February 16, 2007

The rapidity of change today is mind boggling. This is also significantly affecting the rules of the business. While technology is becoming obsolete faster than ever, the new technologies are also opening vistas of new social and business opportunities and trends. The entire system is going through an evolution process that is increasingly being governed by the laws of evolution rather than the laws of management. And in this new ecosystem, who will survive and who will die in coming years? Well, it is difficult to predict. But here are seven traits that, I feel, may dictate the longevity of companies in coming years.

Socially Oriented Capitalism
Businesses will increasingly get entwined with society in coming years if they have to survive the next 25 years. With globalization in its adolescence, the world is witnessing an increasing divide between haves and have-nots. Unless businesses come forward to understand the societal implications of their operations, and make appropriate strategy for constructive collaboration with society at large, things may become ugly in future to the extent that social unrest becomes hazardous for businesses.

The one and only solution for businesses to survive in the long run would be to enter into a partnership of progress with the society at large. It is only through ‘socially oriented capitalism’ that companies would be able to create a bond of trust and bonhomie with the masses that not only results in a symbiotic relationship but also results in the overall progress of mankind and a more equitable distribution of natural as well as economic resources and rewards. The concept of exploitation has to give way to the concept of co-creation.

Environmental Integration
How companies take a stand on environment is going to be a critical factor that will decide longevity of organizations in coming years. Days are not far away when companies who practice triple bottom-line accountability – profit, society, environment – would be toasted the world over. With the pace of development and the constraint of natural resources, time has come for companies to show concern and respect for natural resources. Very soon companies will realize that if they ignored environment, their very survival would be in doubt.

Managing Fluid Dynamics
If anything can be certainly said about business and technology, it is the fact that everything is in constant flux. Not only things are in flux, but the magnitude of change is unpredictable. So tricky the situations are that with one path-breaking innovation, an entire industry can prop up and another can go down instantly. How companies manage this fluid dynamics of the business and technological environment will decide how many of them survive over a considerable period of time. To manage this, great visionaries are needed at the helm. Exceptional leaders, who could see various possibilities, would be required to steer the company in a sea that in all likelihood would turn violent frequently.

Global interdependence
Never had interdependence been as visible as it is today. If Dow Jones sneezes, BSE catches cold. With globalization in full force, no country or individual or institution is self-sufficient. If economy of US slows down, impact is not only felt in US but also in the lives of Chinese workers who are engaged in manufacturing. A thorough understanding of the intricacies of this interdependence and managing them would be a key success factor in coming years. Leaders of tomorrow will have to do a lot of balancing act to ensure that uncertainties due to global interdependence are mitigated to a large extent. Companies that develop such leaders in its rank and file would find it much easier to survive and grow.

The era of individual genius is soon to get over. The era of “collective genius” is going to arrive soon. With each passing day, everything is getting more and more complex. Be it life, or business, or relationships, or communication, the complexity quotient is on the rise. And this phenomenon is being accompanied by the shift of focus from individuals to groups. The world is slowing waking up to the idea of “many minds are always better than one mind”. Moreover, the flattening of the world perpetuated by seamless communication, mobility, and blurring of time-zones is providing an opportunity for the confluence of multiple minds across multiple locations to solve the most complex problems in the most cost-efficient and effective way. The way open source software is bringing about a revolution in the software industry is one small indication of the power of collaboration in coming years. Companies that want to increase their longevity will have to ingrain the power of collaboration in their corporate DNA. And, perhaps, the right time to do this is now so that the foundation for a collaborative organization is in place at the earliest to reap the emerging benefits.

Just like “individual genius” will give way to “collective genius”, “individual power centers” will give way to “power networks”. The elevated role of networks would essentially be an off-shoot of the emergence of the era of collaboration. In future, the concept of leadership will emerge from the human networks in an organization. Concept of “first among equals” will take precedence over “paternalistic leadership”. In such event, power will neither flow from the barrel of gun nor from the authority of the top gun. Power, at least inside an organization, will flow from the dynamics of human networks.

With the flattening of the world, flattening of the organization would follow. Hierarchy based command and control model may start appearing like something from Stone Age. In a hierarchy-less organization, the way individuals interact and transact may start following the concepts of biology like osmosis, cross-pollination, cell multiplication, grafting, eco-system, evolution, synthesis, nutrient management, etc. All these will ultimately result in shift of power base from individuals within an organization to networks of individuals within an organization.

Entrepreneurial Culture
The future is going to be tough and unpredictable, yet it is bound to be promising with emergence of new ideas to make life better. In future, everyday will see the birth of new ideas and new opportunities. At the same time, rapid churn in technology will result in death of many an idea. Managing this cycle of opportunity and obsolescence will require the best of entrepreneurial spirits within an organization. An organization that develops the culture of entrepreneurship and promotes the entrepreneurial traits of identifying opportunities, risk taking, adaptability, and flexibility would find it much easier to survive and flourish in future. In coming years, the product life cycle will get extremely shortened due to rapid technological developments as well as equally rapid technological obsolescence. One of the keys to growth in such circumstances would be the ability of an organization to come up with new products and services at regular intervals that meet customer’s needs in better ways. This will entail managing current and future technologies, ever changing business environment, and increasingly demanding expectations of stakeholders – shareholders, customers, society. And there is absolutely no better way to do this than to create a battery of entrepreneurs within an organization to imagine, plan, direct, and lead change to create a virtuous cycle of sustainable growth in an era of continuous flux.


  1. Atul // September 24, 2007 at 10:03 PM  

    This article deserves wider circulation and maybe a book