I’ve always thought we can learn a lot from a great story of the past. My father always told me that by doing so we can avoid making the same mistakes ourselves. I can remember him reading me stories and then asking what I learned from them and what I would have done differently.
So with that in mind I want to recommend a great story to read if you are an educator today. It’s the story of the history of the Swiss watch making industry. It can be found all over the web if you’re interested in a longer version. Here goes:
In the 1940’s the Swiss watch industry enjoyed a well-protected monopoly. The industry prospered in the absence of any real competition. Thus, prior to the 1970s, Switzerland held 50% of the world watch market.
In 1969 when Seiko unveiled the first quartz watch, the Swiss watch manufacturing industry was a mature industry with a centuries-old global market and deeply entrenched patterns of manufacturing, marketing and sales. Switzerland chose to remain focused on traditional mechanical watches, while the majority of world watch production embraced the new technology.
Despite these dramatic advancements, the Swiss hesitated in embracing quartz watches. At the time Swiss mechanical watches dominated world markets. From their position of market strength, and with a national watch industry organized broadly and deeply to foster mechanical watches, many in Switzerland thought that moving into electronic watches was unnecessary.
Others, outside of Switzerland, however, saw the advantage and further developed the technology, and by 1978 quartz watches overtook mechanical watches in popularity, plunging the Swiss watch industry into crisis. This period of time was marked by a lack of innovation in Switzerland at the same time that the watch making industries of other nations were taking full advantage of emerging technologies.
As a result of the economic turmoil that ensued, many once profitable and famous Swiss watch houses disappeared. The period of time completely upset the Swiss watch industry both economically and psychologically. During the 1970s and early 1980s, technological advances resulted in a massive reduction in the size of the Swiss watch industry. By 1988 Swiss watch employment fell from 90,000 to 28,000 thus crippling the Swiss economy.
In looking at the history of Swiss watchmaking, it’s clear that by not responding to the electronic revolution, it nearly lost the industry completely. Initially, companies were slow to embrace quartz technology, but many companies eventually realized it was the key to their survival and to the industry as a whole. In 1997, Swiss production of finished watches was 33 million pieces, with 30 million being quartz analog, and the rest mechanical. By finally embracing the change, albeit late, the industry has partially recovered, employing 56,000 in 2012.
Education, I believe, is facing a similar crisis today. Technological advances and globalization are changing society as we know it and Education holds the responsibility of preparing our young people for this new era. If we wait too long, and remain focused on traditional methods as the Swiss watch makers did, a great number of students will exit high school early or complete high school unprepared for todays workforce. Our work as educators will only remain relevant if we adapt with the changing times.
Please read this story carefully and start pushing yourself if you are not already doing so. Let’s learn from this great story of the past and not make the same mistakes.