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Sensory Overload

Sensory Overload

It’s fashionable to knock email at the moment. Plenty of articles have been written about how it wastes more time than it saves, and many companies are now enforcing strict email management rules in a bid to reclaim productivity. But I don’t believe email is the problem.

We now have a wealth of communication tools and information resources at our fingertips. Every one of them is competing for a bit of our attention, distracting us with sounds, images, flashing lights and vibrations. Every one of the channels and tools available to us is generally well designed as a product in its own right. Few people struggle to use Outlook, or Skype, or a mobile phone, or Firefox. But the problem is that it is never an either/or choice in the modern life — we are constantly multi-tasking in a bid to keep on top of all the information coming to us.

Just looking at my desktops both real and virtual now, I have: a landline; a mobile; Skype and headset (for two SkypeIn numbers and my Skypename); Thunderbird (handling four email accounts); Outlook (handling a fifth email account, plus calendar and task list with pop-up reminders); VNC (for controlling my server and jukebox); and a Timesheet application (again with pop-up reminders).

Any one of these I can handle quite ably, even two or three at a time are fine. But there are days when everything seems to go off at once, or even worse, in a constant stream that prevents any work except talking for an entire day.

In the short term this means developing strategies to handle all the different media: ignoring some calls, putting Skype on DND, turning off pop-up alerts, and ignoring email for large parts of the day. But in the long term I think the technology has to change. While I am sure our brains will eventually evolve to deal with all the various inputs, why should we wait a few thousand years for that to happen?

Instead there needs to be a standard for communications tools to collaborate and share information about our availability — and willingness — to accept inbound information and communications requests. This extends right across the different media: if my Skype is set to DND, I also don’t want calls on my mobile or landline (unless I have specified otherwise — perhaps calls from a certain number, friend or family group). If I am in the middle of writing a long blog entry, I don’t want my anti-virus to pop-up while I am typing, or for Windows to ask me to restart because it has completed an update. In fact, I want an interface that actively helps me to concentrate by blocking out other distractions while I am working, perhaps only offering me contextual information, or messages that are relevant to what I am doing.

This ties in very much with the media filtering technology that is the ultimate goal of most search companies: they want to understand you well enough to suggest TV, books and articles that you might like and save you trawling the enormous oceans of data on the internet. That’s great for home, but if we’re going to stop the white collar classes becoming a nation of digital fidgets, some of that effort really needs to be directed at the workplace.

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Put Your Organisation in a Permanent Phoenix State

Put Your Organisation in a Permanent Phoenix State

The continuing enthusiasm for start-ups and their associated culture suggests that Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of Creative Destruction remains in vogue. Schumpeter suggested that the constant cycle of destruction of the old and creation of the new was the very essence of capitalism. And that innovators — entrepreneurs and start-ups — were its engine.

Though these days this idea is usually associated with free market ideologues, Schumpeter wasn’t quite so positive about its ultimate meaning. He believed that eventually Creative Destruction would destroy capitalism itself.

After all, he developed the idea through analysis of the works of Marx.

There’s an interesting debate to be had about whether Schumpeter was right. About whether without radical intervention, the ongoing automation revolution will ultimately make economies based on mass consumption unsustainable.

But with my applied hat on, I’m more interested in the short term. In efficiency and value.

So a question: are start-ups the best way to create new value?

Think about it.

Start-ups are necessarily new, small, hungry companies. We have seen over the years that established businesses are largely incapable of innovating at the same rate. Very rarely do they release a truly disruptive innovation. Once you are of a certain scale (and that scale doesn’t have to be very large in my experience), change becomes challenging.

Certainly, radical change of the nature that true innovation often requires.

So instead large companies defend their sandcastles for as long as their marketing machines and lobbyists can hold back the tide.

Eventually of course, those empires of sand get washed away and a new entrant starts to build their own.

