Adapting to a New Business Landscape

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4) has changed the way we live and work.  It has altered the workplace around us and forced us to adapt.  In a business landscape increasingly dominated by technology, we have had to re-evaluate which attributes and experiences hold the most value, incorporate new skills on-the-fly, and perhaps even retrain to retain relevance.

Spare a thought then for the next generation, looking at this world from the threshold.  How do you best prepare to enter the world of work when you can see that world changing before your very eyes in rapid, significant, and unexpected ways?  This was one of the many themes discussed at this year’s Raleigh Lecture, organised by the Guild of Entrepreneurs.

The event, sponsored by The Briars Group and hosted in the splendid surroundings of Drapers’ Hall, was comprised of two parts.  Over 100 students from a selection of state and independent schools with links to the City of London gathered in the afternoon for workshops and a group discussion on the history and context of IR4.  In the evening, the students and other distinguished guests were treated to a keynote speech by Dr Ruben van Werven followed by a panel discussion featuring both academics and entrepreneurs.

Preparing the Entrepreneurs of the Future

Key themes to arise from the students’ discussion on technology were education, ethics, and entrepreneurial spirit.  It was acknowledged that AI will dominate the number-crunching data analysis of the future (or indeed, of today).  What will remain beyond the grasp of simple AI is the ability to interpret results, draw conclusions and generate new ideas.  These tasks require teams of humans, ideally equipped with a strong set of ‘soft skills’ in order to work effectively together – but how should students be prepared for these roles and how best can these skills be assessed?

The supervillain AI of popular culture was not as much of a concern for the students as the insidious encroachments made on individual privacy in the pursuit of harvesting data.  Though many of the Freemen from the guild who were facilitating the event have part or all of their adult lives recorded online and documented by smart technology in the real world, the students were acutely aware that their preferences and behaviours have been harvested their entire lives.

Learning from Real-Life Success (and Failure!)

Hearteningly, many students felt that the opportunities afforded by IR4 to entrepreneurs and the self-employed outweighed the risks.  Agile, innovative new companies stand best placed to take advantage of new developments, become early adopters of new tech, or react to unforeseen developments.  Large, established businesses with turning circles like oil tankers could struggle to adapt with sufficiently speed and leave gaps in the market or opportunities for eagle eyed entrepreneurs to exploit.

The event was both informative and enjoyable.  The students particularly valued the built-in networking time to meet entrepreneurs working through IR4 and to quiz them about how they handled success and dealt with failure.  Dr van Werven’s address was particularly thought-provoking and left many wishing the panel discussion could be extended to hear more of the entrepreneurs’ fascinating experience-based responses to the academic themes discussed – something that will no doubt be taken into account when the Raleigh Lecture returns in 2020.