The Future Mix
The Future - From Now On
Deeply Inspired Thought And Inspiration Beats Strategy And Planning
This means thinking very deeply about the customer of the future. It means investment senior time and money to work that helps the business solve for as yet unknown needs. It means completely and constantly being prepared to adjust the organisation accordingly - reconfiguring leadership processes, decision making, overall capability, partnerships and culture.
“Today, now, this very moment, is the slowest pace of change you will experience in the rest of your life.”
“Future leaders will need to shift their perspective. They must understand that the only role, of every business is not as a process to be managed, or a product to be produced, but rather as a ceaseless problem-solving machine.”
“At a shocking rate every single dimension of life is becoming transformed by digital. And we can see and feel these changes in everything. Our lifestyles, our work, our travel - every choice we make.”
“We've never before been so surrounded by such waves and blizzards of media. Many of us say subsumed by noise -the subject of many irritating interventions.”
“We award value in very different ways these days. We live in an age of celebrity. It’s a world of influencer marketing where every product or service we buy is surrounded with comment trails and ratings that significantly inform our choices.”
Marketing Or Manufacturing?
“The value we see in every product or service is no longer the sum of the parts used but in the way we have unprecedented access to the parts. For example - ordering a burger allows us almost infinite choices. The type of meat, the style it gets cooked, the dressing and toppings we would like, the nature of the bun, whether we wish to save a rainforest, do we actually need the cutlery, is there a sales incentive, when the rider will arrive, their name and phone number, where they are on the map, how much we tip - what we felt and how could it be improved.”
“In the near future - the pharmaceutical pill will have a mini sensor to report if it was absorbed. How it’s constitution can be immediately altered, customized perfectly, the effect it is having, remembered forever. The effect will be learned, the improvement produced ubiquitously and connected even more seamlessly to help far more people.”
“The genie is out of the bottle - every aspect of our world more tracked, transparent, automated, unbundled, intelligent and fluid than ever. No regulation, industry structure or model, no particular capability asset or skill will hold back this charging accelerating change.”
Living Life - A Different Way
Complete freedom of choice will be a new normal. This changes some major fundamentals - we don’t need to own stuff if we can hire it. We can experience things when we want rather than build our own museums. Our work lives will be made out of portfolios - built through multiple possibly related connections and conversations. Sitting on simpler platforms. No longer jobs for life but capabilities for hire.
Living In The Open
Technologies will be increasingly embedded, less the discussion and more accepted and expected. The information and insight (data) inside all this interconnection will mean a singularity of sorts. We will be indivisible from being understood, served, measured and scored. Right now we are struggling not to be controlled - in the future we will call this service.
The Promised Land
Platforms offer another shot at the hope of democratisation. Designers are revolutionising how we have access to products and services. As they are increasingly ‘plugged in’ and scaled (distributable) across new more trusted and transparent systems (distributed ledgers) we will be less centrally constrained by authority and see a return to a more free and balanced society.
Technology also assists in localised production. This gives us access to more flexible, dispersed and customised solutions that reduce the cost of distance. It also heralds the next wave of consumer expectation. To control completely the more immediate delivery of everything. We can see how we can change, customise, personalise and recreate every aspect of our lives - from our genes to our furniture. Future consumption becomes a perpetual act of co-robo-creation.
An Immediate Life
When we digitise anything (software) we make distance and time collapse. The business winners who can design that immediacy complete with rich experience and utility. The winners will have removed the rote and low value tasks (to consumers). Automation and the connected individual will reap differences that appear to deliver magic because automated completion will ‘disappear’ the tedium we experience today.
We Are Smarter
The automatic connecting (machines behind the scenes) brings compound benefits and we are starting to realise what that means. Artificial Intelligence will not appear to be artificial - it will be very real because all the machines are doing the learning.
Countless objects being connected is an incredible vision to anticipate. We will be able to add intelligence and usefulness to everything. All our possessions, and how we journey through our lives and and the decisions we make will be super informed by what we experienced and felt.
We have to remember the learning part in all this. We will teach the ‘machinery’ whether we liked each encounter, how they interpreted us for our individual benefit, did it add value or not.
