Let’s do a quick exercise – when did your industry last experience major disruption? How about your business?
Here’s the more important question – when did you last disrupt your own business?
If the last disruption to your business or industry came within the last two years, you are probably planning for the present business climate. If your last disruption came before 2013, you need to address the radical change your business faces, and you don’t have time to waste.
We have left a time when standardization, mass production, order and discipline, and rigid structures were key elements of business. We are now in an age when networks, de-massification, customization, innovation and agility are critical for survival. The change has profound implications for your business, your industry, and your future. I’d like to offer an example.
First consider an industry based on the past business model – rental car companies. You might think that rental car companies exist to serve their customer’s transportation needs. The companies, however, really exist to manage a fleet of cars scattered around the country, and they require their customers to fit into that model.
You’ve experienced it yourself. When you fly to a new city, you need to move around once you’ve landed, so you rent a car. You board the rental car shuttle at the airport and ride to a rental car facility. You go to the counter and often wait your turn. You fill out paperwork, present a credit card, go to the car, inspect its condition, sign more paperwork, and are finally able to leave the garage. Returning the car means finding a gas station, planning extra time to drop it off, and get to the airport.
Marketing messages for the rental companies extoll their dedication to customer service. They even claim to be customer focused or customer driven, but to rent a car, you must be willing to work within their system. You must go to them.
Now consider today’s “knowledge” companies like Uber and Lyft car services. When you need to move around a city, you call them and they come to you – wherever you are – and take you where you want to go at a reasonable price. When you return to the airport, they drop you off at the front door. No standing in line, no filling out forms, no insurance for their vehicle, no return hassles, no extra time built into your travel plans.
The service is personalized. It’s delivered when, where, and how the customer wants it. The car services aren’t in the business on maintaining a fleet of cars; they’re in the business of helping people move around a city.
Businesses today must adapt to new customer expectations or face becoming irrelevant. So here’s the second quiz: Is your company focused on providing what the customer needs, when and where the customer wants it?
It’s a business-altering question, and some of the most respected companies and industries in this country have missed the opportunity and are paying the price. They have filed for bankruptcy, closed, or been absorbed by others. Thousands of employees have lost their jobs and entire industries are in danger of becoming irrelevant.
Don’t let it happen to you. You have a chance to look at your business from a new perspective and redesign everything – including your mission. Your employees can help develop the vision and focus you’ll need to compete in this new world. You can bring an entrepreneurial spirit into even the largest corporation. You might even remember your own passion for the business.
Change is coming so rapidly that leaders won’t be able to weather the storm for long. Key executives must embrace the future and guide their organizations into the Knowledge Age or face redundancy. The rules have changed completely.
Deborah Westphal is a passionate humanist who has guided our era’s top minds and leaders to challenge biases, ignite ideas, and build connections and resilience for a secure and sound future. Her career spans more than 30 years in government agencies and Fortune 100 companies, and on virtually every continent. In 1999, Alvin Toffler tapped her as one of the founding members of his eponymous consulting firm, Toffler Associates. From 2007 through 2018, she served as the firm’s CEO and has since contributed her experience and knowledge as a member of the board. Through her work, she has guided notable organizations including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Marriott, U.S. Air Force, Baxter International, Bayer, Heinz, Microsoft, Koppers, PPG, DARPA, National Security Agency, Loral Space Systems, NASA, Qwest, Verizon, and Westinghouse. Deborah’s empathetic and thought-provoking style helps readers spot patterns that signify future risks and opportunities. She’s a sought-after speaker and writer who provided the Foreword to After Shock. Her book, Convergence: Technology, Business, and the Human-Centric Future, was published in May 2021 by Unnamed Press. Find her at deborahwestphal.com.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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