IBM’s Institute for Business Value (@IBMIBV) has a 24-page report that you need to read to begin to grasp the big changes coming in the world economy. Written by Saul Berman, Anthony Marshall and Nadia Leonelli, “Digital disruption: Preparing for a very different tomorrow” argues that the key element in the economy to watch going forward is you, the individual who decides what to consume, from whom, when, at what price and in what quantity. We’re moving, they say, to an Everyone-to-Everyone (E2E) economy. The opening paragraph of the PDF document, which you can easily download off the part of IBV’s website focussed on “Digital Reinvention” [link], provides a good feel for the text, charts and survey data neatly packaged in two dozen pages:

The individual-centred economy is already here. The newest digital technologies — among them social media, mobility, analytics and cloud — keep changing how people, businesses and governments interact. These digital forces enable unprecedented levels of connectedness and so the world is already investing in consumer-centricity. However, these new technologies are truly still in their infancies. The transformation that is already underway will soon intensify, resulting in a paradigm shift from customer-centricity toward an everyone-to-everyone (E2E) economy. The implication for value creation and allocation will be profound. New IBM research shows that many organisations are still not ready to navigate the E2E environment. To prepare for the radical disruption ahead, companies need to act now to create experiences and business models that are orchestrated, symbiotic, contextual and cognitive.

Goldfish going against the flowDon’t fret if that does not make sense to you on first reading. It was the same here, but the report does explain the above quite clearly; so, by the end, my bet is that you will be inclined to want to ask your fellow managers the five questions that they ask as a report summary. For example, they ask, “What sorts of digital torchbearers already exist in your organisation? What can you do to incorporate their influence into strategy and education?” One mark of the value-added of the report is that, prior to reading it, I didn’t even think about the need to designate champions within the firm to link (via technology) the offerings of the company to individuals in all parts of the world.

I have flipped back through the report pages several times since my first reading, and I now am developing some working hypotheses on the implications of an everyone-to-everyone economy. Here are three to start:

A lot of managers are soon going to be asking “What happening?” Often. The shift to an individual-centred economy is the kind of rule-changing transformation that leaves a trail of profound questioning in its path. Countless industries and organisations will be losing their grip on old business models while simultaneously looking for something new. I’m thinking of the big-box retailer with dozens of TVs on in the empty showroom while their former customers are searching online instead. In nextsensing terms, these managers will be deeply entrenched in disruptive ambiguity.

E2E is more than directional shifts in customer habits and preferences. What Berman, Marshall and Leonelli are revealing is that the paradigm for how goods and services are produced — and how they are consumed — is fundamentally changing. This will require all of us to challenge the status quo of our workplace and think differently about the future. This, of course, is what The Nextsensing Project is all about; but I would note that this is far from being a business-only problem. In my own backyard, I see the world of teaching and studying (from the earliest ages to post-graduate studies) becoming a rich field for new delivery systems, if not entirely new way to learn.

People better take off their rose-coloured glasses and step on them. You really can’t move into a world of “digital torchbearers” until you have a true read on how things work inside your company now. I find that too many top managers are somewhat clueless about how their firms actually operate. How do I measure this? Whenever there is a strong disconnect between the way managers talk about the company and the way customers talk, it usually means that the managers believe that the company is functioning the way the strategic plans say it should, not the actual way. Once a manager has renewed his or her sense of the true nature of the company, then the stage is set to originate the behaviour patterns that will allow the firm to excel in an E2E world. And, happily, this is an activity that can involve everyone in the company. The successful leader of tomorrow will be the one who can most unleash the full force of the organisation’s human ingenuity to generate a foresense about possible future opportunities.

With the world moving toward an E2E economy, it will be tragic if any person or any company elects to stay behind by operating with standards set in 1914 instead of 2014. Yet, that is precisely what will happen if people are confronted by the need to think in new ways, and blink instead.