Development and improvement are no longer enough to succeed in business. New challenges in the world which borders on chaos, often caused by ourselves, include trying to reach our goals faster and faster – acceleration of activities. Is it possible to identify the causes of inevitability of this acceleration? 19/2018(25)
Polska wersja artykułu: Kilka powodów, dla których biznes musi osiągać cele szybciej
The world accelerates
Everything around us happens faster and faster. Is this our subjective perception or do our impressions stem from objective grounds? Are trees growing faster and dying faster? If I assume that they live in their own environment which is not contaminated by the human being, I would rather say that their development happens at the same pace as the development of their predecessors thousands of years ago. When I go to the forest which I used to visit 20 years ago, I can see the same trees. The speed of their growth might be disrupted by climate change. If the climate becomes warmer, they will grow faster.
When we look at the stars, they are the same every day. We can always expect to see the Pole Star, Cassiopeia or Ursa Maior in the sky. However, many of us have the feeling that the world is accelerating. It is indeed. It is the world of the human being. A world which is artificial, not natural. It is that part of the world which is created or modified by us. The human-initiated process of transformations leads to changes in ourselves and they in turn stimulate changes in the environment and that happens over and over again.
Our acquired efficiency in transforming the world allows us to do it faster and faster. We learn during the transformation process and the learning process leads to a significant acceleration of the transformation process. It is true, but e.g. deer also transform the world. They eat grass with all the consequences of the fact. Deer transform the world at the same speed. Why is the speed at which humans transform the world faster? Why are we not like the deer in the forest, why do we keep changing something all the time? We are change-oriented. Here, it is enough to accept that this is the case. It is the way things are. It started in the past and this is the case now. We differ from the deer with our awareness of needs and our intentional desire to satisfy them.
Moreover, we learn to satisfy our needs in the most advantageous way. What is more, we have the ability to learn on the basis of our experience but also the experience of other people or the nature of other phenomena. We are developing a quality which makes us never satisfied with what we have and strive for ever faster transformations.
We want more and more and we want it faster and faster, best if we can get it all immediately
We also behave this way as customers
In the past, people used to live in small communities. Villages were located far from other villages and towns and people from the outside visited rarely. Every generation in that community which had strong ties to nature lived the same way, in annual and generational cycles. Everybody told the same legends, believed in the same gods, followed the same rules. It was the case until not that long ago.
As a result of ever better transformations and development of technology, people started migrating faster and moreover, the quality and diversity of communication improved. Today, on the one hand, we have an increase in migration to cities. On the other hand, even if someone has to live in a small town or remote areas (Lapland, desert, forester’s lodge, Antarctic), they can easily communicate with thousands of other people because we have the internet. The scale of watching other people and interacting with an ever bigger number of them has its consequences.
In marketing, which is largely based on sociology, we speak of reference groups (Kotler, 1994, p. 163). We participate in or identify with an ever bigger number of them and that leads to a growth in the set of our needs. We surf the Internet, look at an uncountable amount of news about celebrities wearing this or that sweater, travelling here and there or buying this or that car. But after all each of them travels to a different destination, buys one sweater, often even rents it, becoming an advertisement banner for a company. However, we make a synthesis and simplification, concluding that everyone has everything and moreover that there are so many different things which can be had. Our circle of friends gets bigger thanks to social media.
I can remember the times when friends met, talked, played cards… Many activities were done at the same time with the same people. In fact, it was a single action of spending your free time with the same friends. Today, that one action has budded into a family of separate actions. We can play with people whom we do not know, who are located thousands of kilometers away from us, in particular we can play with the computer, but that is a different story. We can meet in virtual reality with several friends located in different places at the same time. We can also not “meet” them, just see how they are doing. And because of that, the scope of the knowledge about how they are doing does not have to be reduced at all.
When you meet a friend in real life, at first you do some small talk and later you discuss different topics and in fact only a couple of minutes are devoted to your friend’s personal life. You can see what they are doing today on FB. That activity in human interaction leads to development of a set of needs as well as disruptions in fixing the hierarchy of their importance. When you feel, and importantly, realize e.g. five needs, you can easily arrange them starting from the most important to the least important one. If, as a result of intense stimulation (to that one needs to add the enormous influence of marketers), you start to feel e.g. 1000 needs, the natural inborn ability to prioritize the needs becomes disrupted. Needs are started to be felt as equally important.
