New Year Wishes: What I hope for in 2014

A new year normally brings with it the usual predictions for the 12 months ahead. Sometimes, as with political elections, the World Cup, fiscal budgets and the Oscars, most informed commentators can usually hope to get at least one or two things right. But as a former colleague once wrote, anticipating new developments in technology is like “trying to predict the unpredictable”.*

Rather than attempting to gaze into a crystal ball, here are a few of my personal wishes** for 2014

Politics

I think it’s interesting that in 2013, two of the political leaders that generated most of the news were Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela – and in both cases, it was their passing that dominated the headlines. Neither had been in power for many years, yet in death they were more noteworthy than most of today’s world leaders. Why? Well, a lack of truly charismatic politicians could explain it. But I rather think the lure of holding political office has been undermined by the need to micromanage the machinery of government – so rather than attracting visionary leaders capable of projecting big picture thinking, we mostly get a collective mediocrity blinkered by the spin doctors and party pollsters, and rarely willing to tell the public what they actually think or what they personally believe in, for fear of offending voters in marginal electorates. Whether or not you agreed with or liked their particular brands of politics, it was pretty clear that both Thatcher or Mandela actually believed what they were saying when addressing parliament, giving interviews, or delivering campaign speeches.

In 2014 it would be wonderful to see the return of political leaders who were not simply trying to avoid defeat at the next election. Even better, wouldn’t it be wonderfully refreshing to hear politicians willing to amend their policies because they have been persuaded by informed argument, prepared to admit that they might have got it wrong, and able to speak their mind without being accused of knee-jerk reactions or heretical u-turns; situations change, so shouldn’t our politicians be entitled to adapt and clarify their thinking accordingly?

Leadership

Which brings me to my next wish – a willingness to openly embrace situational leadership. Yes, organisations should have a clear purpose, stated objectives and well-articulated means for achieving them, but there also needs to be flexibility and the ability to adapt and evolve based on changing circumstances.

We hear a great deal about the need for diversity on boards, among executive teams and across the workplace generally. Much of the diversity debate centres on gender and ethnicity – which is fine, but we require organisations with greater cognitive diversity. Such diversity could help avoid group-think, constructively challenge the status quo and counter the underlying causes of institutionalised inertia.

Business

Unless you are a single-product company, with a unique and proprietary production process, a guaranteed market monopoly, and an endless supply of materials and customers, your business cannot afford to exclude alternative thinking or ignore external perspectives on your industry, your markets or your products and services.

Equally, in a low-growth/no-growth market environment, companies have to develop or acquire better strategic growth skills. Expansion via capturing market share (usually achieved by competing on price, and resulting in lower margins) will be hard to sustain, and will likely result in a race to the bottom.

My big wish for 2014 is that businesses in general, and service industries in particular, will recognize what their true value proposition is, and build strategies for competing on quality (not just on quantity). For example, unless you understand your cost structures, and can relate those to your customers’ perceptions of what they are paying for, you will either waste resources on stuff customers don’t value, or miss opportunities for serving them better.

Technology and the Internet

It’s hard to think of any significant developments in popular technology or on the Internet during 2013. Sure, there was some consolidation among social media platforms, and product rationalisation at Yahoo! and elsewhere; but apart from launching iOS7 and the iPhone 5, Apple did not bring any major new products to market. Although Apple’s global share of smart phone sales may be declining, it may simply be market maturation rather than any product advances from its competitors. (There is also evidence that in key markets, iPhone 5 has boosted Apple’s smart phone sales, and the iPhone 5 itself lays claim to being the most popular model.)

The Internet continues to grow exponentially, largely driven by social media and user-contributed content. But I’m not sure that our collective knowledge and wisdom have improved at a corresponding rate. (Plus, targeted and streamed advertising means it takes much longer to watch YouTube clips, resulting in a lower return on the time we invest in consuming content.)

I’m hoping that 2014 will herald the launch of Internet 3.0 – an on-line environment that is more informative, more insightful and more interactive, and which connects more intuitively between my desktop and mobile devices. (For example, various upgrades to iOS and their associated back-ups forced me to transfer manually a large archive of Notes from my iPhone 4 to my iCloud account, simply because Apple unilaterally changed the way legacy content was “recognized” between my iPhone and my iMac.)

Culture

Perhaps we should also wish for a slightly kinder and more caring social media environment in 2014 – and as I heard one media commentator observe this week, professional sports people and other celebrities should probably refrain from using social media after 11pm, even if they are only slightly inebriated. Anyway, at the risk of revealing some of my own prejudices and preferences, this is what I expect from 2014 in Culture.

First up, I don’t want to see any more of the following categories of movie: sequels, prequels, comic-strip franchises, CGI extravaganzas or anything containing anthropomorphism (unless it’s a Director’s Cut of “Animal Farm”).

Second, I eagerly await the end of geo-blocking for digital content – copyright owners, music labels, publishers, licensors/licensees, distributors and on-line retailers please get your act together, and don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for me to buy your content just because of where I happen to live.

Third, I’d like to advocate a special tax on reality TV shows – the proceeds of which will be directed towards alleviating human suffering, solving important world issues, or nurturing genuine artistic/culinary/terpsichorean talent.

Finally, I hope that David Bowie’s return to form with 2013’s “The Next Day” was not a fleeting reminder of past glories….

NOTES:

* Anthony Kinahan in his introduction to “Now and Then 1974-2024: A Celebration of the Bicentenary of Sweet & Maxwell” (1999) a collection of essays on the future of legal publishing

** Aside from, of course world peace, the end of poverty and a global commitment to address the negative impacts of climate change

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