business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Facing today’s problems is hard enough, so it takes a special kind of leadership to start planning for the issues of the future well before they arrive. But that’s exactly what creative leaders need do and there are two recent - and staggeringly different cases - that demonstrate this thinking.

Let’s start with an unexpected source, the American Automobile Association (AAA). To be honest, I always think of AAA when we get stranded with a dead battery or unfixable flat tire. I never think of AAA for innovation, but once again, I was wrong.

AAA actually has a pretty strong innovate streak built into its DNA. The organization is 115-years-old, which means it began at a time when cars were still pretty new to the road. AAA has been evolving ever since. As Fast Company reported recently, that evolution is far from done.

AAA recognizes a major trouble spot on the horizon: a time when many Americans may no longer own cars. Already, car sharing services like Zip Cars and Car2Go are popping up in major cities and both business models make AAA useless.

My daughter is one of those car sharers and her experiences are fascinating. When she needs a car she checks an app to find the closest Smart Car offered by Car2Go. Then by using her phone and PIN she gets access to the car, drives it for however long or short she needs it, and is done.

If there’s a problem with the car she won’t call AAA, even though we have a family membership. She just leaves the car, alerts Car2Go and finds a new vehicle.

Apparently the folks at AAA recognize the long-term erosion this type of behavior could create for its business. Now the association is rolling out GIG, its own car-sharing service. There’s no telling whether it will succeed or if it can break into an already established market.

But this much is for sure: at least AAA is trying. That seems a much better plan that simply staying on its current path and ignoring the changing trend in car ownership, especially about younger people in urban areas. For all we know in another 115 years people will marvel that AAA got the jump on this trend much as it jumped on driving overall in 1902.

More expectedly, the same spirit of innovative problem solving is true at Facebook. Business Insider reported this week that the social media giant is working hard on what they see as the next big change in their market: the world after the smart phone.

Given how quickly the smart phone has risen to prominence, it seems both inconceivable and inevitable that its days are numbered. And Facebook is smart to anticipate that, especially since the site is overwhelmingly reliant on that technology today.

Facebook’s 10-year growth plan examines all the future ways we might interact with technology in the days after the smart phone. Like AAA, Facebook is planning for a very different future to keep the company vital and growing.

To paraphrase the line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “The future moves pretty quickly. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Sounds like we all need to be looking around.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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