This article contains some of the key issues raised by Liam in an exclusive webinar he held for Social Enterprise UK members on 15 February 2021. SEUK members can access the full recording here.

Last week Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s Chief Economist (and all-round futurist) described the UK economy as a “coiled spring” ready to explode once conditions were right. Much of the emphasis within the media was on the consumer, ready to spend savings on holidays, cars, new clothes and multiple trips to the pub. But over the longer term, we may see the major shift to digital, in response to restrictions throughout the COVID pandemic, drive the real explosion.

I believe that COVID has finally created a tipping point for the next major industrial (digital) revolution, and that in 2021 and the years ahead, we’re going to see dramatic acceleration and change, and a different form of disruption: the creative kind.

Whilst it’s understandable that leaders and staff in organisations will seek to resume some normality, I’d argue that to avoid the next disruption (s) organisations need to find a way to channel, maintain and potentially accelerate that momentum to survive and thrive in the second machine age. Here’s why and how.

What comes next – the perfect storm

Major change is often inevitable, rather than planned. The conditions to spark the next dramatic change have been near tipping point for a while. I’ve written and spoken publicly on this for years, and I made it my professional mission to help prepare organisations to deal with major digital ‘creative disruption’ ahead. This is why:

Domain drivers

  • Economic necessity for growth.
  • Stagnating productivity in developed world.
  • Aging population and dependency ratio.

Enabling drivers

  • Highly accessible, cheap creation tools have democratised digital productivity.
  • A disruption-minded, digital-native generation.
  • Oven-ready next generation technologies.

What COVID brought to the party was a major global booster in every area of what I call the ‘four digital pillars (or domains)’ of change – culture and mindset shift, skills and experiences, the organisational operating systems and deployment of technology itself.

In other words leaders and organisations now have more digital tools, less blockers, better understanding and new increasingly embedded experiences and practices that will stick.

Liam Cahill the next digital disruption SEUK presentation 1 web

Through my work with a range of institutions, organisations, startups and investors within the public, private and non-profit sectors, I have seen the foundations well and truly laid for the technologies that could begin to change everything beyond recognition. Including:

  • Decentralised and interconnected internet of all data & digital function (e.g. through blockchain). 
  • Automation of routine (and increasingly less routine) logical activities (e.g. Robot and Intelligent Process Automation).
  • Intelligent prediction, augmentation & decision support (Artificial Intelligence).
  • Rapid creation and deployment of digital solutions and applications.

Increased consolidation and combination of these (and some others) creates the conditions for the kind of constant creative disruption could affect your organisation, and soon.

What to do about it

The most important recommendation I’d make is to recognise the future risk of disruption for your organisation, and to not hit the brakes or reverse when we emerge from COVID. The last year has been awful, and you and your staff will crave comfort and normality, but if you don’t capture the essence of how you responded, (likely with freedom, fluidity and urgency) then you may find yourself caught out next time.

don't hit the breaks! social enterprise uk liam cahill webinar

Here are my top things to do:

  • Tackle things that stop or slow forming of new things and reforming existing things. This will need to include the behaviour and practices of leaders, which though less defined is hugely influential on this.
  • Encourage and cultivate creative digital disruption. Being creative and seeing improvements is a brilliant and energising thing, so recognise how positive this is together.
  • Nourish the right culture: make it culturally safe to fail and learn; celebrate creativity and intrapreneurship; constantly create and share experiences to drive and encourage soft skill development; Encourage transparency and open discussion, especially leaders; Avoid detailed plans but allow things to be driven by clear intention.
  • More tangibly there are three headline areas: make exposing and sharing real time data a major priority, and from everywhere; Consider whether you have the right kinds of systems to empower your staff (see below), and think about digital assets that drive efficiency (and new commercial opportunities) – digital success is all about assets.

think about whether you have the right kind of systems liam cahill

To bring this all together, what I’m advocating for progress is actually quite simple: maintain the energy and progress from 2020, recognise the strategic urgency, and keep trying to move forward digitally. If you can do that, and ensure that the momentum stays, then the digital future of your organisation could be very bright indeed.

Liam Cahill is the founder of Sector Three Digital. For more articles, ideas and insight please follow or connect Liam here.

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