The Lens for Today’s Disruptive Trends: Understanding Proximity

The Increasing Pace of Change 

Corporate leaders and strategists today express feeling overwhelmed. They are trying to keep pace with and make sense of a proliferation of potentially disruptive trends, including generative AI, 3D printing, digitization, robotics, and a flood of data, and all of this is happening within a context of increasing change – evolving customer needs, climate change, and geopolitical uncertainty.

There have been few times in history when we have had to face so much change. The key to turning such proliferations of change into advantage is not to try to predict the path of one or two of the changes but rather to put the pieces together and see the bigger picture.

Past Revolutions as a Precedent 

In the mid-1700s, for example, advances in steam engines, new textile technologies such as the power loom, our ability to tap coal to power steam engines and iron to build machines, and improvements in transportation and infrastructure all came together to create the Industrial Revolution.

In the late 20th century, parallel advances in computing, telecommunications, and data processing thrust us into the Information Age, and it transformed organizations and daily life.

The Lens of Proximity 

We have found that, just as the terms Industrial Revolution and Information Age help people see the big picture and clarify what is happening, Proximity does the same for the swarm of changes that we are experiencing today. In our work with heads of strategy and innovation at Outthinker Networks, we have found that nearly all the trends on their radar suddenly come into focus when you look at them through the lens of Proximity.

Trends Explained by Proximity 

Through conversations and surveys with our 80 heads of strategy members, we found that these trends are at the top of their agendas:

  • Geopolitical uncertainty
  • Climate change and sustainability
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Data proliferation
  • Expectations of speed and personalization
  • Digitization of customers and Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Digital transformation and digitization of value
  • Emerging technologies (virtual reality, edge computing, 3D printing, blockchain)
  • Automation and robotics

These trends can be explained through the lens of Proximity. The drive for sustainability and the growth of geopolitical uncertainty drive us to explore proximate solutions to overcome raw material shortages or supply chain disruptions. The digitization of products and customers and emerging technologies like AI, virtual reality, and 3D printing all enable more proximate solutions to be delivered.

The proliferation of data, often generated by interconnected devices, coupled with the democratization of data and the ability to share it more easily combines with predictive capabilities. Together, these trends drive us toward a world of Proximity, where our needs can increasingly be met anywhere, anytime, with improved customization and reduced waste.

The Proximity Mindset 

To simplify, these trends allow companies to more accurately identify when and where needs will arise. As a strategist, I believe the future under Proximity indicates two underlying factors. They represent capabilities your organizations will increasingly need to build to satisfy what customers will come to expect:

  1. The ability to pinpoint demand closer to when and where it occurs
  2. The ability and urgency to deliver value closer to that demand

Final Thoughts 

While the breadth of technological and societal shifts we face today can seem overwhelming, Proximity provides a clarifying lens. By understanding the core principles of pinpointing demand with greater precision and delivering value closer to that demand, leaders can turn disruptive changes into strategic advantage.

The path forward requires enhancing organizational capabilities around data/analytics, emerging technologies like AI, IoT, 3D printing, and digitization. But most critically, it demands a fundamental reorientation – an embracing of the Proximity mindset to drive innovation and create new value propositions tailored to rapidly evolving circumstances.

My latest book, Proximity, co-authored with Robert C. Wolcott, is out next week. You can preorder your copy here. I’ve been training a group of coaches and consultants to work with companies to build these Proximity-driven capabilities. If you’re interested in being a part of it, try my 4th Option Network.

We’ll explore Proximity concepts in more depth in the coming weeks. For now, I encourage you to start visualizing how Proximity could reveal new opportunities amid the changes impacting your business.

Outthinker Networks is a global peer group of heads of strategy, innovation, and transformation at $1B+ companies who are determined to move their organizations to the next level. Members engage in curated learning, practical conversations, and networking opportunities to be more successful in performing their roles, solving their top challenges, and keeping their organizations ahead of the pace of disruption.


Kaihan Krippendorff
Kaihan KrippendorffFounder & CEO - Outthinker Networks
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Cori Dombroski
Cori DombroskiContent Director - Outthinker Networks
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