At the risk of sounding like a soap box preacher, I am nervous.
This isn’t the excited type of nervousness you feel as you try something for the first time. This is a deep-set, pit of the stomach nervousness that comes with the realisation that New Zealand businesses are continuing to operate like it is 2010.
This is the era of exponential technologies where winner takes all. Fast followers lose and data is king. This is the year of automation, the development of intangible assets, machine learning and cybersecurity.
While a continued and absolute focus on the financial return to shareholders may feel like a responsible approach, you are playing with fire. A lack of business commitment to continued progress will soon become the riskiest endeavour imaginable. There will be no chance of a replay and no opportunity to be a successful late entrant. While you sit at your board table arguing the virtues of your new CRM system and the success of your social media channel, an entire industry of fast-moving, highly agile start-ups are moving rapidly into your domain.
These are not start-ups in the traditional sense. These are not teams of inexperienced entrepreneurs, but rather deliberately curated teams of experts headed by proven leaders who have their eyes on a new prize.
The ‘prize’ these new disruptive leaders seek is easy to find. What they want to do is take away business from the legacy companies who continue to trade on ‘what was’, and who see the future as a reflection of the past.
These new business disruptors are stealth operators who launch and thrive in any sector – from professional services to infrastructure, retail to education. These disruptors are superbly skilled at gaining advantage by stripping away the constraints of infrastructure, dated assets and legacy thinking.
The leaders in these new exponential businesses build all companies as though they are software companies. They use online platforms to connect customers to services and products are connected end-to-end via distributed digital channels.
They invest in automation, in data analytics and highly-skilled staff. They are free from the burden of tradition and the weight of stagnant or redundant skills. They are well resourced, have progressive boards, and they play the first mover card in every situation.
While we sit in this fine land of Aotearoa, these disruptors know no boundaries. They will find refuge, customers and love in any global location. They will be flexible, affordable and adaptable. While you fire up your database, your clients will already have jumped ship to the challenger and left you in the dust.
Wake up New Zealand. There is little to see while you keep your head in the sand. There is no prize for being the fastest to fall or the easiest to topple. As stated by the NZ Institute of Economic Research, nearly half of the jobs in New Zealand are at high risk of automation. Why are we pretending it will affect everyone else but not us?
Even organisations associated with technology are peddling fast against progress. As an example, the value of mobile messaging app Whatsapp per employee at the time of its sale to Facebook in 2014 was $345.5 million. Compare that to tried and tested international telco Vodafone and you get just $1.4 million per employee, according to Gartner.
Timing is everything in this fast moving world. The average lifespan of a company on today’s S&P index is just 15 years. It wasn’t that long ago that companies were around for decades.
While the scale and rate of progress may all feel overwhelming, there is no argument left that justifies ‘fear of failure’ as a just reason for sitting still.
If we are bold, innovative and responsive we can be a remarkable country of progressive global contributors and creators who lead on the world stage. We can contribute to and build a robust economy that provides the very best options for the future.
Make today the day that you sit down with your team to develop a growth mind-set, freed from the burden of risk and the past.
Make today the day when you reward and encourage innovative thinking and the adoption of new technologies that increase productivity and provide a competitive edge.
Make today the first step of your tomorrow business. Your future you and your employees will thank you for facing the fear.
Frances Valintine is founder and chairperson of The Mind Lab by Unitec, a public-private partnership which aims to educate children and teachers about digital technologies. In January 2016 she founded Tech Futures Lab, a technology education programme aimed at business leaders.