The future is intangible. Really, properly so. If we grasp that now, we stand a hope of riding the wave of change.

As ‘Acceleration Addicts‘, its immediately obvious to us that this intangibility is driven by the need for speed. And it’s imperative that leaders of businesses of the future, need to be aware that lack of speed kills.

Intangibility? The striking truth is that some of the world’s most successful companies don’t sell ‘things’ any more.

Frequently they don’t even distribute them. So the future of business is properly virtual. This is pretty smart. It’s in the delivery where the real cost is and it’s in the ‘customer interface’ where the power and the money is.

Tom Goodwin brilliantly illustrates the trend of organisations outsourcing the delivery of product/content/transport in a TechCrunch article…

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles.

Facebook the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content….

Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.‘ As Goodwin so succinctly puts it ‘Something interesting is happening.’

Let’s look at this as the ‘internet of no things’.  It is a consequence of rapidly-changing consumer expectations, vertiginous changes in technology and an understanding the business can be more successful, more quickly with lower investment if they create platforms which aggregate and connect existing services and suppliers.  We also see newer start-ups playing on this all around us and growing hugely as a result, from Zopa with its fantastic P2P aggregation of lending to Farfetch’s ingenious sourcing.

Compare and contrast today with the patterns of business in the past. It’s light years away from the big behemoths of twenty years ago, when for companies it was all about the product, obsessing about the net contribution margin and about a significant competitive advantage in the ‘things’ that were sold and which required major levels of investment.

The staggering growth figures from these new-world leaders help support a number of lessons we can learn from this ‘internet of no-things’. One that stands out above all is that what’s truly driving this is the ultimate concept of customer convenience.

New World Rules: Convenience is next to godliness.

Whenever you are thinking about innovation, whenever you’re developing your offer, push push push on what would make life easier for people. Can you speed things up? Can you take away an unnecessary cost or an unnecessary step in what they need to do? The first supermarkets, the radical nature of ATMs, disposable nappies, the growth of online banking, taking two bottles into a shower….convenience has always been a game-changer.   And the internet is of course, the ultimate in convenience. But there’s more than that. One of my favourite recent innovations is  ‘contactless’ . I adore it and and use it all the time (one card in my phone case for everything). I love not needing an oyster card or cash in Pret. I’m lazy, busy, impatient.  Any brand trying to use that insight though needs to be aware of the speed of change. I suspect this time next year I will have replaced that with Apple Pay and ‘poof’ a whole new world in my pocket.

So leaders need to act fast because that concept of convenience is radically reinventing itself daily.

It’s a great world though and we should be positive about the changes. Today we have the ability to summon and pay for a minicab in almost less time than it would take you to say ‘abracadabra’. It’s virtually magical.  We all want more of this….and soon please.


Main image (c) Danil Melekhin

Uber Headquarters Image (c) Jason Doiy

Sophie Devonshire
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