The shaving brand, Gillette, (Procter & Gamble) has been running a television commercial which shows actor Brandon Quinn in far-flung locations, and claims one ProGlide cartridge blade lasted him 5 weeks on the road.
It is impossible to put a reliable number on how long a shaving blade lasts, not least because all the variables are personal: including skin type, hair type, tolerance for drag, etc.
But the news is that the huge and successful marketing machine behind the Gillette brand has seen *now* as the moment to come forward with a blade longevity number.
On the surface, it’s odd: doesn’t the brand’s performance rely on moving blades off the shelf: that is, the more still-good blades that go into the trash the better? It’s an anomaly.
In standard, quantitative planning, anomalies are “outlier” data points that are by definition of marginal consequence, and are smoothed into an overall consensus projection.
In thinking industry foresight, by contrast, we give extra time to the anomalies: they are often the straw-in-the-wind for major branching points where the future becomes different from the present.
Gillette didn’t get to be where it is by making marketing mistakes. One must assume the company knows what it is doing. But what is it doing? What does this anomaly tell us about the future?
You don’t do good mass marketing by being out of touch with the market. If Gillette is apparently capsizing its billion-dollar business model with a “reduce-reuse” message, then for sure the popular zeitgeist has reached the point where this is a genuinely mainstream platform. It other words, the company’s hand is forced.
Recessions always give reduce-reuse a boost, but the ongoing trend is an inexorable move from throwaway culture, and Gillette is telling us the mass market is truly “there” now.
It’s not an accident that Quinn’s road-trip is global, showing African savannah, Asian waterways, the polar regions, the rainforests, and everything inbetween. “One planet” and “we’re all in this together” associations are manifest.
Where Gillette has been smart is it has got out in front and led its industry in terms of nominating standards for reuse. Every company and every product in this industry (as in most industries) is going to have to find its reduce-reuse-recycle feet. Industry leadership is a land grab, where often the land is real estate in the mind of the consumer. Can Schick (Wilkinson Sword) now say: “our blades last a month”? Of course not.
In the traditional era—well within living memory—manufactured goods cost relatively more in disposable-income terms, but lasted a longer. Where companies made products that were known to last, that meant “quality,” and they were able to price accordingly.
In the razor blade industry it has surely escaped nobody’s attention that “dad’s” straight retro-blades are very popular among young men, based on durability and (perhaps) their “badass” image. Witness a lively debate on badgerandblade.com.
But straight razors are the past, and aside from niche markets, we never go back to the past. However, as per the Mark Twain quote: while “history doesn’t repeat itself, it does rhyme.”
This appears to be Gillette’s hope: to rhyme with 1960 and sell a modern safety blade that lasts like in the good old days, and which allows commensurate pricing power, just like in the good old days.read more
“The most vital, obvious, and underestimated lesson in the 100-year history of IBM is you must keep moving to the future,” said IBM President and CEO Sam Palmisano, opening the company’s recent ‘THINK: A Forum on the Future of Leadership‘ conference at the Lincoln Center in New York.
Further gratifyingly embracing the fundamental identity between leadership and successfully navigating the future, Palmisano continued: “It is so easy to stick with things that have made you a successful company or institution – a winning product, a profitable business model … but one of the core responsibilities of leadership is to understand when it’s time to change.”
And then, applying the mantra of respectable industry foresight analysts and practitioners (there are some): “It’s also particularly important to know what not to change, what must endure. To get that balance right is really, really hard.”
The full address is on Youtube.
The THINK conference is a key plank in IBM’s ongoing centennial year observance. It brought together 700 global leaders and IBM partners and employees, shining a light on leadership as a function that demands active, high-quality forward thinking.
Among the many insight nuggets was Carmen Medina, former Director of the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, commenting that “observing the present” is the only valid basis of future-exploration (correct); and that this sensemaking function is now being augmented by analytic and computational tools that make far better sense of all types of observed data and behavior, for example, social media behavior.
The old horizon scanning function really has become a much more complex, dynamic, and rewarding activity in the current era. Data visualization was also a key theme at the THINK exhibit.
Among the CEO delegates were Sir Howard Stringer (Sony); Jamie Dimon, (JP Morgan Chase & Co.); Jim McNerney (Boeing); Andrew Liveris (Dow Chemical); Peter Voser (Royal Dutch Shell); and Ellen Kullman, (DuPont.) Filling out Shell’s guest list were Abdullah II, King of Jordan; Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico; Laura Chinchilla-Miranda, President of Costa Rica; WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy; NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and media celebrities Charlie Rose and Tom Friedman. Selected video highlights are on the IMB100 site.
