So today marks the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar and it also marks the end of my work days for 2012 so I thought it made a fitting setting to wish everyone all the best in the pending apocalypse, or over the holiday season, whichever turns out to be more accurate.
Television and the Internet have been clogged lately with reviews of the Mayan prediction for the end of the world, movies depicting the various ways we might be destroyed, and accounts of people who are preparing for the impending doom by installing bunkers and buying years worth of non-perishable food supplies.
It all seems a bit comical to me, but in some ways I do think we are facing a fundamental shift in the world that could be equated to the Mayan prediction most accurately through the immortal words of Michael Stipe:
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
No I don’t believe that we’ll be seeing fireballs fall from the sky, oceans rising up to swallow us whole, a reversal of the earth’s magnetic fields, or rapid climate change resulting in a new ice age that starts tomorrow, but I do believe that we are witnessing one of the key turning points for our world across a number of dimensions and that we do need to be prepared for and adapt to these changes.
Since 2008 (and before that 2001) the world of business has been “waiting” for normal economic conditions to return so we could get “back to business”. More and more I am convinced that what we now see is the new normal – we aren’t going back to a world of rapid growth, bloated bureaucracy, and fat predictable annual bonuses. The barriers to entry in almost every industry have been reduced to speed bumps thanks to technology, and the tools are at the disposal of every 12 and 13 year old to build and deploy Enterprise class tools and systems that have the potential to disrupt entire industries.
Physical is becoming virtual, complex is becoming automated and simple, and even social interactions are being streamlined (to 140 characters or less). Industries and companies that don’t learn to disrupt themselves and Innovate today will find themselves on the outside looking in not decades from now, but short years (and months in some cases). The pace of change and disruption has increased to a breaking point where those companies and organizations that aren’t proactively addressing their productivity gaps through Innovation and value creation face a very real possibility or not existing in the near future.
In the crisis of 2008 we saw the emergence of the concept of “too big to fail” and our governments pumped trillions upon trillions of dollars into these companies and the economy to protect us from those failures. When I look at the results of the efforts though what I see is the emergence of the “too big to save” organizations. World governments are tapped out (more on this later) and the organizations we saved are bigger than they have ever been. The safety net is gone and the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. The next time around the giants will fall and we need to be prepared to deal with that reality.
Innovation and disruption is no longer an optional practice for organizations that want to survive to compete. Our marketplace and customer demands have changed fundamentally and if we don’t adjust our thinking to deal with that reality we aren’t going to survive.
Government and Politics
The world is more Global than ever, and the same technological advancements that threaten our businesses are also threatening the fabric of our governments. People are empowered to communicate and form communities of thought in new and powerful ways, and the result has been a Global power shift from the governments to the people.
In democratic societies this plays out in a shift in the way that elections are run, financed, and won with the dialogue and priorities driven by the people and not by the leaders. In societies that still suffer under dominant leadership this results in the complete overhaul of political systems, civil wars, and violence (often against the ruling government).
In addition to the pressures of social and community building technologies the economics of government is at a tenuous point after bailing out the world economy in 2008. Entire countries and regions are teetering on insolvency and threatening to default on their debts. If you thought the fallout from the failure of Lehman Brothers was big, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”.
The economic centre of the world is shifting back East to where it lived in biblical times and the political power is shifting back into the hands of the people and communities that make up our world. There is no longer an ability for nations to act in protectionist ways (in the long-term… in the short-term violence and genocide can still slow things down). Governments need to begin to work and behave in a collaborative way with both the people and communities of their nations and the governments and communities around the world. Only by working together with a global view will Government be successful in addressing the magnitude of the issues we have created for ourselves.
Leveraging the same technology and social connectivity that is driving the changes in Business and Government, Social Causes are now finding themselves significantly more empowered to make real change. Gone are the days where a single annual fund-raiser for a “good cause” is meaningful. Social Enterprises are now empowered to stitch together broad communities of like minded people who can drive action and change, generate a steady flow of capital (human and dollars), and localize the causes they support.
Social Enterprise can now become global instantly, bringing local causes to the masses and global causes to the local communities at a pace that we’ve never seen before. In addition, a growing movement of the top 1% of wealth are starting to divert their immense fortunes into these charitable global causes through the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet led Billionaire Challenge. The magnitude of the gifts and the fund that has been created as a result is unlike anything that has been seen before in the Non-Profit industry, and so is it’s power to do good on a global scale.
We are also seeing a unique convergence of business and social causes with entire businesses centred around merging the principles of building a profitable enterprise and giving back to social causes not just in a balanced scorecard kind of way, but as a core piece of the business model. A great example of this is TOMS Shoes (founded by Blake Mycoskie), who identified a need for shoes for the people of Argentina and built a business that funnels jobs and money into Argentina, introduced an attractive and functional product to the developed markets as a viable business, and gives back one pair of shoes to impoverished people around the world for every pair sold.
The power of community building and social connection that is driving change in business and government is just as powerful in our ability to support and action against social causes and we are only seeing the tipping point for convergence across these pillars today.
So What Now
Perhaps we won’t see the fireballs, the ocean swelling, the reversal of the magnetic poles, or the rapid and extreme change to our climate today. After all it is hard to predict what will happen thousands of years into the future down to a specific day.
But even so I think we should all accept that our world is fundamentally changing and we have the opportunity to either drive that change in a positive way, drive that change to the destruction of our nations and people, or be swept away by the change that is inevitable.
As a believer in the basic good of humanity I choose to believe that we will drive the change for the betterment of the human race and our planet. That our incredible capacity to create and Innovate will benefit the people around the world, and that we will find a way to adapt and evolved to meet the needs of the “new world” we now live in.
I for one choose to be a piece of what is going to make our future incredible. Yes:
It’s the end of the world as we know it, but I feel fine.
On that note, I would like to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season and a New Year filled with opportunity and bounty for you, your family, and the communities you belong to.
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to all!
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.