“Future historians are going to look back on this decade as the first decade of the 21st century in terms of human thought,” says David Houle during a recent Fridays with Vistage webinar. “This is the time when we’re going to leave the legacy thinking of the 20th century behind.”
Houle, a renowned futurist, strategist, author and speaker, has dubbed our modern era “The Shift Age”—a period of rapid, disruptive change that first began in 2006. The year 2011 marks the beginning of the Transformation Decade, the first full decade of the Shift Age; over the next 10 years, says Houle, significant changes in technology, the global economy, human experience and leadership will dynamically shape the future of business as we know it. Today’s business leaders must reorganize and adapt or risk failure.
“What I say to Vistage leaders and CEOs and people that own businesses is that if the world is changing its nature, shape, character, and form, then you as a leader must change your business,” Houle says. Below, we outline the key points of Houle’s timely and inspiring presentation—and what they mean for your business going forward.
1. Communicate Globally. “Globalization is no longer just an economic term, but a force across all aspects of society,” says Houle. We are truly global citizens, and businesses must reorganize accordingly. For the first time in history, no time, distance, or place limits human communication. The difference between a phone call to someone 10 feet or 12,000 miles away, for example, is only a few seconds. This new reality will permanently change how we conduct business and evaluate market strategies.
2. Separate Work and Place. We can now work from—quite literally—anywhere. Allowing employees to telework regularly will be a strategic advantage to CEOs and managers in 2011 and beyond. “I strongly say if you think a good metric is watching somebody be busy, you’re wrong. We’ve all learned how to be busy and do nothing. I have found companies that let their employees work from home more than two days a week are much more productive because the employees are grateful they have that ability,” says Houle. The office space no longer exists for information transfer (such as in the Information Age, when we needed to work in a wired office), but for collaboration. When people do come together physically, better, more authentic collaboration will occur.
3. Prioritize the Individual. The explosion of choice and the newfound ability to work from anywhere on the planet is shifting us toward an increasingly individualized worldview, and it’s having a dramatic effect on information exchange. “It’s all about my business, my Facebook, my website,” says Houle. “We have created an alternative reality and changed our consciousness.” Individuals now have two realities: the dominant electronic reality of their (computer) screens, and the less-important physical reality of place. We must reorganize the workplace and our products to adapt to the rising power of the personal.
4. Create Networks, Not Structures. Adaptability and resilience are essential to leadership in the Transformation Decade, says Houle. Structures are not adaptable; in the face of change, they break or fall. “If you want to build an organization, think of the concept of a net where your managers are nodes in a net and it’s all connected and it’s flat, it’s not hierarchal,” says Houle. “You have to forget titles if you want to do reorganization. If you want to increase innovation… Just close your eyes and think about the employee in your organization who shows up most innovatively every day.” Flattening the organization encourages innovation and enables collaborative reorganization.
5. Switch to User-Generated Content. Several decades ago, trust was institutional. Products were selected based on advertising content created by institutions. Today, trust is a personal matter; friends and networks recommend products, not institutions. Houle cites a study that shows a 1.5:1 ratio of believability in consumer-generated content vs. institutionally-generated content. Just as you must get rid of hierarchy in your organizational charts, your content and output must also reflect the flattening of authority. User-generated content is now king. In other words, if you put video on your website, make sure it features your customers talking to future customers—not you talking at them.
To succeed in business in 2011 and beyond, Houle believes all leaders will have to actively embody these transformations to best fit their business models. Leading-edge companies like Google and Apple already have; Houle calls these paragons of transformation “Morph Corps.”
Leaders of the next generation of Morph Corps, many of whom are from the Baby Boomer generation, need not fear that their roles will become obsolete in a newly digital world. If anything, quality leadership will be more important. Organizations like Vistage, where CEOs and key executives meet once a month, will provide critical, in-person collaborative opportunities. “We need that high touch,” says Houle. “It’s a human, necessary offshoot to the high tech.”
Who will lead in the Transformation Decade? Not surprisingly, the most successful executives of all will be those who can adapt at the personal level and exemplify true leadership. “[Baby Boomer leaders] need to stand down from thinking they know all the answers, and rather become the core culture… and drive the moral and value direction of the company.”