IBM, as you would expect from a company of our size, has long conducted in-house forecasting to determine the emerging trends in technology and business that should shape our strategies. In 2004, as the focus on innovation started to take shape, we realized that our approach to forecasting and strategy itself had to change. Increasingly, innovation was occurring at the intersection of technology, business and society, so one had to step back and take a more holistic approach to discern emerging trends in these three dimensions instead of just looking at them individually.
Thus was born the Global Innovation Outlook (GIO). We made the decision to sit together with thought leaders from businesses of all sizes, academia, government, public interest groups, the venture capital community and other key constituencies to collectively peer into the future and identify major trends, insights and opportunities. In order to focus the discussions, we picked three broad societal themes for discussion. In addition, we tried to surface insights that applied to all three focus areas and spanned various disciplines and industries.
GIO 1.0 took place during 2004 with ten "deep dive" sessions held in New York, Shanghai, Washington and Zurich, involving 200+ participants from 24 different countries, more than half of them IBM ecosystem partners from 96 different organizations. The focus areas for GIO 1.0 were healthcare, government and its citizens, and the business of work and life. The detailed findings in each focus area are described in the GIO 1.0 report, but let me just briefly mention the three broad themes that ran across them.
First was the need for standard ways of exchanging information within and across organizations, which was viewed by GIO participants on a par with speaking the same language. Standards were identified as requisite to unlocking new capabilities, and many cited a lack of standards as "a major reason for systemic inefficiencies, escalating costs and general industry incoherence and confusion." Next was the need for more open collaboration among ecosystem members, including parties not used to working with each other because they compete or come from different disciplines or industries. The final broad area identified in GIO 1.0 was the primacy of the individual as a focal point for innovation. The report said: "Where much innovation in the last century grew out of the adoption of mass production, innovation in the 21st century will primarily be built on the infrastructure of the individual."
The 15 "deep dives" of GIO 2.0 took place in 2005 and 2006 and its findings were released at an event in New York last week. GIO 2.0 gathered 248 thought leaders from 33 countries representing 178 organizations, meeting in Beijing, New Delhi, Sao Paulo, Zurich and San Francisco. Discussions focused on three topics: the future of the enterprise, energy and the environment, and transportation and mobility. A brief summary of the findings in each area can be found here and the full findings are presented in the GIO 2.0 report.
As in the first GIO, we found some very interesting broad patterns. Let me talk about one in particular. While GIO 1.0 focused on the role of individuals in driving innovation, this time the discussions revealed that those individuals are not acting in isolation. "Their power comes largely from their ability to tap into and sometimes transform a larger network of people and ideas." This is something I have personally discovered in the last year with the rise of social networks, enabled by the Internet and related tools and platforms which are making it possible for people to connect and work together in unprecedented ways within and outside the boundaries of organizations and countries. GIO participants observed that increasingly the organizing principle for work is no longer the enterprise but the endeavor and that it may soon be time to redefine what we mean by enterprise, employer and employee, as looser aggregations of collaborators form and disband opportunity by opportunity. In GIO discussions people kept coming back to the idea that in such a socially networked, collaborative world, reputation capital and trust are critical to the proper working of businesses and communities, something with which I wholeheartedly concur.
A highlight of the New York event last week was a panel on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century enterprise. A major topic of discussion was the kinds of leadership qualities that will thrive in the highly distributed, virtual work environments we are already seeing in business – environments that everyone agrees will increasingly be the norm as our world becomes more open, global and collaborative and the underlying communications technologies, platforms and tools keep getting better. There was a consensus that the classic hierarchical organizations of the Industrial Age will just not work in this new environment, and that universities need to adjust their curricula to better prepare students for the 21st century workplace. Really fascinating was a discussion of the world of multi-player, online games and the clues it provides to the kinds of skills and training tools one will need in dynamic virtual work environments, as well as the kinds of approaches that are working so effectively in self-organizing, open communities such as those collecting around open source software development and Wikipedia.
We live in an increasingly fast-changing, unpredictable world – a world in which forecasting and planning as practiced in the past will no longer work for businesses or nations. To understand what might be going on out there, you need to be constantly gathering and analyzing information. But even more important, you need more than ever to engage with people, so that from their collective wisdom you can begin to discern insights as to what might be going on and what you should do about it. That is what makes the GIO conversations and findings so compelling.