The New Business Agenda … a crazy time of challenge and change, but also for new thinking. It’s time for business to step up, to see the opportunities.

October 14, 2022

We’re living through a time of anxiety and awe … economic uncertainty, relentless volatility, climate crisis, regional conflicts, social inequality, resource scarcity, rampant inflation, consumer distrust, lingering pandemic, new generations, B Corporations, digital centricity, virtual worlds … Yes, it’s a crazy time, but also a time for new thinking.

One certainty, is that those who sit around waiting for a return to how things used to be are deluded. The world has moved on for consumers, leaders, investors, everyone: new agendas, new practices, new expectations, new talent, and new priorities.

Now is the time to unlearn and relearn, to open minds and take new perspectives, to explore the opportunities presented by the biggest disruption of our business lives.

What are the world’s best companies doing now? In fact, who are they? How are their leaders adapting and innovating? What are the new strategies and techniques for success? Forget the old models that made GE or P&G great in the past, think instead about how Epic or Gymshark, Nio or Shein are thriving in fast, connected markets.

Of course, we shouldn’t throw out everything – there are many sound, enduring principles to build on. But it’s certainly a new environment, requiring new ideas and new ways to win.

Now is the time for business to step up. To see the opportunities of change, to provide a beacon of hope in a turbulent world – and to bring fresh, topical, practical insights and mindsets, tools and techniques, that will thrive in tomorrow’s world.

Below are a series of agendas, challenges and opportunities for business, and a range of new approaches which I have been developing with colleagues in order to respond:

Agenda 1: Developing “Performer-Transformer” Leaders

Leading through uncertainty requires adaptability, collaboration and resilience to keep the organisation focused and moving forwards; but it also requires courage to seize the opportunities of change, to disrupt markets and your own business, and to accelerate transformation. Leaders take comfort from short-term priorities, practical action. The best leaders do more, they “explore and exploit”, they are transformers as well as performers.

Agenda 2: Designing “Future Fit” Strategies

The best organisations dispense with evolution, with gradual improvements. Look at the auto industry: Volkswagen recently said it had lost 10 years of progress while trying to hang on to the old models and debate the new. Asian companies are particularly good at leap-frogging to the future. We need to connect purpose with foresight, new capability and new aspiration. And a new approach to strategies and plans, future proofed but also agile.

Agenda 3: Driving “Net Positive” Innovation

Sustainability is your best source of competitive advantage. It’s also the way to build trust in your brand, engagement with consumers, and find support in governments and society. But it’s much more than CSR, ESG and SDGs. Compliance is a start, but innovation delivers real impact. Innovating every aspect of business, from products and services, to processes and ecosystems. How can your business be a platform for good?

Agenda 4: Delivering “Human-Tech” Experiences

Digital technologies, from big data and AI, through to blockchain and robotics, continue to fascinate. As do new business models, built around consumers and platforms, new revenue streams and new partners. But the real potential comes from unlocking humanity and technology, enabling each other to be better. “Digital” is just one part of the best business transformations. But it is the new sauce that enables new possibilities.

You’ve probably recognised that each of these agendas are based on an apparent paradox. Like so many emerging trends, they challenge the existing polarities of thinking, and explore better ways of achieving success, connecting previously unconnected or often opposing concepts. As AG Lafley said, paradox is often the best source of innovation. 

Developing “Performer-Transformer” Leaders

Jim Hagemann Snabe, chairman of Siemens, vice chair of WEF, and one of our faculty, says “the best leaders should spend at least 40% of their time thinking about the future – thinking about what will happen next, or even after what happens next”. Too many leaders like to get into the fire-fighting, rather than empowering their capable people. Too many leaders wait for the future to happen rather than shaping it to their advantage.

Why? We bring together new ideas and insights to understand what it takes for leaders to create the future, and deliver today, at the same time. Topics include:

  • Think Again …  creates a framework for open-mindedness, to challenge assumptions and biases, and develop your critical skill of rethinking. We connect this to other concepts like behavioural economics and atomic habits.
  • Transformer 20 … Innosight’s global analysis of the world’s best transformational companies explores what they do. Adobe, Netflix, Microsoft, and many more. Scott Anthony and his team’s insights and toolkits are crucial for every leader.
  • The Upside of Uncertainty … Nathan Furr proposes a model for transforming uncertainty into a force for good. This starts with the psychology of reframing and priming. Time to rethink VUCA with a positive mindset.

