Jack Uldrich
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The New Normal is Abnormal

Posted in Future

There is no difficult way to say this: You’re dead.

Like Bruce Willis’ character in the 2001 hit movie, Sixth Sense, you’re dead and you just don’t know it yet.

If you hope to resuscitate your life, your company or your organization there’s only one thing to do: Stop conducting business as usual and embrace business as unusual.

The world is moving at warp speed. Customers’ wants, needs and expectations are shifting faster than a typical teenager’s texting thumbs, and every day new technologies, business models and competitors arrive unannounced on your doorstep demanding your immediate attention. I need it yesterday!

You can’t greet these changes with yesterday’s outdated salutations and mental mindsets.

Well, you can, but you’ll be ignored and soon find yourself relegated to the ash-heap of history—just another business that couldn’t adapt.

The alternative is challenge your assumptions—even your most basic ones—about your business. Everything from the way you think about your core products, services and competitors, to how you hire and treat your employees, to how you view your roles and responsibilities as a leader must be put to the test.

The signs of this transformation are everywhere. Empty Blockbuster stores now litter neighborhood strip malls and “Blackberry” smartphones are barely more appetizing than yesterday’s spoiled fruit. Further down from the strip mall, once-thriving Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores are being “repurposed,” while Best Buy super stores are hemorrhaging cash and struggling for their survival. Each company, in its own way, was the victim of the digital revolution.

The change isn’t going stop. In fact, it’s speeding up. Consider the following events from the recent past:

• After 244 years of success, Encyclopedia Britannica announced it was ceasing publication of its iconic 20-volume paperbound tomes. The company’s prestigious and highly lucrative product was destroyed by Wikipedia—an open-source platform consisting of millions of unpaid workers, which didn’t even exist 10 years ago.

• Amazon and Apple have made $775 million and $5 billion dollar investments, respectively, in robotics. The later investment was so massive some analysts are speculating Apple’s deal will lock up the robotics market for the next couple of years effectively giving it a strategic advantage over its competitors until 2015 because it’ll be able to produce next-generation products faster, cheaper and more ethically (i.e. no more human “sweat shops”).

• In Nevada, it’s now legal to operate self-driven robotic automobiles. The first license was awarded to Google, which has already successfully operated self-driven vehicles over one million miles without an accident. California is soon expected to follow and Ford Motor Company is planning for autonomous automobiles as early as 2017.

• Sloan Kettering Memorial hospital, one of the world’s premier cancer treatment institutions, has hired IBM’s Watson supercomputer to diagnose cancer because the machines can detect the disease better, faster and cheaper than today’s best oncologists. Soon, Watson will also be doing the work of lawyers, financial advisors and, heaven forbid, even writers.

• In Seoul, South Korea, during morning rush hour, commuters can now shop from the virtual grocery store shelves that line the walls of subway stations using nothing but their smartphones. The physical products are then delivered to the customers by the time they arrive home in the evening. In the United States, a handful of retailers are now experimenting with similar models.

• Sebastian Thurn, a world-renowned professor, has quit his teaching position at Stanford University where he formerly taught 80 students a semester to form Udacity, a new free online educational platform. In his first course, he instructed 160,000 students – 23,000 of whom passed the final examination and earned certification. Thurn recently announced he was never going back to teaching in the traditional way.

Why would he?

More significantly, for how much longer will self-motivated students continue to fork over tens of thousands of dollars every year for a product that is now freely available and can be accessed anywhere? (If a student can’t find what he or she is looking for at Udacity, there’s sure to be a course on Coursera, edX or some soon-to-be-developed educational platform that will meet the student’s needs.)

If the idea of world-class university being “creatively deconstructed” by a free online educational platform sounds implausible to you just remember that is probably what high-powered and otherwise intelligent executives at Encyclopedia Britannica thought about the threat Wikipedia posed less than a decade ago.

Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, is doing much the same with grade school and high school education. Every month four million students (and growing) access his free website to watch his instructional videos. Many students claim they learn better from his online tutorials than from the traditional classroom lectures. A growing number of teachers agree and are now “flipping” the classroom—which is to say they assign Khan’s videos for homework and then help students do their homework in the classroom.

The question is this: In the face of this growing tidal wave of change are you also willing to “flip” your mental models and embrace new tactics? In short, are you willing to embrace a strategy of business as unusual in order to survive?

The future is changing and the new normal is going to be abnormal. You must either adapt or die.

In the coming weeks, I’ll spell out nineteen tactics to help you future-proof yourself and your business against the winds of change.

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