Views On The Role of Business Are Shifting Again

Prior to the 1980s (Specifically the post world war two era), there was a belief that business had a higher purpose than generating profits. This somewhat cyclical debate about the role of business is back again. Business in the post-war era served a broad set of stakeholders, not just the shareholder. Early business corporations formed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were created specifically to create roads, canals, railroads, and banks. There was a focus on service, not maximizing investment returns. In these periods, business focused on stakeholder capitalism. Investopedia defines it this way:

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Guarding Against Future Crises In Business

In the early days of 2021, there is still an uneasy feeling involved in any search for a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, it may be that this will always remain the case. And yet, without disregarding or minimizing the tragedy that the pandemic has inflicted all across the globe, there are certain potential positives coming to light.

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Organizing For Future Readiness

Back in 2013, weak signals clearly pointed to a structural change that was desperately needed. In a Post from that year, I described the type of change I envisioned in a world that looked very different than the world where these structures were born. The pandemic, as it has on so many levels, made something lying beneath the surface very visible. What it should also illuminate for leaders is that the future is uncertain, approaching rapidly, and likely to contain regular extreme events. Those factors make future readiness crucial to viability. To be future-ready, and to operate in a world dominated by uncertainty and pace, structures must change. When I say structure, I mean a broad set of things to consider:

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The Future Of Work: Outcomes, Trust, And Empowerment

As the world focuses on a global pandemic, remote work has been a popular topic. As reported by Brian Fung, Google just Announced  the extension of their remote work policy to July of 2021 – an acknowledgement that the pandemic could be with us a while. Siemens decided to make their policy permanent, but as this Recent Announcement indicates, their approach is very refreshing. Following in the footsteps of others, Siemens is adopting a new model that will allow employees worldwide to work from anywhere they feel comfortable. The permanent standard allows employees to leverage the new model for an average of two to three days a week. This article by Justin Bariso focuses on the refreshing part of the announcement, reflected in this quote by incoming CEO Roland Busch:

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Autonomy Is The Future Of Business

Several recent articles have focused on a world that is changing faster than anything the world has ever experienced. From the socioeconomic front, to the geopolitical, to the technological, and more, the pace is accelerating. This Acceleration is not new, but it seems that it finally made the radar of organizational leaders. This phenomenon calls into question the traditional view of five-year plans. The world in five years likely looks quite different than our current world. This puts the ability to pivot and change at the heart of future organization success criteria. This new-found awareness highlights the need for flexibility, resilience, and adaptability, likely accelerating the path Towards Digital Transformation.

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A Dear John Letter to HR

Nahal Yousefian is a Chief Human Resources Officer. She reached out recently to discuss her passion for disrupting the Human Resources function. She has moved from conforming in the system to learning about and experimenting with more effective models of organizational design, capability, and ultimately psychology. She pointed out that many systems and structures were designed precisely to reinforce a centralized, command and control flow of work versus an agile and responsive model. She has reframed her personal purpose at work and strives to create the world of work anew.

I will let her tell you the rest of the story in this brilliant Dear John letter that she wrote to HR. Every function, every institution, every mental model could benefit from a similar letter. It is my continued hope that more people like Nahal make it their personal purpose to think differently about these fossils from our past. Enjoy her letter.

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The Changing World of Human Resources

A recent Article explores those things keeping most Chief Human Resources officers (CHROs) up at night.  According to Gartner, CHROs believe three topics are impacting the future of work: AI and automation, the gig economy and an aging yet multi-generational workforce. However, Gartner also believes that they are missing some key trends. They identified these six trends as areas for chief human resources officers to consider:

  1. Unethical Use of Employee Data
  2. Falling Barriers to Access
  3. Automation of the Manager Role
  4. Elimination of On-the-Job Learning
  5. Radical Transparency
  6. Rising Demand for Remote Work

Like every corporate function, human resources will face its share of change in the coming years. According to Gartner research, only 9% think their organisation is prepared for the future of work. Explore each trend in the article referenced above.

 

Supply Chain of the Future: Humans Optional?

As science and technology continue their rapid advance, traditional constructs are challenged; Supply chains are no exception. Here is a brief video that highlights many of the advances that transform how we think about supply chains in the future. As it wraps up, a curated set of videos that touch on several of these advances is provided. Special thanks to Bill Quinn, Rose Castellon-Rodriguez, and Kevin Mulcahy for producing the video.

Be sure to visit the Reimagining the Future YouTube Channel to explore additional topics.

Ecosystem Models are Key to Future Strategies

Our structures and institutions are increasingly challenged by rapid innovation in science and technology. As  Klaus Schwab stated in his book Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we face the task of understanding and governing 21st-century technologies with a 20th-century mindset and 19th-century institutions. One such institution is our vertically-oriented industry structure. We are in the early stages of An Ecosystem Evolution, where the boundaries between industries are completely blurred. The creation and capture of value is increasingly horizontal in nature, ultimately giving Rise to a Finite Set of Ecosystems.