What? We learn from some of the world’s most transformational companies, how they combine customers and technologies, teams and systems, to create better futures:

  • DBS … When CEO Piyush Gupta set about transforming the Asian bank, he created a blueprint for “the invisible bank” where people “bank less, live more”. From hackathons to an ecosystem of delivery partners, it’s now the world’s best bank.
  • Orsted … Over 10 years, the Danish wind energy business has transformed itself from “black to green”, public to private, a national laggard to a global leader. And it’s not stopping there, now developing energy islands to go further.
  • Ping An … The world’s second largest insurer sees growth beyond its core. Jessica Tan became Co-CEO tasked with building future businesses, now including Good Doctor, the world’s largest healthcare platform.

How?  New programs to inspire and enable you, building on these new insights, where I bring together global experts include:

  • Global Business Leadership … A flagship program to engage current and future leaders – “transform your business, transform yourself”. Faculty like Strategyzer’s Tendayi Viki from Zimbabwe, and 3D Leader Terence Mauri are key contributors.
  • Transform! … We think it’s the world’s best business simulation (see below), engaging participants to compete as exec teams. First to $60 billion market cap wins! Norway’s Christian Rangen, part of our team, ensures that it’s a lot of fun too.
  • Vision to Vitality … Leading in a world of relentless change is not easy. It demands personal vision, courage, fitness, and resilience. We bring together sports coach Mikael Trolle, chief wellbeing officer Steven Macgregor, and many others.

Designing “Future Fit” Strategies 

Zhang Ruimin, outgoing chairman of Haier, the Chinese world leader in home appliances, said to me recently “Within 5 years, all of our products will be free”. Imagine if every refrigerator was free. How will they make money? Services is the obvious answer, using IOT and digital platforms to replenish your home, help you cook better, improve your health. How much do you spend on a fridge? $400 every 10 years. On food? $150 every week.

Why? A “future mindset” is about building confidence and courage to go further, and then working backwards with agility to make it happen:

  • Terra Incognita … Inspired by futurists like Richard Watson (see his fascinating new map), we explore how the future will emerge, the critical uncertainties and trend intersections, from future mapping to scenario planning.
  • The Invincible Company … Alex Osterwalder’s articulation of an organisation that never stops innovating, is built on the dual portfolio of “Explore and Exploit”, to create a pipeline of business for a future-proofed business.
  • Design Futures … “Design thinking” has become incredibly popular, innovation built around deep human insight, but now it’s enhanced to explore the best future possibilities. We work with IFTF to deploy this powerful approach.

What?  We learn from companies around the world with the most stretching visions, disrupting before they’re disrupted, and the courage to shape markets to their advantage:

  • Epic Games … Web 3 is rapidly evolving in the world of online games, Fortnite has become the world’s top music venue. It’s already more popular then real world for most GenZ. This is the real metaverse, but with a little less hype than Zuckerberg.
  • Revolut … Neo-banks are everywhere, but how are they more than just automated versions of old banks? We explore Nubank to N26, and many more, to understand how banking will evolve, and also link with superapp models like Jio and Rappi.
  • Nio … the Chinese lifestyle brand is often called the Tesla of China, but beyond its supercar EVs is a strategy to reinvent lifestyle brands. This is also a story of courageous leadership, intelligent technologies, and ecosystem platforms.

How?  Examples of new  program content which we can design and deliver as part of your own business events or development programs include:

  • Gamechanger Strategies … How to reinvent not just products, or businesses, but your entire market, to your advantage. Inspired by Oishii strawberries and Rapha cyclewear, we explore what it takes to dIsrupt and reimagine an industry.
  • Exponential Technologies … What’s the real potential of AI in your business? How could you move to a platform business model? Terence Tse is an AI wizard who can help, as is Ricardo Perez who specialises in platform futures.
  • TikTok Business Models … Social shopping, live streaming, is all the buzz. Shein is now a $100 billion business, retail built on “the haul”. Sharon Gai, former Alibaba digital leader is part of our team, helping us to make sense of digital opportunities.

Driving “Net Positive” Innovation

“One of the great misunderstandings of our time, is that companies can either be good for the world, or good for shareholders” said Marc Benioff of Salesforce in Davos. “The reality is that doing good is the best way to drive growth, to reduce risks, and create economic value”. He talked about businesses as platforms for change, platforms for good, and in particular how they have the power through customers to amplify impact many times over.

