The reference post was really fun to write, and it generated a HUGE response.  It was a treat to read all the comments from various forums – a very sincere thanks to everyone who contributed! Here are some extracts that I found really compelling – I want to share these verbatim while I structure my thinking on what I think they mean – apologies for the length, but this is worth reading to the end:

More than one challenged my sanity, e.g.:

The coming boom? I am glad there is at least one optimist out there!

There were a couple of suicidal animal analogies:

Strong companies that continue to execute their marketing plans will, in my estimation come out stronger, while companies that moan and grown are certain to go the way of the Dodo.

You can join the lemmings going off the cliff or you can decide to tweak your course and refocus your energy in order to become a participant in the future as opposed to its victim.

One warned of pending Armageddon:

What is not discussed much is the role of armed conflict in creating innovation and the cycles…As has been aptly stated elsewhere, we are now into the next great break (crash), just like in the 1930’s, so we should also expect a major global conflict, just like WW2 with the use of nuclear weapons or other NBC devices, unfortunately. That will be the real trigger to high-speed innovation….

Some reminded of how astounding the world is today:

In seconds, I can connect with almost anyone in the world – pretty amazing! Knowledge workers need to find ways to leverage web 2.0 and make sure it provides a positive ROI. We are only at the beginning…the changes we are going to see in the next 10, 20, 30 years, we can hardly even imagine!

If these stimulus packages are ready to build infrastructure, suddenly a craftsman in Africa can sell his goods to a housewife in Argentina. Joblessness it now only a micro loan and an idea away. Access to new thinking and ideas can happen in your bedroom slippers. Once we realize how much alike we all are, who knows, world peace could be next.

Others show unbridled optimism:

I am waiting for what is….next…and if it does not come soon enough I might just have to develop it!!

The companies that survive this downturn are going to have the largest opportunities in front of them and the upside is going to be larger than many can imagine.

…now is the time to gain market share, buy under performing companies and to build a quiet empire while everyone counts their paper losses on their 401K’s. Now is NOT the time to cut loose your muscle that you will need trained and ready. Now is the time to invest and play economic gamesmanship with that allows you to have your heavy ammunition ready and accessible – a golden opportunity to jettison divisions, departments, people that are not providing payback/future payback even in a good company.

Perception affects the outlook. Perceive gloom and doom and you will experience gloom and doom. Perceive growth and profits and you will achieve growth and profits. While this does not work magically, with a well laid out plan of action and taking action on such a plan, nothing is impossible.

A number are betting on individuals:

Don’t get dazzled by the launching pad for information and forget the rocket you are launching. Don’t just follow the fads, latest books, latest guru’s, be an independent thinker based on solid decision principles. Don’t be a lemming [suicidal animals again! – DH] like most of the banking institutions, the dot com organizations, and the latest political decisions ongoing. YOU drive what’s right…

Energizing ourselves at the dawn of this new energy economy is a path forward that helps to transcend the fear, gloom and hunker-down mentality also prevalent these days. Everything our experience, and the literature, has taught us about the human response to change is not only evident, but amplified. Those of us with entrepreneurial vision and courage will thrive…

The key to success will be our human talent factor – how we look, react, learn and prepare now will dictate our outcome when this is over.

The significant element is the final user, the human being; his education, his knowledge, his values, his experiences and his ways considering life and others.

The important thing is to have an innovation culture deeply rooted in all employees, and which the management is able to foster and unleash, both from a management style point of view, but also from informal processes aimed to enable and empower all of the competencies in an intricate way.

New organizational forms are going to be homegrown by the people with the most adaptable skill sets.

I have been reflecting on this very topic myself in recent weeks and my emerging hypothesis is that we will see a much larger percentage of the population working as free agents. You correctly point out that fifty years ago success was all about accessing capital, and that in the past twenty years IT – and the process control and data management that accompany it – has been a key factor in value creation. Going forward, I believe success will increasingly rely on human creativity and innovation. This focus on human capital should drive unprecedented mobility as skilled workers follow interesting projects from company to company or even from industry to industry. The organizational model that supports this flow of talent is much more fluid and unstructured than we have traditionally experienced and will rely to a much greater degree on networks like LinkedIn.

Technology was integral to many responses:

The winners will be those companies and individuals who work in a web-networking, vertical-chain basis and who are savvy end users of data and tools in an increasingly digital economy.

