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Future-proofing the present, for the decade ahead

Embracing new principles are becoming increasingly critical for today’s organizations as they build more creative, adaptable, and human systems

Words by Amitabh Ray

As I switch on Bloomberg TV during breakfast, to catch up with news and what to look out for during the rest of the day, a designation that catches my attention is that of Chief Future Officer – the new CFO. This role has assumed a huge degree of importance in organizations, preparing to taking on tomorrow. The job description for this role spans a wide range of skills, from identifying risks to detecting opportunities, and developing strategies to mitigate the challenges, while working with the other leaders to explore opportunities. Sounds fairly logical and simple, but it is the overwhelming complexities of delivering on the job requirements that make this role so critical and pivotal for every company; big or small!

We have entered into an era where undisputed leadership can be challenged overnight. Take the example of Google, with its 90% domination of the search engine business, getting fiercely challenged by OpenAI with its ChatGPT, and over 10 billion USD investment by Microsoft in OpenAI, Bing is growing daily as an interesting search option. Search itself is being transformed. Fallout of the Generative AI advancements have impacted the competitive landscape of semiconductors as well.

A report, from of PC market research company JPR, notes that both AMD and Intel are only 9% of the GPU market – while Nvidia is way ahead of both at a huge 82% of the market. It feels a bit like Intel and AMD are fighting over scraps, while Nvidia continues to dominate sales, spurred by the advancements of Generative AI, the large language models powering chatbots. 

The changing risk landscape

Even countries are on the verge of losing their competitive advantage as geopolitical risks reshape global relationships. The Chips Act of the US denies China access to vital semiconductor technologies, which threatens its gameplan to achieve global supremacy in Artificial Intelligence (AI). The corporate fallout of which is Apple rapidly reconfiguring its supply chain by developing manufacturing in India, Indonesia, and Thailand. Geopolitical risks redefined Europe’s energy landscape with Germany building new terminals to handle LNG, in less than a year. 

The global risk landscape is changing dramatically. The world is facing a set of risks that feel both wholly new and eerily familiar. We have seen a return of “older” risks – inflation, cost-of-living crises, trade wars, capital outflows from emerging markets, widespread social unrest, geopolitical confrontation and the spectre of nuclear warfare – which few of this generation’s business leaders and public policy-makers have experienced. 

These are being amplified by comparatively new developments, including unsustainable levels of debt, a new era of low growth, low global investment and de-globalization, a decline in human development after decades of progress, rapid and unconstrained development of dual-use (civilian and military) technologies, and the growing pressure of climate change impacts and ambitions in an evershrinking window for transition to a 1.5°C world. Together, these are converging to shape a unique, uncertain and turbulent decade to come. The Chief Future Officer has to continuously monitor this fast-evolving risk landscape and prepare the organization to take on tomorrow with the agility of a footballer in a 90-minute game, but without losing the long-term goal of emerging at the top of the league table.

Think like a hacker

Concurrently, new technological advancements are throwing open exciting opportunities for organizations to leverage. A recent Harvard Business Review article wants future leaders to think like hackers. Hackers are systems thinkers; they have an attitude that allows them to identify opportunities to make outsized impacts creatively, quickly, and resourcefully. Leaders could benefit from thinking more like hackers. 

Hacking helps us take a step back from the worn-out management tenets of efficiency, long-term planning, hierarchical decision-making, and full information, to adopt instead more adaptable strategies. Adopting a hacker attitude can help managers work around obstacles, find opportunities across siloes, cultivate a culture of pragmatism, mobilize staff around processes instead of end goals, and navigate situations in which there isn’t an obvious answer or clear choice. These skills are imperative to navigate the future and take on tomorrow.

Airbnb, in its early days, used a clever workaround to attract users from Craigslist, which had a massive user base but poor user experience. Airbnb sent hosts a link to automatically cross-post their listings to Craigslist, and when someone found a listing that originated on Airbnb, they were rerouted to Airbnb’s platform. This helped Airbnb gain free site traffic and new sign-ups, and eventually users started going straight to Airbnb for their lodging needs.

Managing Talent Today, to Take on Tomorrow

Talent management will be one of the most critical issues organizations will be faced on an ongoing basis. In India 25,370 employees have been laid off by 92 startups, including unicorns BYJU’S, Cars24, Ola, OYO, Udaan, Unacademy and Vedantu. EdTech has laid off the most employees, with 19 edtech startups laying off 9,000+ employees. Globally 629 tech companies laid off 185136 employees laid off in 2023 and 1056 tech companies fired 164511 employees in 2022, according to data from layoffs.fyi.

Yet, a recent survey shows that 77% of employers worldwide are finding it difficult to fill open job roles, which represents a 17-year-high talent shortage, according to multinational staffing firm ManpowerGroup. The annual survey of 39,000 employers across 41 countries showed a 2% year-over-year increase in employers who said they’re struggling to fill roles; that’s more than double the difficulty reported in 2010 (31% of employers at that time). There’s a huge skill gap between what employers seek and what employees possess. In India this gap is at its widest today as technology erases and transforms jobs. 

Organizations will need to become more efficient due to layoffs and budget cuts. Rather than asking tech employees to do more work, companies should focus on reducing administrative, bureaucratic, and manual tasks. By creating a work environment that allows engineers to focus on what they love, companies can attract top talent.

The Four Futures

The World Economic Forum identifies four potential futures centred around food, water, metals and mineral shortages, all of which could spark a humanitarian as well as an ecological crisis – from water wars and famines to continued overexploitation of ecological resources and a slowdown in climate mitigation and adaption. Given uncertain relationships between global risks, similar foresight exercises can help anticipate potential connections, directing preparedness measures towards minimizing the scale and scope of polycrises before they arise. 

To take on tomorrow, the successful organisations must learn to read geopolitical signals well in advance to navigate such new kinds of risks, apart from the usual ones like technology disruptions, pandemics, government policy shifts, tougher regulatory environment, climate change, and of course people issues.

We are living through an era of unprecedented challenges and opportunities. The climate crisis, global health challenges, and changes in social values are upending individual priorities. Neo-globalization and geopolitics are shifting the world’s tectonic plates. How we live and work is being constantly reinvented by advances in technology and the emergence of generations who were “born digital”!

With over three decades of extensive business and corporate leadership experience, Amitabh Ray is a pragmatic leader known for driving growth and innovation through strategic vision, team-building, and relentless execution.
His passion for fostering relationships and communication has allowed him to perform from the trenches to the board rooms.
As a Global Executive in the Telecom, Tech, and Professional Services industries, he has a deep commitment for business, execution, and people development. His former roles include Managing Director at Ericsson Global Services, Head of IBM Global Delivery, and Consulting Partner at PwC India. These have given him a huge swathe of global experience, navigating the challenges and complexities of large-scale transformational initiatives, in three organizations, each with over a century of history and resilience through world wars, industrial revolutions, and seismic technological shifts.
Honoured as one of the Most Promising Business Leaders of Asia 2021 by The Economic Times and recognized as a Top 100 People Managers in 2022 by the Great Manager Institute and Forbes India, his dedication to uplifting others remains his driving force. This is mirrored throughout his career in creating opportunities where others faltered, and consistently aligning his personal goals with those of the organisation.

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