The Future is Elastic!

This piece was first published in MARKETING WEEKENDER Issue 351

The Future Does Not Fit in the Containers of the Past.

by Rishad Tobaccowala

“The Future is ‘Plastics’” was uttered 55 years ago in1967’s groundbreaking movie “The Graduate”. The “plastics” industry then boomed for decades but “Plastic” also meant fake, or artificial, unnatural. The statement “The future is plastics” was also code for all things that needed to be changed.

Today the one word would be “elastic”. 

What is a simple definition of elastic? 

Elastic, resilient, springy, flexible, supple means able to endure strain without being permanently injured. Elastic implies the property of resisting deformation by stretching.

The future is elastic. 

People are increasingly living elastically in the way they shop, consume media, live, and work. They are stretching definitions and flexing and twisting.

The organizations that will thrive in the future will align with peoples’ new expectations and behaviors by being elastic in their structure and approach. 

Those individuals most elastic in mindset who are ready to continuously iterate and adapt are more likely to thrive in transforming and changing times.

Source: Gartner

How people shop and consume media today are increasingly elastic. 

The Customer “Journey” or “Funnel” is no longer recognizable. 

Once upon an imaginary time there was a purchase funnel with awareness, consideration, intent and purchase as its four key movements and one could map a consumer journey.

In a world of fragmentation, empowered customers with super computers in their pockets and mongrel media like TikTok which collapse above the line with below the line, fuse offline and online commerce and destroy any line between search, e-commerce, video, social and mobile, businesses are dealing with millions of journeys beginning, ending and lurching all over. 

The neat little boxes and orchestrated behavior have dissolved into a cacophony of improvised jazz as the Gartner chart above illustrates.

Elastic companies will need to be not just omni-channel across all analog and digital platforms but also across multi-verses as the future of AR and VR begin to scale.

Source: World Economic Forum and Upwork

How people will work increasingly elastically. 

Within five years projections suggest that most workers will have multiple employers.

Today we are living in a world of distributed and unbundled work (a process that began before Covid-19 and was just accelerated) across office, home, third places and event. 

A world where software, hardware and the Cloud allows many individuals to have access to the same technologies and platforms as large firms the nature of work is in flux.

The future of employee will be a flexible combination of the full-time employee, the contract employee, the fractionalized employee and the free-lance employee. 

In addition, in most countries with declining populations (pretty much everywhere outside of Africa and for a little while India) businesses will combine advanced technology and cast a wide net for employees who are increasingly diverse, older and distributed around a multitude of locations working for a varying number of hours. The work forces will span generations, cultures, working styles and mindsets like never before.

A multi-verse of talent is what companies will need to be prepared for. Their big tent will need to be elastically stretchy offering a wide menu of ways to work.

Source: Carol Dweck

Success will require the need to stretch one’s mind and skill sets. 

The rate of change today is speeding up and unless one is constantly learning, adapting, and questioning the status-quo we could find ourselves like the frog in the boiling water who did not pay attention to the rising temperature till it was too late to jump out before being cooked! 

Every modern successful organization and leader is a target for dis-intermediation if we do not stretch ourselves. 

Satya Nadella re-invigorated Microsoft after a decade of slumber increasing its market capitalization fivefold in five years by stretching out to incorporate open source (GitHub), social media (LinkedIn), gaming ( Minecraft and now Activision Blizzard), expanding into Cloud ( Azure) while torching stack ranking (which pitted employees against each other which made no sense when connection and collaboration are key), dropped the Windows Operating Division (legacy roots that were poisoning the ability to see in new ways) and most importantly made sure that everyone in his leadership team read and learned about Growth Mindset from Carol Dweck.

If we do not upgrade our mental and organizational operating systems to adapt to a high velocity and increasingly connected world we will fail to thrive.

Becoming Elastic. 

Every individual, team and firm can become elastic.

Here are five ways to stretch: 

  1. Align with the future. Stop benchmarking against existing competitors and fixating just on current marketing platforms. Two years ago, many were convinced we were living in Google and Facebook world. While Google and Meta remain critical and are likely to do so for many years, we now have Tik-Tok, Amazon, and Apple that have scaled as significant marketing platforms joined by a plethora of commerce platforms like Walmart and Roundel from Target. In addition, many companies are creating their own connection platforms whether it be Marriott or McDonalds. It is no longer a two-horse race. As we enter the Third Connected Age of the Internet today’s eco-system will look simple. 
  2. Re-Think every aspect of the organization with a tomorrow lens. Like never before does the future not fit in the containers of the past. The future work force will be distributed, diverse, unbundled, empowered and older. They will be highly informed with many ways of monetizing their skills and often working for multiple companies. It’s no longer a question of if or when but how fast. Companies focusing on returning to the office (versus maximizing the benefits of in person interaction while ensuring flexibility) have not truly grasped the seismic changes in the future of work where this is just one of many challenges.
  3. Accelerate speed of decision making and collaboration. Stretch one’s eco-system by incentivizing teamwork, being open to external partnerships and expertise and investing in upgrading skill sets and learning.
  4. Recognize that in a world of machine learning and fragmented behavior, data will be exponentially more important. But not data itself but the ability to use data to illuminate opportunities, partnerships, and ROI by understanding patterns, combining math and meaning to drive data driven story telling and create an underlying infrastructure of intelligence and form that keeps the business focused and informed in a chaotic media, consumer, and competitive environment. 
  5. Combine roots and wings. Elastic means to stretch but not to be deformed. It is critical that as companies and individuals create new wings to soar into the future, they do not forget the roots that made them and will continue to make them who they are. Whether this be purpose, values, brand reputation or culture it is key to combine what’s next with what has been core.

Become elastic as the future becomes elastic.

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