Reinventing ourselves for a Better, Brighter and Bolder Never Normal

At the beginning of each year, I make some time to think a bit more elaborately about the future. I think about where we seem to be going, and if that is a direction we want to take? Especially in these trying times, I believe it is essential to cast a ray of hope onto the future when trying to make predictions.

Horiz Hermes

The Old Normal

The illusion of going back to the 'old normal' when this wretched pandemic will finally be over, is a definite absurdity. Although many might feel a mélange of nostalgia and even home-sickness for that old normal, I fundamentally believe that the future will deliver us a multitude of challenges, a relentless roller-coaster ride of disruptions, but also an abundance of opportunities, ripe for the picking, and available for anyone who dares to dream.

None of these challenges however will be as daunting, in my opinion, as the challenge for the environment.

The year 2021 ended with an utterly disappointing whimper when the world leaders met in Glasgow to try to agree on climate change measures. The sad spectacle that surfaced reinforced my belief that fundamental change will not be done by some magical top-down geopolitical mandate, but rather by the aggregate collective power of optimism around the world. Individuals have an important role to play, but even more so I believe in the enormous positive power that corporations have to build a positive outlook onto this 'Never Normal' sustainable world.

The Long Game

Regulations on the broader 'ESG' topic are going to get worse before they get better. The world is beginning to clearly wake up to the fact that we absolutely must craft a better future by focusing on a more sustainable and socially inclusive world. No doubt. But the current explosion of regulatory pressure on these topics is becoming an absolute jungle, as well as a nightmare.

I joined the board of a bank this year, and navigating the complex web of rules, regulations, recommendations and guidelines around ESG feels like a Kafkaesque ordeal. Even the rating agencies that were installed to help us understand which companies, investments or funds are indeed contributing to a positive ESG are struggling to provide any meaningful input that rises above random noise. I forget who coined the phrase 'dart-throwing chimpanzees', but I understand the analogy much better now.

Instead of relying on arbitrary guidance or bureaucratic rationale, I firmly believe in companies who will be able to use their own moral compass to craft a sustainable future, to develop their ESG agenda, because they fundamentally believe in building a better world, instead of just pushing the company to the extreme for the benefit of the next fiscal quarter.

That requires companies to play the 'long game', to develop that optimistic agency when it comes to building the Day After Tomorrow.

Saddle up and innovate

And I get terribly enthusiastic and hopeful when I encounter these types of organizations. Perhaps my favorite encounter of this year was my collaboration with the executive team at Hermès. This French luxury brand was founded in 1837, and has encountered meteoric growth over their 182 years of history. Today it is one of the most valuable companies in France, with a market cap of over 160 Billion Euros.

The origins can be traced to Thierry Hermès who founded the company with an original focus on producing saddles for the French elite. Thanks to his sons, the company evolved into a European player in the leather saddle business. But when Émile-Maurice, the grandson of the founder, went on a trip to the Americas in the 1920s, the course of the company would change forever. Émile-Maurice saw the rise of the automobile in America, which led him to believe that the future might not actually be about horses. But on top of that insight, his first encounter with the revolutionary invention of the zipper had truly excited his entrepreneurial brain. And, so, by the time he had returned to France he had obtained the exclusive rights to this clever design in Europe. Imagine his conversation with the saddle makers when he got back to the workshop in Paris: forget the horses, and look at this zipper!

Don’t wait for new rules, make your own

Hermès is a company that has pivoted, re-invented, re-focused and re-positioned itself over and over again, like a true Phoenix. But in the current light of sustainability, the company wanted to understand their future moving away from the original concept of leather. Hermès partnered with the biomaterials startup MycoWorks to actually build a version of its famous bags using a sustainable leather alternative grown from mycelium, which is the vegetative thread-like body of fungi. Simply put, if we compare the structure of funghi to that of plants, the mycelium would be the root system and the mushrooms, growing on top of them, would be the flowers.

To be bold enough to allow yourself to completely rethink your strategy, to conceive moving away from leather and to focus on reinventing luxury on the basis of mushroom “roots”, is one of the most inspiring, and hopeful things that I had the chance to encounter this year.

And that gives me incredible faith that more and more companies will show that kind of boldness, audacity and guts to reposition and reinvent themselves for a better, brighter and bolder Never Normal future. We should not wait for legislation, politics or rules to make a difference. And fundamentally I believe that those companies who do, will be recognized by customers, and ultimately rewarded by the markets.

This piece is an extract from nexxworks' brand new End of Year Trend e-book "On Building A Better Future". Check it here for more trends, scenarios and insights from top opinion leaders like Nir Eyal, Dave Snowden, Naomi Oreskes, Adrian Bejan, Greg Satell, Frederik Anseel, Chris Skinner, Steven Van Bellegem, Brett King, Jeremy Lent, Celine Schillinger, Rik Vera and many, many more!

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