by Julius WiedemannSep 14, 2021
The classic curriculum of an executive today has a combination of economics, engineering, business administration, and on top of that, very often, a MBA course. The performance of companies hiring the most MBA graduates is doubtful. Some research has already indicated that it is not clear that the performance of companies with larger number of MBA hires makes any significant difference. Of course, individually, it doesn’t matter. It is certainly advisable to have that on your CV, and doesn’t damage the apparent capacity of professionals, nor should it discourage others to adhere to it. Then, there’s the 21st century. Newer types of companies are coming and that’s going to demand other type of people, because the business environment is becoming completely different. It is not that profits do not come anymore. Investors still need to make their money. Profits are still important and they are going to be for a long time a key indicator of performance. And we are also not talking about profits relative to sustainability or to social impact. I am talking about profits as dividends.
First of all companies are now made of building blocks. No one is building companies from scratch in terms of production capacity, distribution, accounting, marketing, etc. It is very rare. Most ideas can now be implemented using ready-made systems, so that not only costs, but also updates and upgrades can be optimised. For project management there is Monday, for contracts there is DocuSign, for websites and e-commerce there is Wix and Tray, and so on and so forth. To work like that one has to give up on a lot of control, and concentrate more on feedback loops. One has to be more open to work around other companies’ abilities and deficiencies. And most importantly, one has to be humble about relearning things quickly.
Companies in the 21st century live in real time feedback. Almost everything one does is an opportunity to collect data and improve something. Strategies are not set in stone. And mistakes are almost necessary. For systems to work well collaboratively they almost have to be forcefully transparent. It is hard to see one without the other. There is no responsibility without the ability to take decisions, but also without the ability to see results and developments. The CEO is not anymore a brilliant star who knows everything. They have become the conduit for excellence, because they understand that perfection is unattainable. They understand that there’s no final product. They have to conduct people around them not only to execute things, but to think constantly on how they can improve every bit around what they do. Managers have become antennas whereas in the past they used to be machines.
The behavioural distance between generations is bigger today. Digital natives are taking over because they know the meaning of digital technologies for the masses. They understand efficiency though collecting engagement, and not only through the implementation of rules. They are aware of distributed cognition and distributed responsibility. But most of all they don’t look at the old models as a viable one for the future. They might not know all the time exactly what to do. But they know that they need to keep the radar on if they are to build something completely new. They are aware that many systems are already failing and some others will fail in the future because they will not be able to respond to a balance between demographics, production capabilities, supplying demand, and business models.
Younger generations seem to be more effete regarding social consciousness. They are well prepared and also understand the rules of engagement of capitalism and capital markets. No problem with that. But they can see it through. Companies are evolving for many reasons. Global challenges, market conditions, economies of scale, and others. But maybe, the biggest change will be the concept of value. We have based most of our gains on economic parameters, And some of them are well put, and well-connected to human development. But not all of them. The human condition has improved dramatically in the last couple of centuries. But these didn’t come without a cost for nature, and we only have this planet to live.
Finally, younger generations don’t see companies determined by what they produce materially. They see them as platforms for how they act and what they mean. Even though many concepts here might sound too romanticised, what we are looking at is a progressive change of habits, due to a new mindset. Newcomers always have to fight for space, and need to figure out how to have their voices heard. Because we are living so long, we might not have time for all transformations to wait this long. This will accelerate the takeover by a younger generation who can shape things up into a new direction. Collectively, we will have to change our ambitions, and will have to give up on a lot of things that seem absolutely fine today. And in order to do that we will have to harness a new kind of leadership, that not only tells prophesies, but a leadership that acts and inspires more people by changing key aspects on how we have conducted companies until today. Change my not be a constant anymore. It might be also an obligation for the sake of our survival.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.