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US innovation expert: NZ firms must adapt to survive change

US innovation expert Langdon Morris says NZ firms must adapt to survive change

By Rebecca Howard

Nov. 7 (BusinessDesk) - Change is accelerating and US innovation expert Langdon Morris argues it's critical for businesses to develop effective strategies for survival and success.

Morris is in Auckland to hold two workshops this week entitled “Prosper or Perish." The goal, he said, is to help companies develop long-term strategic thinking.

“We are not talking about innovation for December 2017, January 2018. We are really looking at longer-term trends. We are talking about preparing from a more strategic perspective,” he told BusinessDesk in an interview.

The workshops, being conducted by Callaghan Innovation in partnership with Morris' InnovationLabs, are built around so-called scenario planning, a technique developed 30 or 40 years ago. Based on InnovationLabs' latest book "Foresight and Extreme Creativity: Strategy for the 21st Century," the goal isn't to predict the future but rather to think through how the world might change in various different future scenarios “creating the basis for them to think about what they need to do with their organizations to prepare strategically," said Morris.

A group of organisations from sectors like food, energy, farming, building, IT, footwear and apparel, among others, will come together to look at how to respond to a series of “driving forces” that are shaping the future, said Morris.

“We are literally creating scenarios of how the future could be,” he said. “It's intellectual training and what matters is that people are learning to think differently about the future,” he said.

According to Morris, there are half a dozen forces, including digital technology. "Our view is that we have barely touched our toe in the water regarding the impact of technology on society," he said, pointing to things like driverless cars. He noted that driving is the job that employs the most people across the globe and self-driving cars could displace a couple hundred million people from jobs. "That's a fundamental restructuring of the global economy," he said. While self-driving cars aren't "quite there yet," Morris said computers get twice as powerful every two years so "will they get there? Yes, they can."

He said a key mistake people make is to "assume the future is going to be like the present, only more so. They don't understand the exponential impact of continuing technological development."

Another driving force is climate change, which is "highly unpredictable," he said. Worst-case scenarios could mean the Auckland port district is underwater, something that would be true for a couple thousand cities across the globe, he said. Morris also asks what would happen if prime ocean-front property suddenly becomes worthless. "We are talking about wiping off trillions of dollars of value off leveraged balanced sheets. That’s an economic bloodbath, plus it's displaced a couple billion people." He noted that while we don't know if it will happen in 20 years or 50 years or ever, it's critical to think about it.

Linked to climate change will be a need to adapt energy policies which could spell the end of the fossil fuel industry, some US$20 trillion of infrastructure in the US alone, he said.

He touched on urbanization and noted that if the current rate of migration to cities continues by the end of this century - if not before - 90 percent to 95 percent of people will be living in some form of city. "That's another 3-to-4 billion urban inhabitants, who were rural inhabitants, which essentially means replicating the entire urban infrastructure of the world again over the next 50 years," he said. While it's a challenge it's also the "biggest business opportunity that ever existed."

Over the course of the workshop companies will do an initial assessment, will look at the driving forces in detail and work in teams to explore different scenarios. Essentially the workshops are a modelling exercise that allows people to discover vulnerabilities and opportunities they hadn't previously considered, he said. The goal is to turn these things into projects that "allow them to enhance their business in some way," he said.

(BusinessDesk receives assistance from Callaghan Innovation to cover the commercialisation of innovation)


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