Innovate or Else
By Rick Docksai
At WorldFuture 2012, consultant Jim Harris warns about being blindsided.
Futuring is not just about building the future, but also about being prepared for the future that others are building.
Confectionary giant Mars Inc. suddenly lost huge amounts of revenue about four years ago. Why? Was it other candy companies stepping up competition? No: It was due to the proliferation of SMS messaging, and young people preferring to spend money on mobile texting services than on chocolate bars.
At “WorldFuture 2012: Dream. Design. Develop. Deliver,” management consultant Jim Harris, author of Blindsided, cited Mars’ dilemma as a prime example of the unanticipated changes in environment that can “blindside” a business and catch any business off guard.
“When these trends begin to shift, companies best get in early on the change, rather than wait until it rolls over on them,” he said.
No business or organization can predict what new challenges will emerge in years ahead, he pointed out, but they can make sure that they will be as responsive and adaptable as possible. The key, he said, is innovation.
“Innovation is the flipside of blindsiding. Innovation is the solution, is the antidote to avoid being blindsided,” he said. “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
More game-changers for business might be all around us, he went on to say. And whether you’re in the confectionary industry or not, you’ll want to keep on the lookout for them. He suggested a few of them.
In Kenya, for instance, only a quarter of the population has a bank account. Enter the new app MPesa, account on your mobile phone and you can text funds to family members or other contacts. The size of the transactions are tiny, and the mobile company (Safari) takes a cut that is miniscule compared to what mobile phone companies would take as part of the transaction. Given how MPesa raises its impoverished users’ standards of living by helping them conduct commerce, it’s not far-fetched to think that it might eventually make its way to communities in the industrialized world.
“Think this could roll over the world of western banking as we know it?” Harris asked.
Medical care is ripe for blindsiding by medical tourism, he added. Many heart patients might decline a $100,000 triple-bypass operation in the United States and go instead to an accredited hospital in India, where they could obtain the same procedure for $10,000.
India is also the scene of a new sub-compact, fuel-efficient car, the Nano. A buyer can get one new for $2,500. Harris noted that in the first two weeks following its debut, the company sold two-thirds of a year’s worth of production—could this take the whole automotive world by surprise?
Open-source software is yet another game changer. Harris cited Malaysia, which instituted a Microsoft-Word-like Open Office program. Its code would have cost $10 billion for software professionals to assemble, but Malaysia did it for free, with all coding contributed by volunteers.
Harris reserved particular plaudits for open-source knowledge sharing, which he said businesses everywhere need to find ways to utilize. It can only help, he argued, to be able to draw more information and perspective from more people, but too many businesses are sticking to vertical leadership modes that utilize only the know-how of the few executives at the top.
“The democratization of information, of knowledge, is a powerful trend,” he said. “We have a nineteenth-century management model in a twenty-first-century reality. Corporations need to work in new ways to unleash that hidden talent and potential.”
Nor is it a coincidence that every one of the potentially radical innovations that Harris described has emerged in developing countries, places that most established industry professionals would be inclined to ignore. The nature of blindsiding changes, according to Harris, is that they can arise from where one might least expect them.
As a corollary, he told his audience, any established industry must continue to stay on top of newly emerging trends, or else it will surely be taken by surprise. At the very least, it will short-change its customers. He offered Ford as a case in point: Ford’s turn-of-the-century Model T got 25 miles per gallon, and a Ford SUV today gets an even paltrier 17 miles per gallon. Hence, U.S. car buyers’ dependence on fossil fuels only continues to grow, despite the advent of hybrid technologies that could mitigate it.
“If every car in North America got the same efficiency as my Prius, there would be no need to import oil into North America,” he said. “We have all the resources we need to solve the problems facing our world. It’s merely a matter of priorities.”
For more information, contact: Jim Harris, Strategic Advantage, www.strategicadvantage.com.
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