My problem with this, is that the new empires look very much like the old. Sure, the new entrant will do some things differently. They might have a different culture, better technology, a stronger brand. But so many of the fundamentals of the business are the same: capital, HR, finance, customer relationships.

Knocking these things down only to build them back up again just seems incredibly wasteful.

So what’s the alternative? We solve the change problem.

Imagine you could put an established business into a permanent ‘Phoenix State’, in which it goes through constant reinvention. Always rising from its own ashes. Instead of change being something painful that happens periodically, it becomes something natural that happens iteratively. Not constant refinement of the old model, but an acceptance and application of new models as it becomes clear they are the future.

How would you do this?

For a start you would have to find a way to break the organisation down into comprehensible ‘blocks’ with clear inputs and outputs. Doing this carries an efficiency penalty in its own right, but it’s a worthwhile trade for increased agility. Transforming a monolith is nearly impossible — like trying to hew a new sculpture from an old one. Rearranging building blocks (or changing, adding or dropping the blocks themselves) is much easier. Especially when not all of the building blocks of the business need to owned.

Secondly you would have to ensure transparency across the organisation. You can’t expect everyone to know what everyone else is doing, but someone has to be able to join the dots to recognise opportunities and efficiencies.

Thirdly you would have to find a way to expose leadership at every level to influences outside of their own walls. Institutional blinkers fall fast and blind leaders to even the largest most transformational trends in adjacent and relevant markets.

There are other issues too. Being listed on a stock market makes change harder, since you may have to convince a huge community of shareholders of your radical plans. And most of all, there are human issues of culture and communication, which cannot be underestimated.

But from a structure and process point of view, I think we’re starting to get there with a framework for how you put a business into a permanent Phoenix State.

We know now how to redesign an organisation around its customers, so that at the very least, it listens to them. We know how to break it down into functional units that can be assembled and reassembled to meet new needs. And we know how to expose leaders to external change drivers and help them to plan a response in an efficient fashion.

These tools are all now part of the Applied Futurist’s Toolkit. Others are successfully tackling issues of culture and communication.

This can be done.

So the question is, do you want to build a sandcastle, or a Phoenix?

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Ten ways to disrupt tomorrow

Ten ways to disrupt tomorrow

Last week I gave the closing keynote at the enormous RESI 2017 residential property conference, sharing a stage with the housing minister Alok Sharma, the BBC’s Mark Easton, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, and Blur’s Alex James.

I wrote a talk for the event, but the night before I decided it was all wrong. Closing keynotes need to be full of energy — especially when people are still jaded from the previous night’s gala dinner. They need to give people some simple points to take away. And while they can summarise, the last thing people want to hear is a repeat of what has come before.

Looking at the agenda for the previous days I decided I needed to come up with something fresh. This is what I wrote. Though it was written for a property audience, I think it has wider relevance. Have a read and see what you think.

I’ve been asked to talk to you today about disruption. In the next twenty five minutes I want to talk about ten things that are going to completely disrupt the physical world. Your business, your home, and everyone’s lives.

But first I want to talk about what’s driving that disruption. Right here, right now there is one change driver that is bigger than Trump, bigger than Brexit, bigger than climate change. And it’s technology.

Technology is driving change both more consistently and more persistently than any of these factors today. You may be able to roll back whatever decisions a politician makes, given enough time. But you can’t un-invent the smartphone, or the atom bomb — unfortunately, given the sabre rattling from a certain chubby dictator.

The appliance of science

When I talk about technology, I’m not talking about the phone in your pocket, though that’s part of it. I’m talking about technology in the broadest sense. The appliance of science. We are a race of tool makers who have been applying science since the first caveman or woman picked up a rock and realised it was a more efficient way to stove in the head of whatever animal they were trying to catch. Technology is maths, wheels and language. Which I guess makes Shakespeare a coder.

Throughout our history technology has done one thing. It has lowered friction. Technology allows us to do things we couldn’t otherwise do more efficiently, quickly, and painlessly.

