Good-bye “What’s Next”, hello “What’s Now”

As anyone who works in the advertising or entertainment business will tell you, their industry is undergoing seismic changes in the face of new technology that enables both business and consumers to create content at virtually no cost. This means old business models no longer apply, job titles are changing and most businesses are being forced to become far more entrepreneurial not just to survive, but to position themselves for the future.

As a result, I continue to hear the phrase that everyone is trying to work out “what’s next”. This is informed by a long history of industry shifts that integrated new technology. Only this time that phrase its misplaced. The changes underway are fundamentally different on two levels:

1. The pace of technological change has accelerated to a point that makes it almost impossible for institutions  to keep pace.

2. New technology is equally accessible to consumers robbing business of its exclusive role.

Further, business is being forced to accept that this pace of change will continue to accelerate which means old approaches to strategy, product development, market research and creating a competitive advantage no longer apply.

One response is to look for comfort in divining “what’s next”. A wiser and more appropriate response is to accept and focus on “what’s now”. Comfort based on known quantities no longer exists. Instead, discomfort, uncertainty, risk and constant flux are the new bedfellows that we must learn to love.  (Joshua Cooper Ramo’s ‘The Age of the Unthinkable’ explores this in wonderful detail.)

This partly explains the radical internal restructuring going on in so many companies. It partly explains corporate fear of new technology and consumer frustration with brands that “don’t get it”. The Great Recession has been rightly blamed for many ills, but we should not let it blind us to the transformative impact of technology that is happening before our eyes. The bad news is that its scary. The good news is that we’ll get used to it.

There’s no point in waiting for dust to settle. Technology will kick up more. Yes, that makes the future harder to see but all is not lost in the haze. We can listen better. Consumers are telling us what they want in so many ways never imaginable before. All we have to do is choose to hear them and that will guide the way.

Do you find the pace of change impossible to manage? Or do you think little has really changed?