IST02 Power of the Individual

The growing influence of the individual is changing social systems and business. Once harnessed, information possessed by an individual becomes the basis for creating new value, which in turn forms the foundation for the continuous growth and progression of companies and society in the future.

The Expansion of Individual Power

Technology has shifted power to the hands of individuals. This is partially due to the proliferation of mobile devices and high-speed internet, which has enabled people to send personal messages through social networking services and access endless streams of information. Using low-cost digital services to engage others, individuals now possess the power to change the fabric of society itself. For example, a US high school student developed a communication tool for patients who had lost all voluntary movement except for eye movement. Using eye tracking and a brain-computer interface to find the best-suited emoticons, emoji and characters, she was able to convert results into a text message that could be transmitted to the patient’s attendant. Armed with technology and her own experiences as a youth volunteer, a single individual solved a problem driving societal change.

The Shift to an Experience-Driven Business Model

Companies are transforming their business models to deliver targeted, individualized experiences to consumers to harness the power of the individual. For example, an online streaming services company provides attractive, personalized recommendations for new items by analyzing a user’s history and presenting images that the user finds attractive. Another example is a service that uses a simple device to collect data and aggregate daily-life logs, which presents health-related recommendations to a user. Lastly, a new food planning application delivers customized meals to fit specific dietary and physical needs. The program may even use 3D printing in the future to showcase the requested meal.

Organizations are also using the power of the individual to target marketing efforts to desired demographics. For instance, luxury brands are turning overwhelmingly to online influencers with numerous followers as a cornerstone of marketing strategies. This approach reinforces brand value and creates awareness especially with virtual influencers who in turn reduce the costs and risks associated with human influencers. New business models capitalize on the power of the individual to make tailored appeals based on specific preferences and behaviors derived from smart devices, which have become indispensable as an interface between the individual and society.

The Value of Personal Information

The megatrend of personal information clearly demonstrates its great value. In fact, the very words, thoughts and behaviors of individuals have become the primary source for generating future value. As individual preferences and choices increase in value and influence, one question is becoming predominant. To what extent should individuals share information with others?

We enjoy personalized services and networks by providing personal information. In addition, platformers that monopolize huge amounts of data on which we are reliant are becoming colossal forces in society. This trend may continue in the future. However, some efforts are underway to control and regulate personal data1. One solution growing in popularity is information banks. These banks store the personal data of users based on a predetermined agreement and provide this data to third parties. The approach aims to safely manage personal data and extract its maximum value, while preventing an excessive degree of monopoly. This framework also shifts the balance of power and control of personal data back to the individual.

1References to personal data includes data as defined in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as well as information related personal attributes, travel/activity/purchase histories and information collected by wearable devices.

The Race to Attract High-Skilled Human Capital

In a society where individual abilities and intentions generate value, companies can no longer survive by recruiting people simply as a 9-to-5 workforce. Creation of businesses focusing deeply on each and every individual requires the acquisition of human capital to leverage ideas and technologies to solve major social and corporate issues. As a result, the trend to respect and harness employees’ personalities and differences is going mainstream among companies. 

One example of this is taking place in the sporting goods sector. In light of the diversification of buyers of sporting goods to include fashion-conscious women, health-oriented senior citizens and physically-disabled athletes, a sporting goods manufacturer is now recruiting a more diverse workforce to create competitive products. To accomplish this, the company established a family-friendly environment and promoted respect for individuality as a core company value.

Such changes in the acquisition of human resources are spreading beyond national borders. A 2018 report issued by a U.S. consulting firm2 stated that there will be a global shortage of more than 85 million high-skilled workers by 2030, resulting in a loss of as much as $8.5 trillion. Given these circumstances, Canada and China are preferentially accepting immigrants with specific expertise, giving them favored treatment such as subsidized living expenses. Since approximately the year 2000, the type of immigrants who move from emerging countries to developed countries such as Europe and the United States has been shifting from unskilled laborers to skilled workers. Now that trend is about to reach Asia.

Businesses focusing deeply on the individual will gain a competitive edge by hiring skilled employees. Changes in recruitment and retention practices by companies and governments are critical for continued success and prosperity.

2The $8.5 Trillion Talent Shortage, May, 2018, Korn Ferry Institute.

The Individual as a Core Building Block

With the era of mass production and consumption behind us, companies must provide personalized products and services to remain competitive. The success of this depends not only on the products and services themselves, but also on the value of the information provided by the individual consumer.

The starting point for a business focusing deeply on each individual is acquiring the information that the consumer possesses. In fact, the data or information that an individual has is of such great value that it is now sometimes referred to as the “new petroleum.” Accordingly, leaks and inappropriate treatment of personal and other data poses a material risk for both the individual and the company. With control over personal data in the hands of the individual user, future companies and society as a whole must design products and services that leverage the power and information provided by individual consumers. In short, the ideas and information that the individual holds has become the key source of innovation and sustainable development.

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