Are today’s businesses prepared for what doesn’t exist yet?
In order to be prepared for what doesn’t exist yet, we first have to ask ourselves: where does the future come from?
The concept of “the future” is one that, paradoxically, only really exists in hindsight. Of course, we can schedule events and activities for the future that we will actively bring about through our work. But the particular nuance of the future – in terms of direction and disruption as it relates to businesses – can seem, in hindsight, to have come out of nowhere. And yet, it can bring about vast changes in the marketplace that competitors have either had to adapt to, or die.
In truth though, nothing happens in business without a long chain of research, development, timing, investment, decision-making and, sometimes, luck.
However, sometimes out of this vast mix of deliberation and action comes a business or idea that really does change the game: the likes of Alphabet (parent company of Google), Apple, Facebook and Uber are commonly touted as prominent game changers. The sheer scale at which their technologies and products have been adopted can seem to have come out of nowhere.
But for any of these businesses, vast success has not been a surprise: theirs is a future that all such companies have worked very hard to bring about.
Take the iPhone for example: in less than a decade Apple was selling 236m iPhones per year (figures based on 2015). And, in that time, several other things have happened. For example, the availability of faster wireless broadband has increased, enabling more data to be sent and received via the devices. And mobile device usage has also driven the exponential growth of social media entities, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Another example is Uber, which has become one of Silicon Valley’s fastest-growing start-ups, with massive expansion across 70 countries in the last few years. Few would argue that the company’s app and infrastructure has caused enormous changes to private transportation, the taxi industry and even the nature of employment for many thousands of people. However, competitors are now starting to catch up. The future of Uber as a game changer, as with any organization, is by no means certain.
Keep looking, keep playing
For companies such as these, understanding how to spot opportunities, and not only anticipate but leverage evolutionary steps before they happen, is a skill of understanding trends. Some people are gifted with this almost visionary, multidisciplinary capability.
But for those businesses that are not as adept at harnessing these capabilities, actively practicing adaptability and experimentation can provide great insight, and even the possibility of prediction.
This is why EY is helping many organizations to anticipate the future, spot trends and capitalize on them through dedicated innovation centers. By encouraging organizations to experiment, and fail small and fast, they can learn from the experience and get better and stronger.
So, while the world speculates on what the future will bring, agile and determined organizations are working night and day testing and deploying nascent technologies, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, 3D printing and energy storage, and exploring new business models that just might work.
This is how innovation happens.
This is how the future happens.
So, are today’s businesses prepared for what doesn’t exist yet?