I'm currently reading two books: Screw Business As Usual by my unofficial mentor Richard Branson, and War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World by Max Boot. Both of these books are highly applicable for all entrepreneurs, and on my “must read” list. Here's why.
Screw Business As Usual is a book about creating a profitable business by doing good, specifically helping to solve major world issues such as poverty and global warming. Now I'm not a climate scientist and can't look at data to say if global warming is for sure. However I believe it is. During the 7 years my family and I lived in Florida it got hotter and hotter each year. In addition, this year in Thailand the storms have been worse, and they began earlier than years past. This past Winter Minnesota experienced 60-degree days. When I was growing up and visited my Grandmother for Christmas it never get above freezing, for months.
These are not isolated incidents. Globally the weather is getting more extreme. You don't need to be a climate scientist to see that. It's right outside your window.
War Made New is a book about 4 “revolutions” in military affairs and how they led to the rise and fall of empires. Now you might be wondering what a book about military history has to do with entrepreneurship and marketing. Let me tell you.
The first lesson in the book is this: the militaries that utilized and then innovated the latest technologies won, literally decimating their opponents. Remember when websites weren't seen as necessary, or when social media was just for techies. Big data is a big thing now, and the use of social media is growing…
The book also provides story after story of armies with better strategy and training besting larger foes. In the world of startups execution is everything; but being first doesn't guarantee success. You have to continue to innovate, which can be a problem for some big companies. There are many stories of people quitting their jobs at large corporations to build a startup only to be later purchased (for large sums) by the very companies they left! Oh the irony.
So what does this have to do with entrepreneurship and the future? Let's begin with a question:
What happens when the oil runs out?
Growing countries need energy to fuel their growth. Currently a bulk of that energy is in the form of coal, oil, and to an extent nuclear power. However there are alternatives.
Solar, wind and water are three sources of energy we have yet to put to their full potential. The technology is young and additional funding and research is necessary. So called “clean tech” and “green tech” are two areas ripe for entrepreneurial solutions and investment.
In looking at history and how modern countries came to be thanks to adoption of military technology, I wonder if a country's adoption of renewable energy will determine its ultimate success or failure. Oil won't last forever, and it's use doesn't seem to keep the world from heating up. We need solutions, and I'm confident that entrepreneurs will deliver those solutions.
Throughout history we've seen companies overtaken by more agile rivals unafraid of using bleeding edge technology or, in the case of social media, social change, to their advantage. The expectations of today's consumer have permanently shifted. In increasing numbers people are watching TV with tablet in hand, a wealth of information about a company and the means to (sometimes only try to) contact them, at their finger tips. We expect a response, and become frustrated when we get none.
We don't like being ignored.
Will the success of companies in the future rest not on their ability to outspend competitors in media, but to be both responsive to and in anticipation of customer needs, based on their capability to listen? It's looking that way.
It's said that history tends to repeat itself. Thousands of years of human history shows that those who adopt and then innovate on new technology win. They maintain power until a more innovative competitor comes along and renders their methods outdated and weak.
Continuous adoption and innovation is necessary.
As we move into the future we'll see who heeds this history and thrives, and who – at a country and business level – is left behind. I'll choose the former, and hope you will too.