Has the recession forced us finally to ditch the ‘greed is good’ mantra of the 1980s for a new ‘greed for good’ model turning the big challenges of the day – climate change, scarcity, pandemic preparedness – into the new industries of the 21st century?
A bold but necessary question for the Redesigning Business Summit, which we staged with The Economist. This short film picks up some of the big themes for business from speakers and delegates on the conference floor. Read a transcript of what's said in this film
Notes from the conference
Economic systems have been shaken to their foundations and for Economist correspondent Vijay Vaitheeswaran the challenge is to take their features – market forces, the profit motive – and channel them into tackling social problems, giving customers what they really want and fast.
And doing that, he said, means using design to question assumptions: ‘When you elevate design from a tool at the end of the business process to thinking of it at the beginning of that process, at a strategic level, you gain extraordinary new tools that will challenge the way you do things.’
This new thinking has its work cut out. According to Martin Temple, Chairman of the Engineering Employers Federation, it’s got to overcome rising population, growing demand for manufactured goods and technology, more need for efficiency in the face of scarcer resources, and tension between rich and poor nations.
Businesses, he said, will come under pressure at the same time to live by conspicuously ethical value systems, treat their employees well, shrink their environmental footprint and cut out unacceptable materials and sweatshop labour. But here again, design has a role alongside traditional responses to change like shifting production closer to markets, bringing in new efficiencies and investing in R&D. ‘Design is one of the most important and overlooked yet powerful tools for adapting to change,’ said Temple.
Robin Bew, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Editorial Director and Chief Economist, painted a dramatic picture of slashed business costs, disappearing discretionary spending and a temporary freeze on strategic thinking as companies concentrate on surviving six months at a time.
He also detected signs of recovery and a more forward-looking attitude. ‘But it’s important to recognise that the future is not going to be like the past. We are not going to go back to the business environment we saw in the earlier years of this decade, or indeed the 80s and 90s.
‘It will be harder to borrow because banks are weak. We will see a real division between insiders who are in the job market and outsiders who are not. And we’re going to see a change in attitude to emerging markets. What used to be seen as a risky adjunct to core operations will become central to businesses around the world because top-line returns simply will not be there in the West.
‘We are living in a world of slower growth where we have to look for sources of value rather than momentum. The old strategies are simply not going to work and businesses are going to have to change to keep pace.’