The Way Business Is Moving published by
Issue Date: September 2008

Lessons from the future

1 September 2008
Brett Haggard

The world as we know it is going through a dramatic set of changes. And while most companies are struggling to figure out what the next big thing is, few have realised that knowing what the next big thing is does not matter nearly as much as being in a position to rapidly adapt to the changes in environment it will ring in.
Speaking at GovTech last month, Thomas Jankovich, Innovation Strategy Leader at Deloitte Consulting said that the vast majority of companies he comes across are striving for 20/20 vision into the future, but instead, all they are able to count on is 20/20 hindsight.
And instead of trying to distil what the future looks like from that hindsight however, he said that companies should be learning how flexibility and adaptability is the key to surviving that future.
Jankovich added that besides the fact that looking forward and making assumptions is futile, the chances are that those assumptions will be wrong.
Assumptions made, failures gained
Take the example of man going to the moon in the ‘60s.
“Since the human race had never been to the moon before, Nasa was shooting in the dark,” he said.
“While it had planned for what the journey might hold and had done what it thought was all of the complex mathematics required to get to the moon and back, the mathematics it had done were based on assumptions… and were wrong.
“The only way Nasa managed to get its astronauts to the moon and back, was for it to resort to mid-course correction. And this,” he said, “is what businesses will have to do in order to ride out the changes over the coming years.”
Nobody could have predicted that new generation players, commonly known as the Generation X-ers, would change the rules completely and start companies like Napster and Skype – barely legal businesses, without conventional bricks and mortar operations that had built their value proposition on breaking the rules.
And numerous examples of companies that lost their way due to assumptions exist in the technology space.
Eat yourself
Jankovich said that Sony and Philips were the two companies that rode the portable music wave in a big way, with their brands of compact, portable cassette and CD players occupying the largest market share in this space.
Ironically, they ended being the only two companies that missed the digital music boat.
“They assumed that digital music in the form of MP3s would encourage the piracy of music. While they were right on the money, their resistance of this change resulted in them relinquishing their dominance in portable music,” he said.
It would have been better for them to eat themselves than to be eaten by the new competitors that sprung up around this shift – if they had embraced the digital music revolution, chances are they would have carried on being dominant.
Technology is driving change
“In the ‘70s, the world had one television set per 25 people and one telephone per 18 people. There were also very few consumer appliances in use.
“By contrast, today there are thousands of television channels available in the world, many consumer appliances in each home a telephone for every 2,5 people,” he said.
“The safe assumption would be for this to continue. Ironically though, the exact opposite is true.
“Ubiquitous broadband access means that the future will likely consist of no television sets, since users will pull what content they need from the Internet; and no consumer appliances, since it is becoming cheaper for people to buy food prepared by others or have their laundry done by others,” he said.
Conversations are a thing of the past. There are 200 million SMS messages being sent each day on the popular MXit service, 11 million users online at any one point in time logged into on Skype and 100 million videos being uploaded each day to YouTube.
And what lies beyond this is anyone’s guess – it is not wise to predict. Jankovich said all businesses can do is be open to new things and be well positioned to change. It is after all, the only constant.

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