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Your business tomorrow won’t look much like today’s

Feb 20, 2011 Strategy, Sunday Nation

Last week I suggested that most of you may not be reading your newspaper in its current form for too much longer – simply because technology and social change has whacked the underlying business model.

Who else is affected? Pretty much everyone. Consider one of the most wonderful products ever invented by humankind: the book. I confess to being in a lifelong, passionate relationship with books; they make life worth living. But the love of my life is undergoing some fundamental changes, and we both have to make adjustments.

I admit that my love of the book is physical as well as intellectual. I cherish the touch and feel of a book; I adore well-designed covers; I am moved by the matching of colours; I am engaged by typefaces and fonts. I can’t imagine a life where I am unable to curl up in bed with a great novel.

But here’s the thing: books now come to you on e-readers – Kindles and iPads, as well as on the latest smartphones. Initially, I rejected this phenomenon, blinded by my physical love of paper. Consider, however, that when you read a book on a portable device, the following things can happen: you can change the font and its size to suit yourself; you can highlight any section and bookmark any page by swiping a finger; you can click on a footnote and read it instantly; you can know what sections were the ‘most highlighted’ by other readers; and you can store hundreds of books on one device without needing to carry them around.

None of that makes me want to read novels on an e-reader, but it does change the game when it comes to work-related reading. I now download all business and technical books onto my device. They arrive almost instantly, and I can use all the features mentioned above to boost my productivity. Textbooks will suffer the same fate: rather than lug around heavy textbooks, teenagers of the not-too-distant future are going to stream them onto their tablet devices – that is a no-brainer, and is already happening.

What will this do to the industry? Already, the biggest bookshop chains in the US and UK are in considerable difficulty. The renowned Borders group announced it was seeking bankruptcy protection just last week. So anyone involved in bookselling needs to look sharp; the market of tomorrow will bear little resemblance to today’s.

Look around you: it’s happening everywhere. CDs booted out LPs and audiocassettes – they are now quickly becoming of historic interest. The DVD was the big movie-watching vehicle just the other day; it is now being kicked into touch by streaming video-on-demand.

Whatever your business, a perfect storm is being kicked up by the combination of powerful phenomena: technology that changes at astonishing speed; mobile connectivity; online socialization. Those forces are going to drive you to rethink all the things you have held dear in your industry. The one thing that is certain is that you won’t be running the same business in the same way five years from now.

A big BUT, though: the basics of good business never change. It will still always be about enthusiastic satisfaction of customers. Those who are passionately engaged with a higher business purpose will make those adjustments. Technology cannot make humans redundant, but it can dramatically alter their essential function. We are not likely to need people to haul or stack things like we used to; but we are going to need them to do what humans do best: engage, interact, understand, appreciate, recognize and make fine judgements.

The land is shifting right under your feet, and it’s up to you to notice the tremors and move to higher ground.

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