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The Proximity Revolution: What Business Leaders Need to Know

The Proximity Revolution: What Business Leaders Need to Know

Named one of Thinkers50’s top 30 global thinkers in strategy and innovation, Kaihan Krippendorff’s work helps organizations spark breakthrough ideas that drive transformation and growth in today’s exponential world.

The bestselling author of five books, including the bestsellers, Outthink the Competition and Driving Innovation from Within, Kaihan’s latest book, Proximity: How Coming Breakthroughs in Just-in-Time Transform Business, Society, and Daily Life, tackles the next radical change facing business leaders — the proximity revolution. Products, services, and experiences on demand. Just-in-time everything, everywhere, always.

Proximity has already been named a “must-read” by Adam Grant’s and Malcolm Gladwell’s Next Big Idea Club. We recently sat down with Kaihan to explore his new book, the proximity revolution, and how leaders can ready themselves for this new frontier of business.

What is the Proximity Revolution?

Speakers Spotlight: How did you first become interested in the concept of the proximity revolution, and what motivated you to explore it further through your book?

Kaihan Krippendorff: Like all speakers during COVID, my engagements were suddenly canceled or postponed. Everyone was confused about what was happening, and the technologies that my clients often called on me to help with, were suddenly being thrust, as if propelled by a rocket, into rapid adoption. Everyone was at home. All human interaction shifted overnight to 100% digital.

To help people make sense of where things were headed — and to seize this moment in which every thought leader was grounded — my team at Outthinker organized a virtual summit featuring 24 of the world’s leading management authors and keynote speakers. The event ran for over 24 hours, non-stop.

During that event, my co-author, Rob Wolcott, shared the concept of “proximity”, and we noticed how it magically clarified not only what the world was experiencing at that moment, but also several trends that had been underway already for a few years; trends accelerated by COVID. When we saw how neatly the proximity concept brought these massive changes into perspective, Rob and I decided to start writing the book together.

What Technologies are Driving the Proximity Revolution?

SpSp: Could you elaborate on some of the key technologies driving the proximity revolution, such as generative AI and 3D printing, and how they are reshaping industries?

KK: I founded a peer community and think tank called Outthinker Networks in which we bring together heads of corporate strategy and innovation to share and work through their top challenges. These are the trends topping their agendas today:

  • IoT and digitization of customers
  • Data proliferation and API advances
  • AI
  • Digitization of value
  • Spatial computing / VR
  • Robotics
  • 3D printing
  • Blockchain
  • Distributed energy
  • Geopolitical uncertainty
  • Climate change / sustainability
  • Expectations of speed and personalization

All of these support this movement toward proximity. They all push and enable the creation of value — products, services, and experiences — to move closer to the point of demand. And not just in time (not just faster) but also in terms of space (the value is getting produced physically closer to where the consumer wants it.)

Companies are now able to sense demand more accurately and quickly, thanks to IoT devices and digitization of the customer. The proliferation of data and APIs allow us to share this data more easily. Businesses can then respond to this demand more quickly and in a more personalized way thanks to AI, spatial computing, robotics, and 3D manufacturing.

These same technologies are driving, for example, distributed healthcare, which takes care of patients in homes rather than hospitals, and education that meets learners where they are rather than requiring them to travel to classrooms.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

SpSp: What are some of the biggest challenges and/or opportunities individuals and businesses might face in adapting to this new business landscape?

KK: The opportunities are multiple. On a financial basis, history shows that just a small advantage in proximity can drive immense financial value. If you can get the pizza or insurance quote to your client just a little bit faster and closer, you will capture significant market share. You could say, for example, that Uber’s rise was due simply to the fact that it could get you in and out of a car (through automatic payment) a little faster than a taxicab.

If done well, proximity can lead to lower energy waste, lower environmental impact, and greater resilience (of our supply chains). The barrier is primarily mindset. The technologies are all there. What hinders innovation is usually the mindset or concepts around the technology. Just like adopting a “platform mindset” or “ecosystem mindset” to drive innovation, proximity also requires a new way of thinking about your industry, product, and customer.

Proximity Leaders to Watch

SpSp: Who is leading the way in the proximity revolution?

KK: For years it has been Amazon. If you look at the company’s investments and advantages, nearly all of them came from a race for proximity — how to get customers what they wanted, when and where they wanted it, faster than the competition. I think many of Elon Musk’s companies and innovations (SpaceX, the Boring Company, Neuralink, Tesla, and Solar City) are similarly driven by proximity. But there is so much more happening now.

A collaboration between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and researchers at MIT developed a solution to confront pharmaceutical shortages in war zones. They created a system capable of producing small-scale production of generic drugs. It’s essentially a printer for pharmaceuticals, and it’s the size of a small refrigerator. One of its creators, retired US Army doctor Geoffrey Ling, founded On Demand Pharmaceuticals, which is on track to commercialize the technology for non-military applications. Imagine being able to produce small-batch, custom medications in remote parts of the world.

In education, there’s people like Gary Hoberman, who, in 2017, departed his role as CIO of MetLife to found Unqork, a no-code, visual application platform that helps large enterprises build complex, custom software faster, with higher quality and lower costs. The idea is to turn the years of training needed to become an adept coder into seconds.

In Bangladesh, the government invested heavily to build up its energy production capacity. Yet, still, brownouts and blackouts prevailed. Munawar Misbah Moin saw proximity as a solution and launched a program that expanded the country’s distributed energy (e.g., solar) capabilities. By producing energy closer to the villages in which it was needed, Bangladeshis now have access to reliable power.

How to Capitalize on the Proximity Revolution

SpSp: As the proximity revolution continues to unfold, what can leaders do today to start preparing their organizations and teams for this new future?

KK: Leaders can begin exploring the possibilities of proximity by following these four steps:

  1. Envision P=0: What would it look like in your industry if, just as a need arose, the solution to that need was both produced and provided at the same location and time?
  2. For both production and provision of value (product, service, and/or experience), brainstorm all the barriers (e.g., technical, social, regulatory) preventing production from approaching P=0. Likewise, identify all the barriers that limit the provision of value (product, service, and/or experience) as close to P=0 as possible. Then narrow this list to the priority barriers that, if solved, could make the biggest impact.
  3. For both production and provision, brainstorm trends that might enable advances toward P=0. Narrow this list to the priority trends that, if leveraged, you think are likely to have the most significant impact.
  4. Leverage the barriers and trends generated in steps 2 and 3 to brainstorm a list of opportunities, combining and redefining them as appropriate. Prioritize this list while considering each opportunity’s potential impact for your business, the effort you imagine it might require to implement, and the likelihood of eventual success.

Leveraging skills and experience from McKinsey and Company with rigorous research of emerging trends, Kaihan Krippendorff designs practical business tools that he delivers through engaging and hands-on keynote experiences.

Contact us to learn more about Kaihan and how he can help your organization grow and innovate to meet the demands of a changing business landscape.

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