The 3 most important old-school business skills in the new economy

This article has been on my mind for some weeks, and so I thought I would just jot down some thoughts with a view to provoking some ideas in you all.

Credit: VCU Arts Creative Disruption Lab

Credit: VCU Arts Creative Disruption Lab

I have a background in user experience design, product marketing and business development. I have had the great luck in my career to be involved in some very cutting edge products and services, such as the launch of the Nokia 9000 communicator, the first location-based service in the UK – Traffic Master on BT Cellnet, Barclaycard’s first mobile phone with – gasp – a smart menu, Genie Internet and countless others.

The Barclaycard BT Cellnet phone

The Barclaycard BT Cellnet phone

In this era there was no such thing as design thinking, business model canvasses, disruption and all these kinds of thing. But my gosh we had innovation in spades. We kind of just got and did innovation.

What has changed, and what is great to see, is such a growing understanding of issues relating to sustainability.

BT Cellnet had no concept of sustainability for example in the 90s, and yet now, O2 (the new name of BT Cellnet), just to cite one example, is doing excellent work, with many other networks, handset manufacturers and innovators such as Dave Hakkens all envisioning a new generation of eco-friendly mobile technology.

Credit: Dave Hakkens

Credit: Dave Hakkens

As some of you will know, I have actually reviewed Business Model Canvas. It took me a while to decide if it was too simple to be truly useful, or if the visual codification of the value proposition was actually groundbreaking, and in the end I decided that the canvass really is helping people develop a better understanding of their propositions, and is helping communicate this across whole teams and organisations.

There is a BUT and it is quite a big BUT. It doesn’t matter how good the canvass or tool is, and it does not matter how revolutionary your idea is, if you are still lacking basic business, even in the new economy, things are not going to run smoothly. So what are the top three business skills we still need, and why are they important?

1) Business Development

It seems that Business Development is a role no one wants to talk about nowadays. It’s all about the word Design, which is so much sexier than plain old Business Development. But the truth is, the new economy is all about relationships, and no matter how visionary you are, you are going to really need these networking skills. Whereas a lot of business development used to be done on the golf course, I can see many organisations looking to have more women enter this role, as we move from vertical value chains to authentic ecosystems.

2) Product marketing

A massive problem in many organisations is still a bunker mentality. Product managers still have a monumental role to play in the management of the whole product life-cycle, and organisations really need to recognise the difference operationally a good product manager can make.

Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

What does change in the new economy is the shift to the circular flow of materials, both organic and technological. The old skills are still vital, it’s just the life-cycle which changes, from one where old products are thrown away as waste, to a new cycle where old products are recycled back with near-zero waste.

3) Business Cases

A business canvas with pretty coloured post it notes is one thing. But no matter how pretty the canvas, the proposition still requires a business case and this is no easy thing to write. At BT Cellnet I was just one member of a huge team making contributions to the business case for the purchase of 3G licenses, but most of you will probably not be involved in this level of business case. But the necessity is still the same, no matter what your project and even if it relates to sustainability.

In the new economy, there will still be investors and they will still be looking for a return on their investment. The nature of money may be different, with bit coin and the like, but what changes is not the necessity for old school measures such as return on investment, but the level of consciousness of the people making the investment.

Money is not evil. The concept of exchange of value is amazing. It is your own attitude and feelings towards money that will matter in the new economy, and if you practice universal human values.

In the new economy, we have to understand that the world is more complex, so writing business cases that have a ten year span are going to be less meaningful, as we cannot predict that far into the future. In case you are asking, yes, I have written business cases that go this far out.

Human Values

What changes is our ability to continually make sense of the new reality, and the ability to pivot, self-disrupt, innovate and be agile. If we can achieve all of this, while practicing the human values of peace, truth, love, non-violence and right action, then no matter how choppy our seas become, we will prosper, grow (in all the right ways) and make this world a better place. Just don’t throw out those old school business skills which you know, are still quite useful.

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