This is war!

war

It is widely accepted that, after their defeat in the Second World War, the Japanese were the first to embrace the ideal of ‘business is war’. This means that business uses the ideas of the battlefield and applies them to the world of business.

And it certainly worked for Japan: today, Japan is a major or dominant power in almost every world strategic industry including finance, communications, mass transit, semiconductors, motor vehicles and popular entertainment. The world’s largest banks are all Japanese. The largest record company in the United States is Japanese, and two of the three biggest movie and entertainment companies in the United States are Japanese. Many big companies in the US, like Loews Theatres, Firestone Tires and 7- Eleven, are also Japanese.

In fact, 7 of the 10 largest companies in the world are Japanese. Furthermore, Japan today is the world’s biggest manufacturer of cars, having surpassed the United States in the mid1980s. These were all US-dominated industries 25 years ago.

Believe it or not, this phenomenal success can be traced back to ancient China, in particular a great military general named Sun Tzu. It is reckoned that he lived from around 544 BC to 496 BC in the ancient state of Ch’i.

Sun Tzu wrote the earliest — and still the most revered — military strategy book in the world. This masterpiece is best known to most of us as The Art of War and can be found on the shelves of most good bookshops. Since naming a written work after its author was customary in ancient China, the text was originally referred to as simply ‘Sun Tzu’.

Skilled and experienced in warfare matters during a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Sun Tzu presented his treatise to King Ho-lu of the Wu state. The sovereign was impressed. When asked whether its principles could be applied to anyone, Sun Tzu replied, ‘Yes.’ As proof of his competency and to confirm the principles’ effectiveness, he successfully transformed 180 court women into trained soldiers in just one session.

With Sun Tzu as general, King Ho-lu captured the capital city of Ying to defeat the powerful Ch’u state in 506 BC. They then headed north and subdued Ch’i and Chin. Not surprisingly, Sun Tzu’s name quickly spread throughout the land and among the feudal lords.

How he later lived or died is unknown. However, it was declared that, ‘10 miles outside the city gate of Wu Hsieh, there is a large tomb of the great strategist Sun Tzu’. By the Han dynasty, his reputation as a wise and respected military leader was well known. Considering the countless texts lost or destroyed throughout China’s history, the remarkable survival and relevancy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to this very day attests to its immeasurable value.

This fact was not lost on the Japanese. Sun Tzu was first introduced to Japan as early as 400BC. Japan’s leaders earnestly applied Sun Tzu to warfare: the samurai would peruse its contents before each battle. They were among the most diligent practitioners of the book’s concepts and came up with their own term to encapsulate its meaning: Sonshi.

I’m sure your business would like one day to be the same size as your average keiretsu (almost all the significant companies in Japan are aligned in one of about six keiretsus or business ‘groupings’. These are loosely linked ‘super-corporations’ for lack of a better term. Most of the Japanese companies whose brands we know and love are in these keiretsus. Several of these keiretsus have been around a very long time (before the Second World War) dating back to feudal-like family-run trading houses. Mitsubishi and Mitsui are two of the more famous ones. Famous companies like Nissan, Toshiba and Sumitomo Bank are all in keiretsus).

THE FUTURE OF WORK, JOBS AND SKILLS – A COMMENT

Last month, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills published a critical report that should be vital reading for businesses and policymakers.

The Future of Work, Jobs and Skills in 2030” analyses key drivers and trends for work and skills in the UK within a global context and how these will change in the years leading up to the the fourth decade of this century.

It assesses potential disruptions and innovations, such as automation or computerisation of professional work, de-globalisation and additive manufacturing and, more relevantly for the Welsh Government and its sector-led economic strategy, includes an analysis of seven key sectors of the UK economy including business and professional services, creative and digital, manufacturing, and construction.

However, with my colleague Dr Martin Rhisiart of the University of South Wales having applied his expertise in futures studies to the research team, the most relevant and interesting aspect of the report is how it outlines the way that employment might develop over the next two decades by proposing four possible scenarios for the UK economy.

The first scenario examines ‘business as usual” with greater business flexibility and innovation in many sectors leading to a modest recovery while a sharp rise in flexible working will change the way that many managers and workers do their daily duties.

A more disruptive option is found with the second scenario namely that of the “Great Divide” with strong high-technology industries, especially those in life and material science industries, driving rapid economic growth but resulting in a two tier society with increasing divisions between the haves and have nots.

The third potential scenario is that of “Skills Activism” with innovation in technology driving the automation of professional work, prompting an extensive government-led skills programme to re-
train those whose jobs are at risk. Finally, Innovation Adaptation will mean that in a stagnant economy, productivity is improved through a systematic implementation of ICT solutions.

So what does these different scenarios mean for businesses here in Wales and what will their employees look like in 2030?

First of all, the UK workforce will become multi-generational, older, and more international, with women playing a stronger role.  However, there may be a situation where the majority will experience increasing employment and income insecurity whilst the highly skilled will be pushing for a better work-life balance.

Businesses will also become smaller as workforces are reduced to a minimum with outsourcing to external providers becoming more prevalent to cover shortfalls. This may create opportunities for entrepreneurial firms but will also create greater security for those remaining within the downsized businesses. In fact, there will be greater flexibility for organisations and individuals as they move from project to project depending on demand for their expertise and skills.

In terms of information technology, it will continue to dominate work environments and new innovations may lead to certain types of jobs becoming obsolete whilst strengthening others. Indeed, it is likely that the strategic importance of technology within business models will lead to a greater selectivity over how and where industry operates in the future, leading to challenges for governments in stimulating economic development at a time when reducing the deficit will continue across the developed world.

Therefore, this an important report for a number of stakeholders within the Welsh economy. Businesses in Wales looking to attract and develop talent as a key resource for competitiveness will need to examine its findings in detail, especially as it is now becoming accepted that adopting a ‘steady as you go’ strategy is no longer acceptable in an increasing number of sectors. Our education providers will have to  examine the conclusions carefully so that schools, colleges and universities can adjust their curricula accordingly to meet the future needs of employers. And the Welsh Government needs to consider how the changing scenarios presented within the study has an impact on their policies going forward across all of its departments and not just economic development.

Two decades ago, we all thought that we would be working less hours and spending more time with our families. Yet, the mobile revolution has meant that we are now working at all times of the day and in all locations as the accepted divide between work time and personal time has become blurred beyond recognition.

If the world is going to change still further by 2030, then we all need to be prepared for those changes if the Welsh economy is to benefit and this report is an excellent preparation for such an exercise.