Why I Joined an Ecosystem for Disruptive Innovation

The first time I met one of the Founders of PathFinder4, I was asked the question "What keeps you awake at 3am?".  And with that one thought provoking question, I was able to articulate a lifetime's worth of thoughts around the thing that most concerned me.

Like a thread through time I have always been interested in the meaning of work and how it defines us and hence our sense of worth and meaning. Two factors that affect our sense of meaning are WORK and CONSUMPTION.  Technology, perhaps more than any other factor, is accelerating the blurring of lines between the two.

Digital Nomads and Bots

I remember well the first time I heard the phrase "portfolio" career from Charles Handy, and thought wouldn't that be nice, to have a collection of interesting roles, rather than a job.  That was back in the 80s.  It took a while to come to fruition, and yet here we find ourselves in a very different world.  A world of digital nomads, operating their businesses from a laptop with no fixed abode.  A world of technological disruption, a new post-industrial revolution, where work is threatened by the march of the robots and artificial intelligence. It is predicted that, by 2025, 50% of current jobs will be replaced by software, robots or smart machines. (Koury, Lazarova and Talwar, 2015).

Work is becoming more precarious and there are those that predict it will not be uncommon to have up to 20 different jobs in a lifetime (Talwar, 2015).  The economist Guy Standing talks of the rise of the Precariat, an increasing population whose work is not stable; people with no occupational narrative; an increasing blurring of the lines between personal and work time. Worryingly for the grey suits this precarious work is being extended to professional workers. As many as one in 3 roles are predicted to become precarious.(Standing, 2015)

The Shifting Role of the Consumer

Information technology shifts much of the work that was done by employees of companies into the hands of the consumer.  Self-serve is the order of the day from scanning and packing our groceries at the checkout to sorting out the full details of our flight on a budget airline.  Ursula Huws calls this consumption work.  It is putting production into the hands of the consumer.  (Huws, 2014).

Anne Lise Kjaer argues that this evolution, this changing relationship between the roles of the producer and consumer, will be characterised by a less acquisitive phase aided by new disruptive business models.  Access over ownership is being explored - enter the sharing, caring economy. (Kajaer, 2015).

The often touted examples of AirBnB and Uber are really just the start of the shifting of commercial power from the traditional business that owns many capital resources to one that facilitates peer-to-peer exchange.  This new business environment has heralded the growth of the Network Orchestrator - the company that provides the network on which peers meet and exchange.   Ownership is no longer the only successful business model.  In fact is seems that Network Orchestrators are much more likely to be successful than asset builders, services providers and technology creators in both revenue and profit growth (Libert, et al, 2014)

One of the type three trends identified in the Gartner 2016 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies is the "platform revolution"   They predict a shift from technical infrastructure to eco-system enabling platforms enabled by technologies including blockchain and the Internet of Things.    (Gartner, 2016)

In such ecosystems we will tend to think more about the consumer experience, than stand alone products and services.  In my mind this emergence of eco-systems uniting workers, companies, consumers, suppliers, will make the world an even fuzzier place.  Work-life balance, replaced by work-consumption balance.  The truth is, business leaders are not at all sure what to do with these challenges dressed up as opportunities.  We hear this from C Suite Leaders all the time.  There is a risk of getting all enamored with the individual technologies, whilst not really understanding what the consumer wants.  Consumers will watch the corporate heads buried in sand, whilst they run wild creating their cown user-generated networks, designs, products and media in the agile way that only an individual can.  Consumers are enabled, they are empowered, by technological change.  They are changing what it means to work, what it means to consume.

Powerful Conversations Driving Business Change

So what has this to do with joining an Ecosystem for Disruptive Innovation?  I quickly discovered that I had far many more questions than answers.  I also found out that it was easier to address those questions with like-minded, thought provoking people.  And I wholeheartedly believe that we can't come at this new world with the old company structures, business models, and the old economic system.  We are not likely to work it out as individuals in corporate silos. Work is changing, consumers are changing, we need to step up to survive.  We need more powerful, meaningful conversations and we need our own ecosystem of disruptive thinkers and doers to make it all happen - fast.


References:

Gartner (2016) Gartner's 2016 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Identified Three Key Trends That Organizations Must Tract to Gain Competitive Advantage. Available at http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3412017 [accessed 17.11.16]

Libert, B., Wind, Y., Fenley, M., (2014) ‘What Airbnb, Uber and Alibaba Have in Common’ Available at: [accessed 14.11.16]

Huws, U, (2014) Labour in the Global Digital Economy: The Cybertariat Comes of Age, Monthly Review Press: New York

Koury, Lazarova and Talwar, 2015 in Talwar (2015) The Future of Business, Fast Future Publishing: United Kingdom

Libert, B., Wind, Y., Fenley, M., (2014) ‘What Airbnb, Uber and Alibaba Have in Common’ Available at: [accessed 14.11.16]

Standing, G., (2014) The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class,  Bloomsbury Academic: London

Talwar (2015) The Future of Business, Fast Future Publishing: United Kingdom

 

Caroline WrightCaroline is PathFinder4's Marketing Director and Senior Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire in Digital Business and Innovation.  She believes that progressive leaders play a key role in creating an abundant world, through innovative social and technological approaches.  Caroline has innovated at many corporates including BT, O2 and Epson UK.  

 

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