Business in an age of disruption

It is one of the truisms of our times that no organisation is being left untouched by the march of digital technologies and platforms. Organisations can be undermined by new business models from so many different directions that keeping up with the seemingly endless possibilities is a significant headache for us all, as well as offering new potential.

Even researching the field is problematic. A new book ‘The Future of Business’ is to be welcomed as a good primer on the possibilities. I haven’t met its editor Rohit Talwar in some years, but he has gathered together 60 futurists to contribute to a large and helpful volume.

Let me start with a gripe! I don’t like the title. As the book itself makes clear this is not an internally coherent singular vision or blueprint for the future of business. Rather, more helpfully, it is a series of provocations about sources of disruption and the impact that these may have in different sectors.

Despite having many authors and various styles it covers a lot of ground with intelligence and insight.

Pétur Albert Haraldsson, for instance, describes a vision for a future where banks are useful, which after the last few years would be welcomed by many.

It is also not frightened to tackle some big topics. There are some arguments here around 3D printing and the potential impact on democratic institutions and our conceptions of economics.

Rohit’s own chapter on navigating the next horizon demonstrates the complex scenarios that make a reading of how the economy may evolve is very far from the technological determinism invoked in some circles.

You don’t have to agree or buy into the timescales for these changes, for instance, to get value from this book. There are many chapters where I could express doubts about the inevitability of certain trends or concerns over a tendency to gloss over risks, but that is beside the point.

Since reading it, I’ve found myself going back to a number of chapters to test certain ideas. I suspect that it will turn out to be a handy reference simply because of the breadth of topics covered.

I’ve never praised a book before for its index, but I can here. I’ve already found a number of references that I was totally unaware of, that have proven useful.

For anyone starting to put together a business IT strategy this can save a lot of time and effort building the background and horizon scanning.

I’d give this an eight or nine out of 10 simply for the effort in putting together such a complex set of chapters and topics in an engaging manner.

So, how could it be improved? I think it might be helpful in a second edition to build a section on ‘black hat’ thinking. What will happen if we don’t grasp the opportunities and become victims of the tech roller coaster or are careless in our assumptions. Let me illustrate.

There has been a recent report that challenges the bitcoin and blockchain viability on sustainability grounds. It has been argued that a bitcoin transaction requires 5,300 times the energy of a VISA transaction. It is inevitably causing controversy in the digital currency world, but even if I turns out to be 100 times, that’s troubling. I certainly have seen no detailed refutation as clear as the initial report. If there are any, I’d welcome the link.

I start many of my talks with a quote based on George E P Box ‘all models are wrong, it’s just that some are useful’.

The more certain a futurist is about a particular future the more likely they are to be wrong. I use the cautionary example from my youth. My Dad took me to a talk on Concorde. A knowledgeable and senior figure spoke about a world, around now, where we could fly to anywhere in the world in the same time. Concorde Three or Four would get to Australia in the same time as we could get to New York in Concorde One. The grim reality of spending longer in the airport at both ends than the flight itself was not part of this perfect future.

So, even if some of the thoughts turn out to be wrong, this book is highly useful. It is also timely. Global economic growth is being revised down and needs some innovative thinking and action.

Rohit, if you read this, I probably owe you a drink! You deserve it for the persistence in putting this together.

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About the author
Chris is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.

See all posts by Chris Yapp

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