What’s the Mobile Future?

February 18, 2009

in Mobility, Scenarios & Futures, Strategic Foresight

What would the lesson for mobile operators be if the world around us collapses economically. What lessons can be learned from other markets? How will users react?

What and how should you prepare? I read yet another piece this morning (Jim Kunstler’s Forecast 2009) that captures an outlook similar to my own. We’re in a time of great uncertainty and I believe that few companies are really prepared.

In scenario planning projects I’ve lead I’ve always sought to find a “down the cellar stairs” scenario. The dark unknown where management would really rather not go. For the practitioner this is always a challenge. Push too far and it is no longer credible and it won’t be useful to them. Don’t push hard enough and real value creation opportunities are often missed.

Today looking down the cellar stairs really isn’t any easier. Although one only has to look at the huge drops in sales revenues for auto manufacturers to see the tsunami effect that is still a ripple but soon to be a wave crashing down.

This chart borrowed from a report from BCG on “Collateral Damage: Part IV Preparing the the Tough Year Ahead. The Outlook, the Crisis in Perspective, and Lessons from Early Movers. While the series is a generic commentary and mostly good common sense the general tone is not challenging enough in my view.

What I like about this chart is the suggestion of speed. 1-2 weeks to get the scenarios into place. and the 1 month to action POV. What I’m unsure about is what happens beyond the cutting and no regrets actions.

Your program or “cellar project” will fail if:

  • Your scenarios don’t address the future and the potential. Short-term scenarios lead to short-term thinking. We have a starting point that is bumpy no doubt and likely to be worse. You have to protect your resources and save the preferable futures. Downsizing stories don’t motivate. The challenge is to motivate the change and make sure there is opportunity and targets on the horizon.
  • You don’t bring in people that have different views to the management team. They must be real experts and they may or maynot have any relationship to your business. This is important in two ways. In any group discussion it gets the “politics” out and it can insert new views and challenges into the system quickly. These people must be choosen carefully and understand both how to listen and tell stories.
  • To change the company and prepare it for the future you need stories and a way to tell them. They must come from within. I’m not ignoring the need for quick hits, and dramatic action. What’s deplorable is thinking in the context of yesterday or just a broken economy. I also want creative solutions that create new sources of value at the same time.
  • You need to make it personal. GM is failing because I can’t understand why anyone wants their products. It begins to work when I hear about the plumber, or the landscape gardener etc.GM’s plans don’t show me that they know anything about the world which their customers face.
  • It also a time to take your stories to customers, move efforts that may be cut or are risky — move them into beta if possible. Nothing lost and potentially huge paybacks. Find ways to solve your problems by further engaging those that care most about the business.

Anyone can cut/shrink a business into history. It’s even more difficult to retain the curiosity about the future in such time. In a world with the challenges we have the most valuable employees may be the most curious. These questions can come from unexpected quarters. The question is do you have a way to start the flow? Do you have a way to enable it once started.

I started with a question about mobile operators. In fact the mobile market. As I listen to various reports coming out of GSMA Mobile World Congress of smart phones and the latest app market I simply wonder if the right themes are being addressed in any of these companies.

There’s an upside in the downturn. No matter how bad the economy becomes the very last thing people will give up are their mobile phones. They may change plans, they may not upgrade for years, a ready second hand market may appear, etc. People will not give them up. They are an economic necessity and it certainly one thing the emergence of the mobile has shown us in developing countries.

That means there’s opportunities too.

One thing I think I’d like to see or perhaps put into the BOF session at eComm is a discussion around the economic implications.

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