Why “Future Proofing” Is a Myth

 
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For years, the emergence of truly global supply chains and the rise of large, increasingly skilled workforces has wrought havoc on labour supply in Western developed countries. It seems that these days nearly every industry, profession or occupation is facing an existential threat due to automation, artificial intelligence or other advances in technology (indeed, lawyers are said to be the next to go!). This is seen as the next frontier.

In this environment, there is a soothsaying comfort in taking measures that might “future proof” your organisation from the potentially terrifying effects of change and disruption.

But is that really possible? More to the point, is this thinking even helpful?

We work with many of the most successful global organisations. We are always curious to learn why some organisations are successful in the long term, on a massive scale, whilst others fall by the wayside or are diminished over time.

One feature stands out. The most successful organisations do not pretend that there is one initiative – that can be implemented now – to forever insulate them from the effects of change. Rather, their leadership (and these organisations have great leaders at all levels) cultivate a mindset of constant, very often brave, change.

They disrupt themselves before any competitor will have the chance. They make bets on the future and are open to doing things differently, seeing failure as an inevitable part of the learning process. These organisations know that in a truly dynamic and global business environment, there is huge risk in just repeating what has worked in the past. These organisations do not fall into the trap of trying to “future proof” their organisation. They intuitively understand there is no such thing, and that bold leadership, and a learning and calculated risk-taking orientation are a better bulwark against disruption than any future proofing initiative will ever be. These organisations know that an opportunity-driven approach is the only way, and that a risk-driven business model “don’t change anything, don’t break anything” is the riskiest business model of all.

In the last six months we at Seyfarth have seen so many great examples of these types of organisations. Here are a few:

  • An Australian big 4 retail bank with extensive overseas operations, introducing new ways of working that are breaking down silos and making collaboration within the bank much easier
  • A global e-commerce and data services client establishing its operations in Australia, in what is sure to be its latest successful international expansion
  • A global manufacturer and seller of solar panels, investing in Australia given the enthusiasm of various State and Territory Governments to promote renewable energy, whilst somewhat dismayed and discouraged by President Donald Trump’s introduction of tariffs on their products imported into the United States
  • An Australian based manufacturer of a unique biodegradable resin moving its manufacturing from China to Europe in order to take advantage of the friendly production environment in some European countries combined with the progressive and environmentally conscious nature of European consumers of its products.

These organisations are strong examples of opportunity driven leadership – willing to make bold decisions to position themselves well, always thinking in global terms, and always willing to incorporate new and better ways of working. That may mean incorporating or even inventing new technologies, or simply making constant incremental operational improvements. They don’t try to future proof, because they accept that tomorrow will bring more change – some of it unforeseen and perhaps unwelcome.

The cycle of change and transformation is constant. The tension between stability and change, between order and chaos, is ever present: but it is accepted and managed, not denied. These organisations accept the uncertainty that must be managed in today’s world. In fact, they embrace it, knowing that this attitude is itself a competitive advantage.

 
Cassie Peterson