Key Drivers of Change
As a futurist I am often asked what the future will look like. Apart from the fact that there are many possible futures, presenting one view of the future limits people’s thinking.
I would much rather talk about multiple futures and the major drivers that will shape those futures. This is because the audience I am talking to can then take away that information, critically review it and how it applies to their own circumstances as things change. This provides far more value.
One of the frameworks that we use to look at what might happen is the Three Tees – Technology, Trust, and Transparency. These three are shaping change but they are also interacting with each and changing each other as we move into the future. This is how I think about them:
Despite the fact that people love to get their hands on new technology I see technology as secondary in the processes that are driving change. If we look at the IT and telecommunications (ITC) area of technology as an example, we have moved from single function devices to technology platforms. A smartphone is essentially a portable mini-computer and people are building different applications and using those applications in different ways every day. This means that the technology is the ticket to play in the game, not the main game itself. It is what is built on top of the technology that counts.
However the ITC technology is fundamentally changing the world in other ways as well. The technology is driving connections all over the world that mean anything that can be digitised can be moved around cheaply and easily and processed in the most effective place. It is also allowing mobility of communications, work and play that are altering how and where we use the technology.
What is really driving change is the social application of technology. Kevin Kelly, the author of What Technology Wants says social use of technology is making prediction of what might happen very difficult. You might produce a piece of technology or an application to be used on that technology and have a view about how that might be used. Once that technology or application is in the hands of 5 million people they will all have different thoughts on how it might be used and they will innovate in ways you never thought of.
So social use of technology is increasing levels of innovation and change and how that is shaped is largely being driven by trust. If someone I trust recommends that I try an application on my iPad I am likely to do it. In order to populate that iPad with useful applications when I first played with it I reached out to people that I know and trust through email, through Twitter, and via Tumblr the micro-blogging site that we use. That behaviour is being replicated all over the world through social networks, cafe rating sites, hotel complaint sites, etc. If someone I know and trust, or someone who is connected to someone I know and trust tells me something is great I am far more likely to try it. If they give the same business or product a bad rating I am likely to avoid it. Humans have done this for thousands of years; the technology is just amplifying the behaviour and widening the network of people who can take notice. This brings us to transparency.
The combination of social networks and the technology that is enabling them is rapidly increasing the level of transparency occurring in all aspects of our lives. Here are just a few examples:
- You can now use your mobile phone to read bar codes and product labels and get information on that product before you buy it. There are services available that will also give you a price comparison on the same product for shops in your area based on your location being recorded by GPS on your phone.
- Just recently Real Time Farms has been started by an engineer from Google who describes the service as:
“Real Time Farms is a crowd-sourced, online food guide, and we’re all about connecting you to fresh sources of food — items you can trust, whether eating in or out,” he explains. “We aim to be the IMDB of food transparency.”
This is opening up where food comes from and displaying it in easy ways for people to find out and also share information with people in that network.
Another start up in the transparency area is www.Gri.pe where people can post up their complaints about products and services and seek to have them addressed. The key to this site is that it shows those complaints to all the connections that people have. I recently looked at a complaint that a consultant I know put on their site and it reports the complaint was influencing 487,000 people. Now I am sure that the real number that is influenced is lower than that but it is still a substantial number.
So the technology is enabling connections and forming a platform to build applications on. The social use of that technology is changing how the technology and applications are being used. One of the prime outcomes from this is a rapid change in the transparency we all face and a lot of that change is being driven by the levels of trust we feel for people , products, or organisations. So why is that important.
What Does This Mean and What Should You Do?
I think that these changes are primarily for the good. What they will do is provide greater reward for good behaviour, great service and great products. They will punish bad behaviour and bad products at a much higher level than in the past. They will also mean that branding and marketing will have to change significantly because trusted information and real experiences will become far more important than marketing messages and hype.
This will apply to small business, large business, not for profit organisations, and government alike. Just think of the example of a not for profit organisation that is not telling the whole truth of what they do, or where only a small proportion of donated money goes to the actual cause. That organisation is at much greater risk of being found out and then that message getting out to a much larger number of people. If this makes people and organisations more likely to behave in an ethical manner then I am all for it.
When I talk to people about these changes their first response is they do not have the time to jump in and be involved in these social networks, monitoring what is being said about them and responding. That they are too busy just getting their day to day jobs done. While I can sympathise with that view my response is:
First and foremost concentrate primarily on providing a great product, a great service, or great customer service. This is more important than ever and its importance will only grow. These social networks and connections will amplify good signals and bad signals alike. You cannot manage them by being on the networks and influencing the conversation. You primarily manage them by delighting your customers.
The conversation about you or your product will happen whether you get involved or not, so not getting involved is not going avoid the issue.
Have a good look at using these sorts of technologies and networks to improve your marketing or reduce the costs of your marketing. I recently attended a presentation from the banana industry. They described how they have managed their marketing in the face of significant reductions of marketing dollars due to the crop damage the industry has faced. Innovative use of social media enabled them to gain more marketing exposure than they had when they had much more money. Necessity is the mother of invention and they freely admit they were forced into an action they should have done earlier and voluntarily.
In this article I have not even touched on the increased competition that technology is bringing to our worlds through global connections and the destruction of business models. More on that later