Dave Wild checks the rear vision mirror on 2010 and identifies some of the critical change-shifts in business on the road ahead. Before setting off on any journey, it’s important to be clear on where you’re heading and to have some idea as to how to get there. Unless, of course, you don’t care where you end up! Business is no different. Businesses without major aspirations seem happy to leave their progress up to chance. But for businesses focused on reaching significant goals, the beginning of the year marks a critical time. It’s time to review and update your strategic plan – which in some cases means dusting off a long forgotten document or resolving to create the well overdue first version. Strategic planning involves stepping back to review where your business is now, evaluating the opportunities ahead and then setting clear goals and strategies for achieving them. With the world moving so fast around us, agile businesses no longer think of strategic planning as an annual event. Strategy has shifted from being an event to becoming an ongoing process. Taking time to consistently review the big picture has now become a mission critical process. A critical step in the strategic planning process is to look beyond the edges of your own industry; to identify major changes and innovations occurring in the world around you. Because, as important as it is, looking at your own industry identifies what your competitors also know. But looking further afield allows you to identify game-changing shifts before they arrive – to enable your business to lead the change, rather than being left behind when it occurs. From music to travel, history has consistently shown the importance of identifying and responding to change before your customers leave you behind. The key point is that these changes don’t happen overnight. In fact, they generally occur over a number of years. But for businesses that either fail to identify or refuse to adapt to change ahead of time, the impact on their business can seem to happen all too quickly. So what does 2011 hold? One of the best ways is to look back at the year gone by. Significant change is occurring around us on a daily basis. So rather than thinking of strategic planning as being an annual event – because a lot happens in a year – every quarter take the time to step back and reassess your business, your customers and competitors, and the fast-changing world we’re all a part of. But when looking at change around you, take the time to look further. Go behind the scenes and see what’s really going on. See what strategies are being used to create change and then how you can potentially apply the same principles to accelerate the progress of your own business. Looking back at the last quarter of 2010, three critical shifts start to become clear: Shift 1: Location, location, location 2010 is the year that business really began to mobilise: 300,000 Apps, the Cloud, iPad, Android – everywhere you look businesses and their customers are on the move. But to think the shift is just about mobile devices would be missing the bigger picture. Just as the move to the Internet was more about changing when and how we do business, mobility is about continuing to shift where we do it. Visionary entrepreneurs are redefining the boundaries for business. For example, Jay-Z – who in 2010 became the world’s wealthiest hip hop artist and shared his insights on business with Warren Buffett – continues to shift the way we consume media. When launching his new book ‘Decoded’ last year, he challenged the convention of when, how and where we connect with our audiences. While Amazon now sells more e-books than printed books on a regular basis, Jay-Z has shifted things a step further. He released the pages of his book one at a time, in different locations all over the world from New York to London – across billboards, in swimming pools and on hamburger wrappers – encoding the information so that a community of followers competed to locate and decode his lyrics as the story unfolded. Shift 2: Zero-in Despite the fact that the rise of smartphones now enables us to access information from anywhere, we’re no longer amazed by having access to the world’s information at our fingertips. With a Google for “business” now returning over two trillion pages, the need is now for less information not more – quality not quantity. A shift to ‘binging’ for information instead of ‘googling’ for it makes life slightly easier – but with Microsoft’s Bing returning well over 60 million pages for “business” that’s still quite a bit of reading to do.
Smart businesses are capitalising on this need for focus. For example, when Richard Branson announced in the past few months that they were now expanding into hotels, the Virgin team realised that their target market was short on time. So, as well as an information rich website, direct from the homepage they made a summary pack available. In just two short pages communicating all the key facts to potential business partners. Shift 3: Create a platform No round-up of 2010 would be complete without a look at the shifts in social media. For many people Facebooking has now replaced emailing as their primary communication channel. For those that have already made the shift there’s nothing surprising about this. But for others this seems hard to believe. Until you start to think about the fact that it’s still just about looking at a screen to receive information – but now using a different application – and the shift is ultimately less radical than the move from paper to digital that’s already occurred. Given that email is now almost as old an invention as the lava lamp, we’re well overdue for a shift to occur. And over 500 million people can’t be wrong. Even when you look behind the statistics – which all too often are used to mislead – over 50 percent of those 500 million people are Facebooking on a daily basis, so a change has definitely taken hold. And that’s before you even take into account all the businesses busy Tweeting and LinkingIn. But the bigger picture is the underlying business model of social media sites such as Facebook. They make money not just by tracking our likes and personal interactions – which marketers then pay to reach us in a highly targeted way – but by providing a platform for other businesses to build on which, in turn, fuels their growth. For example, in the past year – just as Apple became the largest technology company in the world, surpassing both Microsoft and Google – social gaming business Zynga shifted past Electronic Arts, once the titans of the gaming industry. They achieved this by creating the virtual worlds of Farmville and Mafia Wars for the ever-increasing audience of millions of Facebookers. And with Facebook now representing the third largest population in the world, trailing only China and India, it challenges the convention of what it means to export. So the question is, are you building a business – or is there now a much bigger opportunity to also create the platform?