Are You Ready for the Resource Revolution?

Family shopping In Pondicherry, India

My blog took a hiatus recently when I had the good fortune to visit South India. Through visits to large cities, tiny villages and small towns, the change sweeping India was evident. In a crude comparison using observations from a previous trip five years ago, there appeared to be more collective energy, prosperity and hope. If changes in India are reflected in all developing markets, the magnitude of change facing us is enormous.

The Resource Revolution
A recent report from McKinsey and Company outlines the enormous challenges and remarkable opportunities we face. Three billion people will move into the middle class over the next 25 years, creating a global consuming class of 5 billion people. They note people in China and India alone are doubling their per capita income at 10 times the pace of England during the Industrial Revolution at 200 times the scale. McKinsey claims that the world has never experienced this rate of growth and resulting demand on resources. It will force us to reconsider how resources are produced, distributed, managed and consumed. Demand for energy, food, water and public services will reach new highs. Regardless of where you live, you won’t be able to sit this one out. See the McKinsey Quarterly report Mobilizing for a Resource Revolution.

The enormous implications of rising aspirations of billions of new consumers require our best collective thinking and efforts. We could have the perfect marriage between the need to change and the breakthrough capabilities to make it happen. New pressures will force us to re-imagine and reinvent how we produce and consume with new technology is merging to help us to it.  Noted venture capitalist Vinod Khosla suggests that time and our capability is ripe for disruptive technologies that change our assumptions. We don’t need to face new challenges armed only with old solutions.

So What?
Our role as leaders and organizational members is to prepare for these changes so we can inspire ideas and create momentum for a re imagined future. The implications are so vast that finding a place to start in itself is a challenge. As this is a blog about choices people and organizations make to be great, consider the questions below as a place to start or continue thinking about your readiness for change.

Do we cultivate agility?
Agility requires that we understand our differentiating capabilities, the ones that set us apart in the market, and how to adapt them to new products and services as change requires. For example, IBM has a deep understanding of data and its uses. It’s offered this differentiating capability through different vehicles, as change required, from modular computers to laptops to services.

Organizations cultivate agility through combining deep understanding of their differentiating capabilities with awareness of megatrends producing different needs. They don’t change what they do well, but adapt to deliver it with new vehicles.

Check out Michael Cusamano’s book Staying Power: Six Enduring Principles for Managing Strategy and Innovation in an Uncertain World for more insight into cultivating agility.

Do our talent management practices reflect our future?
The fundamental requirement for talent management practices is that they align to support organizational needs. It’s easy to speculate that your organization wants to be more innovative, flexible, increase sustainability and be relevant in new markets. It expects consumers and customers to be increasingly diverse. Do your talent management practices recruit, develop, evaluate and deploy people to deliver on these expectations? Do they support needs relevant in the last decade but not the next? The MIT Sloan Review article Six Global Practices for Effective Talent Management offers a roadmap and examples to make talent management an ally of your organizational strategy.

Can ideas and information flow quickly up, down and across the organization?
The key word in the question is “quickly.”  If ideas and information have to pass through layers, gatekeepers and screeners, then the answer is “no.” Fix that.  Do you personally build and use a network to acquire and spread ideas? Start now.

According to McKinsey, conservation and production opportunities in four areas represent 75% of the resource management solution: energy, land, water and steel. Talents in organizations around the world are working on solutions in these areas, perhaps in your organization. A robust knowledge management practice can accelerate solutions through networks bound by shared interests and connecting experts to problems. According to a recent IBM survey, high performing organizations are 57% more likely to provide global teams with social networks and collaboration tools than other companies. Is you organization one of them? To learn more, check out the MIT Sloan Review article Building a Well- Networked Organization.

Are we excellent at learning?
Learning agility is the ability to engage in novel experiences that expand comfort zones and build new capabilities.  As organizations and people, growth comes through testing and reflection. It’s not simply skills acquisition, but expanding capacity for ambiguity, risk tolerance and working with others who see things differently. The ability to learn may be our most critical personal competency in the coming decade. The more we practice, the better we get. We can all learn to learn. When we do this collectively, organizations learn.  Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline: Art and Science of the Learning Organization is a classic work in this field. Peter Jarvis’ work Human Learning is a bit “wonkier” but it still delivered the “wow” factor for me.

Are we eager enough?
One of the highlights of my trip was a visit to an elementary school and secondary school in a tiny, remote village in Tamil Nadu with a few hundred people. Many, but not all, were poor. There were no satellite dishes nor WiFi access; No laptops, TVs or video games in sight.

We concluded our visit by meeting with a class of 10th graders. Their studies for this year consisted of English, Chemistry, Physics and Calculus (Algebra, Biology and Geometry were required previously.) The school day is 9 to 4:30 five days a week with six to seven hours of homework every night.  The 10th graders must pass a proficiency test at the end of their ten-month school year. They proudly showed off their new Physics lab and listened intently as the headmasters encouraged them to compete against themselves every day.

I have not experienced anything approaching the eagerness, energy and high expectations of these students in some time. They expect a better future for themselves and their community supported by a willingness to work exceptionally hard to get it.  What about your organization? What about you? Are you excited about the future or worried? Energized or complacent? Eager or tired?  The competition for the future includes those 10th graders in Tamil Nadu and their peers in hundreds of cities, towns and villages in the developing world. They are optimistically charging toward the future. Are you?

What Else?
These are the basic questions I think about in preparing for our future, but there are many more. What would you add?

The unprecedented demands on resources and rising expectations of a exploding consumer class will change our world. The unanswered question is whether it will be for the better or worse. The stakes are very high, but so is my optimism. You might be optimistic, too, if you could see the bright eyes and bubbling enthusiasm of children who know they have opportunities their parents could not dream of.  With new thinking and improved practices, we have the opportunity to recreate how we live and work in a way that improves all of our lives, including billions of people previously trapped in poverty. Are you ready?


Dobbs, R., Oppenheim, J. & Thompson, F.  (2012). Mobilizing for a Resource Revolution. McKinsey Quarterly, McKinsey & Company, January 2012

Cusamano, M. (2010). Staying Power: Six Enduring Principles for Managing Strategy and Innovation in an Uncertain World. Oxford University Press.

Stahl, G., Bjorkman, I., et al.  (2011). Six Global Practices for Effective Talent Management. MIT Sloan Management Review, vol. 53, issue 2.

Schweer, M. Assimakopoulos, D, et al. (2011). Building a Well-Networked Organization.  MIT Sloan Management Review, vol. 53, issue 2.

Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art ad Science of a Learning Organization.
New York: Random House.

Jarvis, P. (2006). Human Learning. Routledge: New York.

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