Why do we need to RECODE business?

We live in a time of great promise but also great uncertainty.

Markets are more crowded, competition is intense, customer aspirations are constantly fuelled by new innovations and dreams. Technology disrupts every industry, from banking to construction, entertainment to healthcare. It drives new possibilities and solutions, but also speed and complexity, uncertainty and fear.

As digital and physical worlds fuse to augment how we live and work, AI and robotics enhance but also challenge our capabilities, whilst ubiquitous supercomputing, genetic editing and self-driving cars take us further.

Technologies with the power to help us leap forwards in unimaginable ways. To transform business, to solve our big problems, to drive radical innovation, to accelerate growth and achieve progress socially and environmentally too.

We are likely to see more change in the next 10 years than the last 250 years.

  • Markets accelerate, 4 times faster than 20 years ago, based on the accelerating speed of innovation and diminishing lifecycles of products.
  • People are more capable, 825 times more connected than 20 years ago, with access to education, unlimited knowledge, tools to create anything.
  • Consumer attitudes change, 78% of young people choose brands that do good, they reject corporate jobs, and see the world with the lens of gamers.

However, change goes far beyond the technology.

Markets will transform, converge and evolve faster. From old town Ann Arbor to the rejuvenated Bilbao, today’s megacities like Chennai and the future Saudi tech city of Neom, economic power will continue to shift. China has risen to the top of the new global business order, whilst India and eventually Africa will follow.

Industrialisation challenges the natural equilibrium of our planet’s resources. Today’s climate crisis is the result of our progress, and our problem to solve. Globalisation challenges our old notions of nationhood and locality. Migration changes where we call home. Religious values compete with social values, economic priorities conflict with social priorities. Living standards improve but inequality grows.

Our current economic system is stretched to its limit. Global shocks, such as the global pandemic of 2020, exposes its fragility. We open our eyes to realise that we weren’t prepared for different futures, and that our drive for efficiency has left us unable to cope. Such crises will become more frequent, as change and disruption accelerate.

However, these shocks are more likely to accelerate change in business, rather than stifle it, to wake us up to the real impacts of our changing world – to the urgency of action, to the need to think and act more dramatically.

The old codes don’t work

Business is not fit for the future. Most organisations were designed for stable and predictable worlds, where the future evolves as planned, markets are definitive, and choices are clear.

The future isn’t like it used to be.

Dynamic markets are, by definition, turbulent. Whilst economic cycles have typically followed a pattern of peaks and troughs every 10-15 years, these will likely become more frequent.  Change is fast and exponential, uncertain and unpredictable, complex and ambiguous demanding new interpretation and imagination.

Yet too many business leaders hope that the strategies that made them successful in the past will continue to work in the future. They seek to keep stretching the old models in the hope that they will continue to see them through. Old business plans are tweaked each year, infrastructures are tested to breaking point, and people are asked to work harder.

In a way of dramatic, unpredictable change, this is not enough to survive, let alone thrive.

  • Growth is harder. Global GDP growth has declined by more than a third in the past decade. As the west stagnates, Asia grows, albeit more slowly.
  • Companies struggle, their average lifespan falling from 75 years in 1950 to 15 years today, 52% of the Fortune 500 in 2000 no longer exist in 2020.
  • Leaders are under pressure. 44% of today’s business leaders have held their position for at least 5 years, compared to 77% half a century ago.

Profit is no longer enough; people expect business to achieve more. Business cannot exist in isolation from the world around them, pursuing customers without care for the consequence. The old single-minded obsession with profits is too limiting. Business depends more than ever on its resources – people, communities, nature, partners – and will need to find a better way to embrace them.

Technology is no longer enough; innovation needs to be more human. Technology will automate and interpret reality, but it won’t empathise and imagine new futures. Ubiquitous technology-driven innovation quickly becomes commoditised, available from anywhere in the world, so we need to add value in new ways. The future is human, creative, and intuitive. People will matter more to business, not less.

Sustaining the environment is not enough. 200 years of industrialisation has stripped the planet of its ability to renew itself, and ultimately to sustain life. Business therefore needs to give back more than it takes. As inequality and distrust have grown in every society, traditional jobs are threatened by automation and stagnation, meaning that social issues will matter even more, both globally and locally.

