The future starts today. It is going to be the way it will be. And yet it was decided yesterday and today whether we will be ready for it, successful and content.
Our prediction tools have by now taken on the guise of magical rituals. We are under pressure to perform and as a result are largely reactive; our strategy rounds are more or less explicit competitions for shares of the budget. In many contexts, we ask for future scenarios to be developed, turn them into topics for conferences. Yet we allow these to enter our daily routines far too rarely. With hindsight we can see that there always was at least one view that had been right, but how were we to know that at the time? How are we to know today?
When we address the future and look for answers about what the future will ask of us, we often look for concrete actions and projects. Where future is growing increasingly unpredictable and apocalyptic, utopian, dystopian and classical European progress predictions intermingle, our ability to deal with the future will hinge more than anything else on our ability to adapt quickly. An internal range of voices and diversity are the basic requirements to be able to deal with an uncertain future. That is only possible, however, with the ability to rely not only on one big idea, but rather on the organisation’s ability to have ideas in reaction to whatever may come. One of the lessons we are currently learning is that our societies are not trivial, and do not have stable patterns. Things that work today may be outdated by tomorrow and will no longer have the predicted effect. We live and act in systems that are not trivial. Our systems have to be treated watchfully: we have to perceive, try actions, correct, discover stable patterns, do more of what worked before and be ready to try something new at the drop of a hat, because we know how unstable the patterns really are.
Management still has the responsibility to secure the daily business, to act today. Leadership has to take care of future feasibility. Good managers are driven by one question: »Am I and is my organization ready for the future?«
We can be certain of that only with hindsight, when everything will be clear. But we have to act today. Without a notion of the future, without a description of the horizons, we will not be able to make our organisations ready for the future. These horizons have to be open, however: they have to describe possibilities and not forestall a reality. They have to confront the range of simultaneous possibilities that define our global sphere of action.
Psychological leadership education has taught us to work with personality tests. We know that they don’t analyse our personality and don’t paint a true picture of ourselves. They give us insights into trends and preferences for actions; we can use our knowledge of ourselves to employ them to identify our strengths and weaknesses. Doing so extends our own potential to react, we regain the ability to surprise. We no longer act by trivially following a preferences, but gain the flexibility to take into account a range of situations.
Do we consider our organisation in a similar manner? Do we give it the opportunity to perceive itself in its preferences for certain decisions and actions? To know where the future lies, we need to be able to position ourselves in the present.
SYNNECTA is preparing a Zukunftscheck for organisations in order provide a point of reference in this multivalent scene and make it possible to situate oneself within it. In order to define the dimensions that allow us to reflect, we have made a concentrated summary of the dynamics that are currently taking our present towards an open future. From these dynamics, we can conclude the dimensions that allow organisations to perceive which preferences and patterns are driving them, which aspects they are lacking in order to be fit for the future: to possess diversity, have many voices and to be open to confront the accelerated dynamics of change with their own changes.
»It has to be said, really, that the entire economy has shifted into a permanent crisis reaction mode.«
(Rupert Stadler, CEO Audi, Davos 2015)
New developments everywhere!
People are vigorously finding solutions. Possibilities are opening up. Future is emerging. Knowledge is largely accessible. Spiritual awareness is growing. Many breakthroughs happen because people are taking their fate in their own hands and are not allowing the contradictions, complexity and uncertainty that so often surround us to take the wind out of their sails. Throughout the world, people are searching for meanings and are taking the initiative to bear responsibility for the earth. They find like-minded persons in their immediate neighbourhood, in their region and in the digitally connected world, they seize ideas, share successes, take part in initiatives, provide resources, invent and put things into effect.
At the same time, we are faced by concrete challenges and have to address urgent questions. Such questions concern peacekeeping, protecting the environment, nutrition, health, mobility, energy, economic and finance policies. All of that is going on while upheaval rages in the world. Geopolitical power struggles and wars, natural catastrophes and epidemics, terrorism, finance and economic crises, population explosion, the growing chasm between poor and rich, hunger and malnutrition in large parts of the world, obesity and fatal lifestyle diseases in the affluent societies, species extinction, climate change and the constant excess stress on the earth’s natural limits.
