Reimagining the Future: Embrace Change

by Jane Ehrenstrom

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Recently I had the privilege of hearing Margo Georgiadis, President of the Americas, Google; speak at an event sponsored by Brennan’s School of Business at Dominican University in Forest Park, IL.

Margo GeorgiadisMs. Georgiadis is the highest ranking executive in Chicago and former COO of Groupon. As Google’s President of the Americas, Margo leads the company’s North and Latin American advertising sales and operations teams, responsible for more than 45 percent of the company’s $50.2 billion in revenue last year. And, she has a lot to say about how emerging trends in digital technology are impacting business today and in the future.

Ms. Georgiadis shared her thoughts on how this digital technology – as well as the cloud, connectivity and mobility – is changing the future and affecting the next generation of leaders. If a device cannot connect to the Internet, it will be obsolete, she explained.

In addition, she pointed out that digital technology is the great equalizer. Connectivity diminishes the barriers to distribution. And, collaboration across the internet – an opportunity for the broadest-base participation – creates a brave new world that encourages agile digital natives (people born after 1980) to found global, social media-based, multi-billion dollar companies.

Airbnb is one such firm, a website started in 2008, for people looking to rent lodging, at rates somewhere between “couch surfing” and pricey hotel rates. Airbnb is privately owned and valued today at $10 billion; more than most major established hotel chains.They have more than 800,000 listings worldwide, without owning any properties. Airbnb is transforming, or perhaps more accurately, disrupting the hospitality industry. Airbnb’s website challenges us to “Create a World That Inspires Human Connection.” It also claims, “An Airbnb world is limitless. Join our team and see where we take you.”

As I listened to the presentation, I couldn’t help but think that this is game-changing. While I am not a change management practitioner, I am a change leader who is highly interested in how these trends impact my business and that of my clients. And one thing is clear – a company that recognizes the impact of the digital revolution and organizes its business model to address it will retain competitive advantage long into the future. But how is that done? If lessons can be taken from Google, it starts with a commitment to innovation. Google’s co-founder, Larry Page, based the company’s culture on a “healthy disregard for the impossible.” In 2012, Page told a group of investors, “Anything you can imagine probably is doable. You just have to imagine it and work on it.” And reimagining the future is what Margo sees as the challenge of the next generation of leaders.

Before she took questions from the audience, Margo Georgiadis shared her final thoughts and four guidelines for the leaders who have to deal with the heightened expectations for optimizing mobility and connectivity:

  1. Relentlessly, focus on the user; focus on speed and accuracy; focus on beauty and simplicity.
  2. Challenge boundaries; don’t be afraid to fail.
  3. Embrace speed. Digital natives are different from digital immigrants (born before 1980, and therefore didn’t grow up with today’s “always on” technology).
  4. Commit to transparency and inclusiveness.

That’s it! These are the keys to ensuring not only a culture that can adapt to our digital future, but also to ensuring a culture that can adapt to any disruption. And that fourth point is the link to ensuring broad-based participation in helping people own and shape the change. Reimagine the future and embrace the change.

Got a comment on this topic? We’d like to hear from you. How is your organization being affected by digital technology and the “always on” culture?

About Jane Ehrenstrom

Jane Ehrenstrom, co-founder and Senior Vice President of The CARA Group, Inc., is responsible for human resources, corporate culture and marketing communications for the firm. In this capacity, she develops corporate strategies and coordinates resources to present a consistent and compelling message to the market.