Drones, PESTs and the Future

The difficult we do at once: the impossible just takes a little longer.

We’ve all seen that message on someone’s website, or tacked up on the wall as we wait in reception.

And we smile to ourselves and think, ‘Yeah, yeah. Cliché alert. Impossible is impossible and let’s not pretend otherwise. Certain things can’t be done and they’re never going to be done.’

And yet here I am carrying my entire music collection in my pocket. Every book in our house wouldn’t even fill a quarter of my Kindle. And I’m just going to have a face to face conversation over a mobile phone…

What was science fiction when I was a child is now part of everyday life. And so are plenty of things that didn’t even make it into the imagination of the science fiction writers.

So I watched this video with some interest. And I showed it to someone else who said, ‘Don’t be stupid, that’s never going to happen.’

If you haven’t time to click the link – and I really suggest you do – it’s from Amazon. And it shows a drone delivering the book you ordered around 30 minutes ago.

Now you might say it’s a remarkably clever marketing ploy by Amazon to release the video on Cyber Monday – the day when we’re all apparently ordering online as if our lives depended on it and last year we Brits spent £10,000 a second.

I’ve been reading a lot about Amazon lately. They’ve received a good deal of negative press over the past few weeks and it was hard not to be swayed as I read this article in the Observer at the weekend – especially as it included one particularly chilling stat from the US.

According to research from the ILSR, shops employ 47 people for every $10m in sales. That figure rises to 52 if you only look at independent retailers. Amazon employs only 14 for every $10m of sales. So, argues the ILSR, Amazon doesn’t create jobs, it destroys them.

But is that really Amazon’s fault? I think they’ve captured a need brilliantly. Let me say here and now that I find the idea of ordering a book and watching it touch down on my patio half an hour later remarkably attractive. I don’t see that as destroying the high street: I see it as consumers’ needs changing. There’s still a place for the high street. But customers now want great products, superb customer service and a willingness to change and adapt.

That’s what I admire in the Amazon/drones story. Someone has looked at the way they deliver products to people, looked at the technological advances and thought, “Why not?”

From time to time I encourage my clients to forsake SWOT and do a PEST analysis instead. If you’ve never come across it, PEST stands for Political – Economic – Social – Technological. In short they’re the changes that might impact on your business – and if I have one message for 2014 it’s ignore PEST at your peril.

I’ve often written that if Amazon does what you do you’re in trouble. Well, if there’s a possibility that Amazon could do what you do, then you’re also in trouble. EBay and the internet meant a boom time for courier companies and the distribution sector. 20 years from now drones could well have wiped them out.

So more than ever in 2014 be aware of the world and the way it’s changing. For once, the cliché is right – these days, the impossible does just take a little longer. And if you don’t do the impossible, your competitors will.

Robert Kennedy wasn’t talking about running an SME in North Yorkshire, but in 2014 we’ll all need to remember his words:

There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why… I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?