With 1 billion emerging consumers; an emphasis on corporate social responsibility and citizenship, and continual innovation from all corners of the world, globalization is transforming the business environment—and how organizations operate within it. How will these changes affect your strategy? And who is watching the horizon for you?
One of the challenges with trend spotting and research is that many people say, ‘I’m not interested;’ ‘I don’t have time for that;’ or, ‘I’m too busy.’ My response to that is, “That’s OK.” Really. We are all good at what we’re good at, and the reality is that some of us don’t care about research or find that it lies within our skill sets.
This doesn’t mean that keeping an eye on the business landscape is not a critical function. In many cases, organizations have a department or a dedicated position to do scanning. If not, the senior team should identify one of its own number who is personally interested in the activity and can assume accountability for it. This person will stay abreast of trends and keep others informed of the changing technological and business landscapes.
It may be that an organization has to go deeper into the organization to engage the talent. There may be someone two or three levels down, for instance, who is interested in monitoring and assessing these types of trends. If all else fails, an external resource can be entrusted with the task.
Watching – Then What?
The real importance then is taking the next step: assessing how trends might impact the business strategy.
I have a beautiful old dry sink with storage space underneath – space that is chockfull of VHS tapes! When am I ever going to watch these things? And if I am interested in watching, why wouldn’t I simply stream them online? Why have these old dinosaurs take up space?
Several years ago, the situation may not have been quite so obvious, at least not to Blockbuster. It clung to its retail strategy while consumers overwhelmingly demonstrated their desire for on-demand products (and no late fees). By the time Blockbuster broadened into DVD, mail services and kiosks, Netflix and RedBox had solidified their hold on those markets. It was too late for Blockbuster.
Every organization has its own army of packrats, who not only hang on to physical objects, but to old ideas. What held Blockbuster back? What in its mindset kept it from understanding that there was an end to what they were offering? Why did no one stop to ask, “How are our customers better off because we exist?”
What if it had? One possibility is that it could have set up a system to compete or displace Netflix. Another might have been taking Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings up on his numerous partnership and acquisition proposals. Instead, Blockbuster did little, and customers did find themselves better off—with Netflix.
Business history is littered with organizations that didn’t watch emerging trends, didn’t give them the credence they deserved, or failed to anticipate their impact. Blockbuster, Kodak, RIM, the list goes on and on.
On Top of Trends
At the same time, it’s informative to look at organizations that were—and are—able to watch trends and identify the impact on their strategy. Amazon, for example, noted consumers’ increased demand for next-day delivery. The key to meeting this demand: Kiva robots.
In Amazon warehouses (the size of 59 football fields), employees used to walk through the aisles to find the right product. Now, Kiva brings it to them, picking up entire shelves and moving them to the fulfillment platform.
When truckloads come in, employees simply find room for the freight on shelves and send it to one of the four floors of storage space. It doesn’t matter if video games are stored next to beauty products, or paper towels are side by side with soup. The robots are programmed with the location, and they retrieve the proper items as needed.
The benefit? Amazon can hold up to 50% more inventory in the same space, and they have improved efficiency by 20%. Instead of taking 90 minutes to fill some orders, workers can do it in 15—and make sure the products on their way out for fast delivery.
Amazon spotted a trend and revisited its strategy. It wasn’t Kiva that propelled Amazon to even greater success; it was adaptability and the willingness to change “business as usual.”
Regardless of who is watching the horizon, spotting trends and scanning social media and news sites is a critical function. Equally important is ensuring senior management and leaders take the next step: determining the impact that these changes might have on their organization and revisiting strategy. This enables them to seize opportunities, instead of being left behind.