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Why This May Be the Time for Business Leaders To Bet on Upside Growth

What if a yearning for normalcy distracts business leaders from a raft of new opportunities brought out by structural shifts in the business environment? 

bet on the upside illustration
The scenarios team at Salesforce believes that now is the time to look ahead, think big, and bet on the upside. [Holly Stapleton/Salesforce]

In 1853, amid rapid mechanization, expanding trade, and a period of social upheaval, Herman Melville published the now-famous short story Bartleby, the Scrivener. It describes a promising Wall Street clerk who becomes incapable of completing even the most basic tasks. Overwhelmed by “an innate and incurable disorder,” Bartleby refuses to complete his work, stares at a brick wall, and responds only “I would prefer not to.” Burnt-out by the emotional and psychological toil of the long pandemic and the changes it has forced upon us, many of us are, like Bartleby, struggling with motivation and productivity.

For business leaders too, labelling the current moment “an aberration” and pushing for a return to the status quo may appear more compelling than engaging with new realities and adapting accordingly. But what if that yearning for normalcy distracts from a raft of new opportunities brought out by structural shifts in the business environment? 

Of our three scenarios, we believe it’s Uplift that businesses should prioritize most.

Our team at Salesforce Futures has studied the prospects for the coming five years in collaboration with Accenture Research. For the first time in recent memory, there is no business-as-usual scenario. Quite the opposite: we’re entering a period of substantial change that could land us in any of the three distinct possible futures — Uplift, Shakeout, and Fault-lines — described in the first post of this series by Salesforce’s Chief Futures Officer Peter Schwartz. 

Which scenario will emerge? That depends on how we navigate a cluster of overlapping, planetary-level crises that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff termed the “trust crisis.” We believe the answer to the trust crisis is to build a trusted enterprise that prioritizes purpose and profits. One of our scenarios, Uplift, describes a world in which such companies multiply and take the lead on a range of global challenges. Of our three scenarios, we believe it’s Uplift that businesses should prioritize most. Now is the time to look out ahead, think big, and bet on the upside. 

The case for Uplift

In an Uplift world, new variants pose no greater threat, and resistance to vaccination drops off. Advanced economies shift their focus outwards, delivering vaccines around the world and achieving a remarkable 70% global vaccination rate by mid-2022. Inflation proves transitory, receding as suppliers ratchet up production to meet surging demand. 

With confidence in government at a new high, economic recovery projects in many advanced economies prioritize sustainability and equality alongside growth. New, circular-economy offerings thrive across many industries, large-scale social movements drive policy, and regulation ensures companies pay attention to stakeholder impact.

A lot of pieces would have to fall into place for Uplift to come about in a five-year timeframe. But even if the timeline is longer, the trend towards bigger government, stronger leadership, and more coordinated international response may endure. If that happens, are you ready to take advantage of the opportunities that an Uplift world might provide? 

In Uplift, business leaders will align their business models to the pro-stakeholder policy agenda emerging in most advanced economies. They will take the lead in the race to net zero carbon emissions, attract scarce talent with roles that align to emerging careers, and focus on upskilling and reskilling to unlock potential. This, in turn, will enable these businesses to explore new opportunities, adapt new operating models, and scale up quickly — either through acquisition or partnership — to meet the rising demand of a growing global economy. 

Look up, but be ready for a Shakeout

As history has shown, prolonged progress requires not only aligned effort and common cause, but a bit of luck. It’s an open question whether our systems and institutions, even with strong leadership, can evolve to meet the scale of these twenty-first century challenges. We may also see rising inflation or even hyper-inflation. If we do, slow-moving incumbents will struggle, and we could see a market Shakeout that rewards leaner, faster companies. 

Watch out for Fault-lines

Alternatively, we could also see international tensions take increasing precedence over economic goals, resulting in a world of geopolitical Fault-lines. That world could force globally integrated corporations to reshape themselves into more self-sufficient units that serve a growing number of great-power blocs.  

The Pandemic Era represents a new age of uncertainty all businesses must navigate, even if, like Bartleby, they “would prefer not to” face the waves coming at us. Regardless of which scenario we land in, the best response to the trust crisis is to build a trusted enterprise. That will become a central focus in the world of Uplift, where maintaining trust with all stakeholders becomes even more critical for growth than it is today. At the same time, it’s equally important to build enough financial and operational resilience for Shakeout or Fault-lines scenarios. Businesses that are trusted and resilient will lead in favorable conditions and be far better prepared for the choppier waters that may lie ahead.  

David is a Director of Research and Scenarios on the Salesforce Futures team. In his current role, he investigates possible futures and their implications for Salesforce, our customers, and our partners. Previously, David led design and innovation projects at IDEO. Connect with him on Twitter @davidberthy or LinkedIn.

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