A Whole New Reality
Creativity is often stated as the raw material and key skill in the future. We will have help through the stimulus provided by the new cocktails mixer of the virtual and the real. Our brains will be fed by unimaginable new mixtures that have a literal ‘world of suggestive possibilities’ to rely on. These will expand our perspectives and open up infinite new ideas.
These will assist us in everything. It will bring forward countless solutions and services. New experiences for everything - from gamification to customisation. It seems strange to think we will be comfortable with this but we recently said the same about talking to ourselves walking in the street.
We will be far more comfortable with intelligent glasses, 3D printers in our home or stores, robo-advisory and interconnected machine intelligence. We will be more comfortable (as Trust is proven) to trade personal data for far smarter personal health and well-being solutions and individualised premium models for everything from holidays to gene editing. We will see, behind all this, profound changes in the business models and the definition of value.
Fifteen years ago, the invention of sharing technology, content creation tools and bandwidth fast enough to enable video and image sharing didn’t just make for a better rich media experience, it changed what it meant to be a media company. The likes of Facebook and Instagram upended who creates and controls media, and how profit is realized. Ten years from now, new technologies will bring about business design changes that are even more profound.
Blockchain won’t just make transactions more reliable and efficient; it will enable peer-to-peer businesses that bypass intermediaries and potentially make scale economies a thing of the past for many activities.
The Internet Of Things
The internet of things won’t just make our products smart and connected, it will enable a wealth of service businesses built to guarantee outcomes.
Companies need to think deeply and strategically about what these changes portend for the fundamental underpinnings of their business designs.
Mind The Gap
As individual consumers, we have shown our ability to handle such exponential change. We soak up new innovations at a staggeringly fast pace.
WeChat went from 0 to 1 billion users in China in less than four years. Instagram went from a photo-filtering technology to a communications necessity for half a billion people in three years. As consumers, we’ve been conditioned to embrace and absorb the “new thing” at the touch of a screen.
But while consumers can adopt change exponentially, organizations tend to follow a linear arch. It’s just plain hard to retool products, rethink distribution and move and motivate tens of thousands of individuals at the same pace as consumers adapt to new innovations.
And so… the gap grows quickly.
What does it take to close the gap? What skills and strategies are required to get a step ahead?
The extraordinary pace of customer change demands a different model. It cannot be about ‘plans’ in the traditional sense. You can’t pick “the answer” like you used to.
Most big companies base plans off cost data, market sizes and share predictions. But the markets of 10 years from now have yet to be invented, let alone measured.
The traditional three-year plan, the SWOT analysis and core competencies don’t encompass what’s actually coming. In fact, core competencies can get in the way. “How do we turn our thousands of stores into an advantage?” may not be the right thought process.
Corporate strategists also no longer have the luxury of watching markets develop and then catching up. IBM was able to patiently watch Lotus pioneer spreadsheet software, then simply acquired the company in 1995 to fuel a transition to a software and service provider.
But when it comes to digital models, once a new platform is formed, it can quickly become the dominant and seemingly unassailable standard à la Amazon, Uber, Facebook and Google. Market caps balloon to the point where the upstart standard-bearers are out of reach as acquisition targets for incumbents and would-be competitors — PayPal is worth approximately half the average value of the biggest American banks.
Solving such an unstructured problem is not the province of typical left-brained business analysis. It requires creativity and design thinking on a big scale, mobilizing diverse perspectives and disciplines to invent new models. Waze solved the traffic problem through crowdsourcing real-time data from drivers. Tala is solving lending to the unbanked in Africa with location data and algorithms on cell phones that verify creditworthiness.
From Now On - Deeply Inspired Thought (strategic imagination) Beats Strategy And Planning.
Strategic imagination means thinking more deeply about the customer of the future, and committing to an innovation agenda that solves for unrecognized needs, and configuring culture and decision-making styles in new ways. Tomorrow the following disciplines will be essential.
