Jonathan MacDonald: “Digital Matters”

Published:  21 June, 2016

Speaker, author and entrepreneur Jonathan MacDonald gave an insightful presentation to NMBS delegates about the potential of modern technology, the shaping of society, and the realities of business, all of which are constantly influenced by fast-paced, relentless change.

According to Mr MacDonald, this thought expansion process requires individuals and organisations to think about a deeper level of understanding about the challenges and opportunities available to help them unlock new areas of business opportunities and growth.

Referring to what he believes is the “truest ever statement about business and life success to be made,” Mr MacDonald began his presentation by quoting Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Despite this statement being made over 200 years ago, Mr MacDonald acknowledged how those who are willing to modify their approach from one-off change to perpetual change will prosper. “Those who are brave enough to accelerate into that change and use it as fuel will succeed,” he said.

Mr MacDonald identified universal low threat as a signpost for imminent danger disruption and told delegates how this risk requires people to think and act differently. But why should we think and act differently? he asked the audience. “According to a recent INSEAD study, 86% of innovation is low risk and generates around 30% of current company profits. The remaining 14% of innovation is radical but generates over 70% of current company profits,” he acknowledged.

Referring to a number of case studies from global companies that have innovated in the digital landscape through creativity and design, Mr MacDonald spoke about 3D printing – the process of fabricating solid objects from digital models – and how this technology could transform both the construction industry and the way we conceive and build cities.

With 3D printing, customisable “dream” homes would no longer be the purview of the rich, and architects would be able to create complex geometrical structures.

One example of where 3D-printed houses are being implemented is in Egypt where the country’s government has signed a deal for 20,000 single-storey dwellings to be created. Chinese company Winsun will provide the printer and formula for making “ink” from sand, and the houses will be printed on-site.

“How we chose to respond to solutions such as 3D-printed architecture will make a difference to ‘our survival’,” said Mr MacDonald.

While a lot of technology-based companies are now using ‘air’ as the interface, the power of the internet, especially the mobile phone, has unleashed a movement that’s rapidly destroying complex supply chains - from designers to manufacturers, distributors to importers, and wholesalers to retailers – and moving power to new places.

Mr MacDonald told delegates: “We live in a world where two billion people have a mobile phone, but no basic bank account, which means that in five years’ time 50% of your customers won’t use cash to pay for goods.

“Business is still business, but the context in which we are doing business has changed. We live in a world where there are more virtual people than real people, so the middleman will end up being eradicated. How we respond to this is key, as these aren’t projections for the future, they are happening now!”

According to Mr MacDonald, the way in which organisations can overcome this is to elevate up from where they are now in the market. He said: “It’s about preserving humanity and elevating up by using change as a fuelling mechanism. Our ability to innovate is directly proportional to our ability to elevate.”

Mr MacDonald concluded by highlighting that we are the future and can create a future that we want and are happy to live in. “The person who says that something can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt the person doing it,” he said. “However, it’s important to ask yourself the following question: “Does the benefit outweigh the cost of change, and just as important, is the cost of not changing worth it?”

So, what should we be doing going forward? Mr MacDonald highlighted three key actions that companies should take:

  • Elevate – find out what adds value to your business and elevate up
  • Innovate – This is not a me-too strategy
  • Activate – Be proactive and embrace change. Accelerate your competitive advantage as the speed of change increases.

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