Businesses must transform into firms of the future by embedding sustainability, creating value for themselves, their communities and the ecosystems in which they operate A “perfect storm” of economic, social and environmental factors is making the business landscape increasingly volatile. The pace of change is faster and only set to increase. To succeed, business needs to become more agile, creative, alert, spontaneous and responsive. In short, it needs to learn to operate in completely new ways.
Businesses like ecosystems
The changes call for businesses to operate in ways more akin to living systems. Living systems learn and adapt; they are not structured and working in silos; they don’t stifle learning and agility. Businesses that operate in these ways are bottom-up, decentralized, interdependent and multifunctional; they feature self-organizing units.
Put simply, the business models and management approaches that served us well in the past are no longer fit for purpose in a context where dynamic change is the new norm. Organizations that are able to let go of old business paradigms, having the courage to embrace new ways of operating while dealing with the pressing short-term issues of today, will be the ones that can weather the storm. Other organizations, fearfully clinging to practices that are no longer fit for purpose for our times, will struggle to cope with the level of change ahead. You could say we are in a decade of creative destruction and reconstruction. Organizations that get it are adapting and evolving, and those that do not will perish or be acquired. Bold firms of the future are starting to unlock the creative potential of their own workforce, their partners and the communities they serve. In so doing, they are initiating virtuous cycles of collaboration, innovation and value for all stakeholders.
Redesigning for resilience
Dawn Vance, global supply chain director at Nike, puts it succinctly: “Organizations have three options: 1) hit the wall; 2) optimize and delay hitting the wall; 3) redesign for resilience – simultaneously optimizing existing networks whilst embracing disruptive innovation and working collaboratively with partners.”
It is this “redesigning for resilience” which drives the transformation from a firm of the past to a firm of the future. The firm of the future is one that:
• Drives transformation through value-based leadership and stakeholder empowerment using education, innovation, inspiration and collaboration as catalysts;
• Encourages synergies across its business ecosystem, engaging with multiple stakeholders in open, transparent ways;
• Harnesses the power of social networks; uses crowd sourcing, co-creation, open-source collaboration platforms and transparent branding for differentiation;
• Evolves ecological thinking to invent new ways of operating and generating value for every stakeholder within the community it serves.
The pressure for change is increasing all the time. Well-publicized forward-thinking organizations are already making headway on transformational journeys; and it is a journey rather than a destination.
The firm of the future
Becoming a firm of the future is not about designing the right business model and implementing it; it is about understanding the ethos, ethics and environment that will allow the organization, individuals and wider stakeholder community to best flourish, adapt and evolve. It is an emergent journey, a journey that encourages diversity in approaches and outcomes, one where it is good to make mistakes, even fail, as it generates learning to move forward in a more resilient way.
Some visionary business leaders are already taking the first steps on the transformational path for themselves and their businesses. It requires great courage to break rank from a paradigm that is so ingrained in our business mindset and redesign for resilience in the face of pressing short-term pain.
Transformational times call for transformational change. Businesses that wish to thrive and survive in these volatile times must transform themselves from firms of the past to firms of the future. A firm of the future embeds sustainability to its core and, in doing so, generates value for itself, its communities and the ecosystems in which it operates. A firm of the future is a business inspired by nature, functioning like an adaptive living organism, thriving within ever-changing business and socioeconomic systems, resilient to disruptions and interdependent within the largest ecosystem of all – Earth.
Giles Hutchins is global director for sustainability solutions at Atos, adjunct faculty in the Sustainable Design online program at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and, co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry for Creative Innovation. Giles will co-teach Natural Leadership with Denise DeLuca and Andy Middleton at MCAD in Summer 2012. This post was originally published by The Guardian on July 28, 2011. Frigate bird image courtesy of Cindy Gilbert.