Extraordinary Sensing - When you are driving faster, you need much stronger headlights
There is no more important question to answer than “What is the big unstated need of tomorrow?” The answer is a deep, constant and insatiable inquiry. Does your executive team know what blockchain is and how it’s being applied experimentally? Does it know how Chinese consumers are responding to Alibaba’s latest feature? What the impact of the AADHAR in India has been on data and privacy and authentication? Broadly scanning and deeply probing frontier technologies, frontier consumers and frontier business models has never been more important.
There is no way to anticipate and manage extraordinary change without an extraordinary sensing capability. Extraordinary sensing frames and probes crucial questions, i.e., in the face of all of this change, who will the customer be? What are the problems they don’t know they have? How will they live their lives? How will they behave? What will they need? What will they fear? This means:
Thinking further out.
Elevate strategic imagination over the tactical to push the conversation beyond immediate markets and typical planning horizons. Google’s glasses, Oculus’s VR headsets and Amazon’s drones may seem fanciful until they quickly become real. Augmented reality seems speculative until Pokémon Go appears. The idea of trading personal private data via a smartphone for access to loans in the developing world seems outside the norm until Tala shows it works
Meld what’s possible with technology with what’s likely in human nature. Bring data and behavioural scientists together for a complete picture. Suspending constraints in service of true insight.
Ignore the usual product, risk and regulatory barriers. Cultivate a point of view from the perspective of being outside the business looking in, and then ask, “What might be?” This mind-set challenges the “It can’t make money,” or “It’s not legal” (Uber circumvents, and then changes, the taxi medallion system), or “It’s not safe” (Airbnb upends the trust equation in hospitality).
Most critically, extraordinary sensing is fueled by a culture of intense, probing curiosity — perhaps the single most important leadership attribute today.
The senior leaders of the Googles, Amazons and Teslas live as sponges, filling their schedules by learning, probing and encouraging. Their a priori assumption is that they’re ignorant, in a sense, and that each new day brings a daunting but exhilarating learning curve.
The executive mindset at many big companies can be quite different. Executives tend to be rewarded for being decisive rather than exploratory. Their time is spent evaluating and assessing, and they often assume they are knowledgeable. They live as gavels — their role is to judge and conclude.
Extraordinary sensing is more sponge than gravel. It thrives in an environment where opinions, ideation and crucial information are readily solicited and shared. It’s what allows one’s radar to see far enough to envision solutions to problems whose outlines are not yet in focus.
Extraordinary sensing is the tool of the intensely curious, the fuel for the innovator.
The expansive, ambitious purpose
The size of the business will be proportional to the size of the problem you aim to solve
The size of the opportunity at hand demands a more ambitious goal. As connected data, people and objects liberate companies to pursue new agendas, the right “guide” is not a traditional corporate vision that defines “the business you are in” but rather an expansive purpose that encompasses an ever-broadening set of unsolved consumer problems.
Caterpillar, for example, is leveraging connected technology to transform from an equipment company to a solutions provider accountable for the productivity of farms and mines.
An ambitious purpose expands the nature of the problems you obsess about. As value- creation possibilities proliferate, narrow self-definitions by industry excellence (the best rental car company, the best auto manufacturer, the best bank) become limiting. Today’s high-value-add service is invariably tomorrow’s commodity.
The convergence that Apple saw in becoming the camera, navigation system and communication system is coming to every industry. Witness how the processing and transaction capability of a bank is already being subsumed into other functions — the shopping utility of Amazon, the seamless booking of
Uber or the sharing of payments among friends via Venmo. An ambitious purpose:
Lays out a goal that can never be completed.
The role of the ambitious purpose is not to describe your company but to perpetually fuel exploration and momentum toward the new value space.
Ignores today’s how.
The means by which value is delivered will change and products will become irrelevant. The ambitious purpose that fosters new solutions for customers says nothing about how the job gets done (build a car or create a ridesharing app? Tesla is doing both), and in fact it encourages a new way.
Ignores the competition.
An ambitious purpose pushes people to look ahead and not around. The stepped-up pace of change means that the threat isn’t a competitor successfully upgrading a product; it’s someone else winning customers’ attention for what matters.
Makes the important work everyone’s work.
An ambitious purpose moves the “What should we do?” decisions away from a small number of senior leaders, and it makes coming up with answers the daily work of everyone. It democratizes invention, flattens organizations and liberates every employee to search for the next big solution.
