A client whose turnover was a little more than 70 billion Euros in 2015 recently asked us to conduct some research on the future of business. Their key question: what will business look like in the 21st century? Here's some of the data and insights that informed our answer…
This research is inspired and informed by many sources, in particular:
NB: this post contains our notes. To hear how it all holds together, and what it means for your company, get in touch.
The future is frictionless businesses — where labor, information, and money move easily, cheaply, and almost instantly. Frictionless businesses:
1. have new, more fluid relationships with customers, workers, and owners
2. rethink the role of capital (as traditionally defined): own less and less of it
3. create value in new ways as they reinvent R&D and marketing
4. measure their performance by new metrics because traditional gauges no longer capture what counts
In almost every business, barriers to entry are coming down…
21st century’s most valuable assets: openness to new ideas, ingenuity, and imagination.
A friction-free economy also enables companies with virtually no physical capital to compete powerfully with capital-heavy incumbents.
Alibaba is the world’s most valuable retailer but holds no inventory
Airbnb is the world’s largest provider of accommodations but owns no real estate
Uber is the world’s largest car service but owns no cars
Each has taken friction out of its industry, connects buyers and sellers directly and conveniently, enabling new, nearly capital-free business models.
1. Conducting billions of searches a day, Google possesses better real-time knowledge of what’s going on in the world than any government does; research shows it can predict disease outbreaks, stock market movements, and much else, and could influence elections if it wanted to.
2. With 1.5 billion users, Facebook has a bigger population than China does and can accurately describe its users’ personalities and predict their success in work and romance.
3. On any given day, Apple probably has more cash on hand than the U.S. Treasury.
4. Bharti Airtel, an Indian telecom company, has about as many customers as the U.S. has residents.
5. With 2.2 million workers, Walmart employs more people than any other organization on earth except the U.S. and Chinese defense departments.
(But note: Walmart is a 20th century-style business! Technically, it shouldn't be in here. But it is going strong… and why shouldn't there be hangovers from the 20th century? In the 20th century, there were hangovers from the 19th century… eg the railroad and steel companies. It's just if you're building a business today, or you want to be relevant today, you should create the sort of thing that inspires people today.)
Corporations will on average live shorter lives than they used to.
Before: average life span of companies in the S&P 500 was 61 years in 1958
Now: about 20 years now
Source: Yale’s Richard Foster, who predicts further steady declines.
Future: the concept of companies as continuing institutions could even cease to be the norm.
Key question: why do companies exist?
In theory: as per English economist Ronald Coase, who won a Nobel Prize in economics for answering this question, the global economy should work smoothly based on price signals between individual operators, with no apparent need for big companies.
Before: i.e. in the real world…
“there are negotiations to be undertaken, contracts have to be drawn up, inspections have to be made, arrangements have to be made to settle disputes, and so on.” — Ronald Coase
That is, there are transaction costs—friction—and consolidating transactions inside companies is the most efficient way of handling them.
Now: as technology shrinks those costs, many companies are unbundling themselves, outsourcing functions to others, crowdsourcing R&D, and exchanging employees for contractors.
You could call this the Hollywood model — people and resources come together to achieve a goal and then disperse to other projects, may become common across the economy.
Growth before profits: Amazon reports little or no profit quarter after quarter. Investors agree with CEO Jeff Bezos that the money is better invested in expansion; future profits will be that much greater as a result. The stock recently hit an all-time high.
Not all 21st-century corporations are glamorous Silicon Valley startups. They can be of any age and in any industry (even cars).
A company doesn’t need nearly as much as capital as it used to:
Apple is the world’s most valuable company (Unlike Google Microsoft, the second and third most valuable firms, Apple gets most of its revenue from selling physical products.) Yet the company says “substantially all” of its products are made by others. Because it can coordinate vastly complex global supply chains, it can pay those firms, mostly Foxconn, to make its products and get them where they need to be on time.
On-demand business economics: Apple even rents other companies’ servers to host its iCloud service so that it can add or remove capacity easily, paying only for what it needs.
500 brick-and-mortar stores worldwide, its total capital ($172 billion of it, according to the EVA Dimensions consulting firm) is immense. But in traditional models it would need much more.
Apple $172 billion of capital, creating a market value of $639 billion.
Exxon Mobil $304 billion of capital; market value $330 billion.
