Saturday, February 27, 2010

Innovations that will reshape business

Trend spotting can be tricky. Just think about all those predictions a few years ago that people, especially the Baby Boomers, would retire early and then enjoy the fruits of their labour for many years to come. And then along came the recession or slowdown or financial meltdown or whatever it was and suddenly, early retirement was no longer an option for many. In fact, for many Boomers retirement itself now seems a distant possibility.
So the new, post-recession mantra is ‘ postpone retirement and work longer’. Almost simultaneously, and perhaps inevitably, the idea of the ‘multi-generational’, ‘age diverse’ workplace, with each generation benefiting from the wisdom of the other(s) took on a life of its own.
Or consider all the talk from a few years ago about financial innovation, globalised financial systems and the supremacy of credit being the way to go. And then consider where all that innovation took the world.
So it’s pretty interesting to see that the Financial Times has got into the trend spotting act with this story on 10 innovations that will reshape business.
One instance of an innovation that could transform business over the next decade, the FT says, is the revolutionary discovery that “Greed isn’t as good as we thought”. Truly visionary!
While it will be great to see businesses renounce, or at least temper, the Gordon Gekko ‘greed is good’ philosophy, will this really happen. I wonder. While values such as passion and purpose drive entrepreneurship and business, the desire for profit is, arguably, what fuels corporates. So while the single-minded pursuit of profit may be diluted with values such as responsibility and a sense of purpose, corporate greed won’t simply disappear.
The FT piece also talks about how people will have to ‘work longer, work older’, with more people in the 50s and 60s choosing to turn entrepreneurs. This innovation will in all probability throw up demographic and social impacts that will need some serious thought from communities and governments the world over.
One possible impact of the ‘work longer, work older’ movement could be in the workplace, especially given another innovation that the FT article talks about: ‘Generation Xers come into their own’. How businesses handle a multi-generation workplace, with a mix of Gen Xs, Gen Ys and Baby Boomers will determine the contours of corporate life. Especially interesting will be corporate efforts to find a balance between the leadership aspirations of the Generation Xs and the Boomers who are hanging on to the reins of power.
What really makes me go hmm… is the assertion that trial and error could become a legitimate business technique! Equally odd is the declaration that governments, companies and individuals should “roll up for some risky business”. ‘Innovative’ financial products structured around risk, it seems, aren’t going away any time soon, their perceived role in the global financial meltdown notwithstanding. But then as the FT piece points out, according to Robert Schiller, professor of economics at Yale University, the credit crisis merely shows that “much more work needs to be done to democratise finance. The crisis occurred because the principles of financial risk management were not being applied to the widest possible population.” I do wonder where this innovation is going to take business?
In all fairness though, the FT piece also talks about a couple of innovations that are truly innovative. One is the, move towards smarter energy use and management. The other focuses on the changes that are spreading through the world of shopping; for instance, the move towards creating pick-up locations for goods ordered online. An option that is likely to be a hit with shoppers who are time-starved.
Now some of the innovations the FT piece talks about, are ideas that have been floating around for a while. So they really aren’t new. Yet, it will be interesting to see just how much they reshape business over the next few years.

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