Effectively functioning enterprises, be they commercial, not for profit or government, can be distinguished by the way they manage future opportunities. Many enterprises still hold the view that business works in cycles and that growth will emerge cyclically of itself. That may be a factor as has been observed in the past. However, I think the current landscape of business opportunity is different in one subtle but critical point. We no longer live in an era of change as much as we live in an era of ‘anticipation of change’. In practice, this means that the conversion of new ideas into product and service is no longer as novel, i.e. the ‘new’ new is now two or three ideas ahead.
As confusing as this may sound, the logic of this proposition is simple. Our attitude and tastes are changing so rapidly, that we are often too slow to adjust to every new thing that arises on the market. This means that we, being more savvy consumers, regularly skip buying new products to allow for the next, more anticipated offer. We’ve all heard people saying; I’m not buying an iPhone 4s, I’ll wait for the 5 to come out (or 5s or 5c as the case seems to be now).
So what does this mean for enterprises who are serious about their capacity to grow and be sustainable? One of the areas that will need to change is the way senior managers and leaders conceptualise ‘opportunity’. The ability to project what opportunity means will demand operating in intense uncertainty. Looking at the market and talking to many businesses across the spectrum, I have noticed that the favourite strategy for many is to ‘sit it out’; wait for something to change externally before acting. This strategy made a lot of sense over the past few decades when the ability to adapt to market trends was not as constrained by the speed at which trends, led by sharp changes in consumer attitudes, tastes and needs evolved.
It is interesting to note how few decision makers are trained to think on their feet. The security structures that were all about future proofing over the years have led many to believe that it is a source of competition. Unfortunately, we are increasingly seeing one simple and not at all surprising trend; enterprises that are in constant motion, spurred by finding new solutions to emerging challenges, are in fact fitter for competition. Those enterprises will move “before the bell tolls” and undeniably build on increased entrepreneurialism.
One other reality seems to escape many business development leaders; the customers we chase are also the people we employ to produce products and services. These customers are changing, partly because they want to be more involved in the way things are produced for them. This is an emerging trend (particularly in the US however some similarities are visible in Australia) among younger consumers/workers who increasingly see themselves as entrepreneurs. The idea behind this is a sense of freedom to choose how they can contribute, rather than aspiring to be the next Richard Branson (not, in the words of Seinfeld, that there is anything wrong with that). The result is a higher chance of those same people being more supportive of enterprises who are actually entrepreneurial, willing to innovate and prepared to invest in collaboration as a foundation.
Edwin Land, known to the general public as the Polaroid guy, was a technology adviser to a number of American presidents and, in Steve Jobs’ words, ‘a national treasure’. Land once suggested that a project is worth undertaking when it is manifestly important and nearly impossible. Perhaps it is time for enterprises in Australia to consider the new landscape and realise that opportunities will no longer be announced via bulk email.
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