The ambitious purpose is the guide to growth and the defence against irrelevance. It directs energies toward tomorrow’s problems as opposed to yesterday’s products.
Digital business design
Digital businesses scale faster but run by different rules (and all businesses are digital)
A digital business design is not the same as “digitizing” a business, automating the supply chain, boosting CRM, improving app functionality, adding more social to the marketing mix. It means fully embracing different assumptions, even about how money is made. Digital business designs hold these truths to be self-evident:
That the value you create doesn’t need to be created by you.
A digital business design recognizes that when everyone is viewed as a producer in a connected system, exponentially more value is created.
Platform models, which coordinate networks of participants, scale faster and deliver greater value. Digital models have built-in incentives to collaborate into their models and are exceptionally easy to snap into.
That transparency is a great thing, not a threat.
A digital business design seeks to profit from the fact that more data and more transparency are inevitable. The digital mindset is to grow value by adding data, not to hide value by bundling or trying to be too controlling about the information that can help customers make better decisions.
That share of customer attention is the only lasting source of advantage.
Digital business designs assume that winning attention means winning the flow of data, which creates the means to win even more attention.
Scale economies come from the database size, not the factory size.
That the value is in services, and everything will be a service.
Digital tends toward service and subscription models, which are inherently smarter because they build in learning loops and feedback, capture better data and keep iterating to improve quickly. People are Walmart “shoppers” but Amazon Prime “members” — the result is a highly different relationship and ability to grow. Uber learns you, the yellow cab forgets you.
The winning business designs are based on platforms, where the advantage is in the orchestration of the whole, no longer the efficiency of any one player. They pivot companies from producers to enablers, and profit models from being a producer- centric to customer-centric. They also afford unexpectedly new levels of creativity — the closed-loop business design of the Amazon Dash button trades loyalty and ongoing profit streams for the radical convenience of pressing a button for replenishment.
Living by these rules, which buck conventional wisdom, takes courage. Embrace complete transparency, even if my product scores poorly? The less you make, the better you do? Price for outcomes, not for products?
To keep up and get ahead, embracing these assumptions has to become the new normal.
The little things matter a great deal
Our unbundled digital world of tomorrow is a plug-and-play world, a world of assembling the best answer. The best sensors, screens, speakers and cameras are equally available to the iPhone as the Samsung Galaxy, just as the best drivers are to Lyft and Uber; the best restaurants to Seamless and GrubHub; the best risk-management algorithms to Allstate and Progressive. Most pieces are available to most players.
Consequently, it’s the meticulous design of the whole and inventive assembly of the pieces that create the value. The effortless, ergonomically delightful, sensual experience that fits in our lives in a new and unanticipated way will earn our dollars. SONOS, Nest and Echo aren’t just the best “products”; they’re the best experiences.
They integrate, simplify and anticipate. The sales call that knew your need the moment it happened, the waived fee just when you needed a line of credit — how everything falls seamlessly into place is what matters.
If there is anything we have learned from our shift into the digital world, it is that seemingly small experience innovations create massive leapfrogs up the curve. Our connected world chooses the remarkable over the good with unexpected speed.
Technology that has been on the shelf for several years suddenly accelerates when designed into the simple, effortless solution that takes off: Amazon’s one-click membership model; Tesla’s seamless fusion of batteries, ergonomics and charging stations; Venmo’s drag-and-drop payment simplicity.
“Customer experience” leadership, once thought of as good service or a satisfaction score, is becoming design artistry and craft, a realm of creative problem-solving where scrupulous attention to detail matters and speed and effortlessness can have magical results. Where the passion for every pixel is the difference between winning and losing. And as such, it requires intimate insight into the subtlest emotions and behavioural quirks of the user, rooted in deep human observation.
Importantly, customer experience is now the province of design thinkers and not the operations or service teams. Experience artistry is the new standard, entailing:
Effortless ergonomics. In an age demanding extreme immediacy, the difference between one and two clicks (or no clicks at all) can be the difference between winning and losing.
Unique signature moments. Moments that create special experiences and differentiate in new and unexpected ways.