Moreover, every one of us feels the inevitability of the end. Let us say that the sense of inevitability grows in us imperceptibly to some point, only to explode with a magnified force later. At first, the child notices that he is small and smooth while others are wrinkled. Then, he notices that grandma or great-grandma used to visit and now she no longer visits, then he asks how long he will live and when he hears than he will live for 100 years, he drops the issue because that is so much in the future that it makes no sense to dwell on it. But in the end we begin to feel that our time will come to an end. Seeing that others have a lot (at least so it seems to us), we also want to have as much and we have less and less time to do it. It would be great to snap our fingers and have everything but it is impossible, because e.g. we have a limited access to natural resources.
Even if we came up with a technology of having at the snap of our fingers, at some point we would run out of natural resources making it possible for the things that we want to be made in that technology. Another problem stems from the limitations of our imagination. If would be good also to have the things whose existence we have not even thought of before. Let us notice that contrary to the deer, we realize that there are things we know nothing about or that there are things which could exist if we invented them.
A snap of our fingers will not solve anything, therefore in order to have faster, we need to divide work and specialize. The human being is unable to provide everything to himself on his own. Division of work is an extraordinary solution in the society. The process of exchange is its consequence. In the primary community there is a division of work but nobody pays attention to the aspect of exchanging the manufactured things. Everybody simply helps one another as much as they can. If would be very nice if our society was like that. However, societies developed processes of evaluating the value of things. Since that time one fish is not necessarily worth as much as a single pot and one hunted bird is not worth the same as one carved canoe, even if the hunting and carving would take the same time. In the end, apart from many other roles, we started playing the role of customers in our society.
If we have many needs, we need more things or services which satisfy those needs. We look for someone on the market who will satisfy our needs. We do not have unlimited financial resources, therefore we expect our needs to be satisfied with cheap products but obviously of high quality. Cheap, plenty, everything and… fast, nearly immediately. Why fast? Because each day brings more and more relations and interactions as part of which we learn about newer and newer possibilities. Yesterday’s dreams fade in comparison with them, often not having had enough time to get properly fixed in our heads.
In fact, a person who is to supply us with products could have access to our brains to be able to guess our still subconscious expectations. In order to snap our fingers, we need to realize our needs but if it was the case that we already have a need but it is still in our subconsciousness which can be accessed by someone who takes it out without our participation and supplies us with a surprise product? It is not impossible at all. There are after all methods of marketing studies in which we want to be carved in the brain of the potential customer, for instance projective methods (Kaczmarczyk, 1996, p. 262-268), or methods which use tools such as eyetracking (Mazur, Szafrański, Dworek, 2016) or EEG. What about the entire dynamically developing marketing automation (Unemyr, 2015) which supplies us with thematically customized information about products on the basis of how we move on websites?
Engineering and technology develop ever faster
The human being develops linearly while technology develops exponentially
Oriented towards reaching goals, the activity of the human being has become one of the factors which led to the development of engineering and technology. The growing dynamics of that development can be seen very well in the history of mankind. We have allegedly existed for over 3 million years but we have visibly contributed to changes on the Earth for only several thousand years (if we do not take space waste whose volume increases all the time into account). For about 200 years we have lived in the world of machines, for several dozen years we have lived in the world of computers. When I was a child I read that perhaps there are intelligent beings on Mars and today I can look at color photos of the planet’s surface. However, not everything goes as fast as we want it to. In the 1990s it was expected that the human being would land on Mars around 2013.
We are surrounded by technology and we are ever less likely to be able to cope without it. Thanks to it we live ever longer, learn ever faster, move ever further, faster and safer and can satisfy more needs over a shorter period of time and do it ever cheaper since unitary costs of mass produced products are dropping. Obviously, mankind could return to the stone age and such a scenario cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, ever better weapons can kill more and more people at the same time, the development of the internet and its widespread use make it possible to invigilate entire societies and new informal organizational solutions led to an enormous development of mafia structures which function over country borders.
The human ability to adjust to the technological solutions he himself initiated and develops are another problem. More and more members of the society get off the ever more speeding train called “technology” or rather fall out of it.
Technology changes the way of communication and the latter leads to changes in the way of life and the way of thinking. Changes in the thinking processes of the human being can lead to changes in the development of civilization. They do not have to be changes for the worse although it is being said more and more often than many human functions could be taken over by machines and robots.