The new DNA of business

As business leaders, our opportunity is to create a better business, one that is fit for the future, that can act in more innovative and responsible ways.

How can we harness the potential of this relentless and disruptive change, harness the talents of people and the possibilities of technology? How can business, with all its power and resources, be a platform for change, and a force for good?

We need to find new codes to succeed. We need to find new ways to work, to recognise business as a system that be virtuous, where less can be more, and growth can go beyond the old limits. This demands that we make new connections:

  • Profit + Purpose … to achieve more enlightened progress
  • Technology + Humanity … to achieve more human ingenuity
  • Innovation + Sustainability … to achieve more positive impact

We need to create a new framework for business, a better business – to reimagine why and redesign how we work, as well as reinvent what and refocus where we do business.

Imagine a future business that looks forwards not back, that rises up to shape the future on its own terms, making sense of change to find new possibilities, inspiring people with vision and optimism. Imagine a future that inspires progress, seeks new sources of growth, embraces networks and partners to go further, and enables people to achieve more.

Imagine too, a future business that creates new opportunity spaces, by connecting novel ideas and untapped needs, creatively responding to new customer agendas. Imagine a future business that disrupts the disruptors, where large companies have the vision and courage to reimagine themselves and compete as equals to fast and entrepreneurial start-ups.

Imagine a future business that embraces humanity, searches for better ideas, that fuse technology and people in more enlightened ways, to solve the big problems of society, and improve everyone’s lives. Imagine a future business that works collectively, self-organises to thrive without hierarchy, connects with partners in rich ecosystems, designs jobs around people, to do inspiring work.

Imagine also, a future business which is continually transforming, that thrives by learning better and faster, develops a rich portfolio of business ideas and innovations to sustain growth and progress. Imagine a future business that creates positive impact on the world, benefits all stakeholders with a circular model of value creation, that addresses negatives, and creates a net positive impact for society.

Creating a better business is an opportunity for every person who works inside or alongside it. It is not just a noble calling, to do something better for the world, but also a practical calling, a way to overcome the many limits of today, and attain future success for you and your business.You could call it the dawn of a new capitalism.

7 Shifts and 49 Codes

How do we create a better business, and a better future?

Creating this better future requires change in how we think and behave, the way in which you design, manage and lead your business. The mindset shifts are profound, requiring leaders to let go of old behaviours and beliefs, and to embrace new paradigms and possibilities.

The book is organised around these 7 shifts:

  • From profit machine to enlightened progress
  • From uncertain survival to futuristic growth
  • From marginal competition to market creating
  • From technology obsession to human ingenuity
  • From passive hierarchies to dynamic ecosystems
  • From incremental change to sustained transformation
  • From good managers to extraordinary leaders

Underpinning these shifts are specific actions required for leaders. These are the 49 codes for you to embrace, adapt and apply in the right way for your organisation.

Coding is most often associated with technology.

A computer code is set of instructions built of words and symbols that together form a program that is then executed by the computer. Codes become standardised as a language, mechanised as a system, and enable huge amounts of processing in fractions of a second. The revolutionary consequences are all around us.

Similarly, a genetic code is a set of rules used by living materials to translate information encoded within DNA into proteins, and into life. The development by Sir Francis Crick and others transformed the world of medicine, leading to breakthroughs such as personalised medicines, and phenomenal businesses like 23andMe.

More generally we have codes, like codes of conduct, as guidelines for the way we work and live. They are principles for doing better, non-prescriptive or definitive they are broad and flexible, suggest approaches which we can adopt in our own personal ways.

The 49 codes create a new framework on which to move forwards. They are summarised below:

Shift 1: Aurora … Recode your future

How will you reinvent your business for a better future?

