Taking on Tomorrow – The Four Futures

Taking on Tomorrow – The Four Futures

We have entered an era where undisputed leadership can be challenged overnight. How we live and work is being constantly reinvented and we must stay prepared.

Every morning on Bloomberg TV a designation will catch yourattention; it is that of Chief Future Officer – the new CFO. This role has assumed a huge degree of importance in organisations, preparing to take on tomorrow. The job description (JD) for this role spans a wide range of skills–from identifying risks to detecting opportunities, and developing strategies to mitigate the challenges–while working with the other leaders to explore opportunities. Sounds fairly logical and simple, but it is the overwhelming complexities of delivering on the JD that makes this role so critical and pivotal for every company; big or small!

We have entered into an era where undisputed leadership can be challenged overnight. Take the example of Google, with its 90% domination of the search engine business, getting fiercely challenged by OpenAI with its ChatGPT, and its acquisition by Microsoft. Bing is growing daily as an interesting search option. Search itself is being transformed.Fallout of the Generative AI advancements have impacted the competitive landscape of semiconductors.

A report, from of PC market research company JPR, notes that both AMD and Intel are only 9% of the GPU market – while Nvidia is way ahead of both at a huge 82% of the market. It feels a bit like Intel and AMD are fighting over scraps, while Nvidia continues to dominate sales, spurred by the advancements of Generative AI, the large language models powering chatbots.

The changing risk landscapes

Even countries are on the verge of losing their competitive advantage as geopolitical risks reshape global relationships. The Chips Act of the US denies China access to vital semiconductor technologies, which threatens its gameplan to achieve global supremacy in Artificial Intelligence (AI). The corporate fallout of which is Apple rapidly reconfiguring its supply chain for iPhones by developing manufacturing in India, Indonesia and Thailand. Interestingly enough, Apple’s Chinese suppliers too have set up operations in India. Geopolitical risks redefined Europe’s energy landscape with Germany, building new terminals to handle LNG in less than a year.

The global risk landscape is changing dramatically. The world is facing a set of risks that feel both wholly new and eerily familiar. We have seen a return of “older” risks – inflation, cost-of-living crises, trade wars, capital outflows from emerging markets, widespread social unrest, geopolitical confrontation and the spectre of nuclear warfare – which few of this generation’s business leaders and public policy-makers have experienced.

These are being amplified by comparatively new developments, including unsustainable levels of debt, a new era of low growth, low global investment and de-globalisation, a decline in human development after decades of progress, rapid and unconstrained development of dual-use (civilian and military) technologies, and the growing pressure of climate change impacts and ambitions in an ever-shrinking window for transition to a 1.5°C world. Together, these are converging to shape a unique, uncertain and turbulent decade to come. The Chief Future Officer has to continuously monitor this fast-evolving risk landscape and prepare the organisation to take on tomorrow with the agility of a footballer in a 90-minute game, but without losing the long-term goal of emerging at the top of the league table.

Think like a hacker

Concurrently, new technological advancements are throwing open exciting opportunities for organisation to leverage. A recent Harvard Business Review article wants future leaders to think like hackers. Hackers are systems thinkers; they have an attitude that allows them to identify opportunities to make outsized impacts creatively, quickly, and resourcefully. Managers could benefit from thinking more like hackers.

Hacking helps us take a step back from the worn-out management tenets of efficiency, long-term planning, hierarchical decision-making, and full information–andgo for more adaptable strategiesinstead. Adopting a hacker attitude can help managers work around obstacles, find opportunities across siloes, cultivate a culture of pragmatism, mobilise staff around processes instead of end goals, and navigate situations in which there isn’t an obvious answer or clear choice. These skills are imperative to navigate the future and take on tomorrow.

Airbnb, in its early days, used a clever workaround to attract users from Craigslist, which had a massive user base but poor user experience. Airbnb sent hosts a link to automatically cross-post their listings to Craigslist, and when someone found a listing that originated on Airbnb, they were rerouted to Airbnb’s platform. This helped Airbnb gain free site traffic and new sign-ups, and eventually users started going straight to Airbnb for their lodging needs.

Managing Talent for Taking on Tomorrow

Talent management will be one of the most critical issues organisations will be faced with in 2023. In India 25,370 employees have been laid off by 92 start-ups, including unicorns like BYJU’S, Cars24, LEAD, Ola, OYO, Meesho, Udaan, Unacademy and Vedantu. Edtech has laid off maximum employees, with 19 edtech start-ups laying off 9,000+ employees. Globally, 629 tech companies laid off 185136 employees in 2023 and 1056 tech companies fired 164511 employees in 2022, according to data from layoffs.fyi.

Yet, a recent survey shows that 77% of employers worldwide are finding it difficult to fill open job roles, which represents a 17-year-high talent shortage, according to multinational staffing firm ManpowerGroup. The annual survey of 39,000 employers across 41 countries showed a 2% year-over-year increase in employers who said they’re struggling to fill roles; that’s more than double the difficulty reported in 2010 (31% of employers at that time). There’s a huge skill gap between what employers seek and what employees possess. In India, this gap is at its widest today as technology erases and transforms jobs. We have an army of educated unemployable in India.

Organisations will need to become more efficient due to layoffs and budget cuts. Rather than asking tech employees to do more work, companies should focus on reducing administrative, bureaucratic, and manual tasks. CIOs can improve productivity by being more methodical in developing engineering teams, reducing distractions, and automating manual tasks. By creating a work environment that allows engineers to focus on what they love, companies can attract top talent.

The Four Futures

The World Economic Forum identifies four potential futures centred around food, water, metals and mineral shortages, all of which could spark a humanitarian as well as an ecological crisis – from water wars and famines to continued overexploitation of ecological resources and a slowdown in climate mitigation and adaption. Given the uncertain relationships between global risks, similar foresight exercises can help anticipate potential connections, directing preparedness measures towards minimising the scale and scope of poly-crises before they arise.

To take on tomorrow, the CFO must learn to read geopolitical signals well in advance to navigate such new kinds of risks, apart from the usual ones– like technology disruptions, pandemics, government policy shifts, tougher regulatory environment, climate change, and of course people issues.

We are living through an era of unprecedented challenges and opportunities. The climate crisis, global health challenges, and changes in social values are upending individual priorities. Globalisation and geopolitics are shifting the world’s tectonic plates. How we live and work is being constantly reinvented by advances in technology and the emergence of generations who were “born digital”!

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