When a Tesla Model S ran over a metal object in Washington state in October 2013 and burst into flames, owners, potential customers, investors, and company executives got worried. Happened again a few weeks later in Tennessee, US federal regulators opened an investigation.
Old world solution: massive recall, costly repairs at dealerships nationwide, and a painful financial hit to the carmaker.
That didn't happen.
The problem was: the Model S could lower its chassis at highway speed to be more aerodynamic, and if debris hit the car’s battery pack in just the wrong way, it could catch fire.
New world solution: Tesla beamed a software update to the affected cars, raising ground clearance at highway speed by one inch. The problem went away. Just 4 months after opening their investigation, the regulators closed it.
Tesla doesn’t have any dealerships; customers can configure and order a car online, and they can test-drive cars at company-owned showrooms.
Tesla’s advanced electric technology is simpler than gas or diesel technology, so cars can be built with fewer employees and less capital.
1. GM creates about $1.85 of market value per dollar of physical assets… Tesla creates about $11.
2. GM creates $240,000 of market value per employee… Tesla creates $2.9 million.
Tesla, though in the same business as GM and old school car makers, is a fundamentally different idea.
Nike: aggressively reinventing manufacturing with 3D printing, cannily uses social media for marketing, and now has Nike+.
BMW is now 100 years old, 1916-2016. It has an exhibition on world tour: London, LA, Beijing & Munich, will examine what the next 100 years will look like for the auto industry. But we think they mean mobility: Key topics will include corporate citizenship, sustainability and the impact of digitisation on driving.
Computer programmers will comprise half of BMW’s future R&D department, according to head of R&D Klaus Fröhlich
The car brand says Uber and TrueCar are its future competitors
BMW Vision Next 100 concept car: contains speculative future technologies, eg Boost mode, with heads-up display to improve the driver’s performance, + the fully-automated Ease mode.
BMW recently announced that its half of its future R&D department will be made up of computer programmers. Software engineers currently comprise around 20% of the brand’s 30,000 research staff.
‘For me, it is a core competence to have the most intelligent car’ — Fröhlich
Apple’s latest innovation: 29-armed robot that deconstructs iPhones piece by piece.
E-waste is a growing global concern: 41.8m tonnes of e-waste were generated globally in 2014, only 6.5m tonnes were recycled
Source: United Nations Step Initiative
Most electronic waste recycling programmes involve destructive processes such as shredding
Apple's robot, Liam, in development for almost three years, is better: breaks down iPhones one piece at a time along its 29-stage disassembly line.
This avoids cross-contamination, making the components more attractive to the third-party companies that turn them back into raw materials.
Liam has a 97% success rate at removing each component, according to Apple, and can strip about 350 phones an hour; disassembles iPhones at the rate of one handset every 11 seconds
Apple sold more than 231m iPhones 2015
In 2015 Apple announced plans to:
make its supply chain more sustainable
target to eventually power all of its operations using renewable energy
"When repaired, iPhones can go on to a second owner, or a third owner, or a fourth owner, and the company’s extensive refurbishment program is excellent proof. These phones can—and should—be reborn for as long as they hold value."
The hard, intractable problem with recycling is mixed streams.
Building a machine that can recycle aluminum cans is relatively easy. Building a machine that can recycle complicated iPhones is much harder. Building a global system that brings every single iPhone back to Apple’s centralized demanufacturing line at end-of-life is impossible.
Kraft Heinz created ‘biggest blind taste test in history’.
They went public in March with an ingredient change for its macaroni and cheese recipe, which it has been secretly trialling since December 2015.
New recipe contains no artificial flavours, preservatives or dyes
On 7 March the food brand officially launched its new macaroni and cheese recipe with an advertising campaign entitled It’s Changed. But It Hasn’t.
The new recipe is healthier strategy, as it now contains no artificial flavours, preservatives or dyes.
The company deliberately deceived its audience to work out whether introducing the new recipe affected the flavour.
After the change, Kraft Heinz did not publicise the new recipe except for listing the ingredients on the reverse of the box. Then it monitored the brand’s social media feeds and sales figures to make sure that there was no customer outcry. After a number of weeks, all remained quiet and people continued to buy the product as usual.
