This is a great post by Umar Haque about reframing personal and professional/business outlook and strategies, from the Harvard Business Review (comments are also worth seeing). I found it in Paul Denlinger‘s Google Reader shared items. (As an aside, @pdenlinger is a great follow on Twitter for his keen insights into both the US and China political and economic landscapes.)
Three Do’s (and Don’ts) of 21st Century Strategy
Welcome, finally, to…today. The 20th century ended a decade ago, but the 21st century never began: the noughties were a lost decade, where jobs weren’t created, innovation became unnovation, and prosperity itself failed.
2010 is the real first year of the 21st century. And it’s going to be a year of conflict between the leaders of the old, fraying institutions of the 20th century, and the builders revolutionizing those institutions in the 21st. Here’s a framework for thinking strategically in the 21st century:
Six soft “wars” will define 2010 — and beyond. Three are conflicts no organization should fight, and three are struggles every organization who wants to survive, develop, innovate and prosper must.
Here are the three wars no organization should fight any longer.
The war on the American Dream. The American Dream has always been one, fundamentally, of prosperity for all. But in America, the middle class has been savaged over the last half century. You know the score by now: exploding income inequality, structural unemployment and underemployment, eviscerated public services, etc. But as the middle class goes, so goes every civilization. These are anodyne terms, but big business has been the prime mover in this battle. It is a familiar gamut of 20th century corporate “strategies” — outsourcing, mass production, mega-retailing, “branding” — that were the missiles and bombs of the war on the American Dream. Today, their day is over; it is businesses who can help create a thriving, vibrant middle class to whom advantage will inexorably flow.
The war on the natural world. Since the industrial revolution, the economy has been at war with the natural world. And it’s winning, hands down. You know the statistics by now. Go watch one of my favorite documentaries, End of the Line, right now for a flavor of the destruction industrialized fishing has wrought on the seas. In the 21st century, it is businesses who can heal the natural world — not wage incessant war on it — to whom the balance of power will flow.
The war on people. In my last post, I poked a bit of fun at the Supreme Court for their recent decision to roll back campaign finance restrictions. The big picture is this. For the last century, business has claimed a superior kind of personhood to, well, real people. Corporate “people” have far more power than human people today, because big business has fought tooth and nail for special privilege. But in the 21st century, not fighting a war on human people is the key to learning to serve them instead — and is a tremendously powerful path to advantage.
Here, in contrast, are the three wars every organization must learn to fight.
The war on poverty. Global poverty has dropped precipitously over the last three decades, thanks to Herculean efforts from international agencies and NGOs. But that trend is hitting a plateau. It’s time for a new player to enter the arena: business. Today’s innovators are discovering that putting poverty reduction at the heart of what is made, bought, sold, and used isn’t just good business — it’s the key to exploding the economic boundaries of “business” entirely.
The war on consumption. Anytime I’m in a boardroom, and a CEO says “consumers,” I eat his brain. The most fundamental law of demand-side econ today is: there is no consumer. People are lots of things: parents, friends, citizens. But they’re not merely consumers, because an economy driven by naked, aggressive hyperconsumption has had its day. In the 21st century, counterintuitively, it is businesses who can make tinier increments of consumption radically more meaningful that will reap the greatest rewards.
The war on yourself. The real enemy of prosperity is the industrial era DNA of the modern corporation. And the most intense struggle that every organization must fight isn’t external, but internal. It is about building a better kind of business, commerce, and finance. Because those are the building blocks of the better banking, healthcare, energy, transportation, media — the list is seemingly endless — industries that today’s economy so desperately needs. Where does that war begin – and end? Try my post on Twitter’s next-gen DNA for some pointers (and contrast it with Facebook’s to see two very different kinds of organizations).
In the final analysis, here’s the score.
Asking whether we’re “in the recovery” is the wrong question. Reviving yesterday’s zombieconomy would mean resurrecting yesterday’s socially useless corporations. But yesterday’s prosperity is sputtering out. A new century needs a radically better economy, made of radically more useful business. And that need to be better says: yesterday’s best isn’t nearly good enough.
Welcome to the struggle for tomorrow.
Fire away in the comments with questions, comments, or thoughts.