But that gives whoever has that technology a competitive edge. Because if someone else has that edge, then we want it. It doesn’t matter if it’s countries competing in an arms race, companies competing in a market, or you trying to keep up with the family at number 42 with the nice new Merc.

It is this competitive tension that keeps driving technology forward. The last ten years have seen technology transform our world. The next ten will see transformations of even greater magnitude.

1. The end of possessions

Technology has eliminated so much of the matter in our lives. Newspapers and magazines, books, paper in general. CDs, DVDs, Blurays and all the various paraphernalia needed to play them on.

This has coincided with a shift to a much more experience-led culture. Expenditure on food and drink and holidays is up. People are focused on what they can do, not what they can own.

There’s still huge — perhaps increasing — value in tactile experiences like vinyl, in the face of mass digitisation. But the larger trend is clear: we can achieve the same or greater experiences through fewer physical objects.

2. Personal AI

We outsource memory to other people in our lives. How many times have you relied on a partner or family member to remember someone’s birthday, the MOT, or home insurance renewal? Why shouldn’t we outsource to machines as well?

The reality is that we already do. GPS has become our sense of direction, calendars and photos our memories.

The next step is letting them filter the world, and even take buying decisions, on our behalf. Right now we put this power in the hands of third parties like Facebook, and subscription shopping services. When it should be our own personal AI, intimately familiar with our preferences and insulated from the influence of external parties.

3. Frictionless administration

With a personal AI hosting aspects of our identity, finance and vital documentation, we can look forward to truly frictionless administration. No more endless reams of paper or multi-page forms for every insurance policy, remortgage or investment. Our assistants interact with the APIs of any intermediary, in turn interacting with providers and third parties. Blockchain may play a role in providing a more secure and transparent record.

4. Everything is smart

Our personal AIs will be driven by data captured from the world around us, and able to shape that world to our needs. Because everything will be connected. It costs less than a couple of pounds to add WiFi to anything these days — a few cents to do it at scale. Eventually the cost of doing so falls below the return — however slight it might be. And so everything gets some level of smarts, for sensing or control.

5. Distributed energy

We can power this smarter world because three things are happening. First, the consumption of each unit is declining: desktop PCs consume around 400 watts, laptops 75w, tablets and phones just 10. Appliances get more efficient all the time.

Second, our ability to generate electricity cheaply and cleanly is improving — particularly at small scale with solar. Wind is already markedly cheaper than nuclear, as the last round of bidding for UK energy supply shows.

Third, we can now store energy better. The next generation of batteries approach the energy density of petrol and are made from cheap and readily-available minerals.

6. Everything is electric

Because of this, gas starts to look as unattractive as a home fuel as coal does to us now. Dangerous and dirty, people will bother less and less with installing gas supply in new developments, as electricity becomes the preferred technology for heating and cooking, transport and travel, as well as all of our digital appliances.

7. Autonomous construction

Machines can already lay bricks and pour concrete faster than people, with large-scale 3D printers now producing whole buildings near-autonomously from a recycled slurry. As this technology advances it will change the nature of construction and maintenance. Autonomous machines will follow digital instructions to create and complete whole structures, utilising new materials and modular techniques.

Then machines will respond to sensor data to adapt those buildings to current need, within the parameters laid down by the original architects.

8. Dynamic addressing

Your phone is increasingly your address, enabling you to share your location with a high degree of accuracy with third parties. The incredible WhatThreeWords gives a unique address to every few square metres of the earth. Given these capabilities, why do we have everything delivered to a fixed physical address? New fraud controls mean we should be less reliant on address as a validation of someone’s trustworthiness. Why not send goods to wherever they want them — whether that’s where they are or where they will be?

