Posted in Research, Risk Management, Strategy

Life and Death

Right now most retailers are worried about the emergence of new channels and the associated raise of social media as an additional / alternative marketing platform.

In truth, this is nothing to worry about – it is the cycle of life (and death) as we have known it for aeons. Whether it is a football team, a tree or a country – the cycle of life applies to everything and retail is no different.

This process can be illustrated by the typical lifecycle curve as per figure 1.

 

The emergence of the abovementioned trends has no doubt shortened a few lifecycles.

Strategy textbooks teach us that the traditional and ideal response would be for a business to use the strong cashflows from the mature stage to invest into growth categories/products or markets.

In this case, the business ‘jumps’ the curve. Figure 2 illustrates the process. The truth is that few businesses actually repeat this process repeatedly. (How many businesses can you think of that have reinvented themselves over many decades – compared to the number that have gone bust?

 

There is a third and scarier curve that we face: the cycle of death.(Figure 3.)

I indicate that there is a disruption that destroys the curve (and it can happen at any stage of the life cycle – not only at the end of the curve.)

And a changing climate is such a (potential) disruption.

We were doing some work in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast recently (nice work if you can get it, I know) and upon arrival at the airport we were informed of the “Ash Cloud.”

We ended up driving back to our hometown some 1200km and 14 hours away. And besides the inconvenience of having to arrange emergency accommodation for our 13yo, the effect was minimal.

You would argue that the economic effect was possibly even a net gain as people suddenly paid extra for accommodation, travel, cabs, meals etc.

But if you consider that cloud to be just one example of the adverse economic effect  of climate change and let’s imagine if that cloud hung around – permanently.

Let’s play a little what-if game here and maybe you can help me identify all the business that would go broke of Qantas stopped flying:

E.g. What would happen…

–        at Qantas?

–        The little coffee shop?

–        the cabbie?

–        The owner of the surrounding convention centres and hotels?

–        The suppliers to all of the above.

 

Earthquakes and ash-clouds and dying oceans will not respect the country borders.

Globalisation created an interconnected world in an attempt to lower the costs – and now it seems it was a zero sum game because all those costs we saved are now coming back to haunt us.

 

Here are a few thoughts from Paul Gildings (researcher and author): “The Earth is full”. Think about that for a moment.

It is easy to quote many scary statistics, but the truth is that it is almost as easy to quote the opposite. Most people cannot predict what they will have for breakfast, never mind the state of the ecology in 30 years’ time.

But let’s consider just a few facts that are relatively clear”

Based on current trajectories all fisheries in the world will collapse in 2048 – (30% already have.). You may be able to imagine a world without fish, but about 1Bn primarily live of fish. I don’t know whether you have thought about how these people, mostly from under-developed countries, but also including countries like Japan, are going to react when the disaster becomes obvious and imminent?

 

We are facing a Mad Max kinda future. A recent study has identified 9 planetary boundaries (climate, biodiversity, nitrogen levels etc.) which are critical to our long-term survival. The study found that 3 of those boundaries are already past the tipping point – i.e. beyond the point of no return.

You cannot separate the Ecology from the Economy. The US Senator Gaylord Nelson remarked that: “The Economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Environment, not the other way around.”

Here is a picture to that will clear your sinuses:

Imagine the Earth is a pool of Capital. It is finite of course. We cannot make more ‘planet’ even if we wanted to and no matter what you smoke, that won’t change.

Human beings live off the interest that this source of capital generates: that is our sole source of income.

We are currently living at 140% of our capacity. If we take 2008 as our base year, that means that come 25 September 2009, we have spent all our money.

We then proceed to draw from our capital until the end of the year – when the next batch of interest becomes available.

  • What happens in 2010?
  • And what happens to the total amount of interest we had available?
  • What happens in 2011?

Change is sudden and non-linear. Until the day before you run out of money – everything will still seem OK. That is why it is so hard for people to see what is happening.

With Population Growth at 0.8% and GDP Growth at 2.5% and Efficiency Improvements at 1.2 % (all current numbers) – it takes us to a Planet at 500% of capacity by 2050 (and 2x capacity in 2030.)

Does that scare you?

Don’t worry; it won’t happen because it can’t physically happen.

A dam can be 100% full or even 120% full, but it can’t be 200% full because then there is no dam. As Australians we should, tragically, be able to relate to that.

This is Australia, so you won’t be offended if I talk about our BIG CONSUMPTION HANGOVER – the cause of which is pretty evident, particularly in the developed countries:

  • In the US the Average CEO wage is 500x the minimum wage.
  • A Hummer is bigger than 2 shacks in Soweto that would house maybe a dozen people.

I am not a climate change advocate. In fact, I probably lean more towards the sceptical side if you want to know. But as you will see shortly, it does not actually matter which way you lean, there is a massive disruption on the way.

Human beings are very good at filtering out information that does not fit neatly into our vision of the world. “We can’t cope otherwise,” says James Glieck, author of books about chaos theory.

I try to resist that. I understand, and so should you that: everything is just probability. There is no certainty. I cannot predict the future. Scientists cannot predict how much it will rain while it is raining, never mind the likelihood or impact of Climate Change.

What scares me most is that if it is not climate change that will cause the big disruption, then it is us trying to deal with it. I don’t purport to know all there is to know, but I am willing to lay very large bets that Carbon Tax is just the beginning.

Now, let’s talk some more about Facebook and Twitter.

Or we could talk about whether your business is built to deal with real disruption.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s