When I emigrated from England to America in the early ‘80s, I found that some of the sayings my mom taught me didn’t translate. I got puzzled looks when I said something like: “Looks don’t fill a cupboard.” (Translation: Don’t judge a book by its cover). One saying that did translate was: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” A similar one I learned after being here awhile was: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
As a result of this idiom confusion, I often found myself pausing momentarily each time before using a saying to try and mentally edit out the ones I knew wouldn’t translate. Once Google arrived, it was easy to go and research the origin and proper use of many of my old imprinted phrases―plus the ones that I’ve picked up here.
As a communications professional, I have seen things change dramatically―especially in the last 10 years. Reaching an audience with a message is now much more complicated than it was in preceding decades. The evolving media landscape and how information is accessed and shared requires much more creativity to find and connect with an audience.
The people didn’t go away―they just changed how they consumed information and became a wee bit harder to find. This is where the old-dogs-and-new-tricks idiom falls apart.
Call it sink or swim. I prefer to see it as adaptation driven by core skills and reliable tenets. Now, we effectively find audiences for client messages though a cocktail of cooler options including demographics, psychographics and technographics―realizing the best campaigns utilize multiple channels, message types and even give us quicker feedback than before.
Tastes and appetites change over time. Newer generations bring different expectations. Who’d have thought that nerds would have become as cool as they are now? (Cool nerd test: Do you wear those thick, dark-rimmed glasses? Just sayin’). But with all this, information is the currency whose value continues to rise. And, we seek that information from wherever we can get it.
So what does all of this mean? It’s good news, really. If you’re concerned you’ll hit a point and become an old dog unable to learn new tricks, then don’t be. This idiom hasn’t passed the test of time with me or with most of the optimistic, knowledge-hungry, curious people I know. You can learn new tricks, continue to grow and change. But remember in your learning, hold on to the time-tested truths: communicate clearly, don’t deceive your audience, perceive real needs and keep it simple.
As we used to say, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” (Do you say that here?) When it comes to communicating with an audience, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same-ish!