The Morph Corp—the trend to 2040

Wednesday I spent the day at Vistage International’s annual All-City meeting in Seattle. The keynote speaker was noted futurist David Houle, author of The Shift Age (2006) and ShiftEd: A Call to Action for Transforming K-12 (2011). Houle’s presentation explored existing trends and extrapolated them into the near future. From these, projections of interest to business were explored and discussed.

Of notable interest to me were the discussions of current trends and their impact on leadership and management requirements through the end of the decade.

In Houle’s view, the conditions that affect business today include:

  1. Obsolescence of information gatekeepers: All significant information is now, or very soon will be, easily accessible to anyone with a smart phone. Result: Trying to withhold or contain critical news and information will not be possible.
  2. Disintermediation: As information becomes broadly accessible, the role of (information) middlemen will disappear. Result: Consumers will be able to circumvent what were closely held databases (e.g., Multiple Listing Services, airline schedules, etc.)
  3. Power shifts to the people: With more complete access to current information, consumers have more control over if, when and how their transactions take place.  Result: Revenue streams become less reliable as sales channels shift overnight.
  4. High touch/high tech workplaces: Millennials and “digital natives” (those born into a world with computers, wi-fi, cell phones and instant access to information via the internet) are more comfortable with collaborative (versus hierarchical) decision-making and they have greater technical fluency. Result: The nature of management will change from plan-driven to collaboration-supported responsiveness while at the same time life (as well as the tools of business) will increase in technical complexity.
  5. Intellectual Property (IP) becomes the differentiator: In a world where consumers migrate quickly to changes in price and terms, IP (brands, trademarks, and unique, localized, or customized products and services) will draw and retain market share. Result: Relevant IP, that consumers both need and can identify with, becomes the dominant barrier to entry and the only way to build and protect an organization’s revenue streams.

These points have powerful implications for successful companies

Houle sums it up with the term “The Morph Corp.” Fixed corporate structures, business plans, and forecast-driven decision-making will be replaced with company structures characterized by on-going, collaborative reorganization. To be resilient and flexible, companies will respond quickly and absorb changes in the marketplace. The leadership will be far more in touch with customers in order to make sure that the company’s IP is, and remains, a key factor in customers’ behavior.

Most importantly, owners and senior managers will embrace, include, nurture and empower the rising talent of the millennials and digital natives. Their skills, interests and attitudes will be needed to successfully lead highly flexible, highly connected enterprises.

If you are not already doing it, look inside your organizations and find significant and meaningful projects that young, rising stars can own and execute. Keep them engaged and committed. Learn from them, and lead with them.