THE BLOG

History Versus The Moonshot

24/03/2017 14:54 GMT | Updated 24/03/2017 14:54 GMT
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In the years before my grandmother passed away she used to be able to tell fabulously colourful stories about the past, but sadly she was unable to tell me a great deal about whatever had happened a few minutes ago. Today, in the business world, the reverse is true. Stories of excitement about today and the future dominate. Vibrant histories are swept aside.

The disruptive New Establishment (as they are described by Vanity Fair) command a massive share of voice in media today. Silicon Valley hotshots, icons, moguls and titans are plastered everywhere. In the public imagination they sit triumphantly astride a mountain of outdated and disrupted businesses who owned the past - but seemingly have no place in the future economy.

Just look at the attention that Snap Inc. managed to drum up in advance of their IPO. The resulting $28.3 billion price tag is a million miles away (well, several billion actually) from their balance sheet net worth of just $1.5 billion. When you sit back and think about it, it's astounding that the narrative that they have created about the future was persuasive enough to encourage investors to pay $28 billion for an asset that currently loses $500 million a year and has never turned a profit.

In response to this noise, interest and approach to valuation, more traditional businesses have searched their empires far and wide to find evidence of their own innovation and participation in the future economy. They willingly jettison their past and amplify the new. And as you might expect, many of the stories that are told are not as compelling as the moonshots championed by the New Establishment.

I can understand why the incumbents have adopted this strategy, but think that they have been hasty in brushing aside the past.

It's a big mistake principally because through what I would describe as 'moonshot' communications, The New Establishment like Google and Facebook now regularly have a clear shot at leading the world's most admired and best places to work lists.

And 'getting the right people on the bus' - as Jim Collins described in his legendary book, 'Good to Great' - is one of the main ways for a business to secure itself the best chance of sustaining success over long periods of time.

This conclusion is supported by our latest journal, produced in partnership with L1, which explores what we have called the "Indigo Era". A disruptive era driven by extraordinary levels of human creativity. This era of rapid economic change is generating winners and losers. And, surprise-surprise, it's access to talent that is the defining element.

As it stands, because the incumbents have jettisoned the past in favour of the shiny things that may make them greater in the future, their stories are incomplete. The New Establishment have been awarded an unimpeded home run - they have privileged access to talent, and with it they stand a fair chance of reaching out to the moon.

Businesses with heritage need to stop trying to compete on the turf that has been set out for them by the The New Establishment and they need to start blending this with their track record. Their track record at innovation, but also their, in some cases hundreds of years' experience at unlocking human potential.

For Millennials and Gen X, the opportunity to be part of a culture that has perfected the art of personal development over time is compelling. As Duleesha Kulasooriya from Deloitte's Centre for the Edge set out well in his recent paper on Unlocking Human Potential - the irony is that although the world changes rapidly; our basic needs as humans, do not so much. Talented people seek personal and professional growth more than ever - to help them to build adaptability into their own career.

In a Malthusian sense, the incumbents have the potential to use their heritage to show how they can deliver against employees' basic needs. It is by telling engaging stories of personal development AND innovation that the incumbents can compete for talent with The New Establishment. Without these stories the playing field is tilted against them, and the war for talent will be all but lost.