The answer is that 10 years ago they dominated their respective markets and now are either bankrupt in the case of Washington Mutual or fighting for their survival. History is filled with stories of the often rapid demise of businesses that once seemed too strong to fail. They all share something else in common: they all fell from grace because they either failed to see the changes coming their way or simply didn’t prepare.
In 1997 if someone had told Nokia that the new iPhone was going to change how we use our phones, or if the various free-advertising weekly magazines had been told when Trade Me launched in 1999 that within 7 years it would be so successful that Fairfax would pay $700m for it, would they still be around? Would the customers of every cafe in town be proudly displaying their new Nokia smart phones and would Sam Morgan have to go to work every day?
Scientists tell us we are in the early stages of the sixth mass extinction which will potentially see most of the species currently living die out, and as a business person I think we’re about to see a mass extinction of businesses. Just some of the changes that are either just over the horizon or well and truly in sight are:
- Rapidly rising energy costs especially for fossil fuel based energy
- Global food shortages including the imminent collapse of many of the world’s fisheries resulting in widespread social dissent
- Increasing numbers of
- Rising prices of resources and raw materials as the easy to extract are depleted
- Increasing economic failure in Western economies and the inevitable slowing down of the Asian economies
Every one of these changes is both likely and predictable, and every one will impact to a greater or lesser extent on most of the world’s businesses. That means damn near every single CEO should be working long hours planning ways to adapt by using strategies like:
- Identifying ways to replace non-renewable raw materials with something that is sustainable or changing the business direction.
- Preparing for markets to slump
- Minimising energy consumption or only using renewable energy sources and recognising that commuting to work by car will hurt their employees
- Reducing waste production and looking for ways to re-use materials or implementing a cradle to cradle approach
- Reducing carbon footprints to zero
Almost all of the changes coming our way can be prepared for, but that won’t happen until business people start looking beyond the next quarterly report and making vision a priority. Unless this happens most businesses currently operating will, at best, struggle to adapt to changes that can’t be ignored or paid away.
Yet with vision, leadership and creativity we can not only weather the storm but create a better business environment for all of us. Unfortunately that will only happen if we choose to open our eyes and see what is ahead of us, choose to use our creativity to find better ways to do and choose to have the courage to do things differently.
Businesses can survive, but only if they choose to prepare for tomorrow before they get stuck in yesterday. Tomorrow is not a mystery; it’s a certainty.
A selection of future oriented websites:
- McGuinness Institute: A non-partisan think tank working towards a sustainable future.
- The World Future Society: an organization dedicated to exploring the future.
- Futures Thinking: The basics
- BBC Future Thinking
- Futures Thinking (Wikipaedia)
- The Futures Academy
- Emergent by design: When futures thinking meets design thinking
- Power Generation from Renewables: NZ Windfarms Ltd