Richard Branson and Martin Sorrell are talking about the next evolution of tech and business – are you ready for it?


Tech killed many traditional businesses. So don’t underestimate its new sea change

It is verging on cliché to point out how catastrophic it has been to so many businesses that their leaders failed to realise early enough how technology would disrupt their industry. The ever-growing scrap-heap of household names forced into administration is testament to the might and omniscience of the tsunami of technology we’ve seen in recent years.

Yet here we are, half-way through 2013, and many business leaders are again missing (or perhaps underestimating) a second sweeping wave that will alter consumer and business behavior forever.

Business is changing. A focus purely on profit and growth is no longer enough. In the years to come, if not already today, businesses will have to prove they are socially or environmentally beneficial as well as profitable if they want to excel.

Martin Sorrell said this just a few weeks ago, telling business leaders at a conference I attended that “everyone agrees now […] that doing good is good business”.

Maybe you don’t rate the CEO of the world’s most successful marketing services group. Fine. How about Sir Richard Branson, then? Earlier this month, he foundedThe B Team, along with former Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz: a contingent of 14 international business leaders who will endeavor to bring the rest of the world’s business community around to the idea of corporate sustainability, and fast.

The B Team website explains: “Our mission is to deliver a ‘Plan B’ that puts people and planet alongside profit. Plan A — where companies have been driven by the profit motive alone — is no longer acceptable. […]

“Our vision of the future is a world in which the purpose of business is to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit.”

You will find many other business leaders who are saying similar things. Their message is clear: if you want to be running a business for many years to come, you need to be thinking about how you will benefit the world around you, as well as growing your own bank balance.

Why is this relevant to our Tech For Business Week? Technology will be key to facilitating much of this new way of doing business. Technology helps us better understand the world around us, connects the planet’s population, creates new efficiencies and opportunities, and helps us solve the greatest social and environmental challenges of today.

The Friday before last I was fortunate to attend the hugely inspiring DNA Summit, part of the G8 Innovation Summit. The Friday afternoon, hosted by June Sarpong, focused on how technology can bring about major social and environmental change. It brought together some of the most incredible innovators on earth to solve real-world problems.

It was a revealing litmus test for the way the businesses of the future will operate, and a truly uplifting day that showed the awesome power of tech.

BA UnGrounded saw innovators including Leor Stern of Google, Celestine Johnson of Innovation Endeavors and Gerald Brady of Silicon Valley Bank have a marathon brainstorming session to find ways to plug the science, engineering, maths and technology skills gaps; to get more women interested in tech, the world over; and to plug the talent mismatch in tech – all on a flight between California and London. It was a cool idea, but much more than just a gimmick. The “innovation lab in the sky” produced some incredible solutions that were presented to Dr. Hamadoun Touré, secretary-general of UN International Telecommunication Union, who said he would support and fund the strongest. Imagine all that being achieved in just eight hours! From zero to real-world solution that are supported by the UN. That’s the power tech has to overcome the world’s problems.

Then there was the Profit With Purpose Prize – £100,000 for 10-30% equity awarded by Bridges Ventures to a company “where strong financial returns and excellent social or environmental impact can go hand-in-hand”. The winner was Timto’s “Uplifting Gifting” platform, which allows friends to group-buy presents over the internet while the retailer of the gift pays its commission to charity.

These are just a couple of examples of how the most exciting minds and organisations in the business world are exploring the new dawn of positive change created by businesses and facilitated by technology. There are countless others examples – far too many to number here.

The direction of the tide is clear: business must start doing good if they want to be good businesses. And they can use technology to explore and solve problems to the benefit of their own operations and the world around them.

While you explore our Tech For Business Week all this week on LondonlovesBusiness.com, it might be wise to start thinking about how you can use the best technologies available today to transform your own business into one that has purpose as well as profit.

But don’t take my word for it – just listen out to Branson, Sorrell, or any other of the world’s leading business minds, countless of whom are saying the same thing.

More from Tech for Business Week:

Meet Piers Linney, the new Dragon with plans to build a £500m business

Julie Meyer: Big corporates should invest in “digital enablers”

Coming soon: The key tech trends changing business forever

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