I agree technology such as Web 3.0 and globalization are allowing companies to reorganize their operations & processes along different but more collaborative and efficient processes which at the end will benefit the customer.

No question that Web 2.0/3.0, social networking and digital media will be the platform with the potential to build the new boom. To make it work, marketers need to wrap their heads around the new rules…this isn’t another conventional advertising medium. The potential is enormous…and with lower entry-costs, we don’t have to wait to get started!

Tools like FaceBook provide a means to quickly replace water-cooler chat for the remote workers. Instant messaging is replacing phone calls for quick real-time connections. Email has replaced snail mail correspondence. The question is what happens to the execution of work and how can these technologies help it.

If one looks at the real and virtual “stuff” we produce and consume, one of the big state changes comes from new economies of scale mediated by networked information.

I was first hit by the flattening of the planet in 2005, when half of my team suddenly sat in several countries on multiple continents. Next I was asked to outsource 22 people to India in 2006. Both of these occurred with some pretty stringent cost constraints including no travel. Without the use of collaboration tools this would never have successfully taken place. The 22 people, were recycled into better jobs, again using the influence of web technologies to network, and land my team safely elsewhere.  More recently, I was doing some optimization work that required a geographic spatial component. This was a skill I did not have. Using internal communities and cloud tags, I was able to uncover people inside my company with GIS skills who were able to initiate a short prototype project in less than 24 hours.

Most documents already move electronically (faxes, e-mails, and uploads to web sites). e-Signatures (authorized by paper signatures where necessary) further reduce the need for paper to change hands to effect financial transactions. Commercial finance can strengthen our collateral positions with tools like GPS locators and RFID tags. We should expect continuous financial audits via RSS feeds or the like. And modern voice and data connectivity means we no longer need the expense and lag time associated with leasing, expanding, and relocating central offices. We’re transitioning to a total inversion from the centralization model that began with the Industrial revolution and continued through the 20th Century. In that era, customers needed established suppliers they could trust, leading to multi-way loyalty between customers, employers, and employees. But today “virtual companies” can be rapidly assembled and marketed. This is a powerful decentralizing force. It is fabulous for entrepreneurs, but leaves employees and post-entrepreneurial managers continuously subject to new competition. The challenge now is how we establish any persistent value! Google and Microsoft demonstrate that continuous change is one strategy for prosperity; they have a loyal following, not so much because of any one product, but because they continue to introduce improvements and new products. Contrast this with the “car companies” which mostly failed to transform themselves into “transportation companies”. Agility is key, and agile companies exhibit less fear of cannibalizing last year’s business model. They realize that if they don’t “do it to themselves” somebody else will do it to them. Maybe the finance company of the future should have a formal “cannibal department” charged with developing new approaches that will make existing products and processes obsolete!

Customer focus will remain important:

What to invest in? Agility. People, process, technologies that make a company better able to respond to CUSTOMER needs will allow the company to quickly take advantage of a better economy when it resurfaces.

The companies that engage in direct customer input through social channels are already seeing positive results, vs. those that simply engage in traditional “push’ marketing only.

It might get worse before it gets better, but I think many businesses will emerge from the downturn much stronger and better prepared to serve their customers.

One real important issue for all business leaders, especially CMO’s will be building their growth plans and talent plans on an inclusionary approach. Too often, in the US, we build our plans on the 60% of the population that we’re most familiar with and don’t invite the other 40% to the party – we tend to assume that they will come, very bad assumption. They opportunity for sustainable growth in any business is understanding the needs/wants/desires of the full marketplace, not just a part.

What all companies have an opportunity to do now is actually focus on customers and prospects, not just talk the talk.

Web 2.0/3.0 will facilitate ad-hoc social and business interactions that create valued relationships outside traditional channels. These relationships, I believe, will enhance the ability of operations to successfully organize individuals and teams to meet new market demands by interacting and collaborating together outside the confines of the business setting.

Although most companies are just trying to survive the smart ones are making wise investments right now that will position them for the upturn, which will come sooner than people think. I believe it is those companies that are too afraid to do anything today that will be left behind. To me, a main focus right now has to be on better understanding your prospective customers (who they are, where they are, how to best communicate to them, etc).