  • Code 1: Explore your future potential … Rise above the chaos and complexity of today, let go of the obsession with what got you here, and instead focus on creating a bold, brave and brilliant future.
  • Code 2: Have a future mindset … Open your mind to new possibilities, reach higher and further to embrace the unknown with curiosity and courage, to shape the future on your terms.
  • Code 3: Imagine a better business … Seize the power of business as a platform for good, to engage colleagues and society in solving big problems, to grow and do good at the same time.
  • Code 4: Find your inspiring purpose … Finding your reason for being, beyond products and profits, to capture the passion that guides you, and defines how you make the world a better place.
  • Code 5: Create your future story … Engage your people in a richer vision of the future, creating a narrative that captures hearts and minds, and defines a distinctive path for progress.
  • Code 6: Deliver more positive impact … Redefine the meaning and metrics of success – the way in which you create and share value, deliver performance and progress, economic and social benefits.
  • Code 7: Be the radical optimist … Be the catalyst of change – the leader who others want to follow on a journey into the future – be imaginative, be inspiring, and believe in better.

Shift 2: Komorebi … Recode your growth

Where are the best opportunities to grow further and faster?

  • Code 8: Ride with the megatrends … Sensemaking is your competitive advantage. How will you ride the waves of change, be farsighted to turn disruption and discontinuities into innovation and impact?
  • Code 9: Find new sources of growth … Consumers have markets in the palm of their hands, instant, mobile, and in control. Whether young or old, they have new aspirations, new influences and new priorities.
  • Code 10: Embrace the Asian century … The 21st century belongs to Asia. As economic power shifts west to east, from nations to cities, and a new middle class, so political and cultural power shifts too.
  • Code 11: Harness technology and humanity … Digital technologies do more than automate the existing world, they will transform every aspect of life and work, from AI to smart cities, augmentation to immortality.
  • Code 12: Start from the future back … Jump to the future, beyond short-term distractions. Work backwards to connect to the priorities of today, then forwards to make the future happen in your own vision.
  • Code 13: Accelerate through networks … Ideas and relationships are your most important business assets, multiplied through the exponential power of networks, enabling you to grow further and faster.
  • Code 14: Build a growth portfolio … Growth amidst relentless change is a journey of many projects, innovations and transformations. See it as a balanced portfolio to be sustained over time.

Shift 3: Transcendent … Recode your market

How will you reshape your market to your advantage? 

  • Code 15: Explore the market matrix … Physical and digital, global and local, human and automated. As boundaries blur, markets evolve, and become multi-dimensional, connected, flexible and individual.
  • Code 16: Disrupt the disruptors … Start-ups are the cool companies, scale-ups are the profitable. Yet it is corporates who have many more advantages. How do you play a different game?
  • Code 17: Capture the customer agenda … As audiences diverge and fuse, then geographies and demographics lose meaning. Sense and respond to uncover individual aspirations and evolving behaviours.
  • Code 18: Create new market spaces … Markets can be defined however you want, framed in your own language, rejecting old models like B2C and B2B, focused on enabling customers to achieve more.
  • Code 19: Build trust with authenticity … Customers engage more emotionally, human and empathetic. They trust each other more than any business, they influence and are loyal to each other.
  • Code 20: Develop brands with purpose … How do you make an inspiring purpose statement relevant and practical for consumers, distinctive and profitable for your business?
  • Code 21: Enable people to achieve more … Brands used to be marks of ownership, but today are built around the passions of like-minded consumers, enabling them to achieve more, and multiply their impact.

Shift 4: Ingenuity … Recode your innovation

What does it take to drive more radical innovation?

  • Code 22: Be ingenious … Innovation does not come from technology but how it enables humanity to be better. Ingenuity is driven by imagination and intuition, empathy and design.
  • Code 23: Search for better ideas … Innovation starts by finding the right question. Engage people in a bigger conversation, and then seek to address it in more enlightened ways.
  • Code 24: Embrace a designer mindset … Innovations have more impact when they solve bigger problems. Social and environmental challenges can lead to more profound and profitable solutions
  • Code 25: Create unusual connections … Concept fusions take multiple ideas – often nature or science, other sectors or markets, modular or decoupled – and connect them in novel ways.
  • Code 26: Develop new business models … Whilst products and services are quickly copied, business models are much harder to imitate, from platforms and exchanges to subscriptions and giving it away free.
  • Code 27: Experiment with speed and agility … Insight and imagination, experiment and evolve, marginal gains and big bets, speed and scale. These entrepreneurial mantras replace the old linear processes of old.
  • Code 28: Dream crazy … In a technological world, it is our creativity – audacious ideas, counter intuition, beautiful designs, and novel fusions – that inspire love, desire and progress.