9. Life through a lens

Yesterday’s Deloitte figures showed we spend an incredible amount of time staring at a screen. Tomorrow we will stare through it. Augmented reality enables more natural, human interactions with the digital world, and equips us with a general purpose sensor — the head-mounted camera — that enables a whole range of applications. I genuinely believe that in just ten years we will spend 10–12 hours per day in augmented reality, witnessing the world through a digital overlay. One that expands our senses, enhances our memory and cognition, and personalises our world. This isn’t a vision without risk, but I think it’s realistic.

10. Joy is paramount

One of the insights about the ‘millennial’ generation that I actually accept is the rising priority placed on experiences over possessions. While widely pilloried I think this can only be seen as a good thing in retrospect. We should enjoy life if we can, and our spaces and places, services and service, need to be shaped around that priority.


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Teaching technology isn’t about the economy, it’s about democracy

Teaching technology isn’t about the economy, it’s about democracy

I recently spent some time at Raspberry Jamboree, a day of education and sharing, based around the credit-card sized low-cost computer, the Raspberry Pi. The demographic here is wonderful. Yes, there are the middle-aged men with beards you may have expected. But there are also plenty of women and children — boys and girls. The atmosphere is inquisitive, open and discursive. Everyone is learning. People point to the various components on sale to accessorise their little computers and ask strangers: “What does that do?”

I had a great time.

Two weeks later I got a phone call from the BBC. Will I come on and talk about Theresa May’s plans for the internet following the London and Manchester attacks?

Here we go again, I thought.

Theresa May, like many politicians, likes to talk about ensuring that terrorists can’t communicate beyond the surveillance of the state. It sounds pretty reasonable to the uneducated — which is most people when it comes to the inner workings of the internet. Why would Google, Facebook and Apple want to allow terrorists to communicate? Surely they can allow GCHQ a little peek into people’s messages if it will prevent a tragedy?

Of course, it isn’t that simple. There are all sorts of reasons why it just isn’t practical — or desirable — to give the security services a key to our secured communications. Cory Doctorow sums them up best.

To put it even more succinctly, interfering with encryption would collapse many of the services on which our modern lives are increasingly dependent, while leaving terrorists free to access a separate range of entirely secure technologies.

The problem is, most people don’t understand this. They’re ill-equipped for the technical argument, let alone the moral one.

This is why events like Raspberry Jamboree and the wider initiative to educate people about technology is so important. Yes, digital skills are crucial to the economy, but they are also crucial to all other aspects of modern life.

Participation isn’t just about the skills you need to access services, it’s about a reasonable proportion of the population being able to make informed choices about the controls placed on those services.

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Raise your game

Raise your game

Do you play tennis? I used to. Badly. But I was always better when I played someone good. Sure, I got thrashed, but I did so with a lot more style than when I was playing someone more at my level.

We’re all getting thrashed at the moment. Facing a constant volley of 100mph serves. But it’s not balls flying at us, it’s information.

Self defence

In our personal lives we are blessed/assaulted with more information than ever before, streamed at us across diverse channels from a thousand sources. Every one vying for a fraction of our attention. But we’re starting to raise our game. Building coping strategies for the email deluge — still a constant topic of discussion in business circles— rationing our own social media access, and sourcing opinions from the crowd about which media are worth our time.

We don’t have a solid set of good answers, but you can see the progress. There are threats and risks, and a grain of truth in the preachings of the doom-mongers of the digital world. But nonetheless, I’d argue the direction is positive.

Working it

At work we are starting to do the same, but the natural inertia of organisations means this process of adaptation is a lot slower. New organisations cope better than old, evolving as they have in a world of accelerated data. Their people, infrastructure, processes, products and services are themselves products of this environment. It’s the established organisations that face the challenge. Shifting the great weight of their embedded processes and behaviours into a new gear.

How do you begin to tackle this?

There is a natural human response. One that humans have relied on for millennia. To collate and categorise, sort and sift. It tends to start with the desire to bring all data sets into one. To build a giant warehouse for all this information.

Pre-emptive filtering

This isn’t necessarily wrong. But it’s not an answer in itself. Often the strategy is: “Let’s get everything in order, then we can worry about what we do with it.”

