Peter Day of the BBC glimpses the futurePosted: September 3, 2009
“Don’t expect conclusions,” warned the esteemed BBC radio business journalist Peter Day, speaking to an audience at AT Kearney’s offices, an event organised by the London alumni of the Manchester Business School. But he did at least provide some pointers to the way things are heading. We can at least be certain of change: “Our world, the one that has served us well since the second World War, is being turned upside down.”
Day said we are right to take notice of the rise of the new economies such as China, India and South America – in fact, maybe we are not taking them seriously enough. And he mentioned Nine Shift, a book by William Draves and Julie Coates, that compares the upheaval of current times with that experienced by the introduction of the automobile a century ago. This time it will be the internet that makes a similarly dramatic impact on the way we live and work. There’s so much information out there which will be valuable, once we learn how to use it more effectively.
Consumers will have different wants, too. This century will be about millions of micromarkets, the era of mass customisation when consumers will demand what they want, not take what they can get. Traditional production and advertising will struggle. What Day called a “concierge society” will require providers to get much closer to their customers.
I find all this intriguing. Working as I do with a virtual network of partners, am I at the vanguard of the new ways of working, or just an oddball? More than a decade ago, I helped write The Home Office Report, a document inspired by UK property researcher Geoff Marsh, which predicted that new ways of working would consign unwanted office blocks to new uses, such as apartments.
Some of this happened as older buildings failed to make the grade. But dramatic new ways of working, with everyone rendered mobile by cellphones and broadband, did not redefine corporate office life or do away with demand for office blocks in quite the same way as Geoff envisaged. Maybe it’s corporate culture – the fear of not being able to control someone you can’t see at a desk – that is holding back new ways of working; or perhaps the mistake of thinking that attendance equates to output (it was appropriate for Henry Ford and the production line, but not for the 21st century office).
So will this recession be the one that finds more corporations reshaping to embrace flexible working? It’s going to be fun watching.