McDonald’s gave its Happy Meal box a 21st-century makeover to keep the brand relevant to today's smartphone-owning pre-teens
With fold lines and perforations, the Happy Meal container can be turned into a DIY virtual reality headset
They also created a game to be used with the Happy Goggles. The game, Se Upp I Backen ("Watch out on the slopes"), is a ski game which, according to McDonald’s, has been endorsed by the Swedish national skiing team ahead of the Swedish holiday Sportlov, when it is traditional for families to go on skiing trips.
‘It is our mission to ensure that the world’s most famous box will continue to be magical and relevant to families for another 30 years,’ says a statement on the company’s website. ‘The Happy Meal simply must move with the times.’
Nissan has presented a vision of a not-too-distant future in which vehicles act as portable energy sources.
The Japanese car-maker worked with architects Foster + Partners to imagine the future of Intelligent Mobility
Electric power trains in its vehicles could be used to store, use or return energy to the grid
In a short film presented at the International Motor Show in Geneva this week, the two companies showed how electric vehicles could work more efficiently with urban power grids.
Their vision of the future imagines how residential parking bays could wirelessly charge electric vehicles while their owners sleep, then connect to the home’s energy grid to power lighting and domestic appliances.
The Japanese car-maker is already trialling a vehicle-to-grid system in Europe, which could enable vehicles to operate as individual energy hubs that are able to store, use or return clean energy to the grid.
‘Integrating zero-emission technologies into the built environment is vital in creating smarter, more sustainable cities,’ says David Nelson, co-head of design at Foster + Partners.
Coca-Cola is routinely urged by health experts and anti-obesity campaign groups to do more to tackle obesity rates worldwide. Often threatened with soda tax to convince people not to buy their products.
In response, Coke has launched new variants and introduce smaller cans as well as promote healthier lifestyles in both its marketing and sponsorships.
Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s chief executive last month penned an article in the Wall Street Journal in which he pledged the company will “do a better job” of being transparent about its research into sugar after being accused of deceiving the public about its support of scientific research.
“We will also continue our work to provide more choices, in smaller pack sizes, in more communities—waters, lower-calorie and lower-sugar drinks, diet soda and zero-calorie drinks,” he added.
A 20th century business can succeed if they redefine success.
An intensifying source of pressure on companies of all kinds is the rise of competitors willing to sacrifice profits for growth. (Frequently they are family-owned or state-owned companies that have achieved massive scale in emerging markets.)
Alcoa affected by the cost advantage achieved by giant Chinese aluminum smelters
So, Alcoa split into two companies:
1. a high-tech materials business
2. a commodity aluminum producer (Alcoa’s commodity business was dragging down the whole company)
As emerging-market companies increase their share of global business—they’re now about 30% of the Fortune Global 500—the profit pressure will increase.
This looks like the platform model… BASF has an incubator:
BASF New Business GmbH: track down long-term trends and innovative subjects in industry and society, analyze their growth potential and check whether these potential new business areas fit in well with BASF. We develop subjects we find suitable into new growth fields for the company. Growth fields is the term we use for innovation topics that we derive from the future trends for a variety of industries and that rely on chemical innovations for their sustained development.
This satisfies 2/3 of Jim Collins' Good to Great 3 Circles:
1. What we're passionate about
2. What we can be the best in the world at
3. What drives your economic engine
BASF expects these growth fields to show high sales potential by 2020.
In line with BASF’s “We create chemistry” strategy, BASF New Business GmbH is taking its cues from the market and is structured similarly to an operating division:
The "Scouting & Incubation" unit identifies, evaluates and develops new businesses.
The "Business Build up" unit is responsible for developing new growth fields.
BASF New Business GmbH is supported in its activities by BASF Venture Capital GmbH. This subsidiary invests in startup to bring innovative technologies for novel materials closer to BASF.
Developments of new materials must help to enhance the quality of life or protect our environment.
Dialog and cooperation with partners
Discussions and cooperation with in-house and third-party partners and customers help us to bring innovations to fruition faster. This is why we maintain a global dialog with a range of partners and expand our network of experts through different forms of cooperation. While a project is still in its early phases we will partner up with universities, research institutes and enterprises. BASF New Business GmbH and its partners are also working to develop new business activities in projects that are publicly subsidized.
Published Sep 2015, viewed 622,000 times as of 4 April 2016.
"We look at how chemistry can benefit everyday life and some of the solutions that can help people and the environment progress and coexist symbiotically."
