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.

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