A unique and human brand voice. As brands digitize, ironically, they can begin to humanize, becoming more personal and more real. The unique behaviour, the voice and attitude of the experience start to matter.
The moment of acceleration and leapfrog comes from innovating the experience with true craft and artistry. In tomorrow’s world, the idea of “customer experience” is not a discipline or a department or a satisfaction score, it is the main job a company undertakes to create value and leapfrog.
The cultures that thrive under uncertainty share a relentless pursuit of experimentation
If the purpose of a company is to embark on an endless journey to keep sensing and solving problems, achieving and maintaining success requires a different culture and way of managing and organizing. It requires a view that an organization is a solving machine, not a production machine. That rules are for changing, not following. That yesterday’s approach is by definition worse than tomorrow’s.
The processes of most of today’s businesses are built for a world of probability, quality assurance and risk management. Where demand can be forecasted and stage gates assure it will be effectively met. They are built to be “right” and to minimize risk of failure. But cultures that thrive under uncertainty caused by rapid change are fundamentally different. A culture of relentless problem-solving means:
Learning over knowing.
While structured product roadmaps and stage-gated processes are designed to deliver (on time and on budget), an innovator’s toolkit of broad experimental portfolios, beta quality prototypes, throngs of collaborators and co-creation sessions is built to discover. The latter is starting to matter a lot more.
Tapping collective intelligence.
Greater collaboration, bottom-up empowerment and freedom to stray and to solve are all critical to tackling the big unsolved problems. Companies need to systematically adjust behavior, policies, processes, workspace design, training and communications practices, with the aim of making innovation efforts as inclusive as possible.
In a “we must find a way” culture of solving, true empathy means caring about the customer’s life enough to keep iterating and trying, knowing that there’s always a better way just waiting to be discovered.
Speed before perfection.
In the physical world, product speed and organizational speed were largely in sync. It took years to design and retool to make a car, and the pace of mobilizing the tens of thousands of people involved mirrored that timetable. But as products become digital and development and launch cycles compress, expedited piloting and iterating on the fly trumps perfection.
These five disciplines aren’t the province of the start-up or “new economy” companies. They represent a new and essential organizational mind-set, applicable to all businesses striving to cultivate the most important ingredient for success: a culture of open, optimistic and relentless experimentation.
Welcome to the beginning
Viewed through a historical lens, the degree of change upon us now will certainly surpass what was encountered in the Industrial Revolution.
When we debate how much the “millennial” or “centennial” consumer is truly different from the rest of us, consider the shock and wonder of the young person leaving the farm for the factories of London in the early 1800s, realizing that one no longer needed to make his or her own furniture or clothes. And when we ask ourselves how much business models are really changing, consider that the very idea of the corporation, the LLC, was illegal until 1825. Today, we are still at the beginning of an even more far-reaching transformation in customer needs and the models that will serve them.
The number of unsolved needs, and the new potential to solve them is simply exploding. For those with strategic imagination, something great is just beginning.
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Long live the zeppelin!
If the aviation industry were a country, it would rank among the world’s top 10 emitters of carbon dioxide (CO₂). Aviation emissions have risen by 70% since 2005, and as demand increases in rich and poorer countries, they’re forecast to increase by between 300% and 700% by 2050.
Arresting this incline will be the first step toward a sustainable system of international travel—but how could it be done? A frequent flyer tax would be relatively easy to implement, but it could mean the richest can still afford to fly while the poorest are priced out.
Most plane passengers are already relatively wealthy. Only 18% of the world’s population have ever flown, and in any given year, an elite 3% of the world flies. That’s about 230 million people, but flights carried 4 billion passengers in 2017. So the average flyer takes eight return flights, and airplanes rack up 7 trillion air miles each year.
Rationing might be a fairer and more effective alternative.
Every person could be allocated a maximum number of “flight miles” each year. This allowance would increase the longer a person abstained from flying. The first year allocation would be around 300 miles, then the following year it would be 600 miles and would double every year.
Buying a ticket for a flight of any distance would reset the allocation rate to year one, but the miles saved in a “flight bank” could still be used. Anyone not traveling could exchange their flight miles for money, but anyone exceeding their ration could be fined or banned from flying for some time.