Ford + "maker" movement = marriage of an iconic 20th-century industrial giant and a decidedly 21st-century approach to product design and incubation
TechShop Detroit opened 2012: a fabrication workshop and design incubator developed in partnership with Ford Global Technologies, a division of the Ford Motor Company.
TechShop launched its first workshop in Menlo Park, California in 2006:
Ford's role in launching TechShop Detroit? Ford encourages its own employees to make use of the facility for after-hours projects or to design new features for Ford vehicles.
All Ford employees and retirees qualify for a 50 percent discount on TechShop Detroit membership, and free three-month memberships are handed out to employees who submit inventions that are deemed "worthy of patent consideration."
"Our partnership with TechShop will connect Ford to the community of local innovators, and spark imagination that could be the solution to problems that we couldn’t solve before, or develop all new ideas that are answers to questions we weren’t even asking.
In the future open innovation will play an incredibly important role in the progression of our company." — Ford Global Technologies CEO Bill Coughlin
Initially, mobile + permanent pop-up industrial workshops
+ other GE Garages partners:
Skillshare, an online learning platform
Quirky, which brings new product ideas to market
Inventables, which supplies materials and hardware for DIY manufacturing
MAKE, publishers of MAKE Magazine and organizers of Maker Faire events (more at www.makerfaire.com)
"Refreshingly Honest and Funny Recruiting Ads"
GE founded by Thomas Edison, known as the manufacturing company
= biggest recruiting challenge they face at the moment.
Solution: GE Digital + new goal: to be one of the world’s 10 largest software companies by 2020they are having trouble recruiting tech talent, see them as a manufacturing company, not a tech company.
Solution: ad campaign that directly takes on that issue.
The ads are built around “Owen,” GE Digital's latest hire. And the company will continue to feature Owen beyond the commercials, including actually bringing the actor through onboarding last week.
“Owen is the embodiment of this fresh new way of thinking and exploring endless possibilities,” Amber Grewal, GE’s Head of Global Digital Technology Recruiting said. “And really passionate about doing what really matters.”
This is what theGE Digital has been running other employer branding campaigns as well through social media, although this is their biggest initiative to date. The goal is not just to raise awareness of GE’s software division, but to also brand it as an exciting place to work.
“We want to change the perception that we are this big corporate company,” Grewal said. “We are fun, we are lively, and we build software that makes a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”
The results so far have been impressive. Anecdotally, Grewal said she’s talked with candidates who applied to GE right after seeing the ads, and so far the videos have generated more than 400,000 views on YouTube.
“It’s working,” Grewal said. “There’s a buzz, there’s a vibe. People always tell me it’s their favorite commercial.”
Goal: to transform the industrial world through software, much in the same way the consumer Internet has been transformed.
"Software will be a key center point to managing a power plant or managing an airline or managing a rail company. We believe the industrial world is going to change and look more like the consumer Internet." — Bill Ruh, vice president, GE Software
GE is partnering with venture capitalists to revamp old-school industrial products with software.
A team from GE Software and GE Ventures has launched an incubator program in partnership with venture capital firm Frost Data Capital to build 30 in-house startups during the next three years that willadvance the "Industrial Internet," a term GE coined. The companies will be housed in Frost's incubator facility in Southern California.
By nurturing startups that build analytical software for machines from jet engines to wind turbines, the program, called Frost I3, aims to dramatically improve the performance of industrial products in sectors from aviation to healthcare to oil and gas.
Unlike most incubator programs, GE and Frost Data are creating the companies from scratch, providingfunding and access to GE's network of 5,000 research assistants and 8,000 software professionals.
The program has already launched five startups in the past 60 days.
Example: wind turbines.
Combine weather data with operational data to analyze the efficiency of wind turbines and change the curvature of blades--a move that will yield as much as 5 percent additional electricity.
Example: jet engine.
"By making machines intelligent [and] collecting data and analytics, we can foundationally change how resources are used, like fuel burn on a jet aircraft engine. If you can get rid of 40 percent of all airline delays due to mechanical errors, that's a huge win for both the consumer and the airline."— Bill Ruh, vice president at GE Software
Stuart Frost, chief executive officer of Frost Data Capital, estimates the savings that come out of the program could over time reach into the trillions.
