That Albert Einstein was a clever chap, eh?
‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,’ he said.
But you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise when considering how many corporations behave.
Too many still reward ‘20th Century Thinking’. 20th Century thinking tends to revolve around optimising existing structures and models. It’s process-orientated – how can we do what we are doing now but faster/better/cheaper. It’s Fordism, where the goal is to achieve ‘Operational Excellence’.
Operational Excellence has its place, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that today, as the bony finger of obsolescence beckons for businesses large and small, it’s not enough. Not by a long shot.
Western business faces an existential threat – an ongoing, long-term battle to remain relevant. This is the product of two key forces.
First, the rise of Asia. Whatever China’s current woes, and they are multiple, Asia has cornered the market in faster/better/cheaper. So unless millions of folk in the West suddenly say they’re willing to work for Chinese wages and governments simultaneously undertake serious (retrogressive, and not terribly attractive) economic restructuring , there seems little point in trying to out-Asia Asia.
Second, software eats everything. It is coming for everyone, and everything. Music, taxis, manufacturing, you name it. And software, we know, does not tend to drive the value of things up. It drives them down, and it sometimes makes them free.
So Western business has to adapt or die. Death may be quick (Exhibit A, Blockbuster Video) or prolonged (Exhibit B, estate agents), but – without adopting 21st Century Thinking – it is coming either way.
21st Century Thinking refocuses a business around i) developing a brand that is well understood on the outside and genuinely ‘lived’ on the inside, ii) building and encouraging a culture that empowers employees and other stakeholders to think and act creatively, to develop new ideas, products, markets and models of internal and external engagement, and iii) understanding the scale and impact of the digital revolution and responding to it, strategically.
21st Century Thinking is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
Just ask the people who used to run Kodak.