Part 3: Live Smart or Die

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Part 3

The Lessons of the Recent Past Are Clear: Live Smart or Die

28th September 2016


In the latest part of the Grayling Advantage Series, we explore the challenges and opportunities for organizations grappling with seismic technological change. Lead author, Danica Ross sets the scene.

Working with some of the most exciting businesses emerging from Silicon Valley, we see it every day: Technology is changing everything about the way we live. Our working patterns, the way we order food, even the way we meet potential partners – all have been subject to massive behavioral change in recent years, driven largely by technology that we hold in our hands, whose power far exceeds that which propelled man to the moon.

But this kind of smart technology has more far-reaching implications than simply making it easier to get home at night or order a pizza. It has the potential to change the way whole societies operate, from easing pressure on public services, to conserving energy, to improving the effectiveness of the emergency services, to easing, or even abolishing completely, traffic congestion.

This is no pipe dream. Tech giants and start-ups alike are responsible for solutions that can bring these changes about; in the US, Federal funds are being made available to accelerate the process of making so-called ‘smart cities’ a reality; and other countries across the world are pursuing similar policies.

And commerce is changing, too. We now have a whole generation of people for whom cash is dead, and whether it’s PayPal, Bitcoin or some other yet-to-be-invented virtual currency, the way in which commerce takes place is undergoing seismic shifts.

There can be little doubt that businesses and other organizations that do not embrace these new technologies and stake a place in the lives of ‘smarter citizens’ will fall by the wayside. Just ask the folks who used to run Blockbuster.

Future-gazing is fraught with challenges, of course, and in ‘Live Smart or Die’ we are not attempting to pick the companies that will be the next Uber; if I could do that I would be a tech billionaire myself by now! Rather, by taking into account not just technological shifts, but demographic ones, we have identified ‘Four Tensions’ that we believe will define the next decade, and with which organizations – commercial and otherwise – will have to grapple in order to survive in the long term.

The Four Tensions

We’ll be exploring each of these in a little more depth in the coming days. The Four Tensions we have identified are:

  • Aging vs Youth: The first is a demographic trend: People are living longer. Hold the front page, I know this is not news. But what will be significant in the next 10 years or so is the divide between those of working age and those who have retired. A smaller proportion of the former will be required to sustain the retirements of the latter. And the millennial generation do not exactly see things the same way as older cohorts, placing more emphasis on work-life balance than on traditional career paths. This will brings challenges – the need for ‘non-traditional’ workplace structures, for example. But there is also a huge opportunity for brands to cater to a large audience of people with plenty of time on their hands.

  • Innovation vs Regulation: This is a recurring theme, one we touched upon in our recent Regulatory Convergence study. The fact is that lawmakers cannot keep up with technological advances, and struggle with their borderless nature. With innovations like the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming a reality, this will be brought into sharp relief, as the policy wonks and politicians struggle with the preservation of personal (and national) security, without being a dead hand on progress. And businesses need to be in the thick of it, on Capitol Hill, in Brussels and elsewhere, being heard, and shaping that regulation.

  • Speed vs Structure: How quickly we have all got used to same-day deliveries, to ordering an Uber or Lyft rather than standing in the rain searching for a taxi, to having whatever we want, right now. Technology enables this, particularly innovations in logistics, which are largely unseen but are no less remarkable than the tech that powers the apps of which we are so fond. But with more and more of us living in larger and larger cities, will our streets be clogged with driverless cars? Our skies full of drones delivering packages from Amazon or ASOS? As yet un-thought of innovations will doubtless help ease this pressure, but how will businesses operating in the on-demand economy respond responsibly, and be seen to be doing so?

  • Me vs AI: Artificial Intelligence (AI) probably has more capacity than any other innovation to change significantly the way we work and live. Many functions are already being assumed by algorithm-driven technology, and smart automation could take over many white collar jobs, as well as production tasks. The potential commercial and societal benefits are enormous, but the tension between man and machine is one with which all organizations will need to grapple in the coming years.

We are not suggesting this is a definitive list of the themes of the next decade – but it’s a start. There are other challenges, of course – economic, political, environmental – and those too form part of the debate. A debate we welcome others to join. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can email Danica Ross at danica.ross@grayling.com


Danica Ross

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