently. While there is plenty of new construction, much of the work was about adding on and/or renovating.
I used the past tense because the trend over the last few years has been to knock down the older homes and build overly large new homes – they’re known as McMansions here. In fact, a local website features a Teardown Of The Day photo of some old home that is destined to be destroyed. Fortunately, we also have a Historic District Commission, and plans to rip down any home that’s over 50 years old are reviewed to be sure that no historic buildings or ones with historical value to the town are destroyed.
What does this have to do with business? I was reminded by it when I came across a quote from the critic Ada Louise Huxtable. She noted almost 50 years ago, “What preservation is really all about, is the retention and active relationship of buildings of the past to the community’s functioning present.” The same is true of sound business principles, which all too often are discarded like an old house as new technologies change the nature of the businesses.
Some of what I do with clients when I begin working with them is to clarify the “old” business thinking that needs to be preserved as we add on the new stuff. It’s akin to upgrading the electrical system and insulation which leaving the sound structure intact. Sure, some of the old stuff needs to be tossed – you aren’t dependent on others for content distribution, for example, or your marketing can’t be a bullhorn, constantly blasting “buy me” messages. Still, the underlying principles behind distribution and marketing haven’t changed since I’ve been in business (and I’m very much one of those historic houses at this point). Confusing tools with the business just does not work.
I guess that makes me a preservationist. I believe in retaining the sound old stuff and placing it into a present context. What about you?