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Companies should learn to live in the fast lane

IT IS often claimed with a smile that business is so fiercely paced and unpredictable that the future is coming faster than ever before. Certainly, management consultancies, which after all do very well out of change, are doing little to make companies feel secure.

Just as two Deloitte Consulting partners, Michael Fradette and Steve Michaud, are getting people talking about the notion of "corporate kinetics" and how it can help in the creation of "the self-adapting, self-renewing, instant-action enterprise", along comes a duo from AT Kearney, Patrick Leemputte and Peter Benda, with the concept of the "high-velocity company".

Though the terminology differs slightly between the two, both theories amount to pretty much the same thing: business has become so unpredictable and liable to change that traditional approaches will not work.

The answer, according to Mr Fradette and Mr Michaud, lies in kinetics, where kinetic enterprises and kinetic workers are prepared for anything, poised to meet the changing demands of individual customers.

The authors cite Kinkos, the American chain of office supplies shops breaking into the United Kingdom, as a trend setter.

To Mr Leemputte and Mr Benda, the solution is the high-velocity approach, whereby a select group of growth-oriented companies are launching innovative initiatives by embracing new opportunity cycles. They set out their views in the latest issue of Kearney's Executive Agenda, due out this week.

It can sound convincing. After all, business should be fast-moving and responsive. But, given what workforces have been through in the past and are likely to go through in the future, how likely is it that significant numbers of organisations are going to be able to join the select few that these consultants identify?

And what must it be like to be caught up in the middle of one of these companies? The proponents of both theories take the point. Mr Fradette and Mr Michaud accept that becoming kinetic can be challenging, but claim that it is also liberating, fulfilling and profitable.

But, although he is convinced that the combination of globalisation, technology and the dominance of service is creating an historical shift in the business model, he predicts that things will settle down - in about 30 to 40 years.