Big businesses must be ready to ‘radically change’ to survive

Nicole V. Ignacio

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Big businesses must be ready to ‘radically change’ to survive
In a future where cars drive themselves, how does a company like BMW, which engineers 'The Ultimate Driving Machine' stay relevant? Embrace change even if it challenges company tradition, advises Salim Ismail of Singularity University.

MANILA, Philippines – As technological progress accelerates, doors of opportunities for potentially world-changing ideas fling open, left and right. But at what rate, to the boon or bane of whom, and to reveal what about the future?

In a Rappler Talk last Thursday, September 1, Salim Ismail, executive founding director of Silicon Valley think tank Singularity University and co-author of the book Exponential Organizations, addresses those. He talks about where technology is headed, and how everyone must adapt to keep up with tech’s inexorable, rapidly accelerating march.

Faster processing abilities, larger memory capacities, smarter machines, bigger everything, smaller everything – it’s Moore’s Law in action, which says that performance doubles every 18 to 30 months. Because the number doubles, the growth is exponential in nature. We’re hitting a point where the pace has become quite intimidating to keep up with – at the same time, kicking open doors of potential and opportunity like a storm. 

Some though would rather keep those doors shut.

This is where Salim Ismail and his organization comes in. Today’s technological revolution is like 30 Guttenberg moments taking place simultaneously, Ismail says, referring to the game-changing invention of the printing press in the 1500s. It’s a dizzying time everyone – and he is among those seeking to make the transition smoother. 

To silence a storm

There is no other option but to transition and to try to silence this technological storm would be a fool’s errand. “The only option is to keep pace of it. If we can keep ahead of it, and keep pace with this pace of change in order to afford these extraordinary possibilities, then we will solve most of the grand challenges in the world,” Ismail declares.

Prior, he cites former US president George Bush’s decision to restrict funding for stem cell research because of “religious reasons” as a directive that had the US losing a step to the rest of the countries investing in stem cell research. As a result of the restriction, the researchers moved from the US to “China, Australia and Canada,” and the “US went from number 1 to number 8 in the world.” 

Technology moves at its own pace, Ismail posits. Put out or get out. 

Evolution, incomplete

Yet, at this point, people and organizations are still adapting to this technological big bang.  

“You have groups of people [who] can’t take this pace of change,” says Ismail. And the resistance comes from all fronts: government, big business, all the way down to the individual who’s at the very least, wary of change – and at worst, deathly afraid of it. He talks of an immune system response in these entities, which rejects these new elements constantly causing disruption to the established order.

The proper response would be to train this immune system to keep up with the pace of this disruption according to Ismail.  

To be clear, the immune system response is not an enemy. It’s a security measure that scans for potentially destructive organisms being introduced into its host system. Until proven innocent or beneficial, it treats most new elements as a threat – as it should. The problem is that overall, most have not been able to speed up these immune system procedures fast enough to keep up with the tech revolution.

The pressure to adapt threatens many sectors. But it’s especially difficult for large businesses, says Ismail. They’re not as flexible anymore as smaller enterprises and are “set up to be operated efficiently and [with] predictability.” So to keep up, they have “to aggressively change how they think about the world.” 

Homing in, Ismail cites German auto-makers BMW, which built their business by engineering the “ultimate driving machine.” But what value will that tradition have when self-driving cars eventually come out of the garage? Not enough to see the company – and really, any car manufacturer focused merely on driver experience – through the next stage of personal transportation.

RETOOLING. Rapid technological innovation is forcing the evolution of traditional product categories, pressuring brands to rethink their ways of living, and their ethos. Photo by Juni Kriswanto/AFP

For BMW to make it to the next stage, a crucial step lies in the hands of its leaders: “The board has to give the management a permission to radically change the company,” says Ismail. To help big companies, he heads several efforts: half-day board workshops and a longer 10-week process with the promise of moving management thinking 3 years ahead in just 3 months.  

If the matter sounds like a tall order, that’s because it is – you’re asking an entity to question its entire identity, asking it to drop what appears to be established, guaranteed ways to make a living for something that feels unproven and risky.  

Fortune favors the bold, as they say. Those who hesitate to make the leap now will find an empty sea. One can attempt to swim to richer waters but might be surprised to see that those who jumped first already have big ships patrolling the proverbial oceans of opportunity. 

“If [large companies] don’t [change rapidly], they have really severe existential threat from entrepreneurs today,” Ismail states. – Rappler.com

Nicole works for a local public relations agency. She is currently pursuing basic higher education in Climate Change Adaptation and Risk Reduction and Organic Agriculture.

 

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