The business world has always been buffeted by change, but current shifts in everything from communication techniques to consumer expectations appear little short of seismic.
In interview with Goodwille News three leading experts take a glimpse into what these changes mean for the future of communication, leadership and management. We also highlight key trends set to redraw the business landscape of the 21st-century.
Getting the right information – and using it wisely – is critical
How do we decide what our customers really want from us? The conventional methods of qualitative and quantitative research and data gathering just don’t cut it anymore, according to serial entrepreneur Mikael Ahlström (the man behind innovative Swedish and European businesses such as Britny, Sprout Park and Summer Design). Ahlström says: “The term research should be renewed, since the best way to keep up has less to do with searching in old material and more about finding a way to tap into the constant flow of information, as well as engaging in conversations with your customers and industry leaders.”
More than that, Ahlstrom says, future research will rely not on ‘mass’ but ‘micro’ approaches to finding out what customers want from products and services: “Research into the future is about finding the right individuals to follow on Twitter or blogs or other sources like TED. Becoming an influencer, taking your position in that flow, sharing your thoughts and creating your network of followers is absolutely the best way to stay ahead and updated.”
Ahlström predicts that mass communication will be transformed into niche, individual conversations that spread virally, lower in volume but much higher in conversion. Traditional branded messages in bought media are already being replaced with portals and mobile apps. These are aligned with new user behaviours to create brands that are relevant and create a direct relationship with customers based on honest and transparent engagement.
Look beyond the ‘bottom line’ and competition to nurture value
Converting from a business culture where the bottom line takes priority may sound like a tall order – especially in a tough economic climate – but speaker and author on business model innovation Alex Osterwalder (fans of his latest co-created bestseller Business Model Generation include GE and Sony Ericsson) says all too often the focus is on balance sheets and business rivals at the expense of product. “We focus too much on competition and financial objectives rather than being value and customer centric. Apple is a great example where design thinking comes first, and profit has followed.”
Osterwalder adds that experimentation through disruptive business models is crucial to future business innovation, but it should not be at the expense of the current game plan: “Keep focus on the core business while building teams that experiment with business tools for tomorrow. This is a challenge, but major companies must do this to maintain number one market position.”
But when it comes to true innovation, the courage to step outside the comfort zone of tried-and-trusted business plans is crucial. Osterwalder says: “A good example of this is SKYPE which is very similar to established telcos but with a very different business model, not needing a network and thus zero capital expenditure. The idea was a disruptive business model and started to compete with a new model and a new economy.”
He adds that too often business leaders invest in product innovation rather than inventing the business that our customers will want to buy into. “Take Apple again – what industry is Apple in? Music? E-commerce? Hardware and technology? The answer is all of the above – Apple is creating a business model around a digital lifestyle for their customers.”
New equality and a focus on local culture bring rich and lasting rewards
The future is resolutely equality focused – and that means far more women in leadership roles – according to Danish futurist Anne Lise Kjaer (whose consultancy works with organisations such as McKinsey, Nokia, Roche and Toyota). Kjaer says that’s good news for both innovative business models and the bottom line: “Women are already shaping the way we do business and embracing softer values such as ethics, collaboration and flexibility. Empathic values are intrinsic to this business model, and because they use what I call ‘whole brain thinking’ – employing both analytical and intuitive approaches – this also drives innovation. I’m not alone in seeing this as a much-needed positive influence on business – both McKinsey and Goldman Sachs have predicted that increased female participation and equality in the workplace has the power to increase GDP.”
Kjaer argues that the equality-minded and empathic business approach brings other rewards, as we rediscover the value and importance of locality: “Organisations are already beginning to nurture cultural capital – and to do this they harness the power and passions of local communities. It’s about thinking local in order to create a lasting cultural legacy and have relevance in the lives of the people you interact with. By understanding and having empathy with your customers at local level, you empower and influence their lives in a positive way and become part of their story – and they, in turn, shape your success.”
Kjaer says this all adds up to another key trend for the future – happiness (sometimes known as happynomics). She says: “This is not idealism but a sound business proposition – and one that governments and organisations are investigating because it’s a crucial social driver. Businesses – and governments – need to become happiness enablers and improve people’s lives by delivering positive and enriching experiences, products and services.”
6 Top Business Trends
1. Total Transparency brings trust, but requires openness and a clear communication of values and ethics – and it must be continuously earned.
2. Smart Technology means empowering your consumers through seamless and enhanced experiences across communications platforms.
3. Cloud Culture and Collaborations are creating a dialogue-driven society and businesses must join the conversation.
4. Equality Focus is redrawing society, leadership styles and the way we do business – consumers now expect businesses to be demonstrably diverse and inclusive.
5. Cultural Capital – through harnessing the power and passions of local communities – is the way to invest in your brand and establish a lasting legacy.
6. Authentic Happiness is a sound business proposition and facilitating positive and life-enhancing products and experiences must be a key business driver.