[Images: IkonStudio/iStock. Universal History Archive/Getty Images]
Expanded and improved high-speed rail lines could also replace many flights. These journeys could be as fast as airplanes in some instances and emit 90% less CO₂. Solar-powered train journeys are already a reality in Australia. The Byron Bay Company uses solar panels on trains and platforms to power onboard batteries and exported 60,000 kWh to the grid last year.
Coupling low-carbon train travel with flight rationing would limit emissions in the short term, but people are accustomed to traveling half the world in a matter of hours, often at relatively low cost. The demand won’t go away, so what could replace carbon-intensive air travel?
Most electric plane designs are grounded on the drawing board, but there are some flight-ready aircraft. The world’s first all-electric commercial airliner was unveiled in Paris in June 2019. The craft is called Alice, and it carries nine passengers for up to 650 miles at 10,000 feet at 276 mph on a single charged battery. It’s expected to enter service in 2022.
[Images: OstapenkoOlena/iStock, Universal History Archive/Getty Images]
The fossil fuel costs of small aircraft are about $400 per 100 miles. For Alice, the costs are projected to be as little as $8 for the same distance, and if the electricity is from renewable energy—perhaps generated by solar panels at the airport—then the plane could be zero-carbon.
How much energy each battery can store is increasing rapidly. But there are also strategies that can make electric planes more efficient. Capacitors are lightweight batteries that can hold a huge charge but only for short periods. They could be used for takeoff—the largest energy requirement of a flight—then more traditional batteries could power the majority of the flight.
Innovation could deliver mass electric flight in the next few decades, but an alternative to fossil-fueled flight exists right now.
BRING BACK THE ZEPPELIN?
For as long as humans have taken to the skies, we’ve had a low-carbon alternative to burning vast amounts of fossil fuels to keep us up there—balloons. The Hindenburg disaster may have condemned the industry to relative obscurity for almost a century, but it has never really gone away.
The balloons of most modern airships are filled with helium rather than the explosive hydrogen used in the Hindenburg. Concentrated helium is lighter than air, and when divided into gas sacks, the vessel can stay aloft if any are breached while propellers powered by flexible solar panels can help navigation.
[Images: Jelena83/iStock, Universal History Archive/Getty Images]
Extracting enough helium fuel will be energy-intensive, and there’s a looming global shortage. Luckily, advances made since the Hindenburg now allow airships to fly on cylinders packed with hydrogen jet fuel, which is cheaper, lighter, and relatively abundant.
Using hydrogen for fuel has become a lot safer since the 1930s—so much so that it’s now being considered for use in the home. Unlike jet aircraft, once airships are aloft they don’t need lots of energy to keep them there. At that point, the energy costs become comparable with rail travel.
Airships won’t get passengers to their destinations very fast—the Hindenburg set the current record for a transatlantic crossing at just under 44 hours—but they do allow time to enjoy stunning vistas. Think of them instead as air cruises. In the romantic era of early commercial flight, airships were expected to become “flying hotels” that could accommodate dining rooms and ballroom dances.
There’s one more option, but you might struggle to believe it’s possible within the next 30 years. Still, the materials needed to build it already exist. An orbital ring is a strong steel cable in orbit just above the atmosphere—50 miles above Earth. It rotates, creating forces that try to make the ring fly apart into space, while gravity tries to pull it down to Earth.
[Images: NASA, [Photo: Universal History Archive/Getty Images]
If the ring is spun at the correct speed, the two forces balance one another, allowing it to rotate seemingly weightlessly. A “cuff” can be built around the cable which would hold itself in place, unmoving, by magnetic repulsion. The structure would be connected to the ground by cables, with an elevator giving access to the ring in less than an hour.
Two Maglev train tracks—which use magnets to move trains along without friction—on the underside of the ring and another on the outside could transport passengers at incredible speeds, reaching the other side of the world in 45 minutes.
If these options sound unrealistic, then remember that our current course of expanding carbon-intensive air travel is unrealistic for avoiding catastrophic climate change. Bold ideas are one thing; we need radical action to revolutionize how we travel the world.