Transformational Times call for Transformational Change – Towards the Firm of The Future

Transformational Times call for Transformational Change – Towards the Firm of The Future


Posted 08 August 2011, by Giles Hutchins, AtoS,


Due to a ‘perfect storm’ of economic, social and environmental factors, our business landscape is becoming increasingly more volatile.

The pace of change is becoming faster and only set to increase. To succeed we must be agile, creative, alert, spontaneous and responsive – operating in completely new ways. Today’s rapidly changing business environment calls for businesses that thrive in rapidly changing environments: businesses more akin to living systems that can learn and adapt, not structured and silo’ed, stifling learning and agility; businesses that are bottom-up, decentralised, interdependent, multifunctional, emergent, self-organizing units, not centralised, top-down, hierarchical monoliths.

Put simply, the business models and management approaches that served us well in the past, are no longer fit for purpose in a business context where dynamic change is the ‘new norm’. Organisations that are able to ‘let go’ of old business paradigms, having the courage to embrace new ways of operating whilst dealing with the pressing short-term issues of today, shall be the ones who can weather the storm, adapting to seek out opportunities in these volatile times. Other organisations, fearfully clinging to practices that are no longer fit for purpose for the times within which we now operate, shall struggle to cope with the level of change ahead. The years ahead to 2020, in this Decade of Creative Destruction & Reconstruction, shall bear witness to the wheat being separated from the chaff – organisations who ‘get it’ adapting and evolving, and those that do not perishing or being acquired. Bold ‘Firms of The Future’ shall start to unlock the creative potential of their own workforce, their partners and communities they serve, initiating positive virtuous cycles of collaboration, innovation and value creation for all stakeholders; improved value, higher margins and higher well-being the result.

As Dawn Vance, Global Supply Chain Director at Nike succinctly puts it:

‘Organizations have 3 options:

1.       Hit The Wall;

2.       Optimize and delay hitting the wall; or

3.       Redesign for Resilience – simultaneously optimizing existing networks whilst creating disruptive innovations and working collaboratively with partners’.

It is this ‘redesigning for resilience’ which drives the transformation from a Firm of The Past to a Firm of The Future. The Firm of the Future is one that:

»» Drives transformation through values-based leadership and stakeholder empowerment using the catalysts of education, innovation, inspiration and collaboration;

»» Encourages synergies across its business ecosystem, engaging with multiple stakeholders in an open, transparent way; where common values create connections enabling mutualism;

»» Harnesses the power of social networks and the ‘pull’ media; uses crowd sourcing, co-creation, open source collaboration platforms and transparent branding for differentiation;

»» Evolves ecological thinking for innovating and new ways of operating and generation value for every stakeholder within the community it serves; where waste equals food and nature inspires the people, processes and products.

Characteristics: Firm of the Past –> Firm of the Future

Independent –> Interdependent

Competitive –> Collaborative

Closed-source –> Open-source

Stable –> Dynamic

Economies of scale –> Economies of scope

Resists change –> Leverages diversity

Linear –> Networked

Controlled –> Emergent

Self-focused –> System-focused

Exploitative –> Synergistic

Manages risks –> Fosters resilience

Forces –> Fits

The pressure for change is increasing all the time. Well publicised forward-thinking organisations are already making headway on their transformational journey – Unilever, Puma, Adnams, General Electric, John Lewis Partnership, Marks & Spencers, to name a few. And it is a journey rather than a destination. Transforming towards a Firm of The Future is not about designing the right business model and implementing it, it is about understanding the ethos, ethics and environment that will allow the organisation, individuals and wider stakeholder community to best flourish, adapt and evolve; an emergent journey, a journey that encourages diversity in approaches and outcomes, one where it is good to make mistakes, even fail, as it generates learning to move forward in a more resilient way. Visionary business leaders of today are already making the first steps on this transformational, emergent path for themselves and their businesses. It requires great courage to break rank from a paradigm that is so ingrained in our business mindset, to redesign for resilience in the face of pressing short-term pain. It will be courage that enables organisations to encourage and invest in forming positive virtuous cycles of value-creation whilst managing the fear generated by the current paradigm’s fixation of short-term results at the determent of longer-term value generation.

Transformational times call for transformational change. Businesses that wish to thrive and survive in these volatile times must transform themselves from a Firm of the Past to a Firm of the Future. A Firm of the Future embeds sustainability to its core and, in doing so, generates value for itself, its communities and the ecosystems in which it operates. A Firm of the Future is a Business Inspired by Nature, functioning like an adaptive living organism, thriving within ever-changing business and socio-economic systems, resilient to disruptions and interdependent within the largest ecosystem of all — Earth.




Giles Hutchins As Global Director of Sustainability Solutions at Atos, Giles Hutchins balances educational and operational responsibilities. His goal is to bring sustainability into the mainstream of all business behaviour and to develop focused and practicable sustainability initiatives for Atos and its clients. With over a decade of business and IT transformation experience, Giles is focused on helping organisations evolve to become more sustainable. He is particularly interested in how business models can mimic those found in nature to create resilience under volatile conditions.


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