A future with ever increasing revolutions
By Méka Brunel, CEO of Gecina.
I spoke at the "Demain, toujours plus de révolutions" ("A future with ever increasing revolutions") round table at the Rencontres économiques d'Aix-en-Provence (2018) forum along with Nouriel Roubini, PhD in economics and professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University; Antoine Frérot, CEO of Veolia; Patricia Barbizet, President of the Investment Supervisory Board; Alexandre Cadain, founder of Anima, a leading specialist in moonshots and a member of Elon Musk's XPrize Foundation; and Jacques-Henri Eyraud, President of the Olympique de Marseille football club. Here, I revisit the discussion and share my vision of these revolutions and their impact on governance and the city of tomorrow.
Major upheavals: a quick overview
In terms of disruptive technological innovations and revolutions, Nouriel Roubini spoke about the skills that will have to be acquired over the next forty years. These include ET (new energies), BT (biotechnologies), IT (information technologies), MT (manufacturing technologies) and DT (defence technologies). These innovations will impact all sectors benefiting from the use of these technological advances. However, care must be taken to deal with the negative aspects arising from the capital intensity of such technologies, the acquisition of skills and economies of labour. The real "backlash" we can expect is inequality.
Antoine Frérot, for his part, stressed focused on the challenges facing businesses over the next forty years. These don’t just consist of economic issues, but of collective and societal ones as well. We’re talking about resource management, which is essential to human activity: food for an estimated population of 9 billion, energy (demand for which will double by 2020), and new forms of pollution (water, air, soil). Antoine Frérot reminded us that the relevance of a company in the face of these revolutions will depend on its ability to adapt to the times. This will be a key condition for any business to prosper. We will have to move towards more efficient use of resources and invent new approaches, through the use of the circular economy, for example. It will also be necessary to successfully transition to an economy of use, a definite paradigm shift. Impacts on knowledge are to be expected in the hard sciences. But these approaches will have to be complemented by the capacity to understand the interplay between different human activities. Field experiments, observations and the study of the causes of certain types of behaviour, as well as multidisciplinary research, are three of the skills we will need to work on.
I also welcomed the comments made by Patricia Barbizet (echoing the words of the Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe), during her visit to the M2P Institute of Technological Research in Metz, which specialises in materials of the future: the "visible hand" of the state must (necessarily) accompany the creative destruction inherent in any revolution. For Patricia Barbizet "everything will change and nothing will remain the same". On the one hand, there are these major shifts ranging from demography, predictive health and genetics to technologies and digital technologies such as automation, blockchain, nanotechnologies or even space (the next Frontier to be conquered), with its opportunities in terms of microbiology, minerals, the possibility of farming etc. On the other hand, there is a new libertarian debate on the role of the State and public authorities, which is re-examining the dichotomy between norms and values, law and ethics.
However, in a context where social bonds are being called into question, where the issue of inequality is becoming central, where ethics are under discussion, the State is proving to be a major strategist in building a society of skills, generating competitiveness through innovation and hastening the environmental transition. And, I would also add, from my perspective: as an overseer ensuring that change is positive.
We will also need the impetus given by Alexandre Cadain in order to prepare for the future, as he invites us to identify new areas (of exploration) for the economy. We've got to find alternative solutions for the major challenges facing society. His reference to moonshot projects – of which he is the specialist as a member of the XPrize – is a call for us to outdo ourselves, to imagine the future. For we are in a paradoxical world of exponential growth (for the better) and gadgetisation (for the worse). “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he noted, quoting Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities.
Finally, I recognised in Henri Eyraud's talk the "game-changing" spirit. In a changing world, knowing how to negotiate the shift of modernity is an imperative for everyone. Football is an economic sector that has been growing by 9% per year for twenty years, but it will be necessary to adapt to new forms of football, like e-sport. It will also be important to anticipate incremental changes such as the augmented footballer and the use of technology in the service of strategy.
For my part, I would like to conclude with some thoughts on my vision of these revolutions and their impact on governance and the city of tomorrow.
My thoughts on the revolutionary transformations that are needed in a changing world
Technological convergence and an inclusive approach
We talk a lot today - it seems to me - about technological revolutions (IA, blockchain, IoT, etc.). But these only exist because they are societal, or we might even say anthropological. They will bring about a revolution (in other words, they will – or will not – endure over time) because they are shared, because they are united around a common project. Thus, by causing systemic upheaval (social, economic etc.), the digital revolution is the revolution of the 21st century. It is a catalyst for a set of aspirations that originate in society and the contemporary economy: the promise of a connected, service-oriented and networked society. Its main consequence for traditional industries lies in the porosity it introduces between manufacturing, business and knowledge networks (making/technologies/beings). It reorganises complex entities – be they economic, urban or political – by opening them up. It encourages the convergence of systems (technological, organisational, economic models, etc.). It is thus a holistic vision of the solutions that must be provided, and not one confined to silos. Therefore, the digital revolution – and its concomitants (IA, blockchain etc.) – cannot be merely the result of 'solutionism'. They have to be inclusive.
The extended business: the next leadership challenge
This will require addressing environmental and societal issues. This is why the “extended business” is a revolution that is now becoming an imperative for all major economic players. Lately it was best described in the Letter to Investors by Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock. "Society is increasingly turning to the private sector and asking companies to respond to broader societal challenges. Indeed, public expectations for your company have never been higher," he wrote (in January 2018). One of the great revolutions of the future will be new governance model. It will also be necessary to invent new ways of cooperating through coopetition. Indeed, on this "Frontier of innovation", we will have to do a lot of testing and experimentation between sectors of activity before we can bring about a revolution. This is the famous: “We will never walk alone.”
These 'revolutions' are undeniably shaking things up because they are now obliging us to have an approach that is above all about partnerships, one that is horizontal and platform-based. In real estate the next battle will be the user experience battle to create a seamless experience that is suited to the app economy. And in these environments, which will be highly technological, the impact on businesses is once again evident. Companies such as the unicorn Katerra, for instance, are encouraging people to think of real estate professionals as "assemblers" of product, service and technology frameworks.
In order to be able to keep up with all these transformations, I am convinced that we will have to return to fundamentals, such as education or innovation and attractiveness through CSR.
It will also be necessary to re-examine what our cities have to offer: from being individualistic and emancipatory cities, they will have to take up the challenge of building social links and re-establishing roots.
So, will tomorrow see ever increasing revolutions? Perhaps. Time will tell. In any event, in order to prepare for tomorrow, let us focus more on a positive economy today.
#Tech For Good
Chief Executive Officer
A business leader in the real estate industry, Méka Brunel is an ETP engineer, an Executive MBA from HEC and FRICS. From 1996, she held various executive management...