What if? The future of business
Economics and society
Strategy and innovation
Leadership and management
The Brewery, London

The world has changed at a breath taking pace over the last five decades - transforming the way in which we live and work in surprising and unexpected ways.

Given the unpredictability of the modern era, this year’s Summit will look to the future, imagining potential scenarios and the consequent challenges and opportunities they may bring.

What if business could solve the world’s biggest problems? What if everyone lived to 100 years old? What if the world had no borders? What if robots replaced the global workforce?

These are just some of the questions we will speculate about on what promises to be an insightful and thought provoking day.

Join us as we imagine the future of business and ask: “What if..?”

Global Leadership Summit films

Speakers include

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What if..?

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What if we run out of resources?

In a world faced with acute resource scarcity, businesses will have to adopt novel and radically innovative business models, in close collaboration with their supply chains, but also their other key stakeholders. Such models will have to be based on sustainable, recyclable and reusable inputs, and will have to design, produce, and deliver outputs from which firms will be able to recover a significant amount of material to feed back into their supply chain. Even with today’s technology for instance, it is cheaper to extract gold from one tonne of used mobile phones than it is to extract the same amount from one tonne of gold ore!

Businesses will also have to pioneer smart new ways through which to engage with their customers to ensure efficient utilisation of limited resources: for example, to lease to them products that deliver services rather than to sell products that end up in landfills. They will have to expand the scope and the reach of their partnerships, to maximise resource productivity through systems-level change and a transition towards a more circular rather than a linear economy. They will therefore contribute towards a reformed economic system that in many ways will mimic the natural ecosystem, in that materials may be produced sustainably and in relative abundance while the waste that is generated provides raw materials for other parts of the system, thus enabling sustainable future growth.

Ioannis Ioannou, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship

What if my idea won't work?

John Mullins explains why it pays to challenge your business idea before throwing time and money at it.

In the US, 64 per cent of people see the opportunity to start a business as a desirable career choice (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 2014). But without passion, conviction and tenacity, few entrepreneurs can endure the challenges, setbacks and twists in the road. Along with these traits, the best entrepreneurs have a willingness to ask a simple question: “What if my idea won’t work?”

Being an entrepreneur requires unwavering commitment. In the UK, an average week sees entrepreneurs spend 44 hours working on their idea, compared to a typical 39-hour full-time employee working week (Barclays research). Aspiring entrepreneurs – whether contemplating a raw start-up or buried deep in an established company – ask this important question for a simple reason. They understand the odds. They know most business plans never raise money. They know most new ventures fail. Most of all, they don’t want to end up starting and running a business that goes nowhere in the end. Despite asking this question every day, their passion never wavers. They are so committed that they want to know why they might be wrong before they are proved to be so.


John Mullins, Assistant Professor of Management Practice in Marketing and Entrepreneurship

What if we knew what was next?

We live in the information age, which according to Wikipedia is a period in human history characterised by the shift from industrial production to one based on information and computerisation. But what comes next? Just as the industrial age gradually gave way to the information age in the post-war period, we can safely assume that something else lies beyond the information age. Of course, firms will always need to harness information in effective ways, just as most of them still need industrial techniques to make their products cheaply and efficiently. But at some point information will become necessary but not sufficient for firms to be successful.

So here is a way of addressing this challenge: ask yourself, what would a world with too much information look like? And what problems would it create? Here are a couple of initial responses to get the conversation going. One problem created by too much information is “analysis paralysis” – we become so obsessed about collecting more information that we fail to act on it. Another is that easy access to data makes us intellectually lazy, with the result that we allow rapid processing power to substitute for thinking. In both cases, an excess of information puts a premium on our capacity to make smart and timely judgments. Maybe judgment and action are the scarce resources of the post-information age?

Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship