In our exponential world, everything could (will) change tomorrow, and the pace of change is increasing, doubling in fact, in accordance with Moore’s law. Soon, we will approach the singularity, where the outcomes of change will become impossible to predict. How can we cope with this rapidly approaching moment of transformation? Well, we need to identify the key competencies of the future, and then use them to future-proof our businesses. Here are three key ways you can future proof your business.
Once upon a time, our economies were based on scarcity. Consider the earliest cultures, huddled around fires in the mouths of caves, calculating whether they had enough water and food to reach the next valley. Even the bare necessities of life were scrace, and quite literally fought over. Those villagers over the hill have a stream and therefore unlimited fresh water. Let’s go kill them all so we can have it. The value of something, traditionally, increased based upon its rarity. Hence, the hunting of certain wonderful animals to extinction for their blubber, horns, bone, or other biological properties.
But we are emerging from this economy of scarcity into a new economy that is based on abundance. The reality is that globally we have more abundance than ever, and though there are still pockets of the world that suffer from famine, a dearth of medicine, and other significant problems, overall, we are moving towards a world where we have too much of everything, rather than not enough. Sharp-eyed businesses have already cottoned on to this shift in paradigm and capitalised on it to offer powerful services. Uber is perhaps the most obvious example. Uber have leveraged an abundance of cars on the road, by empowering drivers to become self-employed workers, and helping people get around for affordable prices without having to drive themselves. The system isn’t perfect, as with any system, and there are flaws to be ironed out, but in a short space of time (Uber was founded in 2009), they have revolutionised transportation, and challenged the status quo; most notably, the established taxi companies.
Uber’s business model leverages an abundance (cars), and effectively act as a broker or ‘middle-man’ to the negotiation between driver and passenger. A similar model can be found in Airbnb, another recently founded organisation that has leveraged abundance and revolutionised the industry in which it operates. In the case of Airbnb, it has leveraged an abundance of under-utilised space: flats, second homes, rooms. It allows the owners to easily offer that space to people who need a place to stay; again, often much cheaper than traditional hotels.
This is all very well for radical new startups, but what of existing businesses? The reality is, we need to adapt. The business models of yesterday, founded on the principles of scarcity and value derived from rarity, will no longer work in a world of abundance. But, overhauling a business model is not easy, it impacts not just systems and processes, but the people that interact, manage, and fulfil those systems and processes. As Torben Rick observed in his 2013 article: ‘The largest obstacles [to change] will be weak imaginations, threatened interests and culture.
Business-model innovation is the new essential competency. It’s hard. It will separate tomorrow’s winners from the losers.’
2. Train, Re-Skill, & Learn — everyday is a school day!
Adapting is a skill, or, as Torben Rick puts it, ‘an essential competency’. It’s something we can train ourselves to get better at. In a 2018 white paper study on the future of workforce by The Adecco Group & The Boston Consulting Group:
Furthermore, it interestingly revealed that: ‘The survey shows that while workers are generally optimistic about their ability to acquire new skills, the results reveal a lack of systematic evaluation of the potential gaps between workers’ current skills and those they will need in future.’ This is critical, because in order to address a problem, we must first have visibility of it and be able to diagnose it.
This is precisely the purpose of our organisation Adaptai, which has produced the first-ever, AI powered, holistic AQ (adaptability quotient) metric: for organisations and individuals. Using their assessment tool, companies are accurately able to see how good their organisation fares in regard to the core competencies of adaptability. As well as providing personal profiles to employees.
The study went further with their findings:
‘It also reveals a disconnect between employees’ willingness to acquire new skills (some 62% of employees consider themselves as primarily responsible for acquiring these) and the degree to which they will take the initiative (59% expect their employer to develop the training opportunities). Workers see the main obstacles to acquiring new skills as the lack of time and the cost of training.’
Employees feel responsible for acquiring new skills, but are unwilling due to constraints on time and the cost of training. One of my favourite quotes on this topic is from Levi Lusko:
If you train someone, and empower them with new skills, and then they leave, that is only really a short term problem, but some companies are so terrified of ‘lost capital’ that they cannot see the far longer term prospect: what if we don’t train any of our staff, and they lack the skills they need to take on the challenges of tomorrow? Failing to ‘future-proof’ your organisation with adequate training is an error of short-sightedness. We need to be able to take the risk of investing in our people, as well as our systems, technology, and processes, to give them the soft-skills, hard-skills, and tools to be able to take on the problems we may face as a result of disruption in the future.
Coupled with learning new skills, we also need to be able to un-learn skills or methodologies that are no longer relevant. One of my favourite stories, which epitomises the remarkable power of un-learning, can be found in the brilliant book Unlearn by Barry O’Reilly; the story of Serena Williams, perhaps the best tennis player in history.