January 2013 | 

Top Business Trends for 2013


What’s new in 2013? Wharton faculty identify some specific leadership challenges as well as a few opportunities for improving customer experience and engagement.

Building Team Capacity

Jeff Klein, executive director of the Wharton Leadership Program, notes that as companies move from crisis to crisis, leaders are challenged to build team capacity for effective crisis management. “We know from research that the best time to prepare is before a crisis hits, but in this atmosphere of sustained crisis, that’s not possible. The only real option is for leaders to use every experience as a learning opportunity. Experiential learning is going to become more important than ever in 2013. In The Leadership Edge: Strategies for the New Leader, we work with new leaders on tools like After Action Reviews that capture and drive home significant lessons. If you’re not already getting insights from past performance, you’re missing the best — and maybe the only — chance you have to have a positive impact on future performance.”

Placing a Premium on Getting It Right

Wharton Professor of Management Mike Useem, faculty co-director of Becoming a Leader of Leaders: Pathway for Success, says more is required of leaders today than just five years ago. “Research confirms that when a market is in a period of more uncertainty and change, the role of the leader is more vital. Going forward, because of increasing uncertainty and faster change in many markets, there is now a greater premium on leaders getting it right. Cycle times on new products, customer preferences, and decision-making are shrinking. Leaders must be able to act more quickly and decisively, even as it becomes tougher for them to know precisely what to do.”

Useem notes too the widening impact of leadership decisions in an increasingly globalized world. “Getting it wrong affects more lives, more families, and more communities than in years past. Just one ineffective leader in a position of responsibility can cause great harm. Whether gridlock over the fiscal cliff in the U.S, the economic crises in Europe, or companies that failed in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, you don’t have to look far to see the price we all pay when we don’t have great leaders in positions of authority. Effective leaders need a set of strong guiding principles to draw on — and that is why in Becoming a Leader of Leaders: Pathway for Success we create indelible experiences that are intended to help participants identify which leadership capacities really make a difference and then incorporate them into their own actions. When participants face significant leadership decisions in the future, they will hopefully be able to draw upon a deepened working knowledge of what great leadership requires and a strengthened personal resolve to embrace it and develop it in others.”

Embracing Game Thinking

2013 will be the year that game thinking in business gets serious, according to Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics Kevin Werbach. "Gamification" coalesced as a concept in 2010, spurred by the tremendous success of casual online games such as Angry Birds and Farmville. Chasing the intense activity those games generated, companies started investigating how reward systems based on virtual points, badges for achievements, competitive leaderboards, and other tools derived from games could motivate customers and employees. As is often the case, it took a few years to go from hype and early adopters to mature implementations.

Werbach, author of For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business, notes that in 2013, companies will adopt gamification not as a “hot new trend,” but as a solution to real business needs. “As cloud computing raises the bar for operational efficiency, managers will turn back to their human capital as the source of competitive advantage, using game thinking as a tool for motivation and engagement. Along the way, there will be a belated recognition that it's not enough just to add points to a website: good gamification requires good game design. Experienced game designers will be in demand in the corporate world, just as customer-centricity created opportunities for anthropologists and data scientists.”

Experimenting Continuously

The business world is becoming more research-oriented, says Wharton marketing professor Wes Hutchinson. “Traditional market research has been honed to a science in industries such as consumer package goods. But research is evolving with technology innovations, and is proliferating more widely now.” The director of the Wharton Behavioral Lab points to company websites and new products that are continually morphed in response to experimentation. “Companies are able to see in real-time what works and what doesn’t and they can respond quickly. You can get more valid data about what markets really want — particularly in terms of new-to-the-world products.”

While much of this experimentation is going on online, with e-commerce websites, Hutchinson says experimentation will increasingly have a role in entrepreneurial applications. “There are approaches to start-up development — the ‘lean start-up’ — that push for experimentation with real markets to design a product. Data can be analyzed and interpreted quickly, so companies using methods of continuous experimentation can engage in more evidence-based decision making.”