What a "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control" Economy Means for Business Leaders

Changes in IT and customer expectations mean business executives need to be more customer-focused than ever.

I recently attended the SAS Business Forum where Bruce Upbin, Forbes’s assistant managing editor, was a panelist. It was fascinating to hear him talk about innovation and how companies like Virgin Atlantic and Nokia are launching new services that will allow them to achieve incremental revenue outside their traditional business lines.

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Certainly, technology is at the center of these efforts—everything from being able to use an ATM card to order food from your seat on a Virgin Atlantic plane to Nokia adding new gaming, music and other content to its phones.

Upbin also referred to our current market as “fast, cheap and out of control”—a dramatic, intentionally provocative phrase, perhaps, but quite accurate when you follow his argument.

By “fast” he means the radical increase in available bandwidth and ubiquitous connectivity to which we are all (fast) becoming accustomed. You look at how this impacts our lives both commercial and private and you see how rapidly the world is becoming a much smaller and much more complex place.

“Cheap” refers to how certain technologies are dropping in price while at the same time becoming more powerful. It also refers to how certain areas of the world are now able to provide quality far more cheaply than traditional industrial centers. This no longer applies solely to IT but to anything that can be sent over a wire. That means everything from legal advice to HR can now be outsourced.

“Out of control”? Well, if you think you’re in control of the consumer, then you’re being naïve. Most of the world’s purchasing power is now in the hands of a technologically empowered, demanding and impatient consumer. This fact has been pounded into our heads by pundits and leaders but it’s remarkable to see how many businesses are still thinking and acting as if they were in charge, not the other way around.

My advice to those companies is to take another look at the world as it is today: fast, cheap, and out of (your) control. Buckle up, listen to your customer and enjoy the ride. It’s going to be a crazy and (for those who get it) a profitable journey.

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