This isn’t the way that those native to a high-frequency environment operate. They know — often instinctively — that there is too much noise around the signal. The waste involved in filtering the whole stream is simply to great to be feasible.

Instead you have to filter preemptively, directing your limited supplies of attention to what matters, not trying to absorb everything before you filter.

Your last ten steps

One great example of this came from Rama Ramakrishnan, SVP of data science at Salesforce Commerce Cloud, whom I interviewed as part of the Future Ready Retail programme I worked on. He points out that while many companies are busy gathering your shoe size, football team and newspaper preferences, you can personalise a shopping site to a high degree just by looking at someone’s very recent browsing history — just the last ten clicks.

Raising your game in this high frequency environment does not mean doing more of what you used to do. Collate and filter is a 20th century approach, expensive, ineffective and inappropriate to a 21st century environment.You need to push the intelligence out to the front of the process. Your supplies of attention — individually or corporately — are limited. Make the most of them.


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Design is the enemy of work (and stress)

Design is the enemy of work (and stress)

I’ve just been through the arduous process of remortgaging. For various reasons, my remortgage was more complicated than most, which meant more interactions with the lender’s solicitors than might otherwise be required.

It was painful.

Just writing about this now I can feel my tension-levels rising. By the end of the process I started to get irritated as soon as a new form dropped through the door or another piece of correspondence pinged into my inbox.


I hate form-filling at the best of times. Were I wealthy, my biggest luxury would be to never touch another piece of administration. But I can just about cope if the forms, and the rules behind them, are well designed.

These were not.

Every instruction and interaction was confusing, non-specific and poorly designed. It was clear that the rules that they were trying to satisfy through this appalling bureaucracy were also somewhat archaic and arcane.

There was just no need.

Even accounting for the ageing laws behind the process, good design could have contracted the process by three quarters and cut the number of interactions by about 90% (in my very rough estimation).

But what would this do?

This would cut down the amount of work involved for the firm of solicitors conducting the process. As I mentioned in a previous piece, some organisations like friction. It’s where they make their money. Law firms are one of them. Friction equals time, and time is what they bill for.

Ultimately though, this sort of white-collar busywork is unsustainable. Friction starts fires — in other words, friction is always an opening for disruption. Eventually someone of sufficient scale will do this so much better that everyone else will have to follow.

I don’t intend to be remortgaging again any time soon. But for the next person, I really hope that day comes soon.


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Technology in every application

Technology in every application

The fifth of the five key effects of technology-driven change that I have been writing about, is about the penetration of technology itself, into every aspect of our lives. Technology accelerates its own application.

We all know that technology is more present in our lives now. But unless you’re familiar with the extended Moore’s Law arguments and singularity theories of the likes of Ray Kurzweil, you may not be aware of the extent to which it is present or how fast it is spreading.

This ubiquity is a factor of the price of technology falling and the accessibility rising, to the point where there are fewer and fewer applications to which it cannot be, and is not being, applied. As long as the application of technology confers an advantage on the applier, and subject to a limited set of restrictions at the more dangerous edges, what can be, will be.

The appliance of science

Right now this effect is most obvious with digital technologies, but these are not the only technologies to which it applies. Rather I am talking about technologies in the widest sense: the appliance of science.

Mechanical technologies like the combustion engine are now produced on such a scale that usable cars can be picked up for a few tens of pounds. Basic genetic engineering capabilities can now be acquired at the cost of toys. Where I had a chemistry set it’s entirely possible my kids will have a genetic engineering set at some point in the next few years.

But perhaps it is digital technologies, hard and soft, where this effect is most extreme. On the tech markets of China you can pick up a 4G-enabled smartwatch for $5. Even with shipping you can connect anything you want in your house — or your business — to the internet for a few pounds. Cheap, or even free, software confers huge power on the wielder, to create, communicate, and if they want to, disrupt.

