The fourth revolution: What it is and why you need to embrace it

| August 23, 2018

A major change is underway in the business world. We are at the start of a new economy based on information, which some call the Fourth Revolution. Here is how Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, puts it:

‘The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production.

‘Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.’

However you define it, the rate at which our new economy is transforming itself is incredible. Bio-engineering, particle physics, space technology, nanotechnology, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and blockchain are just some of the most innovative technologies in the world today.

Each revolution has advanced the human race further and faster than the last, and the new revolution is no exception. In fact, the speed of change it has brought has an exponential trajectory, and those who find themselves falling behind will find it harder and harder to catch up to the pacesetters. Nowhere is this more evident than in the business sector.

Why your business is under threat

Every day a new book, blog post or article highlights the dramatic impact digital is having on businesses. There’s talk of robots taking over jobs, of the mass of data that will drive decisions big and small, and of the impact of artificial intelligence on new business models and industries.

Businesses around the world are struggling with the rapidly changing market, and new forces at play may threaten their survival in the short to medium term.

As a pre-digital leader, suddenly you find yourself on the back foot. The underlying business models you’ve helped create face disruption from digitally born companies that now dominate these markets.

Through new business models designed for the digital era, these digital companies have managed to capture the hearts and wallets of modern customers, drastically altering their expectations, needs and wants. As a business leader of the old guard, you have entered a chase.

Embrace the chase

The ‘chase’ isn’t an altogether bad thing. The very fact you are on the hunt for something new primes you for a great leap forward, and your track record shows you are very capable of learning and implementing a successful new strategy.

But the rate of technology change can be devastating to organisations that are not moving fast enough. Many companies ignore the danger until it is too late. Some discount the change out of arrogance, others are oblivious to it, while most simply don’t understand it.

As an experienced business leader, you know your company’s future lies in disrupting your own business model, but you have not yet found a way to do this. If you put in place sound foundations, digital enablers and proven accelerators, your chase may well catapult your business to a new level.