BOOK REVIEW: Preparing for the 15 forces of disruption

Futureproof: How to get your business ready for the next disruption, by Minter Dial and Caleb Storkey

‘Disruption’ is generally understood as an innovation that changes context radically, as popularised by Clay Christensen in his book the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma’. This is certainly not the only form of disruption business people need to be concerned about. “We see disruption in the ways people think, in the ways they communicate and act, and how it is forcing businesses and operating models to change,” the authors explain.

This book covers 15 forces that are driving change. Three relate to mindsets and twelve to technological advances that may already, but certainly will, affect doing business in the future.

The first mindset is “Meaningfulness”, the desire to find purpose in what we do in business and how we spend our time. The more meaning we derive from our work, the “brighter and more rewarding our lives become”.

The second is “Responsibility” and this has a vastly wider application than just a century, or even just a few decades, ago. The authors define responsibility as acting with a sense of accountability – as never before.

We have always been responsible for the effect of our behaviour and choices on others, but never with such huge consequences. One need only consider cybersecurity. No firewalls and antivirus software will protect a company sufficiently. It only takes one irresponsible person to allow a hacker to penetrate the system with what could be vast and serious consequences. Everyone is responsible – protection is only as strong as the weakest link.

The third mindset is “Collaboration”. Surviving on your own has always been a human challenge, which is why we join others and organisations. No one can be an expert in any field any longer; we know too much about so much. Medicine is an example of how a field can fragment into hundreds of areas of speciality with surgeons, for example, specialising in only knees or hands.

Those who are best at collaborating will be able to achieve more. Efficiencies and levels of excellence can be achieved as never before.

These three mindsets cannot be ignored, and to be “futureproof”, businesses must factor these forces into the decisions they make daily. How can we make our work more meaningful for our employees? How can you raise each employee’s sense of personal responsibility, at least in relation to their work? How can you foster collaboration internally and beyond the business?

The first step to being “futureproof” is always to question what you are currently doing, or how you are currently structured, that hinders meaningfulness, responsibility or collaboration.

The authors then provide insight into 12 technologies that will (if they are not already,) disrupting your business. These are the web, smartphones and the cloud. Security, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and blockchain and cryptocurrencies. 3D printing, energy storage, self/assisted driving and genomics.

It is the web with its ever-increasing speed and ubiquity, that has enabled the popularity of social media, eCommerce, eLearning and even the possibility of the micro-trend of peer-to-peer funding. We don’t go to cafés that don’t have internet, and get frustrated when what we do have isn’t nano-fast.

One need only consider how technological media have affected our social activities. It has changed how we engage with others, anywhere on the planet, at any time, and at little or no cost. It has also spawned spectacular businesses. The web has made learning easy - (Googling is a form of learning previously unavailable except through great effort!) and how formal education and training will mutate.

Another of the disruptive forces is the “cloud”, a misleading title for the fixed hardware and server farms located throughout the world. It is hugely significant because we no longer need to have data captured and stored on our computers or phones: we only need fast access to the web, so we can connect to data housed elsewhere. The most obvious effect is that work is no longer a place we have to go to, but an activity we do anywhere, connected with our colleagues who are elsewhere.

Not only does the cloud enable productivity unimaginable just a decade ago, but it also comes with disruptive effects on social and leisure time – essential for productivity. (See ‘Success through Stillness’, by Simmons, ‘Dying for a Paycheck’, by Pfeffer; ‘Wait’, by Partnoy; ‘Deep Work’, by Newport, ‘Neuroscience for Leadership’ by Swart, or others on this issue reviewed in this column.)

One of the big challenges of alternative energy sources is the issue of ‘energy storage’. We are sure that renewable and green energy can save our planet from a future we do not wish to inflict on our grandchildren. But there remains the issue of storage. Today we have the clean energy sources in abundance, but not yet the mechanisms to store this energy effectively and cheaply. Lithium-ion battery packs could well drop the cost of energy by 1/3 in the next decade, and computers and phones running out of power may be a concern of the past.

Energy storage is a good example of how all the changes identified by the authors, will not all have direct relevance for all businesses. However, it is of concern to businesses that are involved in producing and storing energy, or those that are heavily energy-dependent. All of which will affect businesses and households whose work and living environments are affected by energy storage.

Clearly, not only are the 12 technologies not relevant to every business, but they are not even close to the full range. But if reading this book achieves only one objective, it is to keep one’s eyes wide open. Thanks to the web and smartphones, keeping up with change is as easy as subscribing to any of the hundreds of excellent podcasts on new and fascinating technologies and ideas.

This book cannot and will not make you “futureproof”, but it is a good start. And neither giants nor SMEs can afford to be sleeping, or slow to react.

Readability            Light -+--- Serious

Insights                  High ---+- Low

Practical                 High ---+- Low

  • Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Executive Update. Views expressed are his own.

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