Being Opportunistic in a Volatile World
Last week my post drew considerable attention, perhaps because of its shock value at a time when the news was truly shocking. While the tsunami was a natural disaster, the response on the part of the Tokyo Electric Company was a human calamity. Lack of preparation will invariably lead to unintended consequences, if you are managing a nuclear power plant or any other business.
The reverse is also true. The entrepreneur capable of understanding seemingly unrelated external forces, and weaving them into a thoughtful strategy, will clearly realize strategic advantage. How might the strategist consider social, technological, economic, ecological and political factors to gain insight on how to take advantage of ever changing market conditions?
Scenario planning is a methodology whereby the entrepreneur considers converging factors that (in combination) creates a tipping point. Consider some of the following predictions, based on facts already in evidence today.
In the next decade, we are likely to see:
Predicative Modeling-Cloud computing enables the migration and cross-referencing of large institutional databases. For example, actuaries, using sophisticated algorithms are able to model ailments based on lifestyle choices monitored in real time. They are able to calculate your risk of a heart attack based on which smoothie you tend to order at Jamba Juice, your frequency of exercise, prescriptions you use, etc. Offered as a benefit of a health care plan, the member is offered incentives to opt-in and receive preferential rates. Such tools slow down rampant health care inflation.
A Cashless Society-The majority of transactions amongst big banks are managed by exchanges where no money actually changes hands. Coins of small denomination are nearing extinction. Today, you can download an iPhone app that serves as a debit card, and can be swiped within Starbucks locations. For most transactions, cash is already irrelevant.
Smart Infrastructure- Automobiles come preinstalled with all of the features of an iPad (the 2011 Hyundai Equus will come with one) and all the benefits of the internet. Smart grids control the flow of traffic, directing drivers to particular lanes at a given speed to optimize drive time and reduce accidents. Traffic signals are regulated based on traffic volume. Sensors predict bridge and rail failures.
Of course, rapid change will occur in every industry, and the strategist must weigh various opportunities based on an organization’s ability to take advantage of them. As a general rule, organizations should seek to achieve scale and reach within its core (at least 30% market share) before expanding into new endeavors. As Jim Collins points out in his sequel to Good to Great (How the Mighty Fall), many companies fail because of an “Undisciplined Pursuit of More”. In their zeal for diversification they often leap too far from their core competency.
Each opportunity must be assessed within the context of the organization’s resources, bandwidth, and human capital. For every opportunity there is a cost, and an opportunity cost. To pursue any new opportunity an organization must leverage resources which dilutes focus on the core business. Choose your opportunities carefully.