It was the “Millenium’s First Business Blockbuster”. In his highly entertaining book “Ten Lessons from the Future”, published in early 2000, South African futurist Wolfgang Grulke shared some frame-breaking ideas which influenced many business thinkers at the turn of the century, a time when everyone was filled with anticipation mixed with trepidation after the dot-com crash.
Grulke quotes the great strategic thinker Russell Ackoff: “With understanding you can design and create your future.” To Grulke this meant that there are three powerful and proven steps that businesses and individuals can follow to find success: Understand, design, create. We can design the idealized future that we see for ourselves, by first understanding what market conditions and consumer needs will be, and only then can we create that future by sharing our vision with those around us. In sport, the phrase has been used: “Skate to where the puck will be, not where it is”. We cannot attempt to forecast the future, but Grulke firmly believed that we can influence our future if we plan scenarios.
It’s worth taking a look back at the head-space of this thought leader to see how we measure up today against his predictions. We will take a tour starting at a “Skills economy” around the new curved bend of the Second Information Revolution towards the Personal Age. Certainly we’re seeing the “me”-ness of the 21st century all around us.
While Shared Leadership becomes a necessity in the new reality, things don’t progress in a straight line anymore, so we need Non-Linear Thinking as we embrace the unknown where the rules are not written yet. Finally as we can no longer rest on our past successes – past performance is not an indicator of future positive outcomes – we could all do well to search out “white-space” opportunities where there is little competition and where our reality is a unified “timeless” world. Are you ready for this new future?
Skills And Ideas vs. Pure Knowledge
Mr. Grulke predicted that pure knowledge in itself would not be worth much in this century. “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can do with what you know”, he writes.
This certainly turned out to be true, since we can see how the salaries of many members of university faculty (who hold huge amounts of knowledge) is paltry compared to some private sector compensation. The key is that we need to turn the knowledge into skills for which the market is willing to pay.
In this, some universities and colleges have already come a long way. University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada for instance has an excellent internship program where it works with industry to help students gain real world skills, while they are completing their education.
Biotechnology As The ‘Second Information Revolution’
At the turn of this century, the mapping of the human genome was still in progress, and a ‘rough draft’ of the genome was completed in June 2000. So there was a lot of buzz around biotechnology at that time. There was a lot of optimism and hope that investments in biotechnology firms would reap huge returns for shareholders.
With the economic slump in 2008, many industries felt the pinch of shrinking budgets and priorities certainly shifted. The Supreme Court’s upholding of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act certainly also had an impact. According to Steven Burrill, who has worked in the biotech industry and has written the Burrill State of the Industry Report for 27 years, the Biotech industry needs to focus on capturing value more than on containing costs. Mr. Grulke’s prediction of a ‘Bio-tech Boom’ unfortunately didn’t pan out. He could not have predicted the seismic shifts in the political and economic landscape.
The Personal Age
Mr. Grulke was shrewdly correct in his prediction that the ‘new economy’ would experience a move towards individual control and responsibility. He predicted back in 1999 that individuals would become independent from the electricity grid and that health care would become much more personalized with decentralization of clinics away from large state hospitals.
In Canada the health care vision certainly materialized in the form of the LHIN’s (Local Health Integration Networks). With the huge drop in the cost of solar panels (in the US, the cost of solar power fell by 60 percent in just 18 months, according to PV magazine) about 180,000 American households were living off the grid in already in 2006 (according to Richard Perez, publisher of Home Power magazine). Furthermore, we’ve seen the rapid rise of personal devices made for “me”.
Leadership Widely Shared
Grulke predicted that organizations would become increasingly “fractal” in nature, where individuals would take turns to take leadership and determine direction at least in certain aspects of companies. He used the term “Positive Chaos” to describe the unstructured and unpredictable changes that occur in the economic and political spheres.
His view was that in the light of the chaos, companies would have to change their management style – companies who want to win in the 21st century would have to empower younger people to make some decisions in parts of the business.
Non-Linear Behavior Will Be The Norm
The “Butterfly Effect” is the phenomenon where a trader who sneezes at his desk in Singapore causes a huge sell-off in New York the next day. Mr. Grulke correctly maintained that while companies in the Industrial Age bent over backwards to avoid risk, in the new millennium successful businesses would go out of their way to embrace risk.
Companies who walk the fine line between certainty and “biological chaos” would be more appealing to partners and investors, because they are able to respond quickly to market changes and grow despite anaemic economic surroundings.
The ‘Unknown’ Brings All Possibilities
Does your business rest on its laurels? Do you rest in the certainty of “what worked in the past”? Mr. Grulke encourages us all to loosen the shackles of the past and embrace uncertainty, because with the unknown comes the opportunity to be innovative, to grow beyond what our competitors are doing, to leap-frog into a better future.
While they still have resources to make changes, wise businesses should see their customer experience through the eyes of young competitors – become their own worst enemy. As disruptive new technologies come along, agile organizations are able to respond quickly because they don’t buy into the narrative of their own success from the past.
You Can No Longer Learn Just From Experience
Successful companies of the 20th century knew how to play by the rules. But just as Mr. Grulke predicted, the rules of the 21st century have not been written yet. Gone are the days when we can draw conclusions from what we know has worked in the past.
There are indeed new realities in terms of government regulations, there are new realities in consumer behaviour. Successful businesses have to “skate to where the puck will be, not where it is now”.
This is a universal truth which Mr. Grulke explains and which savvy companies and workers should embrace. It’s far cheaper to build new opportunities in areas where there is little or no competition than trying to go head-on against established competitors.
For young people starting out in higher education, what this means is that there’s little sense in taking the majors that 99% of your peers are taking. There will be an over-supply of people in that field, and hence your job prospects will be low. Learn about new opportunities in growing fields which are perhaps seen by most students as too challenging. That is how you carve out a niche for yourself.
One World, One Mind, One Time
Time differences have evaporated, The ubiquitous World Wide Web has united continents and lit up our customers around the clock. “Beat to your customers’ drum” – meet them where they are and anticipate their needs.
It’s almost impossible to meet customers’ requirements in this environment without automated processes. On the positive side, there is now also a global resource base. Wise companies will tap into this.