Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Managing for Porosity and other Survival Tips

It has been twenty months now but I still keep coming back to a 30-page report by Andrew Curry entitled “The World In 2020,” a document prepared for business leaders but equally prescient for policy-makers.

It provides a window on business challenges that goes far beyond the next seven years, and its eight contours of “the map of how the world is likely to change” are as applicable to small organizations as to large.

Curry’s report synthesizes expert observations about lingering changes embedded in the worldwide crisis of 2008.  Quoting Ged Davis, a former petroleum executive and currently co-president of The Global Energy Assessment, who claims that “a trend is a trend until it bends,” Curry notes that trends do not continue unchecked:

“Eventually, they create a response, and it’s in the interplay between trends that new markets open up and new risks emerge.

There are some relative certainties embedded in the big trends which will shape the world over the next decade but there are also some uncertainties, where several trends collide and combine.”Dilemma Theory

The report identifies “hard constraints,” “soft opportunities” and “ambiguities.”  Rather than viewing these as dilemmas to be traded off as businesses often do, it distills business “dilemma theory” developed by Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaar.

The report notes that business “dilemma theory”…“suggests that rather than ‘either/or’ trade-offs, ‘both/and’ outcomes reconcile differences and create more value, opening up spaces for innovation.”

The reports cites Umair Haque, the director of Havas Media Labs, who blogs for Harvard Business Review who claims that “the future belongs to the meaning organization’ which sets out to build authentic prosperity.” 

“Companies are going to have to get lethally serious about having an enduring, meaningful, resonant, multiplying, positive, proliferating set of impacts—of all types, whether social, human, intellectual, spiritual, creative, or relational. An isolated notion of ‘profit’ is obsolete: it’s an arid industrial-age conception of a currency-focused construct that’s built to trivialize everything but what a firm owes its ‘owners’.”

Curry’s synthesis also suggests that “capitalism, perhaps, is no longer well served by capital” and that “one way of thinking about this new business landscape is to go back to some of the early ideas about economies, namely that an enterprise was obliged to combine resources of land, labor and capital” with an emphasis on stewardship.

No this isn’t the brittleness of today’s libertarianism or your father’s but it may be your grandfather’s.

In an ominous note, the report, while quoting Stein’s Law that “the future is never a simple extrapolation of the present, reminds us that “globalization has retreated in the past: by some measures, levels of economic interconnectness are lower today than at the outbreak of WWI.”  And we know how that turned out.

I found particularly enlightening the report’s discussion of a distinction made by Dr. Barbara Heinzen between “column” property rights which are framed only by economic rights and “mosaic” property rights “giving different groups overlapping rights of use and access to land.”  This distinction would help resolve the desecration of public roadsides by private billboard companies in favor of the public’s right to a scenic view-shed.

The report indicates that adoption of “full-cost” accounting models “which include the costs which businesses,” such as billboard companies, “currently dump on their neighbors and the environment.”

Curry notes that “one of the sharpest trends in the wake of the financial crisis has been the widespread emergence of arguments for new ways of measuring economic and business performance.”

Perhaps of particular interest to my former colleagues in community-destination marketing is a section of the report on the business of the future.  Instead of relying on descriptions such as relevant, “responsive, adaptive, flexible, agile” it details three characteristics under the headings of:

    • Managing for resilience
    • Managing for variety
    • Managing for porousness

I’ve cited this report in previous blogs and judging by my continual re-reading, I will again.  Rarely, if ever, has so much useful insight been packed into thirty pages.

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