One effect, many impacts

This all has an impact — in fact many.

It has a potential impact on our security and our privacy: what is connected can be tracked, and hacked. It has an impact on our livelihoods: through technology we almost invariably come up with a way to enhance or improve on human capability. Not in the round but in narrow, specific applications, shaving chunks off single roles or whole workforces. It has an effect on our media: many connections means many choices. Many cameras means many broadcasters — the diversity effect I talked about before.

Technology is finding its way into almost every niche, even those — like journalism — that may have looked immune to such a threat only a few years ago. However closed you think your niche is to the advance of technology, the lesson of the last few years is that you are probably wrong.


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Watch your edges

Watch your edges

How do you define the edge of your organisation or any unit within it? The fourth of the five effects of technology-driven change that I’ve noticed is the softening of the edges of every scale of organisation.

The falling friction in our interactions has meant that for many operations we no longer need to be co-located. The obvious effect of this is a more flexible and mobile workforce. But not only can the workforce now be on the move, or even located elsewhere in the world, they no longer have to be part of your organisation at all.

Relative friction

We’ve always had outsourcing, of course. But the relative friction involved in sourcing, integrating and, if necessary, ending and replacing, partners is so much lower now. We can pick up freelancers for a single job. Integrate someone else’s technology stack with a few lines of code — and replace it if necessary, without needing to rebuild.

Watch the interfaces

The key points to watch in this trend are the interfaces. The online marketplaces for freelancers. The APIs for software stacks. The systems and processes — face to face and electronic — for communication between organisations and their partners, or internally between departments. Get these interfaces right and you can achieve great things: high efficiency, good transparency and happiness on both sides. Get them wrong and you will be left at a significant disadvantage, held back by excessive friction.

Of course, some organisations like friction. It’s how they make their money. But that’s a story for another day…


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Acting faster on information

Acting faster on information


Agility is about being able to receive signals and make strategic change. But it’s also important to be able to receive, process and act on information quickly at an operational level. This is increasingly the expectation of customers and partners. Being able to do so reduces your risk with shareholders and regulators — you are always ready to respond.

There are two approaches to improving performance. One is to speed the flow of information through the organisation. The other is to push power to the edge, closer to customers and partners. I’ve seen examples of both approaches in my work.

Push power to the edge

In retail it’s increasingly common to push marketing and merchandising decisions out to the edge of the organisation to allow rapid response to market changes and opportunities.

I’ve seen this a lot in the research I’ve done with Salesforce Commerce Cloud.And elsewhere — take, for example, the response of LIDL to the departure of Zayn from One Direction. According to its submission to the UK Social Media Communications awards (of which I am one of the judges), it received the news through its social media team, organised a response, and then shared that response in a matter of minutes . Since 20% of the band had left, they wiped 20% off the price of One Direction Easter eggs. A neat and effective response that won them an award.

Accelerate information flow

One of the most interesting areas of development within the business right now is — perhaps surprisingly — finance. Finance was the birthplace of corporate IT, and yet all the action in recent years has largely been around marketing technologies. Now though, finance is catching up.

The work I’ve done with Prophix on the future of finance has shown that there are many organisations starting to leverage technology to accelerate the flow of information through their business with finance acting as a hub for this information, providing the tools and skills to collate and process and share value across the business.

In the process, the time-lag for information coming from and through finance has been cut from weeks, to days, to — in some cases — hours. With better historical information people can also project forward much more usefully.

Either way, act faster

In some ways the approach you take to accelerating your response doesn’t matter. The reality in any complex business is that it will likely require a combination of both. But you have to find a way to stay in sync with the market and environment around your organisation. And since those are getting faster, so must you.

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Engineering adaptability

Engineering adaptability


What does accelerated change mean for organisations? Accelerated adaptation. Or put another way, agility.

Agility is an over-used word in business these days. The perceived sexiness of agile development methods spilled out of the product labs and the IT function and into the rest of the business. It’s a useful word but you have to define what you mean when you use it outside of those product or project contexts.

