Business Speaker Robert Safian on Flux Leadership

The Risks and Opportunities of Flux

By Robert Safian  (3 minute read)

Once upon a time, the most successful business models were conceived to exploit clear gaps in established, stable commercial markets. Why take a risk in new, undeveloped areas when existing ones were rich with opportunity?

But something happened on the way to the corporate future: Startup enterprises began unlocking value at extraordinary levels, and established systems were shaken by disruption. Technological and social transformations set in motion a different kind of economy — an innovation economy — defined by constant and accelerating change.

Look at the TV industry, for example, which was long dominated by major networks. It took decades for cable television to begin eroding that hegemony. Then, all of a sudden, a new breed of providers shook the foundations. Netflix, which arose as a DVD-by-mail service, to compete with the likes of video-rental chain Blockbuster, transformed itself into an always-on streaming service, and from there into a content creator. Not only was Blockbuster forced into bankruptcy, but the core habits of sequential TV viewing was undone by binge watching and anything-anywhere-anytime access. Today Netflix itself faces competition from Amazon — an erstwhile bookseller—as well as HBO, Disney and traditional TV and movies; tech companies from Apple to Facebook, and even mass retailers like Walmart, are preparing to spend billions to elbow into the arena.

New Ways of Leadership by Robert SafianThis free-for-all is not confined to entertainment businesses. It is emblematic of the constant disruption that has become endemic across industries. Lines are blurring, moats are crumbling, and expectations of safety and security are being upended by new billion-plus-valuation upstarts. From travel (Airbnb, Away) to finance (SoFi, Venmo), transportation (Tesla, Uber) to healthcare (23andMe, Helix), new brands and new models are rising. Parallel transformations are underway in B-to-B and services industries. And with advances in AI, data science, blockchain and more, the wave of change shows no signs of slowing down.

This is what I call the Age of Flux, a new era for a new world. For some people (and enterprises), these rapid shifts are a source of anxiety. But others are embracing the vast opportunity embedded in this era; they recognize that success and impact can be unlocked in new ways, and are eagerly adapting themselves to a world of expanding possibility.

Those who position themselves for the reality of Flux, and who develop the skills to take advantage of the constant changes, will be positioned to be the leaders in the world of tomorrow. If we open ourselves up to what Flux has to offer, anything is possible.


Robert Safian is the Founder of the Flux Group, and the Editor-in-Chief of Fast Company magazine for more than a decade.

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