"In a lot of these areas you're talking about $100 billion a year in unplanned down time, like in oil and gas. In healthcare it's a trillion a year lost in unfortunate outcomes for patients." — Stuart Frost, chief executive officer of Frost Data Capital
Take Wells Fargo, the 164-year-old banking corp. Its solution: radical change, with the times. If hadn't created mobile app five years ago, it would be out of business, saidCEO and Chairman John Stumpf.
"Today half our customers are mobile and, not only are they only on mobile, that’s their predominant use.If we weren’t on mobile, we would be out of business. And that’s just in five years" — John Stumpf, CEO and Chairman
most important thing for their companies is to constantly be reinventing yourself.
"The companies that are most enduring and have the best opportunity in the future are those that can reinvent in a way that’s managed chaos," — Stumpf
Or take IBM, 100+ year old company.
2014: IBM's systems and technology business, which sells mainframes, servers, and other hardware, fell 26 percent to $4.3 billion in the fourth quarter, while cloud-related revenue rose 69 percent to $4.4 billion.
IBM sold its PC business years to Lenovo in 2005, in its first big move away from computer hardware. Also got rid of x86 server business, not making semiconductor chips.
Getting rid of old products is not a new strategy for IBM. Over the years, the company has spun off typewriters, copiers, printers, satellite communications, networking services, and hard disk drives, as well as PCs, servers, and perhaps now chips.
"Reinvention is not about protecting your past. We did hardware for 60 years. Don't protect your past, and don't define yourself as a product." — Gina Rometty, IBM CEO
As "Lex," the influential but anonymous columnist for the Financial Times, puts it: "When IBM sees profit draining away, it sells, and its timing is usually good."
Digital not enough: all companies will be digital
Cloud, big data, mobility,
Future: cognitive is the future, esp intelligence platform Watson and its applications.
"The people who influence us the most are outside. They take complexity and make it simple. That has a huge influence. If we can’t tell a customer exactly what is in their account after a 25 year relationship with them, but they can ask Google and find out something in 3 nanoseconds, how would we look?" — Stumpf
IBM's application business behind SAP and Oracle, ahead of Microsoft (excluding sales of Office)
Show at Milan Design Week
Show at SXSW
The Internet of Things (IoT) has huge implications for business model innovation
It means we have to fundamentally rethink value creation and value capture
Value creation, ie, performing activities that increase the value of a company’s offering and encourage customer willingness to pay, is the heart of any business model.
In traditional product companies, creating value meant identifying enduring customer needs and manufacturing well-engineered solutions. Competition was largely feature-versus-feature warfare. And when feature innovation eventually proved to be too incremental, price competition would ensue, and products would become obsolete.
Two hundred and fifty years after the start of the Industrial Revolution (in 1760), this plays out every day, every time you see a next generation product and want to get it.
Now: in a connected world, products are no longer "one-and-done".
Examples that highlight new possibilities for IoT-based value creation:
"With the IoT, you can really look at how the customer looks at an experience—from when I’m walking through a store, buying a product, and using it—and ultimately f igure out what more can I do with it and what service can renew the experience and give it new life.” — Albert Shum, Partner Director of UX Design at Microsoft
Connecting to the cloud forces a new mindset around value capture, the monetization of customer value.
Before: as Michael Porter described in Competitive Strategy, there were three generic strategies:
OK, for some industries, those basic strategies still hold true today.
But in industries that are becoming connected, differentiation, cost, and focus are no longer mutually exclusive. rather, they can be mutually reinforcing in creating and capturing value. If your company is an incumbent firm that built its kingdom through a traditional product-based business model, be concerned as your competition and disruption-minded start-ups take advantage of the IoT.
(This section on IoT is from Gordon Hui, who leads the Business Design & Strategy practice at Smart Design.)
Example of what IoT will mean: predictive ordering or "cognitive commerce"
The internet of things will know what your customers want before they know.
“With the internet of things and cognitive technology, more of our gadgets will intuitively know when they need filling up, when things are out of date, when we need deliveries.” — Lucie Greene, worldwide director of trends, JWT Intelligence
The internet of things also means supply chain managers can plan effectively, get a greater insight into consumers’ preferences and offer a better service.
This research inspired and informed by:
To hear how this all holds together — and other details like the rise of B corporations — and what this means for you, get in touch.