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Gary Conroy
Gary Conroy
Gary is a visionary entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of The Startup Studio.

Why Students Must Understand Future-Proofing

Today, so many companies have been reduced to cautionary tales as the tsunami of technology has forced them out of the market. Companies must strive to ensure they are perfectly aligned with the needs of the audiences they choose to serve. There are three very real imperatives that entrepreneurs must ensure they are meeting if we expect to accomplish the three critical metrics of sustainability, profitability, and efficiency.

  1. Does the market want or need my solution?  In other words, is the solution we are creating needed on an emotional level, and have we done enough to create the kind of demand that will force change in customer behavior? In short, are we solving a problem worth solving?
  2. Can the market identify and understand my solution? In other words, does the story we are trying to tell effectively empathize with the targeted customer? In short, does the solution being offered to align with the customers’ identities (real or aspirational) and their overall expectations?
  3. Can the market access my solution with ease? In other words, is our target market able to access the solution with relative ease, both from a physical and affordable perspective? In short, the solution must be available when and where the customer needs it without any major disruption to the customer’s overall lifestyle.

 

Fulfilling these three absolute conditions is becoming incredibly difficult in a world where technology has given most of the power to the consumer. However, technology has also allowed a flood of new ideas to constantly enter the market and it is through this new culture of serial entrepreneurship where a large number of jobs are being created, jobs that a lot of you reading this may soon be applying for.

To understand future-proofing we have to begin by understanding the criteria that a massive market of founders is using when it comes to creating their teams. These teams must have specific capabilities that ensure founders and their investors have the best chance of success with the solutions they are working to create. As a serial entrepreneur, and someone who is always building my teams, here is what I am seeking when hiring effective team-members.

  • People who are confident and who know themselves
  • People who understand what performance is – sustainability, profitability, and efficiency.
  • People who can operate in remote teams with a high degree of independence and self-management skills
  • People who can know how to solve problems – fast failure is imperative
  • People who are creative and willing to take risk
  • People who are excellent communicators that can quickly articulate progress, problems, and solutions.
  • People who can work in teams and can work towards common objectives effectively
  • People with high degrees of free agency and independence
  • People who know and understand that relationship and networking are the keys to success
  • People who are self-learners and who constantly practice self-development
  • People who know how to brand solutions and who understand empathy
  • People who know how to constantly analyze data and apply data to build meaningful solutions
  • People who know the difference between problem-solving and solving problems worth solving

 

Today, your education may not perfectly align with the markets when it comes to developing you into being someone ready to assist a team that is threatened by constant and exponential change. As an entrepreneurial student, you must be sure you are meeting the needs of the entrepreneurs who seek to employ you within this criteria set. More importantly, you must be sure you understand how to build effective teams for your startups. Understanding future-proofing is imperative if you expect to effectively lead within the organization and teams that you seek to serve.

The key reason for this is that we now live in a time where change is exponential. The digital age has done an excellent job to bring about this reality. No longer can a leader ever assume they can predict the future or assume that whatever solutions they are employing within their organization can remain constant. The future, by the very nature of the time we live in, is now officially unpredictable.

COVID 19 is a fantastic example of this. While the pandemic is not a province of a digital age and has certainly happened before in our history, the difference today is that we now have resources like we never had at any time before. We have access to powerful technology. We also have access to powerful data. To be future-proofed we must know how to use both technology and data to insulate our models from unpredictability. That is the skill above all others that matters the most. But how do we ensure we are being effective when it comes to future-proofing? To assist you, here are three imperative perspectives that you can use to begin assessing your level of knowledge and awareness.

 

1. Future-Proofing Yourself

You cannot affect change if you first do not build yourself as a change agent. You have to future-proof yourself if you expect to future-proof your teams and your culture. That means you must ensure you are a Learner. That means you are building in yourself the skills and the mindset that allows you to problem-solve, to create solutions, and to iterate quickly. We live in a time where learning is accessible everywhere and in every way. We have to embrace this learning by staying current on data that is at our constant disposal. Not only accessing and reading data but applying it to our decision making. To do that we must learn the skill of cross-pollinating data. People who are effective at this are the ones who ensure they spend significant time inside multiple areas of data and research to ensure they see a bigger picture than just the micro aspects of specific industries. What you will soon see if you do this is that almost all things are connected. If you can begin to see those connections you will find you are far better at predicting future outcomes.

 

2. Future-Proofing Your Team

Once you as a leader are living in a state of constant learning and analysis, and once you have begun to see how the future might play out through that lens, always aware that your predictions can shift in an exponentially changing and unpredictable world, you are now far better positioned to understand what you must do to support the teams you are building. This means constantly analyzing the most pertinent skills and mindsets that are needed to ensure your organization has the opportunity to thrive within the model that you as a leader has created and then allowing your teams the time and resources they need to live into that culture effectively. It also means positioning the right people in the right places so the right skill sets and personalities are functioning at optimum levels. As leaders, we must communicate our findings clearly and assist our teams in understanding why we must work in one specific direction that we believe will allow everyone to serve our customers in a way that delivers the best outcome. This is how great cultures are built. If you can build a culture that protects teams against inevitable change by building an organization that knows how to iterate and pivot, and that thrives in adversity and problem solving then you have effectively future-proofed your team. In this environment, change will not be the proverbial nail in your organization’s coffin but rather an opportunity that positions you with a competitive edge.

 

3. Future-Proofing Your Customer

As founders and their teams develop products and services that answer the question, Does the market need the solution I am creating? – we must realize that part of the answer to this question lies in answering this other important question –  Am I future-proofing my customer so that they are succeeding in their unpredictable markets? This is especially important in B to B markets where companies are highly challenged to accomplish financial efficiencies that can ensure sustainability and profitability.  This might mean using recyclable and environmentally friendly materials. Or it might mean allowing customers access to real-time data that help them make better decisions. Whatever it might be, future-proofing the client in a highly unpredictable, 21st-Century marketplace is a massive part of the value proposition. The solution we are providing our client must have long term viability and that means we must build these solutions with excellent data as our guide so we see the curve our customer’s markets will likely experience. This is why the best companies and startups in the market today are the ones who practice real empathy with the customer base they seek to serve. Empathy means understanding the emotional need of a customer and serving into that need with real care and compassion. It cannot be stressed how important this has become in 21st-century markets. A generic approach to solution building with only scaling as your focus as you approach your target market is a recipe for disaster today.

A founder who accomplishes sustainability and profitability inside the markets they seek to serve by default is likely quite proficient in future-proofing. How do I know? You do not accomplish that coveted position if you cannot future-proof yourself, your teams, and your customers.  Students must look out to the market of operators who are accomplishing this and apply the concept back into their development. If students can, at this point, understand and appreciate at a high level the importance of future-proofing in the three areas we have outlined here they will see in short order that the lives they seek to accomplish can become a sustainable reality.

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