Tomorrow’s wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton dominates the airwaves around the world, and even Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kantor has an HBR blog post offering business insights thereto, including that it is an example of the coming of the “experience economy,” where people pay for the chance to participate at particular times, and expenditures on goods and services come in bundles tied to particular events. She councils how the “soft stuff” and “joy factor” can offer big audiences and revenues; romance and ritual matter…“sentiment sells.”
Fair enough. To this, permit me to add a thought or two about how the fact of the royal wedding can improve out judgment of future business environments and opportunities.
First, in the race to the future, leaders should never underestimate the power of traditionalism and continuity –particularly in changing times. Business leaders may be tempted to view the latest gizmo or the new lifestyle choice as the future. But this would be thinking poorly about tomorrow. Yes, new things get adopted all the time, and real and rapid change happens, but at the same time the broad market also has a vast, seemingly unquenchable, appetite for tradition.
The point is, the two are closely correlated. The faster society and technology moves the more people cling to apparent past certainties and traditions.
If you’d looked at the future of the British monarchy anytime through the turbulent, democratizing 20th century you might have be tempted to say it must soon be phased out, given the estimated $65m-a-year cost to the taxpayer (not including the spiraling cost of security.) You would think that the public would tire of upper-class toffs prancing around from polo matches to garden parties, wearing Chloe and drinking Krug at their expense.
But, in fact, no. The British monarchy is as popular as ever. There is some truth in the view that royalty is good for UK tourism. But mostly the monarchy survives because the public wants vestiges of the past as it peers at the changing future and the steady erosion of tradition and other fixed points from middle class lives.
A handsome military prince, a girl in white, a horse-drawn carriage, a bishop, a cathedral … is a psychological balm for most of us, even if we are, or more exactly because we are, viewing it all streamed on an iPad.
In industry foresight, we call this a “counter-trend.”
Another counter trend at work here is marriage itself. The figures are clear that people are marrying later, if at all, and staying married for a shorter time. William and Kate represent a minority: the number of weddings that are a first-time marriage for both parties is down to 150,000 a year, 35% what it was in 1940. That’s the trend. So the royal couple and their public ritual affirms publicly what most ordinary people are denying or denied privately.
The point not to be missed is the middle-class compromises most people are making drives counter-trend nostalgia for what once was, and marketing campaigns or business units, if not entire companies, can be built thereon – not only on traditionalist revivalism specifically, but on any strong counter-trend.
Finally, the wedding of Prince William to “commoner” Catherine Middleton shows us how, despite all its apparent protestations, the UK is yet still Americanizing faster than one might think, and not just in splurging on cheap Chinese imports or putting university education on a pay-to-play basis.
Kate is very much an “American” princess, in the sense of being from a self-made family. Her mother was a flight attendant, her father too, before becoming a flight dispatcher for BA. (Rumor, hotly denied, is that Prince William’s friends used to snigger “doors-to-manual” among themselves on Kate’s arrival, in reference to her parents’ profession.)
But then “the American dream” could and did happen: The Middletons hit it rich with an online party supplies company (Party Pieces), were able to send Catherine to the right schools, and the rest is history.
I’m going back to the S+B interview with Lawrence Burns, former GM head of R&D, cited in my previous post, because there is more to be had in understanding how systems dynamics has shaped and will shape the future of the automobile industry.
This not only helps us think about automobiles, energy, public transport, and so on, but also about foresight in all industries.
Asked about the likelihood of “transformational” change in the auto industry—given the historical pattern of slow, incremental change we have seen for decades—Burns says:
“The main reason upheavals haven’t happened is that the automobile transportation system benefited from a tremendous self-reinforcing dynamic: the codependence between the roadway infrastructure, the energy infrastructure, and the machines that we created.”
In other words, systems dynamics were at work, in this case dominated by a deeply powerful reinforcing loop:
“As cars became available in the early 1900s, you needed to build roads suitable for them, and the costs of the roads were paid with gasoline taxes… As more cars were manufactured, more gasoline was consumed; the more gasoline was consumed, the more roads were built. The more roads were built, the more valuable a car became. And as cars became more valuable, it led to more cars being bought… Next thing, you wake up and in the United States you have 250 million cars, and they travel on 4 million miles of road, 3 trillion miles a year…
“So we thought about a new DNA for the automobile, but you couldn’t create that just for the car itself. It has to operate within a new codependent system.”
