I see dead businesses
Back in March we were lucky enough to take a trip over to Texas for SXSW, where we caught some talks by seriously inspirational speakers.
One of them was Ray Kurzweil. He’s a Director of Engineering at Google, creator of a bunch of cool innovations and a startlingly accurate futurist, with a 30 year track record of dead-on predictions about the future of humanity.
He is convinced that in just 11 years time machines will be able to pass a valid Turing Test and that the technological singularity, the point in time at which advances in AI lead to machines smarter than human beings, will occur by 2045.
His whole talk (still available to watch on SXSW’s Youtube channel) is well worth a listen. And if it makes you start feeling twitchy about the robots coming for your job, we suggest you follow it up with a quick read of our ‘when will AI replace us all’ article to calm your nerves.
The Pace of Change Is Increasing
What really hit home about Kurzweil’s talk, and the main point we took away from it, is the sheer speed at which this technology is going to impact upon everyone’s lives.
It’s something he’s written about in great detail in his book ‘The Singularity Is Near’, where he explains that the reason it intuitively feels like things are progressing at an ever-increasing speed is because they verifiably are, due to what he dubs ‘the law of accelerating returns.’
Kurzweil is by no means a lone voice when it comes to this view.
In the US, analysts from Wall Street company Credit Suisse conducted research into the disruptive force of emerging technology, finding that average age of an S&P 500 company has fallen over 40 years, from around 60 to less than 20, since 1950.
Older companies are being killed off earlier and at a faster pace than they were decades ago, and Credit Suisse put it pretty nicely when they say...
"...disruption is nothing new but that the speed, complexity and global nature of it is. In fact, it is clear that a number of sectors are currently impacted by multiple disruptive forces simultaneously."
The fact of the matter is that the future is approaching faster than we think.
And this matters to everyone, from your local independent bakery shop to global conglomerates. One day they’ll be out of business and it will have seemed like it happened over night.
“They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead.”
You remember the film ‘The Sixth Sense’, right?
Little Haley Joel Osment, pre-beard and DUI charges, playing the troubled little boy who’s the only one aware of the ghosts wandering around?
Well we’ve developed a bit of a sixth sense of our own - only it’s dead businesses that haunt us.
We’re a pretty active and involved bunch, getting exposure to different businesses of all kinds.
But it often seems like many of the business leaders around us are walking around in a ghostly daze, waiting to drown by either focusing on the wrong thing or burying their heads in the sand.
Just a few months ago I spoke at a conference and the opportunity to throw in our own Sixth Sense performance and use the ‘I see dead businesses’ line was too great to miss.
Hey, it may have brought the tone down a little, but it made people sit up and take notes.
If we could make a Kurzweil-esque prediction of our own, we’d say 50% of the businesses in front of us will continue to exist in the near future, but in a fundamentally different way to today. The other half? RIP.
What you can learn from Blockbuster’s blind spot
Remember the good old days when a cosy night-in meant grabbing a takeaway and Blockbuster Movie of the Week?
While we love a bit of nostalgia (like the pop-up Blockbuster store around the corner from our office in Shoreditch, memories!) it’s easy to forget that their entire business model depended on fining us.
Turns out that a good proportion of their profits came from charging late fees.
In fact, when the founder of a tiny startup called Netflix approached Blockbuster in 2000, his idea for online DVD rentals without fines was apparently laughed out of the room.
We all know who got the last laugh.
By rigidly putting profits ahead of providing value to their customers, Blockbuster doomed themselves to failure.
This cautionary tale serves as a reminder that staying focused on what your customers need will invariably be the difference between life and death.
Let’s not make daft assumptions about technology either.
AI, VR, Mixed Reality, Blockchain… it’s easy to get distracted by technology or look at what others are doing and think you need to reinvent yourself.
But your customers are never buying your technology, they’re buying the value you offer them.
Yes, it’s important to look beyond the headlines and understand the underlying trends that are driving innovation but it’s just as important to stay true to who you are and why you’re here.
Imagine if you were going to start this business again tomorrow. What would it look like? What would you still not compromise on? What would you do differently?
Life saving innovation most likely starts with those answers.
Signed: Danny & the Huddle Team
A True Friend