Perhaps it first makes sense to define what it means in those contexts. Here, agile development is about formalised alternative approaches to the classic ‘waterfall’, where all possible requirements are captured at the start of a project and then development continues until those requirements are met. Agile approaches are instead iterative, testing requirements with the customer at every stage. This avoids long product builds where the end result has either diverged from the customer’s original (or real) need. Or products that become less and less fit for purpose over the life of the project.

Organisational agility

In a broader organisational context, agility is about the ability to change rapidly in response to a variety of signals. Agile methods may be part of this response but this is really about the capability of the organisation to receive those signals, process them, and act on them quickly.

For clarity, that’s three clearly different capabilities that I’ve defined before:

  • The antennae to detect change signals from inside and outside the organisation and particularly from adjacent spaces — often blind spots from which the most serious challenges may come
  • The ability to process this information and build a response plan rapidly, gaining assent from, or at the worst compelling change in, the relevant parts of the organisation
  • The flexibility to act on that response plan at speed

Change signals

Examples of signals that might trigger this chain of responses include:

  • Internal functional failure or degradation
  • Accelerated direct competition
  • Adjacent market competition
  • Customer channel shift
  • Collapse of product or service relevance

I’ll break those out in more detail

Internal functional failure or degradation

How fast could you rebuild one of your core business functions if it appeared to be failing? How much disruption would it cause? How would you know it was failing in the first place?

I haven’t worked with an organisation where one or other unit wasn’t failing the rest. But they often don’t know they’re failing and nor do their managers — at least, they can’t prove it objectively. They don’t have the benchmarks against which to measure the performance of procurement, finance, HR or IT teams.

That’s not to say they don’t have some metrics in place, but these metrics are usually operational and based on a historical idea of how that unit should perform. They don’t measure its contribution to the organisation’s wider goals.

This isn’t easy. Part of the problem is often a disconnect between what these functions think their role is and what it should be for the long term health of the organisation. Only with a proper alignment of expectations and measurement built around those shared expectations will you ever get a signal that something is wrong.

Accelerated direct competition

The most obvious form of signal is direct competitors applying the accelerating effects of technology to overtake. But this is perhaps the rarest example I see and the one for which most organisations are reasonably well prepared. They are focused on the rear view mirror, so see these organisations approaching in the outside lane.

Adjacent market competition

This is the blind spot. The one that people don’t see coming until it’s too late. Or that they are too arrogant or ignorant to acknowledge. This is the Netflix vs Blockbuster battle. Kodak vs digital (and now the rest of the camera industry vs the smartphone). It’s HMV vs iTunes or Yellow Pages vs Google.

Customer channel shift

The way customers communicate with their suppliers, and buy from them, is changing.

Case in point: a couple of years ago a friend asked me to speak with the MD of a small-ish (a few tens of millions) manufacturer. He was about to push the button on a new website costing a few tens of thousands — perceived as a big investment for him. He had cold feet and wanted to check his strategy before paying out.

I looked at his business — selling to service providers, retailers and manufacturers — and asked him a few questions. One of the first was “Do you sell on Amazon?” He got quite annoyed at this point. “You’ve got the wrong end of the stick. We only sell to other businesses.” I convinced him to bear with me and go onto Amazon’s website, and type in some keywords related to his products. “Oh shit,” was his response, or words to that effect.

To his surprise (though obviously not to mine), his competitors were already selling their wares there. More to the point, his distributors were selling his products there. And he had no idea.

Collapse of product or service relevance

The lifespan of products is getting shorter and shorter. Take the ‘hoverboard’ for example. In the space of six months it went from appearing under the feet of celebrities and costing the thousands, to being a huge phenomenon (and costing hundreds), to being effectively banned from the streets, killing the market.

Monitoring such rapid rise and fall in relevance is a challenge.

Tom Cheesewright