As this shift occurs, our strategies are iterative in nature and guided by a constantly evolving view of emerging ecosystems. At the heart of this work lies Ecosystem Models. These models provide a range of possibilities inherent in emerging ecosystems, and  identify three critical facets:

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The Strategic Foundation

In my last post, I explored the evolution of business in the industrial age. This Fourth Iteration of Business establishes resilience on a foundation of automation and intelligence. Resilience may be more important than the productivity gains that are sure to be realized as we progress towards Business 4.0, providing the capacity to recover quickly as the pace of shifts accelerates. This visual represents a strategic foundation for Business 4.0.

The Strategic Foundation

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The Fourth Iteration of Business in the Industrial Age

The evolution of business in the industrial age has mirrored the progression of three industrial revolutions; moving us from its first iteration to our current form. The emerging Fourth Industrial revolution ushers in another shift, culminating in something that likely looks much different than its predecessors. A brief look at this journey shows us the linkage:

Iteration One: The first industrial revolution introduced mechanization and had significant impacts on business and the labor force. Business in this period was transformed, as the steam engine enabled us to replace human and animal-based muscle with machines.

Iteration Two: Several forces converged during the second revolution to elevate our standard of living. The post-war period that followed was defined by a high level of consumption that drove business in the mass production era. Henry Ford famously said: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”

Iteration Three: The third industrial revolution revolved around information technology, electronics, and communications, ushering in a period of computerization and automation. Businesses were once again transformed through significant gains in productivity and a shift away from Henry Ford era standard products to more customization.

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At the Heart of Digital Transformation

Creating a strategic foundation

To transform is to change in form, appearance, structure, condition, nature, or character. It is an overly used word that can be made to fit several narratives. Yet, given its definition, the dynamics of what is sure to be a volatile and complex future should compel us all to transform. I believe however, that the narrative must change. This is not a technology discussion, and it is not a digital discussion (although digital is the reason we are here). Rather, it is discussion of likely structural shifts that alter our beliefs and intuitions. These shifts will fundamentally change the way we think about organizations.

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Perspectives on the Journey

A key message in the Reimagining the Future body of work is that our growing digital world challenges every aspect of how we do business, how we govern and how we live. It will drive significant strategic, tactical and structural changes and fundamentally alter our long-standing beliefs, success strategies and institutional constructs. We’re already seeing it.  Just look at companies like Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Tencent, Google, Alibaba and Facebook.  They are rewriting the rules and redefining how value is created and captured, using digitally-centered platforms and ecosystem-enabled business models.

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Strategy and Multiple Futures

I recently engaged with fellow futurists on an article for Digitalist Magazine titled Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures. I think the authors truly captured the challenges of strategic planning in a world where pace and the sheer volume of change makes our emerging future anything but predictable. The focus on story telling as the most effective way to communicate potential futures is powerful, and the Lowe’s example really brings that point home. I recommend this articles to leaders everywhere. Here is a powerful quote:

“Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.”

Machines, Platforms, and Crowds

Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson – Authors of The Second Machine Age – wrote a new book which they launched in the middle of this year. Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future builds upon their first book, exploring three big trends that are reshaping the business world:

  1. The rapidly increasing and expanding capabilities of machines
  1. The large and influential young companies (Platforms) that bear little resemblance to the established incumbents in their industries, yet are deeply disrupting them
  1. The emergence of the crowd: the large amount of human knowledge, expertise, and enthusiasm distributed all over the world and now available

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Dual Transformation

In a recent book titled Dual Transformation, the authors (Scott D. Anthony, Clark G. Gilbert, and Mark W. Johnson) focus on the challenging task of transforming the core while simultaneously creating a growth engine. They refer to it as dual transformation: Transformation A – repositioning the core, and Transformation B – creating the new. This complex tension is represented in this visual from our upcoming leadership course: Reimagining the Future: A Journey through the Looking Glass.

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Human Traits in an Exponential World

Our exponential world puts increasing pressure on our capacity to innovate and the speed and quality of idea flow. This dynamic coupled with the speed at which automation is likely to occur brings our right brain characteristics front and center. Creativity, imagination, big picture vision, emotional and social intelligence, empathy, and other human characteristics are critical to navigating in this emerging future. As automation accelerates, these human traits become even more critical. In a recent report by Citi on Technology at Work, the authors point to our propensity for social interaction, communication, and empathy being something machines can never replace.

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See the Future, Rehearse it and Adapt to the Inevitable Shifts

In my last post, I described a Sense and Respond model that sits at the heart of several activities, including scenario, opportunity, and risk analysis. As complexity and pace continue to intensify, uncertainty increases. To survive in this Emerging Future, we must embrace a framework for future thinking,  and an organization that can adapt as it shifts. In essence, we must see the future, rehearse it, continuously monitor for shifts, and adapt as the shifts occur. A sense and respond model sits at the core of the framework – but represents the biggest cultural challenge.

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The Experience Journey Gets Complicated

My ongoing work on emerging future scenarios has driven a renewed focus on experience. Several factors are converging to shift the experience end game; specifically, the evolution of Ecosystems and the transformation of Interaction. These two forces – themselves the result of combinatorial innovation – are converging. While the way we interact continues to shift, a parallel evolution towards ecosystems is occurring. This ecosystem evolution introduces systemic complexity and combines with a shifting interaction paradigm to alter the way we think about experience.

Interaction Paradigm Shifts Phase OneFigure 1: Phase One of a pending shift in interaction paradigms

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