The question arises about the role of the human being in work processes and his influence on the manufacture of the products he himself is the consumer of. The consumption is not distributed evenly since social disparity becomes ever more visible globally. The latest technological achievements are available to a relatively small number of people, a fact which is particularly unpleasant when it comes to such areas of life as medicine, pharmacy or education. The question arises how to keep or even increase the speed of technological development so that to at the same time keep the anthropocentric direction of civilizational development without any harm to the environment. The capacities of technology influence the product market. Browsing the Internet, people want to have everything. Life cycles of products get shorter because people get bored quickly and want something new. This is how the healthy human being realizes his natural desire to live as much to the fullest as possible but… the same human being goes to work and needs to keep up with meeting his needs and dreams.
Business owners need to keep up with the wave of needs
How to introduce many innovative products and not go out of business?
Thus the speed of changes moves to companies which look for newer and newer methods of accelerating development oriented towards newer and newer goals. Targets in the company stem from the targets of the owner whose portfolio of needs is most often unsatisfied, targets of the market, in particular the customers, targets of the competition and suppliers which need to be taken into account.
Despite mass production of many products, businesses need to look for ways of addressing individual preferences of the people, hence the problem of customization with which many companies are coping better and better. The development of technology turns the functioning and meaning of a company in our eyes upside down. Still several dozen years ago, if we asked someone what comes to their mind when they hear the word “enterprise” most would say that it is a fenced factory. Today, more and more often it is no longer the truth. Companies are becoming virtualized.
The percentage of big enterprises is relatively low. For instance, in Poland, 99.8 percent of companies are SMEs. The relation between the scale of operation vs the number of employees is changing. When I worked at the Factory of Ship Engines at the turn of the 20th and 21st century, my boss told me that still in 1980s the company had a department of shorthand typists who typed tons of documents and left work every day all violet, covered in carbon paper ink (many young people might not know what it is). In the same factory, about 30 ship engines per year were manufactured by 1,500 employees. Today, such complicated products are produced by a much lower number of workers while small companies, often focused on services, are able to serve a big number of customers, often internationally.
Production looks completely different. Industry 4.0, smart factory, smart production are the latest keywords characterizing businesses whose million-dollar products are produced by companies where the human being is present in the production hall only sometimes. This might be a bit exaggerated but even in work cell production workers are really rarely visible there. Automation, robotics, digitalization, etc. is profitable and leads to elimination of the human being from work processes. More and more often politicians begin to ask the question what to do with people who are out of work as not everyone is innovative and entrepreneurial.
Another model of companies’ functioning is visible in the IT sector. IT businesses no longer treat their company as a goal. It has become a tool for supporting action for them. In the past, the quality of a company was evaluated, among other things, by the duration of its existence. “Yes! This is a reliable company! It has been on the market for 50 years”. Some business owners included their company establishment date on their logos. Today, it does not matter, it is the person and their skills that count. If there is an IT project to be done in the US, this is where you start a company for e.g. two years, and when you finish your task you shut it down because you have a new project in France, so you need to open a company there. It is completely possible to live in Poland and head 3 or 4 companies all around the world. This is the world of virtual organizations where more and more functions are being taken over by application robots, with a minimum number of employees working on commission.
This is the reality in which businesses have to be run. You need to survive as well as develop in a world which is full of changeability and borders on chaos. You need to develop faster. In the 20th century, the words “continuous development” were used in management very frequently. Now, it is no longer enough. Now, it is an obvious standard. You need to develop faster and faster, accelerate reaching of targets (the question is how to formulate them correctly in such changeable conditions of activity). And on top of all that, at the back of your head are questions about the role of the human being in work processes and about how far we can go to be even faster.
Kaczmarczyk S. (2005), Badania marketingowe – metody i techniki, PWE, Warszawa.
Kotler P. (1994), Marketing. Analiza, planowanie, wdrażanie i kontrola, Gebethner & Ska, Warszawa.
Mazur M., Szafrański M., Dworek T. (2015). An Atttempt to use eye-tracking to improve the chosen ICT system, Zeszyty Naukowe Politechniki Poznańskiej. Organizacja i Zarządzanie, Poznań.
Unemyr M. (2015). MASTERING ONLINE MARKETING – Create business success, Magnus Unemyr.