Breakthrough Business Ideas for 2008

mauboussin HBR graphic
nce a year HBR publishes a set of “breakthrough ideas” for business. The February 2008 edition has this year’s collection. Some of them are the usual psychobabble, technophilia and corporatist leader/strategic management nonsense that pervades most of the business journal echo-chamber, but there are seven interesting ideas in the list (the italicized prognoses are my own):

  • The Coming Peer-to-Peer Economy: This gets top ranking in the HBR list, though the writers clearly don’t know what it is all about. As Umair Haque explains so well, it’s really about walking away from the corporatist economy of artificial scarcity, oligopoly and imaginative poverty and creating a new economy with no zero-value-added intermediaries. It’s about getting rid of the massive distortions in the marketplace that allow wealth to accrue to those who do nothing to earn it. If HBR really understood this, and how much it threatens the economic orthodoxy of which they’re a part, it wouldn’t have been on the list. Prognosis: It will come, later rather than sooner, but big business won’t like it.
  • Projects, not Careers: This is the idea that in the future we will spend our work life working on a series of projects, with different partners, each doing what we do best, rather than working in one company or one series of positions. It’s an interesting idea, and one that technology makes more possible, but it won’t work for two very human reasons. First, the best work is collaborative, and collaboration requires trust and knowledge of one’s collaborators. And secondly, because we get meaning and satisfaction not only from what we do but from who we do it with. Many people are doing work they don’t particularly like because they love who they’re working with. We’re not all meant to be taxi drivers. Prognosis: We’ll try it, but it just won’t work.
  • The Brain-Friendly Workplace: We are meant to be constantly on the move, standing, walking, running, fit. I’ve been working standing up for the last two years and it’s improved my productivity and stamina. HBR goes a step further, saying that treadmills in the workplace and constant movement would make us all more productive. Prognosis: Way too unorthodox to become mainstream business behaviour.
  • Open Space Events for Problem Solving: The HBR writers use the term BarCamp, but what they’re describing is essential Open Space: When you have a problem you can’t solve, engage your customers, employees and others in a self-managed workshop to surface and explore ideas and decide on appropriate actions. The Wisdom of Crowds. Prognosis: Only the smartest businesses will dare use it.
  • Virtual Worlds for Simulation and Scenario Planning: Virtual worlds (“metaverses”) that have thousands of participants are complex systems, just like the real world. But it is much less expensive to bring people together and test out ideas and scenarios in virtual worlds than in the real world. Prognosis: The technology isn’t there yet, but it will come.
  • Virtual Worlds for Marketing and Sales: If you can do anything, including watching TV, reading and listening to radio in a virtual world, to the point many people can and will spend their whole lives in such worlds (looking beautiful, with huge mansions, fast cars, and friends and lovers to enjoy them with), will business need to reorient itself to customers that will only buy ‘inworld’? Or will the peer-to-peer economy be such that everything inworld will be free? Prognosis: They once thought there was money to be made with blogs and other social software. When will they learn?
  • Knowing When Not to Use Experts: Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds explained that most of the things executives and experts do they cannot possibly do as well as a reasonably informed diverse crowd of people who care about the issue at hand. In his contribution to the list,Mike Mauboussin explains (see graphic above) how rarely experts and executives should be the key decision-makers. Prognosis: Executives still think they know everything so this isn’t going to happen; besides, given the obscene amounts many executives and experts earn, they don’t dare admit they don’t have all the answers.
Category: Business Innovation

PS: Today is the 5th anniversary of How to Save the World.

I love, and read, all your comments and e-mails, but I can’t promise to respond tothem.

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5 Responses to Breakthrough Business Ideas for 2008

  1. David Parkinson says:

    Happy anniversary! I wish I could take you out for a romantic dinner, but this will have to suffice.

  2. Kevin says:

    Wow. Five years! I can’t remember exactly when I started reading, but it seems like a lot more than five years. Amazing that my life has changed so much in that time – and your blog actually was a huge influence to get that change started.Thanks!

  3. Jon Husband says:

    I’ve come to differentiating between the terms “collective intelligence” and “wisdom” when it comes to groups and crowds, and in the context of “The Wisdom of Crowds” I’ve come to prefer the term “The Collective Intelligence of Crowds”.Wisdom as I understand it is difficukt and ephemeral enough in individuals, let alone small groups of smart people, and I am not at all sure that “wisdom” applies to what comes out the aggregation and con-sensing of insights, stories, comments from “crowds”. Useful intelligence and practical consensus, maybe … though I am sure Surowiecki has covered it off and would argue the point.I understand the concept, but I am not sure I would use the label “wise” crowds.

  4. Martin-Eric says:

    Funny, cause project-oriented thinking and tasks has been our main focus within my circle of friends and at work. It has one pleasant consequence: we tend to look for versatile people who see the big picture; sometimes lacking sufficient specialization in one task or another, but quick and holistic enough to quickly recognize a need, learn the skill they need to fulfill it and move on.Happy 5th anniversary! :)

  5. Don’t the reasons that will keep ‘projects’ from happening apply to the p2p economy?

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