January 2018. The dark sky of a short winter’s day, full of scudding clouds, with here and there a splash of blue. Orange, too. And red. Perfectly normal for this time of year. Several chapters of this book are already on my hard drive. A book in the making. Some of these collections of words and ideas look more like a proper chapter than others. Some still need polishing up. Quite a lot of polishing up. Others are more or less ready, at least in terms of content. Or that’s what I thought when I wrote them a couple of months ago. But now that I am reading them again, screen by screen, I realize that I need to revise and rebuild much of the text. Time corrodes both content and structure. Today, faster than ever before.
I try to think of new building blocks and how I can fit them together. I check to see where I don’t have enough material and where I need to scrap things. Too much or too little. Up to date or out of date. Believe me, writing a book that you intend to serve as a manual for the managers of The Day After Tomorrow is an exercise in mental agility like no other!
What is the best strategy for the digital world? How can you deal with unpredictability? How is it possible, both as an entrepreneur and as an enterprise, to keep in synch with the outside world, the world of technology and the world of the consumer? Where do you focus your attention? Which of the myriad possibilities do you explore? How can you redesign your company to make it sustainably relevant? Which technological wave do you need to surf? What do you have to build up and what do you have to tear down?
The questions I want to answer are already in my head… Questions enough. However, it is a feature of our rapidly changing world that there is no longer a single answer to any of these questions. The moment you give one, you already need to think about how you can best modify it. It is impossible to work with a prefab design for developing a strategy for the digital world. You need to build systematically, block by block, adjusting and amending as you go, so that you can keep up with the changing fashions and opportunities of the day.
In this book I lay bare the vectors that govern our changing world. I also seek to explode the myths behind many of the current hypes. I will talk about mirrors, the underworld, and the overturning of the world as we know it. About slow architecture, about building cathedrals, about sharks and red oceans. I draw my inspiration from Gaudí, from Escher, from Stranger Things and from Mars.
It is not about adding a sprinkle of digital dust to your company. To develop an effective strategy for the digital world, you need to understand how the world is evolving beyond the limits of your classical range of vision. You need to know which forces and underground currents are influencing each other.
The digital world is turning – and will continue to turn – many of our existing realities and markets upside down. The new business models that are so successful today at disrupting the old models are, in fact, nothing more than those old models turned on their heads. Even today, I meet managers and entrepreneurs who are still locked in their familiar and understandable world above the surface, without having the faintest idea of what is happening in the parallel world beneath that surface, where new subcultures are emerging and mutating at an astonishing speed.
It is not the internet that has changed the world. The world has been changed by companies who have had the courage and the wisdom to turn their thinking upside down, who have developed with, through and on the internet, but not because of it. The internet is a tool, not a cause. These companies use technology to get around the limitations of conventional business models and to combine the advantages of mass production with hyper-connectivity and hyper-personalization. Such companies do little more than mirror existing models, but the new reflection this mirror casts is governed by digital laws. Typically, this kind of disrupter company remains under the radar of the established order for a long time, until they suddenly break the surface – and by then, it’s too late to do much about it. Consumers, as we all know, change with the wind. As soon as they have sampled the benefits and the ease of the new mirror model, they will want nothing else. And we are all consumers, we all live increasingly in this crazy, new upside-down world. In fact, we have become that world.
Companies are still far too inclined to think in terms of the product. They believe it is only possible to break open a market with radically innovative products or new technologies. That is not so. It is not about new products or new technologies. It is about changing consumer behaviour. Being one with the customer or being zero. Maximizing value or having no value whatsoever: that is the choice facing organizations today. Companies are at a turning point, whether they like it or not. The world has been turned upside down. The top is now at the bottom, and the bottom at the top. Technology has given the customer power. The connected customer weighs up his options and decides. It is he (or she, of course) who makes your marketing.
It is still possible to build new , large and successful organizations by tapping into today’s saturated markets, even with what seem like existing business models, but only if those models make optimal use of the new laws of the new world and are able to persuade consumers to make the change with you. That is the core of my book: how you, as a manager, can understand these new laws and how you can take your first steps towards this brave new world.
For some people, reading a book is a chore. For the speed-readers among you, who kick on key words and quotes, I have a little advice: always look at things from the perspective of the customer. We are all people, and people can understand each other. Technology is only a threat for those who are not willing to explore its possibilities. The better you understand your customer and the closer you are able to stand by him, the easier it will be to find the right technological wave to surf, so that you will always be fully on board, living in the moment with your customer – and not after it.