We are in a decisive phase of transition. Underneath the visible surface of our current situation, shaken and dissipated by countless crises and dramas as it is, there lurks the development of something new in experiments that range from the tentative to the powerfully confident. Like in any transformation, the innovative forces are opposed by strong, conservative forces.
The developments are driven by many dynamics that will continue to shape our future. Just a few keywords are globalisation, digitalisation and acceleration, urbanisation, demographic change.
We have to experimentally lift ourselves out of the enclosure of our immediate concerns in order to free our perception of the great, fundamental questions, the visionary and strategic design of a sustainable modern age. Looking at the earth from the height or distance and complexity of the cosmos, we can observe the great lines of development. We, who share the earth as a habitat – a home – belong together and are connected. This is the first fundamental truth.
This bond and responsibility for our joint space and future generations are the seedbed of developments, initiatives and projects that are the courageous messengers of a future society and future economy. Solidarity and responsibility, transparency and democratisation are characteristics of the great range of developments.
At the same time, innovations and alternative designs are increasingly emerging apart from the traditional systems. Citizens are no longer waiting for politics or industry to develop according to their expectations, for competent majorities to emerge or for protracted decision-making processes to come to an end and for difficult implementations of minimal compromises to take place. They are taking the initiative and making their own designs in recognizing their responsibility for issues that are close to their hearts in their immediate context. They join up with similarly minded persons via social media and where necessary make use of alternative methods of funding, for example via crowdfunding.
Countless examples show how our lives are currently undergoing serious and rapid change as well as the creativity which humans are tapping into in response.
We will be more!
The growth of the world population is one of these many changes. The prognoses all agree on this, they differ only in their degree. The UN, for example, is expecting a growth from 7.2 billion inhabitants of the world in 2014 to more than 12 billion within the next eighty years. How will we design living space for so many, how will we make sure that they will be fed?
We will be older!
Life expectancy is continuing to grow, especially in the Western civilized world, and a third of the babies born in 2012 may expect to live to be more than 100 years of age. Are humans going to work into old age in order to generate sufficient income, or will there be completely new social contracts?
We will be more urban!
More and more people are moving into cities. Huge metropolises are developing. In 2030, the urban population is expected to be 5 billion; that is 2.5 billion people more than in 2010. The cities themselves as well as urban life are undergoing change. New features include car-free residential areas, housing complexes with extensive communal spaces and affordable houses based on sustainable concepts, such as the »Happy and Cheap« house in Sweden. Communal gardens are popping up in and around the urban sphere, people are growing crop plants in gardens and on balconies. Urban gardening makes sensible use of urban ground. The cities will be greener.
Recycling as well as sharing and swapping of cars, clothes, food, technical equipment and specific skill are well underway. Traffic is changing. Alternative propulsion systems such as the electric engine, fuel cell, etc. and fully automated cars are two of many lines of development and progress. Tesla’s decision to release all patents and invite the entire sector to use them is instigating new forms of cooperation and will speed up progress.
Nutrition is changing. Humans are no longer willing to ignore the realities of mass animal farming and laying batteries. The significance of nutrition for everyone’s own health and well-being is moving into focus. Nutrition is turning into the best medicine. The number of people who are forgoing meat for ethical or health reasons is growing steadily throughout the world. In the distant future, the development of a vegetarian or vegan society is foreseeable. There will certainly be serious consequences for animal farming and the entire meat industry. Furthermore, it will be important for organizations to cast their eyes not only outside at their clients and consumers, but on the inside, where the same processes are taking place. How will organisations alter the food on offer in their canteens, for example, in order to fulfil their employ-ees’ demands for healthy food without animal proteins?
Maximum use made of the possibilities opened up by mobile internet access will continue at increasing speed. »Wearables« have potential. For example, a watch that can measure its wearer’s pulse, movements and calorie intake can provide important health information; contact lenses that go beyond being a visual aid are able to measure blood sugar levels and deliver potentially life-saving information to diabetics. Such objects have only just opened a door to a far greater range of much more advanced applications.
A watch that enables its wearer to make cashless payments will have a very concrete effect on a whole industry: it is foreseeable that selected banks and financial service providers will have to be involved to handle the background processes only at the onset of this innovation and will be entirely redundant in the future.
