Central to my focus on business evolution is an investigation into the many dynamics that are rapidly changing our world and lives today. To help companies understand this change and prepare for the future, I recently interviewed renowned futurists Thornton May and Gerd Leonhard. I will share highlights from these interviews in a series of upcoming blog posts and hope you find these insights helpful as you explore business evolution and need to continue to transform to remain relevant in today’s rapidly changing environment.
I invite you to tune into my live discussion with Thornton May on the business evolution imperative: Are we Entering a Paradigm Shift as Transformational as the Steam Engine? as part of Digital World with Game-Changers Radio, presented by SAP, taking place on March 3, 10 AM EST.
To introduce the business evolution imperative discussion, I started off by asking both Thornton and Gerd to weigh in on the today’s pace of change. Please let me know if you think we are entering the most transformative period in history by responding on my poll and share your comments on what Thornton and Gerd had to say.
Are we entering the most transformative period in history?
Frank: I am a big believer that the next 20 to 40 years will ultimately be viewed as the most transformative period in history. It will be ushered in by a convergence of forces and a new general purpose technology platform. The exponential progression of technology and innovation, the digital phenomenon, and the ability to rapidly combine building blocks (combinatorial) to create value will make this transformative period unlike any other. Do you agree? If so, why?
Thornton: A parallel question– Did the people living in the Middle Ages know they were living in the Middle Ages? The answer is “of course not.” In the Middle Ages, the concept of progress had not been invented yet. The defining essence of the modern world is that positive change is possible. The real question is: do people living today – at the mid-point of the information economy – know that disruption, constant and ever-accelerating change – is the new normal? Probably not.
Transformation is accretive. From this day forward, every day will be more transformative than the one previous. Every day will be a new adventure. Every day we will go to school. Every day we will have to unlearn something, abandon a deeply held belief and learn something new. The critical competency of this new age will be the ability to daily create new competencies. We need to get comfortable with a world characterized by new devices being on sale before we learn how to use the ones we just bought.
Gerd: We were not there for the printing press, so it’s hard to compare. The technologies we have been playing with for 50 years are finally going to be possible. You know the Internet of Things is a whole order of magnitude more disruptive than the Internet. Everything we have been looking at, including energy, connectivity, and speed, puts us very much in an explosive period, which is both a benefit and an extreme danger. For example, artificial intelligence in this transformative period could be setting the stage for something that is inevitably going to be determined by what we do now. For example, self-learning artificial intelligence could have side effects that can never really be fixed. Clearly, we are living in a period where in the next five years, a lot of companies will need to re-invent about 25 to 50 percent of their revenue streams.
Frank: Do you think companies understand that need for business evolution, or do you see a wait and see attitude?
Gerd: It depends on who you ask within the organization. There is always someone who understands this, but the question is do they make decisions? Part of my job, and probably the same for you, is to instill a little bit of fear that this is actually happening. It’s not just a scene from “Blade Runner,” it’s actually here. If you look at what is happening in the world of technology and science, and the breakthroughs that we are seeing on a daily basis, if you just observe that, you have to be worried and excited at the same time. In Europe, this shock and awe strategy is needed, because otherwise you don’t feel the need to move because it looks like you are going to be OK. In this transformative period, it is good to spend the first 10 to 15% looking at the more scary things, those things that may worry you. But worry isn’t a very good driver of change, because it eventually just depresses you when you have too much of it. Most companies then fall into a state of paralysis. The other 85% should be the idea of saying this is very exciting; what new things can we contribute? That requires a certain amount of imagination. This is one of the biggest differences between the U.S. and Europe, we have imagination, but we don’t let it run free on the business issues. Business imagination is crucial.
Clearly the business evolution imperative is a broad topic with many and short and long-term implications. I look forward to your comments on this and future posts where I will explore different aspects of business evolution and how companies embark on the transformation process to remain relevant and thrive in our time of rapid change.