The company of the future needs to reconsider itself - today! Success is defined by having a temporary monopoly and understanding how to make the best of it - and Funky Business is the recipe.
By Anne Skare Nielsen
In 1931 the Marx Brothers starred in the comedy "Monkey Business". The story itself is a serious one, with two duelling mob bosses on a boat, but with the Marx Brothers entering the scene everything becomes chaotic. Groucho falls for the bad guy's wife. Zeppo falls for the good guy's daughter. Harpo falls for any girl in a dress. Chico falls for a cow. The results of their slapstick are all the more funny, because they are surrounded by a bunch of straight men, who are acting in a very serious manner.
Slapstick comedy is not the first thing that springs to mind when listening to Kjell Nordström, father of the best-selling book "Funky Business". However, together with co-author Jonas Ridderstråle he represents one of the funniest and most thought provoking elements in the New Economy of today. The cornerstone of their innovative business philosophy is that the corporate world of the New Economy has to be a more interesting place to be. A place where people can be creative risk-taking entrepreneurs; a place where talent wants to live. A place where ideas and exciting products materialise faster. And then change. This is the world of Funky Business. In a way it is a world of Marx - not the brothers, but Karl - because power is shifting from material resources to the innovative mind of the individual. And the funky message becomes even more amusing in a world that is still dominated by serious guys dressed in boring suits and a grey corporate image.
But make no mistake. Funky business is not monkey business. The two "funksters" are dead serious about their funny and funky message to the new world of economy.
The inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3Com, Bob Metcalfe, once said that invention is a flower, whereas innovation is a weed; stating that it is one thing to get great ideas, another one putting them into existence. Well, if you want to be successful today you need to be able to do both. You need to innovate, to think new thoughts, adapt to new markets and make profits out of every challenge. And then you need to invent. There will be no success for the mediocre. When things become common they get boring and in a world loaded with information and entertainment, nobody will crave the ordinary. The great idea needs to be marketed by delivering what represents true value to the customer. In short it needs to be branded, and only those with a unique recipe will survive.
If you want to survive, you need to create a temporary monopoly for yourself in any which way you can. The monopoly is a niche that you can occupy for a short amount of time. If successful, others will come and it will soon become crowded. Then you will have to move on or accept that you are no different from anybody else - and that you have no marginal advantage to make people buy your products, believe your strategies or work at your company. Take the Internet as an example. It provides you with a very efficient way of transporting information, but doesn't give a competitive edge. It is beneficial when everybody has it, but it does not produce a marginal value - it is necessary yet not sufficient for success.
There are three drivers to this new world:
We are all condemned to freedom. We are free to know, go, do and be. We cannot delegate the understanding of what drives tomorrows society to politicians and executives. Forget the old world order. Forget what you knew yesterday. The Funky Future is already here, and the human brain and imagination holds the key to all our futures. Competitive advantage comes from being different. Increasingly, difference comes from the way people think rather than what organisations make.
So of course this puts the individual human being under careful scrutiny, but are ordinary people up to the task? It seems that we are becoming more fragmented, unhappy, and more alone even though we are presented with still more options, possibilities and purchasable values. The singles are searching cafés and cyber space for other singles, Viagra and Prozac will get you up when you are down in various ways, and there is no obvious moral obligation to go to work, to church or to the ballot. We are all unique people in search of meaning, and the occurrences that decide who we are, are not as before made by change or birth but by choice. The simple answer is, that this is just the way things are - and will continue to be in the future.
Although we are all very different, we still have the same basic drive - we want to live! This means that "maximum uncertainty reduction" - the need to feel secure and be in some kind of "comfort zone" - is something that most people will seek out when faced with various possibilities.
Consider this: when you are driving down the freeway with hungry, screaming kids in the backseat you pass an unfamiliar sign that says “D'sgusting Food Here”. What do you do? Most likely you will ignore the cries for hunger and drive for an additional 20 minutes until you see the golden arches - ah, this feels more comforting. This is what a brand does. In a world of assorted and abundant goods it builds trust and reliability.
On the other hand brands are exposed to transparency. They have nowhere to hide, and this gives them a profit oriented need for ethics. What will be the result in the next couple of years is, that the market place will look like a medieval bazaar: a zone of many merchants trying to persuade somebody to buy their products with beauty, ethics, aesthetics, functionality, services or whatever the consumer wants.
We're standing in the midst of a revolution that is changing life and our lives. We can talk about the mapping of the humane genome and space flights in a world where the Pope went 'pop' with his own CD, where Enron crumbled in a few days, and a president's love affair is breakfast reading material. In the future, should we expect The Olympics being held with the participation of "The Peoples Republic of Britney Spears" against "The Militant Feminists"? Or are we still entertained by representatives of nation-states that nobody really identifies with?
What you need to focus on is building attraction - you need to consider what reasons costumers or employees have to believe you or for seeking whatever it is you provide. The average will never be good enough, so innovation, variation and knowledge of trends is key to the successful company in the future. Everything moves - you, your firm, city, country and region and the ones who stand still will soon be forgotten.
The company of the future needs to reconsider itself - today! Diversity is the mother of innovation and creativity, so when recruiting, companies should look a lot more at the inside and the potential of people. But diversity is very different to manage, so care should be taken to create a shared language to share knowledge. Passion and participation is key, so the 'e' in e-business should be replaced by 'emotions' and the 'MBA' could be the education of 'Management by Ardour' and so on. Funky business is an economy of soul, which means that innovators need to understand what makes people tick - what makes them mad, sad, glad or bored. The average will not win - the future belongs to those who are prepared to seize the future, and to make rather than become history.
So the natural question to answer is of course - how do you actually do it? For those who love good irony there is always the "Kinky Business", but for sure this is a little bit more in the funny monkey business department.
The thoughts of funk are very much in line with the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies emotional scenario for the future, which was published in the best seller "The Dream Society". CIFS' director Johan Peter Paludan presented an idea in the making - called Dream Building - of how to bridge the gap between "weed and flower".
The Dream Society describes a world where the best story wins: consumers will pay for the story that sparks their imagination, that reflects how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us. Stories and dreams are the most important raw materials of the twenty-first century, because they have the potential of translating information into accessible, emotional terms. If people will long for the original, the exiting, and the idea with the cutting edge (be it a product, an experience, a politician or a pop-star) then they will not look at information, products, channels, opportunities, basic satisfaction, and average stories and be enchanted. Instead they will long for attention, care, genuine interest, time, trust and meaning. The dream - current and future - has to engage employees, management and market. The Dream is told through stories, because the stories are the stuff that dreams are made of.
Some of the practical examples could be "Ego-branding" - the wide-ranging opportunity to brand yourself as a unique product with a tailor-made carrier. "Blame-free products" - where any kind of guilt is removed: no dolphins killed, no environmental damage and no health risks included, while still getting full value for your money. "Safe havens" where time, trust and genuine interest is provided while you travel, get you car fixed or use a certain product. Or "Tools for Fools" because the must ordinary daily problem is not 'why' but 'how'.
Dream Building is thus about realising who you are, and where you want to go - and then getting there. It is about managing emotions and subjective values, creating an expandable and flexible foundation in a changing world.