The possibilities of digital networking, which manifest themselves in the »internet of things« and industry 4.0, are exerting considerable pressure on organizations to make new inventions. They also result in an increasing automation of work. This makes reality of what Meynard Keynes had described as early as 1930, namely that technological progress will enable a continuous increase of production per hour of work and that humans will in the future have to work less and less in order to meet their needs. But what will humans do with the time thus gained and how will incomes be defined? Sharing portals are flourishing. Internet platforms like Airbnb are bringing together those who rent out sleeping places on a short term basis (couch surfing) and lodgers. Although it has only been online since 2008, Airbnb surpassed the largest hotel chains in the numbers of worldwide overnight stays already in 2014.
Differences between the generations will have an effect. While the baby boomers dominated the working population in 2010, and still have a hold on most »positions of power«, the younger generations will soon gain more influence; in as little as five years’ time, generation Y will make up the majority of the working population. Generation Y has clear notions of life. Its members emphatically want to know what they are working for. They look for meaning and for fun; work also has to meet these criteria. They don’t fight as much as they simply act. They become vegetarians out of protest against mass animal farming, but don’t stage a demonstration. They consciously buy organic produce and use fair trade products. They make extensive use of family policy models like parental leave; same-sex marriage is considered a matter of course without anyone feeling the need to convert others to their opinions. They are very well informed and connected. They have high demands of management and the values of an organization.
Management has to keep legitimizing itself beyond its ascribed role. Authority is granted only to those who are able to convince. Freedoms, responsibility and regular feedback as well as performance-linked wages are necessary in order to motivate this generation and keep them in an organization. As management is the most important factor in the motivation of people within an organisation, it is high time for managements to actively develop a conscious and active management culture. Members of Generation Y will leave an organization without prior warning as soon as their values are compromised or management is failing to meet their expectations, when there is a want of flexible working hours, attractive employment models and aesthetic spatial concepts. They simply live what is possible today; that is how they are taking us into the future. This generation will significantly shape our future.
Resources are being shared more and more: that is true for the private sphere as much as the industrial sector. Common platforms have long existed in the automotive industry, and meaningful cooperation is taking place in many contexts. That includes logistics, where it can happen that competitors share space in a single lorry. Such ventures help them reduce costs and mean that transport companies no longer have to send their half-empty vehicles into already jam-packed streets.
Alternative energies (water, wind and solar) are gaining ground. The radical reorganisation of Germany’s largest energy organization clearly demonstrates the concrete effect of these trends. Business models are being put to the test.
A patient-led health system is being developed and the integration of alternative medicine is almost complete. A change towards a preventative, holistic medicine will alter the curricula of today’s university education as well as of medical practice.
The principle of sustainability affects many spheres of life. Many people are yearning for a healthy life in a healthy environment; that has already had an emphatic effect on organizations. All organizations consider the aspect of sustainability in one way or another. Sustainability indexes measure progress and make it possible to compare organizations with regard to this aspect. They simultaneously evaluate three different measures of success (planet, people, profit). Yet the business model, the flywheel of economic activity, mostly remains unchanged. We look at the top and bottom line and focus on growth.
This is where a change in consumer behaviour has a powerful effect and will challenge the organizations as well as the current economic system.
Still, organizations very actively stimulate consumption. They do so through ground-breaking innovation, which Schumpeter had already recognized as the crucial driver of a functioning market economy, as well as with attractive products. At the same time, however, they also employ temptation: advertising gives purchasing impulses independently of a consumer’s actual need of the product. If more is being bought, then more can be produced and sold. This effect is reinforced even further by the artificial limit placed on the lifetime of products, such as, e.g., the lifetime of the filament in light bulbs, which has been limited in response to industry pressure since 1924. This drives a system of growth, which in turn fosters the creation of superfluous things, encourages superfluous consumption and taxes the environment during production, advertising and sales, as well as creating »waste« by way of the product itself, which will soon need to be cleared out and disposed of in order to make room for the next new purchase.