Too smart to crash
What drives this new system, is of course the core of the debate. In Burns’ view the key issue is vehicles will become “too smart to crash,” allowing them to be built without current safety defences, that is, 75 percent lighter, which drastically reduces energy requirements.
“The problem with batteries today isn’t really the batteries themselves; the problem is the vehicle that we’re putting them in. To power a typical car today, you need a battery the size of one or two Sumo wrestlers, and it takes eight hours to recharge, so you need charging stations in garages or on the street. For the 750-pound class of vehicles that we envision, the battery could someday become small enough so that you could easily bring it into your house or apartment to recharge, and it would recharge in just three hours.”
Everything rests on the assumption of whether “too smart to crash” is possible, and the secondary assumption whether consumers will ever really trust this. The former is surely sound, the latter questionable.
But, no matter. At least this view of the automobile industry evolution, or indeed revolution, is in clear acknowledgement that one will not see the future of the auto industry by looking through the lens of a single issue such as global warming, or any single propulsion or other technology.
The car is inextricably tied to the deeper systems it is part of. Any transformational future proposed or envisaged—whether that of Burns, or environmental lobbyists, or public transport evangelists, or any other—has to show how the whole current reinforcing system behind the car is overcome, that is bettered for most consumers and stakeholders, by a new system.
First posted at Forbes Leadership: http://blogs.forbes.com/adamgordon
Legislation is the route by which ‘the people’ (or powerful sectarian interests, take your pick,) influence the future. It is often underestimated as a future force, or viewed merely as legislators playing catch-up with technology or societal change. But legislation can be far-sighted, and profoundly shape outcomes.
In a fascinating recent development, Inc. magazine., Democrat of , and , Republican of , introduced the Start-up Visa Act to the US Senate, as reported in
The legislation is a forward-looking bid to turbo-charge entrepreneurial venturing in the U.S. by attracting foreign entrepreneurs and connecting them to U.S. capital, therein driving new economic growth and local jobs. What’s really interesting is it goes against past common wisdom that recessions are ‘bad for immigration’ (as citizens demand job protection.)
If passed, the bill gives U.S. visas to foreigners who can raise $100,000 from an angel investor or $250,000 from a qualified VC firm. After two years, if the immigrant entrepreneur can create five or more jobs (excluding family), attract an additional $1 million in investment, or produce $1 million in revenue, he or she gets a green card (permanent residency.)
The only current option, the EB-5 business investment visa, requires immigrants to invest at least $1 million in the U.S. and employ 10 people.
The National Venture Capital Association says 25 percent of America’s venture-backed, publicly-traded businesses, incl. , , and have been founded or co-founded by immigrants. According to , author of : Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy, nearly all U.S. job creation in the past 20 years has come from companies less than five years old.
The history of US immigration policy has been schizophrenic to say the least, with periods of great social openness followed by about-face door slamming. The slamming has always corresponded to economic downturns or anxiety thereto. But here we have the opposite effect. And we have legislators taking a forward view! Both proof that the future is sure to surprise us.read more
I’ve been flying across the world recently, which has given me a few quiet moments to read a real bona fide book, and the one I have been busy with is Peter Bernstein’s Against the Gods: the Remarkable Story of Risk (Wiley, 1996). It’s aclaimed all over the place, particularly in risk management circles, but I’d never quite got to it.
Anyway, this is in the intro (p5), and I found it a perfect encapsulation of a core problem in foresight thinking — quantitative vs qualitative methods — well worth retyping out to have on hand for reflection. Here goes:
“The story that I have to tell is marked all the way through by a persistent tension between those who assert that the best decisions are based on quantification and numbers, determined by the patterns of the past, and those who base their decisions on more subjective degrees of belief about the uncertain future This is a controversy that has never been resolved.
The issue boils down to one’s view about the extent to which the past determines the future. We cannot quantify the future, because it is an unknown, but we have learned how to use numbers to scrutinize what happened in the past. But to what degree should we rely on the patterns of the past to tell us what the future will be like? Which matters more when facing a risk, the facts as we see them or our subjective belief in what lies hidden in the void of time? Is risk management a science or an art? Can we even tell for certain precisely where the dividing line between the two approaches lies?
It is one thing to set up a mathematical model that appears to explain everything. But when we face the struggle of daily life, of constant trial and error, the ambiguity of the facts as well as the power of the human heartbeat can obliterate the model in short order.”