Congratulations to the Future Business Council in Australia for the release of their report this week called “The Next Boom. A surprise new hope for Australia’s economy”. In essence these young upstarts are disrupting the long-established Business Council of Australia and doing a good job to boot if their first report is any indication of future performance.
They rightly point to opportunities (albeit limited by time) that exist to exploit the burgeoning appetite amongst the world’s consumers for sustainable products and services. Many would ask what’s so new about this. Well they have been able to make the argument in a coherent way that avoids the kind of sound-bite, vox populi approach that has bedevilled similar pronouncements. Instead hey have provided a well-reasoned long-form study that avoids the climate-change curse of long and hard to digest tomes that very few have the patience or intellectual wherewithal to grapple with.
I can’t help think though that it’s a chapter short. They rightly point to drivers for a shift by consumers to a demand for sustainable products and services. The three drivers they recognise as:
- changing consumer preferences;
- Government regulation; and
- environmental necessity.
Sustainable innovation, once the preserve of the CSR set, is seen as an absolute necessity now. They rightly point to the need to transition ideas at a rapid pace from lab to production line and the need for an entrepreneurial start-up culture.
In order to position Australia at the forefront of this opportunity the Future Business Council identify three key reforms:
- Make Australian-made products the global mark of sustainability excellence;
- Remove barriers to new business models and lift product standards; and
- Introduce market mechanisms and boost investment in innovation, science and research.
Let’s imagine that all this happens and Australia becomes ‘start-up heaven’. How, I wonder, will all this be managed? Start-up companies, by their nature, are likely to be populated by younger minds unblemished by the inertia of older workers who have self-regulated their ideas after years of middle-management road blocks. How is such innovation, creativity and energy to be nourished and channelled? No fantastic idea will ever make it to market if you can’t get cash positive. Commerciality is not necessarily an easy bedfellow with creativity, but without it an idea is vapour. I’m not advocating the older generation here, per se, but some sensible heads on shoulders will be required to guide, coach and mentor if we are to take the next boom opportunity by the horns.
Within these start-up companies it will be necessary to create a whole new managerial paradigm. The master-servant relationship that characterises most businesses will have to be shed for a new way of working. We could look to Google or Yahoo etc. except that in many cases these companies, when you translate their fad-speak, are in fact operating in that traditional manner. Ask any junior Apple employee who rode a lift with Steve Jobs! Rather, we need to embrace a way that encourages and nurtures creativity AND common-sense in equal measure.
The question is whether we should look forward to a new managerial modus operandi, or look back or across to models that might just be able to create a culture and climate where innovation and imagination sit comfortably with commerce and operability. To get the best out of our workforce we need to go beyond thinking of them as human capital, or worse, re-labelling them as ‘talent’. We will need to explore ways of managing that stretch the very boundary of what management is thought to be. We will need to create communication styles that reflect BOTH digital/social media modes AND age-old intuition/’telepathy’. We will need to coach our people in a way that is BOTH as if they were our children AND our co-workers. We will need to help them enter flow and embrace ecstasy AND wear the de Bono ‘black hat’ at the same time. We will need managers who develop an intuition that speaks to both creative AND commercial potential. We will need to encourage our people to jealously guard their ideas as their own AND share them without fear. We will need them to be mindful AND mindless.
In short we will need to embrace a whole new paradox – the paradox of the AND. The managers and coaches of our innovators may not find their skill sets fulfilled through the traditional business-school route. It will be beholden on us who want to innovate, to bolster our existing business skills with other skills. It might be argued that those managers who have the courage and foresight to embrace mindfulness, flow, intuition, chakra energy and similar notions will be the ones most capable of nurturing the creative energies that lie within each of us. Quite possibly it is these managers we need to help sustain Australia as ‘the lucky country’. Only then will the next boom be ours.