A number focused on what successful organizations will exhibit:

You used five key words in your eloquent note: “structures, process, performance, organization and principles” — the next phase of business evolution (for those of us who see it) will insist that management and leadership integrate all of these — with scalability in mind.

Future organizational systems will need to be more flexible and able to respond quickly to changes. The explosion of social networks and communities that we are experiencing now will be a key enabler to make this happen. A lot of focus is being given to the technology platforms that are enabling the networked organizations, but there needs to be equal focus on people issues and business processes that can take advantage of the new technologies that can enable improved collaboration and socialization. Too many times there is a rush to implement the latest technology without having the right people or processes in place to take advantage of it.

The value today is optimization of resources – but my question is what happens when the hard resources have all been optimized – when everything in IT is essentially a commodity? My premise is that time becomes the only valuable resource – thus speed is the focus – the ability to react / respond is the competitive differentiator. Formal corporate structure, it seems to me anyway, stifles speed, creates wasteful inter human interaction (politics if you will). It punishes risk and risk takers, slows decisions, etc. Thus the speed I am talking about can only come from loosely coupled organizations and loosely coupled infrastructure – IT, manufacturing, maybe even finance and operations.

I personally think companies are going to have to embrace options such as telecommuting even more as we move toward a new version of business performance. In this day and age, most thought-capital type jobs can be done via technology. Sure, face-to-face interaction is important, but in some industries, such as financial services, lots of the daily work can be done from a worker’s home office. I for one have done writing and PR projects for people throughout the country, in many cases without ever meeting them personally!

The emotional stress linked to today’s economic issues, loss of confidence in ‘the system’, the financial impact on pension funds and people’s saving accounts will change people’s needs and their buying behavior. Security, safety, guaranteed long term agreements, plus (near) future issues on climate change and social security systems may dramatically change people’s needs and expectations.

I believe we’ll see three key themes in the post-meltdown recovery: 1. Flexibility – While the painful memories are still present, we’ll see a desire to capitalize on opportunity without making fixed commitments. This will lead to flexible “workforces”, virtual offices, variable compensation models and staged investments. 2. Speed – We often forget how fast things can move when we’re stalled. The winners in the recovery will be fast and agile. Now is the time to get basic processes and infrastructure in place for scaling quickly later. When the race begins and growth resumes, there will be little time to get operational basics refined. 3. Always on – Given the competitiveness and global nature of our economy, the work day is never really over. This will accelerate the use of information sharing devices and networks that are highly mobile.

The way to thrive in the slow recovery period will be to do as many have said here – innovate, engage an agile / entrepreneurial workforce, and accelerate cash flow. How to do this? I think the ‘social contract’ with staff is going to be a BIG part of making it work. This means the expectations of workers need to be changed just as the expectations of investors has. Neither can afford to naively ignore real risk anymore – so conservatism is going to be important. Sharing risk with employees will do more for fostering innovation and increasing efficiency than new software or a change in finance. To adjust to the current trends, employees can start to justify their value to local management, who will then make the case for continued investment in their divisions to top managers. Instead of a business having the informal structure of a totalitarian state, it can be more of an investment firm with entrepreneurial groups contracting to do projects.

The correct tactic is to develop a strategic plan to lead them to a fast growth and beat their competitors out of the gate. Having this plan ready to put into action at the right time will be key.

Soon, a generation that has grown up with AIM and Facebook and has modified the word “text” such that it is now a verb as well as a noun, will proliferate our first line management ranks. Knowing how to optimize the performance of teams that will be very diverse and virtual will be a new challenge. Determining how to translate current management and leadership principles (e.g., how to build trust) for this new environment will be the challenge.

And one contributor summed some advice nicely:

Just a few ideas:

  • when organizing for the boom, organize for the crash that will follow,
  • keep lean,
  • build scalable and flexible,
  • design adaptable processes,
  • structure is secondary and destroyable at any time,
  • always look at it from the client’s (internal and external) view,
  • balance individualism vs. collectivism,
  • quality is what the client calls quality, not the perfect solution,
  • work in networks on a macro and on a micro level,
  • and most of all, use proven technology and don’t exaggerate any technological hype, make it an environment for human beings.
  • _______

    More on how Hay Group helps organizations bridge the gap between strategy, operations, structure and people, without losing the focus on execution, here.