Accenture, a global professional services company, is one of my college’s most active and generous business partners. We have learned so much from them through meetings, projects, collaboration, and day-to-day interaction. Consistently collegial and extraordinarily professional, the team at Accenture have helped to strengthen us and our students – and we’re not even their clients. They are a very smart group of people.
Three Accenture leaders – Omar Abbosh, group chief executive of communication, Paul Nunes, global managing director for thought leadership at Accenture Research, and Larry Downes, senior fellow at Accenture Research – recently wrote a fascinating book about the massive transformation that Accenture has undergone the past decade – and the conditions driving those shifts that others should consider. The book is titled Pivot to the Future: Discovering Value and Creating Growth in a Disrupted World. It is accessible, interesting, and relevant – regardless of your business or sector. Theories are illustrated with scores of case studies (Accenture works with thousands companies all over the world).
High level, the book is focused on how “trapped value” can be released in a rapidly changing world. The authors take it as granted that change will continue and that the pace of change will increase. Their conceptual framework is less about disruption in and of itself (Christensen) and more about understanding what deeper needs and opportunity might be found in our shifting environment.
Shopping provides a clear example – and the authors are good with multiple examples. Amazon did not discover that people needed and wanted to shop. Rather, Amazon released the shopping value that was trapped when consumers had to go to malls or stores to shop. After all, not everyone likes spending time in malls. It’s time-consuming, expensive and not especially enjoyable. Amazon’s reconceptualization of shopping – releasing the trapped value of what people want and value – is central the author’s argument. They argued that wise leadership can help businesses make a wise pivot and move to that trapped value. Value is trapped at the enterprise level, within industries, with consumers, and in society. Knowing what is trapped and what broader technological approach can get to it is the challenge.
Understanding technology and the way that it is changing is an essential tool to that shift. Accenture has been re-inventing itself for the past decade as a key player in the intersection of business and technology. As they worked with external clients, they were also working internally to change company practice, thinking and culture to implement this new kind of thinking. It’s an extremely interesting process to read about and to consider. Accenture’s changes, in essence, are another key example of how businesses can evolve.
The authors look at some of the common mistakes company make when attempting to act on these big changes and the common strategies that seem to insure success. Knowing that conditions always are changing, the authors propose a rethinking of the traditional way that businesses think of their activities and market into the old, the now, and the new. They argue that older businesses – cash cows – should not be milked but should be the focus of ongoing attention. Significant investment in innovation is essential, as is a deep ongoing commitment to the people in the organization. The authors emphasize that consistent professional development is essential. . At Accenture, that also meant a serious drive toward diversity.
The book’s audience is the business community, but I believe that it also helps understand other broader changes. The application of this kind of profound innovation to higher education is not direct or easy. That acknowledged, there are many points of confluence and relevance – from the value of students wanting to learn and wanting to grow but trapped in unsuccessful classes – to the ways that technological innovation can reshape many of our practices. The complexity of the relationship between student and institution offers multiple points of potential change and value capture.
Look for ideas where ever you can get them. And in this case, I think that you will find some good ones in Pivot to the Future.