Shift 5: Ubuntu … Recode your organisation

How can people achieve more together?

  • Code 29: Build a butterfly ecosystem … Butterflies are incredible creatures – small bodies with huge wingspans, fast and agile, and distant impacts – a great metaphor for today’s business ecosystems.
  • Code 30: Work as a living organisation … In nature, few complex systems is organised through hierarchies. We need to develop businesses as living, adaptive, “collectively conscious” organisations.
  • Code 31: Collaborate in fast projects … Projects will dominate organisation work, replacing the old structures and job roles. They include labs and incubators, bringing focus, collaboration, change and speed.
  • Code 32: Do human, inspiring work … Human skills will grow in value – complex problem solving and creativity, emotional intelligence and partnership building. Let machines do the simple, repetitive tasks.
  • Code 33: Align individuals and organisations … We need to align ourselves and our work much better, recognising the power of individuals and teams, and how diversity comes in many different forms.
  • Code 34: Create energy and rhythm … Organisations thrive on progress. Continual learning, data loop and educational, enabling people and business to adapt and grow, building rhythm and energy.
  • Code 35: Be an extreme team … The All Blacks are the all-conquering team from a small island, who lock together in their Maori Haka before going to work. What can we learn from such teams?

Shift 6: Syzygy … Recode your transformation

What does it take to transform your business effectively?

  • Code 36: Transform your business … Few organisations can claim to effectively implement their strategies, far less to turn radical visions into practical actions that inspire people and transform performance.
  • Code 37: Exploit the core, explore the edge … Change happens at three levels – improving today, innovating tomorrow, and imagining the future. Dual transformation is about today and tomorrow.
  • Code 38: Start outside in, and inside out … Should you start with the customer or the culture, with the need or the dream? It’s both, but the catalyst and focus of change should be outside not inside.
  • Code 39: Engage people in change … How to engage people in an emotional journey of resistance and renewal. From business case to project plans, quick wins and symbols of change, it is not easy.
  • Code 40: Build rocket ships to the future … How to use business accelerators, incubators and labs to achieve more, to achieve it faster, to shape big ideas, and work in new collaborative partnerships.
  • Code 41: Create a circular ecosystem … Dematerialisation enables the trade-off between business and the environment to become transformational as the circular economy becomes a positive force.
  • Code 42: Have the strategic agility to never stop … Change in the outside world is fast and relentless, and so too should it be inside. Transformation is an infinite journey, riding the S curves, creating the future.

Shift 7: Awestruck … Recode your leadership

Do you have the courage to create a better future? 

  • Code 43: Step up to lead the future … The best leaders are sense makers and future shapers, stepping up to see the future and shape it in their vision, with the courage to lead beyond the knowns of today.
  • Code 44: Have the courage to do more … Leadership is about amplifying the potential of people, of organisations, of ideas and of brands. Leaders are catalysts, connectors and coaches.
  • Code 45: Develop your own leadership style … There are many models of leadership – inspiring and humble, democrat or autocrat. Most important is to be yourself, to be your best yourself, and strive to be better.
  • Code 46: Achieve your peak performance … Embed the future in business as usual – make the processes of future shaping, business innovating and change making, the normal equilibrium of work.
  • Code 47: Stay resilient, stay strong … The journey ahead will have high and lows. Endurance demands physical fitness and emotional agility, but also taking moments to pause, and celebrate progress.
  • Code 48: Create a better legacy … What will you be remembered for? How will you create progress in your business and society, and leave your world a better place for those who follow you?
  • Code 49: Be extraordinary … What is extra ordinary? As Eliud Kipchoge starts to feel pain, pushes though barriers, and nears the limits of humanity, a huge smile comes across his face.

© Peter Fisk 2020

“Business Recoded” by Peter Fisk will be published in December 2020.

All images from Unsplash