Tag Archives: John Seely Brown

The Deloitte Big Shift Index 2009: What’s Missing?

If you have not already read “The Big Shift Index” report from The Deloitte
Center for the Edge
led by John Hagel III, John Seely
, and Lang Davison you should do so immediately.


This first release of the Shift Index reveals a startling fact: the return on assets (ROA) for U.S. firms has steadily fallen to almost one-quarter of 1965 levels; at the same time,  the researchers found modest improvements in labor productivity.

Grim news, indeed. The report also finds:

– The ROA performance gap between winners and losers has increased over time, with the “winners” barely maintaining previous performance levels, while the losers experience rapid deterioration in performance.

– The “topple rate,” at which big companies lose their leadership positions, has more than doubled, suggesting that “winners” have increasingly precarious positions.

– U.S. competitive intensity has more than doubled during the last 40 years.

– While the performance of U.S. firms is deteriorating, the benefits of productivity improvements appear to be captured in part by creative talent, which is experiencing greater growth in total compensation. Customers also appear to be gaining and using power as reflected in increasing customer disloyalty.

– The exponentially advancing price/performance capability of computing, storage, and bandwidth is driving an adoption rate for our new “digital infrastructure” that is two to five times faster than previous infrastructures, such as electricity and telephone networks.

The Shift
 consists of three indices: Foundation, Flow, and
Impact, and 25 metrics that together quantify the stock, pace, and
implications of the shift. The index enables analysts to
anticipate changes, identify bottlenecks, and guide strategy.
Not everyone, of course, will choose to monitor the same metrics or assign them
the same weights.  Thus, the Shift Index is less a single measure and
more an informational platform that will give rise to a diversity of models
and, a stronger collective sense about the pace and nature of change,
constraints and opportunities within that system.  As constraints
fall away and opportunities increase, old configurations become unstable
and new structures emerge.


A number of
key ideas in the report resonated with our observations at The Human Company:

– the importance of creativity and innovation in ROA

– information “flows” over
information “stocks

– passion as a driver for higher productivity

– more and more
discriminating consumers

– consistently declining return
on assets

– increasing rate at which big companies lose their leadership

– rising executive turnover tied to increasing performance pressures


However, I was surprised to find one element missing in their measurement model.

What’s missing? Sustainability and its impact on the economy.


is the business imperative for our time. From global-warming to competition for natural
resources, sustainability must necessarily sit at the core of any sound
business strategy. The sooner businesses understand this the better.

Organizations will have no choice but to
follow government regulations and anticipate consumers reactions and merciless
communication via ever more powerful social networks aiming at securing a
healthy future.

More importantly employers who align their
businesses to create a more sustainable world will also attract, retain and
empower more and better employees. Sustainability challenges have become so
pressing that they 
not only affect us at a rational and emotional level but they
also threaten our survival instincts. And  as such they are bound to impact employee productivity, loyalty, and creativity. Meaning is the underpinning and decisive factor of human efficiency. How could a corporation careless of its employees’ and
employees’ children future ever encounter long term success in a flat world?


In order to maintain competitivity, growth and profitability
organizations will have to build sustainable blueprints for the future. Take a look at Adam Werbach‘s latest book:
for Sustainability

The Deloitte report is an example of a brilliant work conceived in an
intellectual tradition largely limited to our analytical minds.
Yes, they do mention creativity and talent and yes, they talk about information flows, but I wish they had mentioned sustainability. A quick glance at the Intuitive Compass shows us that Deloitte overlooked the South West Quadrant. Regrettably, this is often the case with our business thinking.


Going forward, we cannot leave out the importance of our reptilian brain in its relentless ability to impact every second of our lives and its superior intelligence to sustain our species and hence help us make the best business decisions for a sustainable future (1).

Here’s looking forward to the the 2010 Shift Index; I hope to see a section on sustainability and a study on the decisive intangible dimensions of value creation which intuitive intelligence is designed to help us reckon with.

(1) In 2004 MIT School of Science Picower Insititute for Learning and Memory has shown that the basal ganglia which are parts of our reptilian brain are involved in our most sophisticated decision processes (Nature, Feb 24 2005)