Why? Sustainability used to be about reducing impact, and particularly in reducing global warming. Now it’s about more, the ability to make a positive difference to the world:

  • Net Positive … Paul Polman has built on his transformation of Unilever, to create a new framework for business and its role in society, asking “Is the world better because your business is in it?”
  • Corporate Knights … Vestas tops the 2022 Global 100 ranking of the world’s most sustainable businesses, followed by Chr Hansen and Autodesk, with a deep analysis of what it does to do better.
  • Doughnut Economics … Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen – three cities who have recently adopted Kate Raworth’s model (see below) for economic development within the doughnut, doing less bad for the environment, and more good for society.

What?  We learn from some of the world’s top sustainable innovators, typically embracing new technology to address our huge challenges, social and environmental:

  • NotCo … In Chile, Matias Muchnick is using AI to reinvent food – for example, by combining pineapple and cabbage he was able to create an alternative form of milk, NotMilk. With Jeff Bezos’ backing, he’s now created many more healthy NotFoods.
  • Carbon … 3D Printing is set to revolutionise production, supply chains, and ultimately our whole relationship with products. Imagine subscribing to Prada, flicking through their IP catalogue, pressing print every time you want a new dress?
  • Schneider Electric … Last year’s world’s most sustainable business, Schneider is particularly focused on the battery technology to store and distribute clean energy. It’s also actively developing local micro-production with networks of “prosumers.”

How?  New programs and content that are all about innovation driven by harnessing the challenges of sustainability include:

  • Sustainable Advantage … How to reframe sustainability in your business to engage consumers and outperform competitors, drive profitable growth, and make a positive impact on the world. Mark Esposito works with me on this.
  • SDG-Driven Strategies …. The UN’s 17 SDGs provides a useful framework to explore how your business can do better, with practical tools and metrics. UN’s Jessica Lobo joins our program, to guide participants towards new thinking.
  • Connected Creativity … Biomimicry is one approach to reimagining innovation inspired by nature – from Bullet Trains to Vibram Gecko shoes. Innovation expert Ramon Vullings applies connected creativity, combining ideas from different places.

Delivering “Human-Tech” Experiences

The robots are coming to take over our jobs, AI to replace our brains. Lawyers are apparently most at risk, followed by accountants. This assumes that machines have empathy and intuitive, that they can dream and engage. As Elon Musk’s Neuralink business proposes, the future is much more about how people can enhance machines, and technology can enhance human capabilities. It’s about fusion, not about alternatives.

Why?  Man vs Machine, or rather Man and Machine, is one of the hottest topics right now, with a multitude of approaches from thinkers and advisors.

  • Humanocracy … Hamel and Zanini’s great book on “Creating organisations as amazing as the people inside them” has become a manifesto for a more human business. It connects purpose, responsibility, creativity, organisation and talent.
  • Radically Human … IDEAS – intelligence, data, expertise, architecture and strategy – is Daugherty and Wilson’s model to connect the best of human and technology capability within the organisation.
  • Hooked … Nir Eyal’s work on how to build habit-forming products has become crucial in a world of devices and interfaces. Playing games or searching data is largely intuitive, therefore digital anthropology and behavioural economics are key.

What? Companies are now recognising that technology alone isn’t the answer, it’s not just about “digital” transformation, but a more holistic human-centric approach:

  • Canva … Melanie Perkins’s online graphic design business has become one of Australia’s first unicorns, and empowered people everywhere to turn their creativity into real action, from posters and presentations to cards and crafts.
  • Valio … Finland’s leading dairy has seen huge decline in its traditional milk-based product sales, and so set about using human insights and new tech possibilities to create non-diary alternatives. Not the easiest plan, as it is owned by dairy farmers.
  • Nubank … Brazil’s neo-bank developed a strategy to serve the unbanked. This required more than a technology solution, and instead understanding the emotional barriers to access, and confidence in its services and use.

How? We’ve developed a range of program content focused on technology, humanity and their fusion, where I bring work with others include:

  • Exponential Humanity … What does it mean to be human in a digital world? Veronica Reyero is a digital anthropologist from Spain, working with us to understand people and technology, and how the two can better work together.
  • Human-Digital Transformation … We know that a business transformation needs to be holistic, customer-centric, human-centric, tech-centric. Alan Brown with two decades of Silicon Valley tech experience joins our expert faculty.
  • Ultimate Projects … Most ideas, innovations and transformations fail because of their poor implementation. Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, transformation director at GSK and author of HBR’s Project Management Handbook, helps you do it better.

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