The new year is quickly upon us and as we head into 2011 a few predictions are in order. As I am fond of saying these days, “we all hope 2011 is the 2010 we wished for in 2009.” Business executives and small business owners know exactly what this means, after a year on the “pause button” where business disruption was an accepted practice, 2011 brings new hope, a few concerns, and some breakthrough possibilities.
Here now is my top five countdown for 2011. Deference to David Letterman for the countdown tone and framework.
#5 – It’s still the economy, stupid.
We are still waiting for the convergence of key indicators – particularly consistent sector growth in manufacturing and services – along with a robust savings rate upwards of 10% to really spark the economy. While most of the conversation is still focused around how consumers spend their money, history has shown that the most economically sustainable recoveries occur when there is adequate savings and reserves. After years of low – and at times even negative – savings levels, we seem to be plateauing around 6%. Savings, according to the Bureau of Economic Activity (BEA), includes funds not used in the purchase or investment accounts. This is not a bad thing, since savings by this definition also means paying down debt, and we are globally still suffering from a massive hangover from the party of the 2000s.
#4 – Sustainability isn’t a fad. You can either get on the bus now or have it run over you later.
There is still a level of self-reporting in many non-core industries, particularly in the United States, going into 2011. However the interest to move ahead in the area of carbon offsets – and in effect creating a carbon economy much like the FTC created the airwaves economy for cell phones in the 1980s and 1990s – will be top of mind once consumer confidence increases. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented a new reporting infrastructure to begin to collect greenhouse gas (GHG) levels from key industry, or so-called “core segments,” with an on-line data collection portal going live next year. This goes beyond “vision statements” and “green washing” your website and product catalog. You can bet your retained earnings that once GHG levels are calculated, indexed, and assessed that there will be a price tag much like the European Union has today. What that economy will look like in the United States – cap and trade or carbon offsets – is still a debate to be had. Prudent executives are taking the initiative with under the radar assessment projects to measure GHG levels – “carbon footprint” – and social contributions – “social fingerprint” – of their organizations. Organizations which do this in 2011 will be best prepared on the competitive landscape to adapt to whatever regulatory and reporting changes come next.
#3 – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you don’t have it, break something to make it.
The market has the potential to up-lift in 2011 on the same hockey stick trend that it dropped in 2008. This means that many of the products and services that we offer today – which by and large aren’t much different on aggregate that we offered in 2008 – will become obsolete faster than you can say “President’s Day Sale.” Disruptive innovation involves preparing the organization for the mindset needed to look at things in completely different ways and to not fear challenging sacred cows, old ideas, and dated philosophies. This will prove challenging for executives since the talent swamp was drained in 2009 and most middle-level management and staff are afraid to innovate and, in extreme cases, challenge anyone interested in performing above mediocrity. While talent is a key ingredient to successful innovation, disruption also requires the mental fortitude and “chutzpa” that is missing in companies outside of market leaders, such as Apple. Climbing out of the mediocrity well will prove very difficult for many organizations, requiring massive talent infusions to stay competitive and take advantage of the growth curve.
#2 – Don’t just change for change sake – have a plan, stick to it, drive to results.
Many lagging organizations in particular will feel the need to do something – anything – to feel as though the management team is proactive in addressing changing market conditions. It’s not difficult to envision that throwing money at such a program without structure by executives and management brought into their current roles to “stop the bleeding” could create a perfect storm for unbridled spend and unmanaged corporate change programs the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1990s (remember “re-engineering?” and how everything under the sun that had “re-engineering” in a project name was approved by management, even though the project may have dealt with mundane things such as replacing faucets in the breakroom lounge?) Sound judgment will create winners and losers in the race to move the needle, and those adopting a good structure for change in the organization will be the organizations coming out on top.
#1 – Welcome the Mobile Society and Sustainable Mobile Computing
After years of social media experimentation, 2011 shows signs that we are going to get serious – really serious – about mobile computing and make big bets in this arena. Several aspects to consider. First in mature markets, the advent of 4G infrastructure and near-field computing (NFC) will eventually make money and currency as we know it obsolete. Not next year, or maybe the year after, but it will happen. Smart phones will come with personalized SIM cards which will link to our bank accounts, creating electronic wallets that not only will allow wireless transactions from the device but will also recommend based on buying preferences where the products and services most desired by the consumer might be found. The device will function as our “virtual valet” like the floor walkers in the old department stores who knew our buying habits, interests, and personal preferences. Second in developing markets, the mobile device will need to operate like a laptop or home office computer to drive commerce. Applications with a thin “cloud computing” layer and footprint will enable peer-to-peer transactions so that commerce can exist without a large infrastructure. Finally, the move to sustainable mobility – such as the Our Mobile Generation program – will create ways in which highly toxic mobile devices of today can be made and used on a more environmentally friendly manner.
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