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Business in the Age of Disruptive Convergence

By Steve Wells and Rohit Talwar
The Future of Business is the first book in the Fast Future series.

This book is aimed at the leaders of today and the pioneers of tomorrow. Our intention is to provide a broad perspective on the key forces, trends, developments, and ideas that could redefine our world over the next two decades. The intention is to highlight how these “future factors” are shaping the opportunities, challenges, implications, and resulting choices for those driving the future of business. The book draws on the ideas of over 60 futurists, future thinkers and experts in a range of domains from 22 countries on four continents.

Fundamental questions

In a world of constant and ever-more fundamental change, those charged with leadership, management and stewardship of large and small organizations alike are faced with a set of questions many of us never thought we would have to confront. These questions are becoming more prominent and real as we develop a better understanding of, and feeling for, the disruptive potential of what’s coming over the horizon. So what are these questions that are making their way from fun discussions among futurists, innovators, and would-be world changers to the top of the business agenda? Well, here are ten that we see being discussed more frequently at the top table:

  • Strategy – How do we compete and make a profit in a world where automation and digitization are shortening business cycles, accelerating change, and driving the commoditization of many goods and services?
  • Workforce – How do we manage and motivate a workforce that could span in age from 16 to 90 years as people’s life expectancy rises and, in order to survive, they are forced to keep working long past the historical age of retirement?
  • Human Enhancement – What’s the impact on our business and the commercial opportunity arising from people using scientific advances to enhance the performance of their brains and bodies?
  • Resources – How will we produce our products if scarce natural resources run out or are rationed?
  • Mindset – Can we transfer exponential thinking from the technology world to other domains to address society’s grand challenges in areas such as diversity, healthcare and education, and overcome the scarcity of key resources such as food, water and rare earth metals?
  • Artificial Intelligence – How close is the day when smart technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) could replace 50 per cent or more of the workforce?
  • Automation – What could the fully automated company of tomorrow look like, and who will buy our goods and services if technology is eliminating jobs at every level of the workforce?
  • Unemployment – If technological unemployment results in 30 to 50 percent or more of the workforce being permanently unemployed, will we need a universal basic income and how will it be funded?
  • Money – How might the nature of money and financial systems evolve – what impact could these developments have on our business?
  • Purpose – What would be a sustainable driving purpose and societal role of business in a world being transformed by all these forces of change?

The Future of Business is designed to explore these questions and many more. Through their contributions, the authors help to illuminate the future factors shaping tomorrow’s agenda, explore the resulting implications, and highlight the emerging choices for business leaders.

What’s driving the change agenda?

Why are all these questions appearing in parallel – what’s driving the need to tackle such a wide range of game changing issues at the same time? Throughout history, people have understood that tomorrow’s business landscape will be shaped and influenced by the world around us. What is perhaps different today is the sheer speed at which our world is being transformed rapidly by a convergence of science-led innovations and the ideas they enable. We are entering a fascinating period in our history, where science and the technologies it spawns, are now at the heart of the agenda.

Our thinking about the future of society, government, and business is completely intertwined with the path of technological progress. Convergence between disciplines such nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communications technology (ICT), and the cognitive sciences is opening up a world of possibilities – many of which are emerging within weeks and months of each other.

These rapid and groundbreaking advances are creating the potential for humanity to evolve in almost unimaginable ways. These developments underpin and drive the need for new thinking and create new possibilities for the future of business.

These forces of change are also at play in the broader economy. They are combining with a general thrust towards increased globalization, rapidly evolving economies, shorter and faster business cycles, and the rise of cyber currencies. They are driving digital transformation – the rapid automation and digitization of work and the workplace. The rise of AI and robotics in particular are driving a debate about how far we should allow such technologies to permeate our lives, and the risks of technological unemployment, as even professional knowledge workers’ roles are automated on a permanent basis. Developments such as blockchain technology are creating transparent electronic public activity ledgers that have the potential to revamp the nature of trade, contacts, and transactions in every sector. Indeed some argue that they could lay the foundation for a reworking of the entire economic system.

New possibilities, new strategies, new leadership mindsets

In the context of such rapid and wide-ranging changes, determining the future of business takes on far greater importance than simply defining the next three-year strategy and revenue targets. Fundamental questions are being raised about the purpose and nature of business, its relationship with society, and the meaning of profit in tomorrow’s world. The answer to these will in turn drive us to re-evaluate the importance of brands, design and culture, and how to educate tomorrow’s workers and citizens. Finally they have dramatic implications for national identity, values and governance.

Collectively these forces and our responses to them will drive disruption, renewal, and transformation in every sector. They will shape the future of business. In response to this “perfect storm” of change on the horizon, leaders in every current and emerging sector will be challenged to think hard about future strategies. New “conscious leadership” perspectives are required on how to deal with disruptive entrants and how to evolve products and services in the face of digital disruption. We are being forced to rethink manufacturing and distribution strategies, evolve business models and organization designs, and learn how to ensure effective stakeholder engagement in a fast-changing world.

As leaders, we will be challenged to determine our responsibility around job creation – how can we ensure that people are earning the money to buy the goods and services we produce? These transformative changes and choices are in turn raising fundamental questions on the future nature and capabilities required of leadership and management. They will also shape our thinking on how to attract, develop, and retain the type of talent needed across the organization to ensure future relevance and growth. These are the issues which our authors explore in The Future of Business.

The aim and structure of the book

This book is designed to provide wide ranging visions of future possibilities and take us on a tour of the forces shaping the political, economic, and social environment. We explore the advances in science and technology that could have the greatest impact on society and drive business disruption. We examine the implications of these for how business will need to evolve and the new industries that could emerge over the next two decades. We highlight key tools, approaches, and ways of thinking about the future that can help organizations embed foresight at the heart of the management model. We conclude with a framework that highlights key choices we face in shaping the Future of Business.

We took an organic approach to the design of the book – allowing potential authors to propose topics, choosing those that would have the most relevance and resonance and then allowing a natural structure to emerge based on the content they provided. As a result, the book is structured into ten key sections, these are summarized below:

  • Visions of The Future presents a series of broad perspectives on the global shifts on the horizon as a result of the ideas and developments discussed elsewhere in the book.
  • Tomorrow’s Global Order examines the emerging political and economic transformations that could reshape the environment for society and business.
  • Emerging Societal Landscape explores the changing fabric of society – who we are becoming and how we will be educated, finance our futures, and choose where to live.
  • Social Technologies highlights how tomorrow’s technologies could permeate our everyday lives and blur the boundaries between humans and machines.
  • Disruptive Developments explains the nature and potential impact of new technologies that will enable large-scale and transformative business innovation.
  • Surviving and Thriving discusses how business can adapt to a rapidly changing reality and identifies some of the critical success factors for business in a constantly evolving world.
  • Industry Futures looks at how old industries might change and identifies a range of new ones that could emerge
  • Embracing The Future introduces a range of futures and foresight tools, methods and processes that businesses can use to explore, understand, and create the future.
  • Framing The Future provides a set of views outlining why and how organizations should look at the future.
  • Conclusions sets out a framework to help leaders respond to the ideas presented in the book to drive future strategy and navigate uncertainty and a rapidly changing reality.

This article is excerpted from The Future of Business. You can order the book here.


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