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Corporate Philosophy 101: Network, lead & design


Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr Richard Hames for a Skype chat about the future, population growth, technology, the workforce and screwing Business as Usual.

Hames is an Australian, who has worked and travelled around the world and, is now living in Bangkok, Thailand. Recently described as one of this century’s most foresightful corporate philosophers, and by Forbes Asia as one of the smartest people on the planet. He is one of the world’s most influential intellectuals and strategic foresight practitioners.

He also made the following observation, that I found quite startling:

An Apple Mac battery from 1991 will only last 2.5 seconds in today’s Mac.
Tomorrow’s computers might possibly run on ambient energy.

He also pointed out that today’s start-ups are far better placed to tune into the changes driving society and community than big business with its old world structures, processes and thinking.

What do you see as some of the major issues facing the world and business right now?

There are three very obvious ones that spring to mind, including:

  1. The growth in world population bringing with it rising food costs, water shortages, climate change and poverty and dealing with the difference between the well-off (Australia for example) and those who are not so fortunate but who are acutely affected by these changes.
  2. Speed of technological change and new social media are changing who, when, and how we connect with each other, and for what reason
  3. There is a growing awareness within the workforce that they can contribute more effectively to a business. While in the past a command and control approach was used to run a business, today this can collapse to zero and business needs to learn how to embrace a ‘no bosses’ approach instead.

What is the new business revolution and what do you see as the golden opportunities for business to capture and capitalise on the new today?

Business needs to be far more responsive and adaptive for example; in his latest book, Screw Business as Usual, Richard Branson notes how the way we commonly do business is unsustainable.

Business is given a licence to operate by society and the community. If society and communities are not happy with how businesses are being run they will and can react instantly. This is why we have the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Do you think entrepreneurs and start-ups are better positioned to capture these opportunities given they have no inherent structures, processes and cultures to change?

Absolutely. If you look at the demographic of people starting businesses today they are predominantly under 40, 65% are women. They are more concerned with what is going on in their organisation and community and, are highly connected to their customers.

If you look at the average entrepreneur, their motives, incentives, and the social value and financial value they want to create, you will see that these people do not fit easily into today’s corporations.

Are there any large businesses trying to cooperate with entrepreneurs?

Yes, there are and there are many that are concerned with how they can innovate, create better value, and improve their triple bottom line.

However, large businesses are often unable to see the extent of the changes that are happening around them. They still view business in traditional ways.

Large businesses that are truly awake and, switched on to new strategic opportunities, are few and far between.

In fact, in Australia it’s easy to get a sense that many large corporates are trying to squeeze the last bit of blood out of the stone before there is a compelling and drastic need to change. Just looks at our resources industry, for example.

Do large businesses need to face a crisis, catastrophe or, have their backs up against the wall to make these changes for the future?

No. I do not believe the conventional wisdom that business needs a burning platform before it acts.

Now we are so interconnected. Individuals and entire communities are not waiting for permission to act.

For example, there has been a lot of anger from society about chemical companies, like Monsanto, trying to control and own seeds through patent law. However, Australian’s are less likely to protest about such things, as they are fortunate and quite complacent. Compare this with people in countries like Thailand, India, Russia Brazil and even China, who will make their voices heard quickly and loudly if they feel business is not treating people fairly.

How is Australia placed to capitalise on these changes?

Innovation is the key. After travelling the world, it is apparent that Australia still has extraordinary creativity and innovation.

For example, Locata Corporation in Canberra founded by a couple of audio technicians, I think, has created a new radio-location technology (LocataTech) that gives precise positioning in many environments where GPS is either marginal or unavailable for modern applications. It is remarkably accurate down to 2.5 inches and can be used in situations where GPS is unable to operate, like mining.

Innovation does occur in Australia but it needs to be relevant. So, often we seem to plough funds into dubious ventures – such as the efforts around so-called “clean” coal, while ignoring the obvious, such as solar energy.

Your third book, The Five Literacies of Global Leadership, speaks to the skills needed by the leaders of tomorrow. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs and leaders of businesses for maximising their opportunities in the business world of tomorrow?

Opportunities are to be found in abundance, new technologies, and collaboration. We have moved from the concept of innovation springing from individual genius, to it emerging in the cracks and spaces of cooperative networks.

Most people have heard of Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s bold prediction, popularly known as Moore’s Law, that the number of transistors on a chip will double approximately every two years. What we often ignore is similar advances in energy efficiency.

For example, if I was to take the battery from the Apple Mac in 1991 and put in my Mac today it would last only 2.5 seconds. By correlation, my Mac battery today lasts 8 hours.

Many new devices emerging now use only ambient energy. They do not have batteries that require regular charging. These advances in energy efficiency will release untold Nano data giving consumers all the information they could possibly need to make real-time purchasing and investment decisions.

There are also great opportunities in biomimicry using the way nature solves problems to manufacture goods additively, without the waste normally associated with old manufacturing processes.

My advice to entrepreneurs and business leaders is firstly, to grow your networks and not just your colleagues. Connect with people you do business with, your friends and, people you know but you don’t know so well. That will open up new networks to you and a host of new opportunities, while expanding the business intelligence in your own network.

Secondly, use strategic intelligence in real time. Most practices within large corporations, even planning and delegations, are no longer sufficient for their needs. We now need planning in real time and, this needs to involve everyone in the organisation, not just senior management.

Lastly, apply design thinking to the business. Think of your business in terms of a whole system comprising your reason for being and your promise to every stakeholder, rather than just a set of processes designed to maximise profits.

Dermott Dowling is a strategic, innovative, business professional with a passion for building great brands, businesses and teams. He is the founding Director @Creatovate.