“The future belongs to people who see possibilities before they become obvious” (Ted Levitt)
A blueprint is a reproduction of a technical drawing or engineering drawing using a contact print process on light-sensitive sheets. Introduced by Sir John Herschel in 1842, the process allowed rapid and accurate production of an unlimited number of copies. It was widely used for over a century for the reproduction of specification drawings used in construction and industry. The blueprint process was characterized by white lines on a blue background, a negative of the original. The process was not able to reproduce colour or shades of grey. The process is now obsolete. It was first largely displaced by the diazo whiteprint process and later by large-format xerographic photocopiers.
In its day, the blueprint served important functions:
- In industry and construction, all contractors were supplied with accurate drawings and plans
- It gave all stakeholders an idea of the “big picture” – the intended final product
- It outlined the “part that you have to play” for all sub-contractors
- It gave everyone an accurate understanding of the necessary pieces of the puzzle (materials to be used, amount of resources required, etc.)
Although now “obsolete” in its original use, the word “blueprint” is still used today, largely illustrating a tried and tested model to create a desired future for a business – a strategic plan that needs to be followed accurately in order for the business to succeed. In our world where incidences of disruption have now become the norm, however, business blueprints seem to have been set aside for more flexible approaches to achieve business growth – business blueprints are bowing out and leaders are adopting agile processes to progress and even survive. Change has become a necessity and, innovation, a core process.
To avoid being left behind or, at worst, becoming totally redundant, businesses are having to adapt to changing environments, new technology and more recent upgrades in intelligence, sometimes requiring dramatic shifts in “the way we do things around here”. The business blueprints that were relied upon to propel growth are no longer relevant and they have subsequently bowed out. Business transformation and strategic realignment are now seriously needed to navigate 21st Century customer needs, preferences and expectations. “Slow to change” companies (and particularly old-style government departments) are causing customers much frustration – social media quickly picks up on this phenomenon, producing bad reviews and subsequent damage to the brand.
Business growth propulsion in the modern era rests on a number of pillars:
- Relevance – having the right products, at the right time and aimed at the right people. This may sound obvious, but the concept of “relevance” needs much more attention from business executives. For example, a company that produces vacuum-cleaners may tick the box of relevance, as they correctly reckon that everyone needs to clean their respective apartments. Executives would be wrong if they stopped thinking at that point – a clean apartment has a dual issue at stake: getting it clean appropriately and needing to find the time to get it clean. Innovative thinking solves both issues simultaneously with the production of a robotic vacuum-cleaner that operates automatically when you are out of the apartment at work.
- A culture of inclusion – ensuring that everyone is involved and contributing all the time. This should not just be an invitation to bring ideas to the attention of senior management, but it should be an expectation within the culture. In other words, the company culture is designed to facilitate brain-storming activities across all levels where all employees are able to give relevant input into product development, solving customer service issues and providing feedback timeously to executives.
- Appropriate use of artificial intelligence – Artificial Intelligence (AI) leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind. The algorithms that are created have immense capability of analysing enormous data sets – this proves to be very helpful in predicting fashion and buying trends, the spending habits of groups of people and consumer preferences. This information helps shape business strategy.
- A focus on relentless execution – people generally perform better and are more productive overall when they are co-creators of processes and systems. Involve all team members in designing appropriate processes to achieve desirable work outcomes. Measure, recognise and reward teams based on collaboration, creativity and contribution.
- Trustworthiness and brand credibility – these attributes are built, not through clever marketing campaigns, but through leaders and their employees behaving consistently in alignment with the company values and customer promises. Long gone are the days when quality was the only factor in purchasing decisions in customers’ minds – now, many other factors also drive purchasing trends, for example: accessibility, reliability, trendiness, standards of after-sales service, friendliness of staff, ease of use of products, perceived value, etc.
To survive and even thrive in a challenging new business environment, business blueprints must bow out and be replaced by agile processes and innovative thinking. All employees need to be involved in creating their businesses of tomorrow – those that will survive disruption and perhaps even lead the way in new technologies that make absolute sense to future customers. As Ted Levitt suggests, the future does indeed belong to people who see possibilities before they become obvious.