Why business leaders need to be agile¹ as digital disruption goes exponential
Can we find answers to the challenges of the future in one of the oldest industrial operations still active in Europe?
A couple of weeks ago I was struck by something I saw at the venerable 500 years old Swiss salt mines in Bex: they are producing a special salt called “Fleur des Alpes” in the most traditional and natural way you can imagine, 1.500 metres into the mountain and 450 metres below the surface. The production process is pure craftsmanship in the traditional sense but the monitoring of the production, quality control, etc. are entirely digitalized and paperless!
Is this digital disruption or is this an industrial revolution – as we have always seen them?
As more and more industries and business models see themselves fundamentally affected by digital disruption, as companies are suddenly challenged by players from completely different sectors, we ask ourselves where it will stop. Is anybody safe?
The answer is that disruption affects everybody, even industries active in basic commodities. Let’s take the example of the car industry: challenged by new players in autonomous and/or electric vehicles, it is now fighting back, but it is very possible that people will simply not want to own cars anymore in the near future, which would bring the number of vehicles down… So, OK, car makers have a problem… but we still need roads, right? Or will all vehicles take to the air and the road infrastructure become largely useless? Hold it: if we can all fly around in any way we want, get everything delivered to our homes and communicate at will with anybody anywhere on the globe, we may not even need cities anymore…
And the digital revolution is just one part of the disruption. What about the progress in biotechnology or the use of quantum physics, for example to encrypt communications? What will happen when all these technologies converge and the lines between them get blurred? How should companies plan their strategy to survive and develop successfully?
One thing only seems certain. It will not happen as predicted today by futurologists and mainstream thinking. The environment is in constant evolution and the old and the new cohabit and compete, but often also complement each other in new and positive ways, which might be part of the answer.
So, which are the qualities that we must look for when selecting people to join our organizations? For us at AIMS International, the answer is clear. The human quality of agility, the ability to adapt to the environment and select the best option, often, in spite of the rise of big data, on the basis of incomplete information is key. Instead of developing detailed 5-year plans, we need to point out the general direction we want to go in and be ready to adjust permanently to new circumstances. In the same way, we need people who can adapt to more flexible and less fixed organizations, often decentralized and composed of networks going beyond traditional company boundaries.
¹Agile: marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace, an agile dancer — Merriam Webster