Navigating the future of business
The world is changing. Businesses everywhere are now apart of a world that is inherently interconnected. This cannot be changed. It is how it is. Successful businesses know this, and so they are learning to quickly adapt.
But what does this interconnectedness have to do with business? And how can this interconnectedness be harnessed to benefit business?
These are great questions. In fact, these questions are essential. After all, some of the changes we are experiencing in the world right now are structural in nature. And, when structural changes occur, there is no going back.
So, what is going on? What is actually happening in the world right now? Here are some of our thoughts:
- Ideas or versions of “impossible” are being constantly challenged.
- People the world over are coming into a greater state of empowerment.
- Automation is entering the world’s workforce.
- Sovereign borders are losing their meaning.
In this blog, we share some of the key evolutions in business-related technologies with you. Before sharing, though, we highlight the essential ingredient for business success in changing times: Discerned adaptability.
Discerned adaption is essential
Adaptability is critical in a changing world. The ability to pivot from one plan or idea to another is key to thriving. In 2011, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled “Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage,” which illustrated the following point:
“Sustainable competitive advantage no longer arises exclusively from position, scale, and first-order capabilities in producing or delivering an offering. All those are essentially static. So where does it come from? Increasingly, managers are finding that it stems from the “second-order” organizational capabilities that foster rapid adaptation. Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.”
This ability to adapt, however, does not come as easily for big businesses. Yet, adaptation is crucial. And, as we’ve highlighted before, this is where small, regional businesses can thrive. In Richard Branson’s words, “[s]mall businesses are nimble and and can often teach much larger companies a thing or two about innovations that can change entire industries.”
A well-tuned small business will “easily outperform its larger counterparts in customer service, trend identification, product output and quantity control.” Additionally, “small means agile and that is a huge competitive advantage … Smaller institutions can take risks because our agility means that we can circumvent obstacles, change direction, reboot plans and respond quickly.”
When adapting, though, discerned action must be taken. The collective brainstorming of new innovative ideas is not enough. The example of Kodak makes this clear. Scott Anthony, the managing partner of the consulting firm Innosight, made the following observations regarding Kodak, which are poignant for all businesses seeking to adapt and get ahead:
“The right lessons from Kodak are subtle. Companies often see the disruptive forces affecting the industry. They frequently divert sufficient resources to participate in emerging markets. Their failure is usually an inability to truly embrace the new business models the disruptive change opens up. Kodak created a digital camera, invested in the technology, and even understood that photos would be shared online. Where they failed was in realizing that online photo sharing was the new business, not just a way to expand the printing business.”
And so the lesson is to adapt, but to discern first. Is there merit in adapting to a specific, new technology or business model? Businesses can ask this question around potential future actions, and then open up a dialogue with colleagues, friends, partners, families, and other stakeholders.
What is dialogue?
In short, “[d]ialogue … is a free flow of meaning that comes through words being spoken. When dialoguing the group has left their positions/titles outside the meeting room. What is being said is important, not who said it.” According to Peter Senge, a leading systems scientist and author, dialogue involves a group exploration into:
“ … [C]omplex difficult issues from many points of view. Individuals suspend their assumptions but they communicate their assumptions freely. The result is a free exploration that brings to the surface the full depth of peoples’ experience and thought, and yet can move beyond their individual views.”
In dialogue, the purpose is to “go beyond any one individual’s understanding.” No-one is trying to win. Everyone wins if the dialogue is done right. Through dialogue, “individuals gain insights that simply could not be achieved individually.”
If you are a small, regional business, you would do well to get out into your community and start engaging in dialogue. There are many technological changes on the horizon and, through dialogue, you can make optimal, discerned actions around whether and to what extent you will adapt.
(Recommended Resource: “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge)
The changes on the horizon
So, we have spoken about how adaptation is now the competitive advantage, and we have highlighted the importance of discernment and dialogue. Now, we will touch on some of the changes around the corner. Bear in mind, these are just some of the changes; we will not cover them all here.
Automation will be king in business
This is the first noticeable change. We have mentioned it before, and it is worthy of further explanation here. In Kevin Kelly’s seminal book, “The Inevitable,” he highlights that “before the end of this century, 70 percent of today’s occupations will … be replaced by automation.” But what will this automation look like? There are numerous examples.
For regional businesses with warehouses, there are speedy robots able to lift close to 70 kilograms “all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks.” Kelly explains that robots like this are already working in Amazon’s warehouses.
In the areas of farming, or fruit picking, Kelly indicates that there will continued robotization “until no humans pick outside of specialty farms.” In Australia, there is an example of this automation in the farming robotic company, SwarmFarm, which comprises:
“[S]mall, lightweight robots that traverse fields 24 hours per day, seven days per week, plucking individual weeds out of the ground without using herbicide; or killing them, using microwave and laser technology.”
Long-haul trucking, too, will become automated. In Kelly’s words: “The highway parts of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs. By 2050 most truck drivers won’t be human.”
And automation will not stop with physical roles. It is moving into white-collar fields, too.
Recently, Xero – a leader in accounting software – announced that it “would unveil a new feature to its software … which would automate the coding of invoices and bank transactions for its small business customers, work that has been conducted personally by business owners and accountants until now.”
(Regional business hint: If you have not already, check out Xero!)
The “reach” and scale of business will increase
The Internet was just the beginning. Businesses can now achieve even greater reach and scale through emerging technologies, like virtual reality and real-time voice/language translation.
“[A] quarter of Aussie households (25.5 per cent) will own a [virtual reality] headset in 2021, opening up lucrative market opportunities for local businesses.” Notably, “more than half of Australian small and medium businesses (59 per cent) are currently investigating or already have a strategy to develop VR applications.”
So, what does this mean for small, regional business? A new way to connect with clients is opening up. In the place of the physical, face-to-face connection, there is the opportunity for regional business owners to capture their spirit, passion and care for clients through virtual reality experiences. The benefit in this is leverage.
This will mean that regional businesses will have another way to sell their products and services. Instead of communicating through e-mails, phone calls or other audiovisual means, prospective clients can “meet” the business owners, enter their world, and feel who they are. Similarly, regional businesses could give their clients a commitment-free way to “try before they buy.”
Where can you get started with virtual reality? Think about where you can integrate it into your business. Dialogue with your team, as well as other stakeholders. And look into how other businesses are using virtual reality. For example, DTE Energy, a Michigan-based electric services company, have been leveraging virtual reality to train their staff in high risk environments.
Additionally, as a regional, small business owner, you are no longer restricted by language barriers. Skype, for example, offers a “real-time translation” feature covering nine spoken languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese (Mandarin), Italian, Portuguese (Brazilian), Arabic and Russian. Of course, this means your reach can be significantly increased.
So, get going!
There is an abundance of information out there regarding the future of business. We have done our best here to distil some of the core components, and also to highlight what we think must be present in a regional business looking to thrive going forward. Adapt with discernment to the changes around the corner, and work together. We are never as effective when we do it alone.