Addressing the Challenge of Digital Abundance with Creativity
There was a time, when we looked at the minutes ticking every time we were on the phone and worried about the running meter. When we got to eat Swiss chocolates only when a friend brought them back from a holiday. When we had a camera in our mobile phones but just not enough space to store all the pictures we clicked.
Today, we have video conversations across continents and don’t worry about the cost. Foreign chocolates get delivered home at the click of a button. We are struggling with excess media in our phones because we have too much storage.
As the American writer, Adam Gopnik said, “What drives innovation is abundance and ease, not the pressure of scarcity.”
With digital technologies, the world has moved from constraints to abundance. From the art of problem solving to the art of possibilities. From creating supplies to meet an existing demand to creating a new demand in itself.
In the last 30 to 40 years, industries worked around scarcity of resources and information. Companies spent time and money optimizing the most limiting factors that came in the way of optimizing profits. For example, automobile companies have invested in research for years to increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles, keeping in mind the increasing price of oil and government mandates on reducing emissions.
Innovation and creativity were driven by customer needs that were unfulfilled due to scarcity of resources. Digital technology has radically changed the scenario by empowering society with capabilities that created an abundance of several resources, thereby lowering costs and creating opportunities for new business models and unimagined revenue streams. This has resulted in people shifting focus from scarce physical resources to harnessing digital services, limited only by a lack of creativity and imagination.
Responding to the New Age of Abundance
Entrepreneurs and business leaders have to rethink their growth strategy to be relevant and future ready. The mindset has to shift from problem solving to finding new ways of doing things with the abundance of technology resources that have expansive capabilities. Leaders needs to recognize the opportunity that digital offers to find new ways of doing business that contributes to building better societies.
The economic values of several things are dropping with great speed due to technology innovation, like the cost of distance, skill sets, communication, learning etc., forcing enterprises to consider new economic models. Digital technologies are blurring the lines between the physical, virtual, and even biological, thus creating an abundance of data, information, and interactions.
How can the organizations change their culture to adapt to an economy of abundance?
Foremost, organizations need to inculcate the habit of unconstrained thinking where solutions are formulated without thinking of existing limitations. This would encourage the articulation of holistic solutions that have long lasting and future-relevant benefits rather than solving only the immediate problem at hand.
Digital brings democratization of data and resources and decentralization of decision making, which encourages creativity at the ground level. At Infosys, we have invested in an initiative called ‘Zero Distance’ that focuses on a ground-up, grassroots approach to ensure that every employee in the organization is at “Zero Distance” – to the end user or the client, to the underlying technology and therefore to the creation of value. Whether working side by side with the customer’s customer or thousands of miles away, each of us close the psychological distance and become personally invested and empowered to find the right problems and even better solutions.
Once the ground is set for creativity, organizations can focus on the following dimensions:
Innovation in a new light: In business, innovation plays a key role in finding growth and new revenue streams, and creating new markets. Most of the new age firms like Snapchat, Uber, and AirBnB are thriving today by creating a market for themselves with a new business model based on peer-to-peer trust, dis-intermediation of production and consumption, and a service with a never before realized value proposition.
Take lessons from unrelated problems: Often, by looking at unrelated industries or challenges from other areas of life - nature, books, or children - we learn new ways of visualizing situations and finding unconventional approaches to addressing problems in the context of a business objective. For instance, sports can teach us how to strategize better in terms of skill utilization, team building, and training.
Improvise Continuously: Business leaders must understand that none of their strategies or models are permanent. They need to evolve over time, challenging their own limitations and comfort zones to grow their perspectives beyond the existing. Ask questions like – Is there a new way to deliver your product or service? Is there a new way to sell? Bring in a culture of critical thinking to spark more conversations around improving or disproving ideas, which lead to generation of more ideas. Celebrate the heroes who create new ideas.
A good story exemplifying this is the success of Honda’s small lightweight bike, the 50cc Super Cub in the American market in the 1950s. Contrary to the belief that Americans preferred or needed large bikes, which was the existing trend, Honda introduced these small bikes that drew the attention of people who weren’t really looking at ganging up with friends riding bikes wearing leather jackets, but were happy to find a cheap, lightweight mode of transportation that was convenient for short trips.
Organizations are empowering their employees with further learning on technology and adopting rapid changes so that they are better equipped for creative thinking to leverage the abundance mindset and develop new capabilities. They are and should be investing in intelligent systems that are connected with humans to explore new possibilities of human plus machine combinations as it is no more about “humans learning technology” but also about “technology learning about humans.”
While everybody is talking about digital disruption and why enterprises need a digital transformation strategy, it is equally important for digitally mature organizations to prepare themselves to succeed in the new world of abundance with a new mindset to define new possibilities, enabling them to create new future-relevant offerings for clients, enterprises, people and society at large for better and equitable living. As Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”