Beth Comstock, Vice Chair of GE told me:
"Get used to living in the in-between. The old is going away and the new has not yet emerged. It’s uncomfortable and its chaotic. But it’s happening in pretty much every industry right now.”
Ok, she didn’t tell me personally, but the soundbite found its way to me. Digitally. As such, it was a of digital conversation spread over a long distance. And one way too. Unless, you choose to reply to this, Beth?
The above is true. But maybe bigger and more fundamentally than she’s referring to. If change is happening to business, its because change is happening to society. Business, despite what people think, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. A business is where people hang out. And we like hanging out. We are social beings after all. We like picking knits out of each others hair, or variations thereof. We might choose to ignore it but we’re really pretty closely related to monkeys. We share a fair chunk of our DNA with yeast, so there you have it. Businesses are our social groups.
So, yes, business is changing. Beth would argue accelerating. That may be true. Old is going away, the new has not yet emerged. (Well, on that too, Beth, it probably has emerged, somewhere on the margins, in bite sizes, but it might not yet be commonplace, but I digress).
We have seen some major social changes recently.
Huge population displacements from the middle east and Africa into Europe and beyond. With all this change, comes change. And uncertainty.
All symptoms of the same underlying change, the same old going away but the new not yet revealed?
But good happened too.
25% of the worlds energy was powered by renewable last year. Elon Musk is saving us all. Some of the new revealing?
And other stuff too.
The point of all this. There is some major social, economic and political shit going down. Technology is changing how we work, live and play. It's even changing our brains. Apparently.
Yes, the old is going away and the new is not yet (fully) revealed, which always begs the question… what to do about it?
There a few choices:
1) Nothing. It sounds crazy, but I think the ‘do nothing’ strategy is an interesting one. I read Nike founder Phil Knight’s biography recently and his was an almost spiritual, all empowering mission, Yet they lurched from one crisis to the next, year after year, each one bigger than the previous, each one going to bring more tumbling more terminally down. Yet they survived. They rode the storm. Generally, we’re good at that. We’re resilient. We’re people. We’re human’s. We’re animals. So, when i say ‘do nothing’ i mean ‘just let it happen’. Do nothing. Or, if the Dalai Lama were a corporate coach might say, Just Be (clearly he wouldn't say that, but you get my drift). The Dalai Lama does a lot without an innovation team cracking out 'fast fails'.
2) Out surf the wave. The change Beth talks about is constant and fast moving. I guess she’s really referring to technology which is, for sure, manifesting some pretty fundamental changes to our very being. How to deal with that - out surf it? Innovate faster than the world moves. Clearly that's a crazy idea, yet it is what many companies are in effect trying and do, lurching from one brave new thing to the next. Constantly creating new. Exhausting.
3) Slow down. Look back to go forward or, as we discussed with an old client “Pause to Progress’.
I was looking at a Future Lab paper yesterday.
Of course, predicting the future is hugely compelling. The busyness of No 2 above requires ‘accurate’ and friendly future gazers. That said, Future Lab do of course bring much insight but it’s appeal is partly based on our desire to predict the future. Which of course we can’t, really. Or at all.
Maybe an interesting strategic counterpoint to ‘Future Gazers’ - is to focus instead on the things which don’t change. Or, at the very least, change very slowly. Pausing to Progress.
These of course include fundamental laws of science - hard and soft, which explain human behaviour and interaction, whatever the shifting trends, media or content.
An alternative way to map opportunities for the future might be by looking back through a long lens. A very long lens. There are fundamental laws of physics, biology and more latterly psychology and neuroscience, amongst others of course, which tell us everything about why people do what they do; irrespective of the ‘content’ or the technology or whatever. To an extent, these laws also explain shifting trends too. These laws don’t change. Or, at the very least, they change very slowly. Beautifully slowly.
Exploring contemporary problems/challenges through the lens of fundamental laws seems both strategically sensible but also deeply reassuring. It means the onus is less on keeping up, on predicting, on guessing.
I don’t doubt that teenagers are now visually minded entrepreneurs who don’t write and talk in gifs. Nor do I question that its important for corporate clients to think about what 13 year old girls are doing. Within reason. But, attempting to find a response to these lightening quick changes, to think within the flux, seems quite difficult. Especially for 40+ year olds in a shiny office. Even if they run a focus group. Correction: ESPECIALLY if they run a focus group!
Surely better to look through the long lens.
We are no doubt in a period of big change. Old institutions are breaking, new ones will rise. Old businesses are breaking, new ones will rise. We live in a time of flux. But rather than out fluxing the flux, why not employ the old ideas as a the foundation of thinking beyond time? Maybe the route to the new is in the very old?
Lets ride the waves of change which 2017 is sweeping in calmly and trustingly. And do it with the wisdom of thousands of years of considered thought.
(written from my ipad, iphone, computer, smart tv, smart fridge. excuse any typos).