Geopolitical turmoil, cyber hacks, Brexit and Donald Trump—many recent disruptive events have taken our industry by surprise. What is for sure more now than ever is that change is coming and it is coming fast. As such our industry needs to have new leaders, at all levels of the food chain, that can replace old thinking with new ways to innovate and manage that change. The old ways are going! The old channels are going! The old managers have already gone!
So what do our new industry leaders need? What does the industry need from our leaders?
We need leaders that can anticipate and drive change. This does not mean simply extrapolating today’s pace of change into the future. It means boldly imagining new possibilities—and understanding they will come sooner than expected. Leaders will have to get equally comfortable with what can be known and with exploring what is unknown. Today our leaders see future events as a new version of past events, presuming the pace of change will move in a straight line. In reality, growth is exponential and new variables—unforeseen technologies, for example—always enter the fray. In most organizations, the future is primarily projected through spreadsheets reinforcing a perspective that the world is an extension of what we know today. The problem is that the future is anything but that! Our new leaders need to get comfortable asking open-ended questions about unspoken assumptions to see new possibilities. They need to be curious about the future and blend imaginative practices of strategic foresight and science fiction design. But most importantly they need to ensure that this mindset permeates through their organisations.
In addition to imagining a range of new futures, our new leaders must also act as disruptors, discovering new ideas through open dialogue with all stakeholders and then ensuring a constant iteration of those ideas. Most leaders today are still primarily focusing on getting existing products to be better, faster or cheaper. But our leaders need to focus on the new breed of customer and invest in designing and developing new products and services to satisfy the emerging customer’s needs. They need to use human-centered processes, such as observation and questioning, to collect insights; and they need to embrace a growth mindset to test and gather evidence on what they’ve learned. Great leaders in our industry will do this continually, iterating over and over to uncover opportunities obscured by the fog of uncertainty.
As technology innovation accelerates, leaders have to understand which technologies will directly impact our industry and which will affect adjacent industries. Our leaders need to figure out fast how they can digitize, demonetize and democratize our products. Once we figure out how to digitize our products we can become an information-based technology and move to an exponential growth curve. Something digitized can be replicated and transmitted for a near-zero marginal cost. Once we have successfully digitized our products then we need to figure out how to demonetize them and eventually democratize them. In terms of demonetization one needs only to look at digital photography as an example of an industry that has demonetized. The first 0.01 megapixel Kodak camera is now generating a 10 megapixel image. The result of which is the complete demonetization of film photography. As products and services demonetize they become available to billions of users across the planet and this is the democratization of the product. This democratization now allows us a market size of not just one or several countries but the entire three billion people connected to the internet now and the seven billion potentially connected by 2026.
Now how do you digitize a physical product such as a tyre? We are not music or film that can be easily converted to zeros and ones. Well we can start by digitizing as many of the processes with the tyre as possible. Uber did not digitize the car – but it did digitize the taxi industry. Perhaps we have leaders in our industry who can figure this out. I am working on it with our teams both in the industry and in our venture capital fund. Honestly we have not figured it out yet but I can tell you we are having a lot of fun trying!