This system furthermore pressurizes people by stimulating desires. The result is status-bound consumption. A new car, new technology, the latest gadget are all the more attractive as soon as a friend or neighbour has them. If I feel that I must have a product in order to belong, I can easily use the financial offers provided by producers and banks in order to buy it on credit. Work therefore becomes a means to enable consumption and to pay off debt. It has been established that private households are increasingly in debt, people are overstrained and suffer burn-out: that is the price we pay for working on such a basis. The cycle is beginning to run on empty. People are beginning to flee the enforced consumption of unnecessary products and liberate themselves from the draw of »more and newer«. They report an immediate liberating and relaxing effect. Basic needs are becoming visible again. As a result, we will consume less because we don’t really need the things. We will consume less because we will share. We will consume less because we will go back to repairing our equipment.
An altered attitude to consumerism, the overcoming of status consumption and a regained consciousness for what is really at stake will have serious consequences for the economic logic currently in place and the business models of organizations. Even where organizations are already finding strategies in order to follow a path to a new balance of product and service, they will not be able to make up for these effects alone.
The focus on the gross domestic product (GDP) and economic growth is dissolving. Numerous attempts have been made to complement or replace the GDP, a category that has also been critically questioned by economic scientists. An initiative by the OECD entitled »Beyond GDP« has attempted to bring together a range of approaches, albeit until now without any particular effect. There are, however, implementable alternative designs on offer for the post-growth economy. Some of these are finding a growing number of followers, such as, e.g., »Economy for the Common Good«, which has been joined by more than 1000 organizations since 2010.
Seeds for a new reality can be found everywhere. Next to economies for the common good, these include cooperatives in solar power and housing projects, share and repair platforms, people who are re-using, repairing, sharing and exchanging things, who do up their neighbour’s living room in exchange for a website design, recycling exchanges, cooperatives, cow share, crowd funding, open source projects: these serve as examples for the many new paths that are successfully being tread.
The range of individual and group initiatives and the degree of acceptance and support has by now grown to such a degree that it cannot be described as a series of outsider phenomena any longer. They are no longer taking place on the margins of society. Visionary entrepreneurs and managers must courageously confront the sustainability of their own organization against this background.
Are we prepared for these developments?
Is our organization and are we as managers prepared for a vision of a future reality shared by us all that consists of these above-mentioned developments and the many new ways of leading lives; a reality that grew out of modern humanity’s desire to fundamentally re-design the lives we lead.
Once again, we will have to experimentally lift ourselves out of the enclosure of our immediate concerns in order to free our perception of the great, fundamental questions, the visionary and strategic design of a sustainable organization.
To test whether an organization is fit for the future in the face of the potential, radical changes in society on the way to a sustainable modern age requires us to address fundamental questions and enter an open dialogue.
The SYNNECTA Future Check allows you to answer these questions within a protective setting.
Here are some examples of the questions we ask as part of the SYNNECTA Future Check:
Test your organization’s vision and concept of itself. Why does the world need us? In what way do we make a particular, valuable contribution to our stakeholders? (Employees and contributors, clients, consumers, partners, investors, society)
Product or Service Portfolio
Does our product or service have potential for the future? How will our industry develop, will it still be stable and justified in five or ten years’ time? What factors may influence the course of these developments?
Are we sustainable in all our actions? Are we making use of technological facilities (networking, social media, internet of things) in order to support our business? Have we developed the skills and attitudes we will need to safely navigate the digital world of work? Are we confident that we are making full use of digital tools to enable us to work together and effectively?
Have we organized ourselves adequately, have we developed a structure that is flexible enough to share ideas and knowledge and support cooperation? How successfully do we live cooperation? Are we including partners from outside of our organization; do we appreciate them, consider them as partners and integrate them? Does our organization and management culture ensure active participation, initiative and responsibility? Will it meet the demands of the young generation and does it at the same time use the experience of the older generation? How does our culture foster trust, fun and joy? How much can flexible work models and attractive space concepts support our success?
How well are we applying diversity and inclusion in order to make the best possible and full use of our organization’s potential?
It pays to apply these fundamental questions to our own context and think ahead. How well is my organization positioned and how well are we as managers prepared to actively and confidently engage with and contribute to this potential, great transformation of society?