We introduce the Post Digital Business Framework; an interactive model that aims to give the opportunity to assess and improve how a company behaves in order to thrive. Read our first article here to read more about our ambitions.
Today, we are publishing the first results of our research. First, we are going to share our key findings and the state of our hypotheses (in this post) and then we introduce our framework minimum viable product (MVP) that we have built on a shared spreadsheet (here).
In the spirit of iteration, it is obviously not a finalised (frame)work. It is a, rough, beta version. It is critical to get started quickly and in a very tangible way from the beginning to make this initiative a success. Proceeding so will help us to capture our hypotheses, test our findings, gather feedbacks, and improve the model, all in as iterative a way as possible.
So let’s get started!
Our main hypothesis is that the democratisation (global adoption) of digital capabilities is currently initiating a massive, purposeful cultural change.
The impact of the democratisation of a technique on culture has already been demonstrated by Marshall McLuhan. We remember his famous but often misunderstood axiome: “the medium is the message”. In this context we understand it as if, in a certain extent, our techniques are shaping our culture. Obviously, it shouldn’t minimize the impact of people's actions and organisation’s structures on culture, but the impact of the technique remains critical. <
Let's take the example of the impact on culture of the printing press. Even if the brilliant historian Elizabeth Eisenstein rejected the technical determinism paradigm, she describes in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, how the Printing Press democratisation had a huge impact on culture. Elizabeth Eisenstein actually implicated the printing press adoption in massive purposeful cultural change such as the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, no less!
She wrote that: "the first century of printing produced a bookish culture that was not very different from that produced by scribes," and continued by saying "one must wait until a full century after Gutenberg before the outlines of new world pictures begin to emerge into view.”
We can understand that the global adoption of an informational technique, such as the printing press (or digital technologies?!), repurposes the use of the technique for the common good. It leads actually to more meaningful and purposeful cultural changes. We can assume that the massive adoption brings maturity and wisdom into the use of the technique. Besides the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, Marshall McLuhan explained that the printing press led to the French and the American Revolutions. So, it is quite difficult to neglect how purposeful the impact on culture from an informational technique could be.
William Strauss and Neil Howe, two american historians, developed a generational theory that characterises historical generations through cyclical changes called “turnings” and had recently focused on the millennial generation. They have identified several generational archetypes, which occur in a recognizable pattern that can be categorized as heros, artists, prophets, and nomads. The “hero” generation, according to Howe, describes the current Millennials. As described by Howe, the “heroes” respond to the previous generation’s skeptical nature and to new crises: “institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s survival” and “cultural expressions redirect towards community purpose”.
The new generations, with the Millennials leading, and the next ones following, accelerate this purposeful change of paradigm. The Millennials represent a significant portion of the citizen, consumers and workforce. According to the report “Millennials and the US Economy” published in June 2015 by Standard & Poor's: "The so-called Millennial Generation, born from the early 1980s through the early 2000s, now represents the largest cohort of American workers; by some estimates, they will make up half of the U.S. workforce by 2020. They currently spend around $600 billion annually, with that amount potentially increasing to $1.4 trillion a year by 2020.”
The millennials, and potentially the following generations as well, are changing how we do business. For instance, according to SHRM 2014 Survey, titled "Millennial’s Desire to Do Good Defines Workplace Culture", the Millennials would take a $7,600 pay cut to find work that matches their values. Furthermore, according to a survey ran for Fidelity 2015, 90% of Millennials want to use their skills for good.
The Oxford dictionary defines purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”. In this business context, we would need to refine this definition and add that this reason should be “beyond making money”. Basically we understand purpose as ’the reason why a company exists beyond making money’ as it is commonly understood in the business field.
In silicon valley, some people used to talk about “mission driven company”, but for the following research, we have considered that talking about mission wasn’t strong enough to reflect the current dynamics.
In theory, and especially regarding the impact that digital technologies should have on culture and the expectations of the millennials generation, purpose led businesses should thrive massively. Ernst and Young and Harvard Business Review launched a survey in 2015 called: “The Business case for Purpose” and observed that:
The May 2016 Big Innovation Centre report states, "British companies are inadequately organised around clear corporate purposes that unite all stakeholders in common goals and values. The economic costs of this are huge, potentially exceeding £130bn a year."
Finally, in the book, Corporate Culture And Performance, John Kotter and James Heskett show that over a decade-long period, purposeful, value-driven companies outperform their counterparts in stock price by a factor of 12.
To understand where a purpose driven business makes sense, we analysed how the business world was talking about it. Analysing the professional discourses around purpose are going to actually help us to define how a company is purposeful.
To do so, we have taken three of the most established online publications, Forbes, Harvard Business Review and Fast Company and have selected the 150 most recent articles that mentioned purpose in their headlines. Like so, we got a wide and insightful curation of business magazine articles that explain what is a purpose driven business full of interesting case studies.
To analyse this huge amount of information we have applied renowned Canadian researcher, Jean de Bonville’s content analysis methodology. By counting the frequency of specific words in a specific corpus we establish the fields embodied by a specific idea, such as “purpose”.
So, we have then organised this data in three homogeneous categories:
What do purpose driven businesses do to thrive then? There is probably not any secret recipe but we can at least draw some hypothesis, and identify some patterns. To do so, we have captured the most impactful stories over the last year from purpose driven businesses on social media through the tool Buzzsumo and have mapped their approach.
We have used a semiological point of view, as we aim to understand how a purpose driven business makes sense. We have then used what we call a semiotic square, developed by Algirdas Julien Greimas and applied in the business field by Jean Marie Floch. It allowed us to build a semantic mapping of purpose based on the value propositions of 24 brands’ stories (coming from Buzzsumo).
To build our semiotic square, and map the several ways to be purpose driven, we have first identified the main axis with two contrary values that distribute how businesses are purposeful, the first being identified as “insightful” and being “noble”. These assets are contrary values as the “insightful” approach aims to solve a specific problem while the “noble” one is more holistic. Then we have identified their contradictory assets. The contradictory asset of being “insightful”, is actually “heartfull” as, instead of addressing a specific issue, the brand could just be genuinely empathetic. The contradictory asset of being “noble” is being “inclusive” as nobility is typically exclusive.
This matrix is not a typology; categories are not restrictive. This means that a single company can adopt several approaches, even if they usually prioritize their efforts. Most importantly recognising that to be a purpose driven business, the company needs to adopt at least one of the following approaches:
Based on these key findings, we have built our first rough Framework’s MVP. It is available here and we seek your feedback, so feel free to share with us your thoughts (via email or the comment section) to be able to improve the model.
Our next steps will be to test and adjust our hypotheses, refine our criteria, and improve the overall framework. Over the next few weeks we are planning to: