Disruption: 2016 into 2017

12 Dec 2016

Disruption: 2016 into 2017

Alan Mumby explores the extraordinary events of 2016 & the outlook for 2017

For many, 2016 has been a year of unparalleled change, some good, much not. Syria no longer really exists as a nation and its people have been slaughtered in large part; millions of desperate refugees from many nations have migrated westwards often in vain; Britain has withdrawn from the EEC and is knuckling down to a new order; and amazingly Donald Trump has acceded to the seat of power in the world’s most powerful nation.

Trump was elected because the middle American felt forgotten, ignored or abused by a globalised, techno-driven world and coastally oriented economy. Brexit largely seems to have occurred for much the same reason. Feelings of not being included. Not being on the globo-digi gravy train. Someone else eating your lunch. Change beyond your control.

A colleague of mine yesterday pointed out that we are reverting to local, to the tribe. Scientifically proven we can only really handle 150 friends at a time, this is magically also the maximum village size from the stone ages. Today however we have thousands of “friends” on social media but do they count as much as the core 150 – hardly? So we start to feel unsatisfied and removed from direct connection. We gravitate to a new social order, or rather a very, very old one.

As we put this summary together we are also being inundated with CVs from those who have been restructured or transformed out of jobs, often from companies where many years of service have been put in. Not new – it happens regularly, but this is different. This is happening when the economic cycle has more or less recovered from 2008. It is not about weak economics it is about fundamental technological-driven change. Rise of the Robots sort of stuff and again, change beyond personal control in large part.

The ability to conceive of new ways of doing things that disintermediates people, process or even companies and organisations is in full flow. More people are being “dislocated”. This is bizarrely a good thing at its core as new opportunities offer renewal, but it brings bad with it. It brings the tidal wave of those seeking such new opportunities, shed from the old ways, and the worry and concern that abounds with them until new positions are, if ever, found.

So a seismic shift is occurring that takes a status quo and upends it.

Where are those new opportunities however and what do they entail? Well, it does genuinely seem as if the “gig economy” is a strong part of this. Maybe a driver, maybe a consequence. Small, possibly part-time, variable risk “opportunities” often using social media connections to attract like-minded souls. As Head-hunters we are rightly disintermediated out of this process in the main as cost models rarely include professional fees. In time, however, some of these opportunities will bloom and become next year’s corporates whose horizons do require working with firms like our own. The very technologies that move us on may be our salvation if only we can get to grips with them. We connect with our tribe as a first step to finding a new role.

I went to Marlborough College Autumn Fair a few weeks ago and it powerfully struck me that there is a whole economy out there about which I know very little. Having prided myself on broad economic nous since university I suddenly realised that there are layers upon layers of business and entrepreneurialism that I don’t really know. I was especially struck by the twentysomething brother and sister who produce Sibling Gin, which having a little nip or two, turns out to be very clean and refreshing and highly palatable. If only the bottle poured properly it would be a real winner. ( I am sure they will overcome that small issue in due course). These two have energy and direction and commitment that most employers would die for. But they are their own employer – doing their own “gig” for now and pleasing both themselves and their no-doubt loyal customers. And they were but one supplier on show out of 50 or 60. Most of the stalls had ready wi-fi or cellular-equipped card machines, websites, email and newsletters etc. Their CRM is well advanced in many cases and the whole Fair was marvellously infectious.

The digital economy along with globalisation has created a force of fragmentation and transformation that knocks people out of comfortable places and forces them into new adaptations. There is renewal available. This is good news. It is a net positive gain to the social fabric and made possible by new technology. Some of these will be the business titans of tomorrow if they want to be. They can choose.

Of course, not everybody can cope with such a need to change. There is often real loss and despondency occasioned in some who cannot change for whatever reason. There is, therefore, a suggestion that we had all better learn new skills quickly so we can survive the inevitable transformation of most of our lives. Pre-equip yourself for renewal. Let's inspect that possibility.

First things first who are you – can you get hold of a good skills/attributes inventory that is more or less the real you? Understanding who you are is vital but only if you are honest. Here is a way to make a good stab at that.

What have you achieved to date? What are the six or seven great things you have achieved in your life? ( not really meaning ethereal things like lovely children etc. ) meaning what tangible work-related goals are you most proud of. Now one by one, consider each achievement and what about you made it happen? Were you so determined you would not give up? Did you assemble and lead a great team? Were you just so bright you could see and shape the opportunity that nobody else did? In a world of casual behaviour did you rigorously follow the methodology and deliver what others couldn’t? So, given six or so achievements you should be able to arrive at an inventory of adjectives of your attributes that you use when being good at your job.These are yours. You being your best. So now you have insights into yourself, possibly the first honest perspectives on yourself for a while. Put this to one side for a while and then we can consider what else you may need on your list if it's not there already. What does the new “gig” economy seem to need?

  • Change and how to control it. Track. Note. Discipline. Order. Lists. Organisation. Flexibility. Attention to detail.
  • Mobility. “Anytime, anyplace , anywhere” as has been said.
  • Creativity and how to muster it. Read widely, study, be passionate about something, investigate. Try things. Fail. Many times.
  • Network assiduously and make contacts. Don’t burn bridges, Develop EQ in buckets.
  • Delegate feverishly, but effectively, and monitor and track. Focus on outcomes. Don’t mind how – do mind what. Don’t try and do it all yourself. Use your network. Share.

Of course, if you look at these activities you can also envisage adopting them or adapting them in your corporate life. These are the entrepreneurial drivers we often say we want in our new recruits but are often institutionally unable to cope with. Now, however, the millennials joining our organisations will expect this or a similar set of behaviours. Organisations will start to become renewed. To change more than they ever did.

To survive this, one has to adapt. The pace of change will make this very hard for some at a corporate level and at an individual level as well. Tired corporations pointing the wrong way with the wrong style are likely to wither and die. The life cycle of organisations may well become shorter. Like the animals featured in documentaries on television, like the animal curiosities and the unique around the world, this is a form of Darwinian development about adapting to circumstances and survival of the fittest. Only quicker than natural evolution. Man’s innate ability to innovate and leverage the work of others through globalised knowledge sharing is moving the world faster than much of its populous can cope with.

So as we gyrate into 2017 in a revolving and often spinning world, it strikes us that each of us will face new challenges and grasp them with variable success. The key lesson is "get stuff done and do it quickly." Collaborate rather than compete as an initial instinct. Try and be sensitive to those who are struggling with change, what would it cost you to help them? Watch the millennials and their approaches and get used to the “gig economy” it’s all around. Technological change is accelerating so do ask every day, “what if…..”. Try and understand it rather than eschew it.