A 60-year career

Fishermen

Gladys Hooper, the oldest person in the UK, recently died at the age of 113. This raised further interest in the population living and working for longer and it seems we have the potential to live much longer than generations before us and way beyond 100 years old.

If that becomes the case and we do live to that ripe old age, then we will need work careers of 60 or so years just to be able to support ourselves. Furthermore, if technology continues to develop at the current pace, and the likelihood is it will as there are no signs of a slow down, then we will experience several cycles of work and will have to re-skill in order to keep ourselves relevant.

Throw in to the mix that by 2030 as many as one-third of jobs in the UK could be at risk of being automated, according to research by the University of Oxford, where do we turn? Our learning will be down to us as individuals to own, to continue to update our portfolio of skills, plus as companies contract at the core, people telecommute and we move from project to project and job to job, we will have to learn on an almost constant basis – for new tasks, new models and new work environments.

I quite like this idea – it sounds more interesting than Nintendo brain challenges that the doctor recommends.

Be a hedgehog

160309-hedgehogThe CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff said “Speed is the new currency of business.” It certainly is, and the rate of change continues to disregard political upheaval to drive ahead.

The adoption rates for recent technologies are almost vertical – social media, smartphones, tablets to name but three – and the pace of disruption staggering. For every 100 people in the world there are now 95 mobile phone subscriptions and 40 internet users, plus new apps are reaching 100 million users increasingly quickly WhatsApp in 3 years and Instagram in 2).

So how do we take control of this change? We do it via filtering and through our people. Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry and now head of Apple Retail, states:

“The more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more we need to go back to the basic fundamentals of human communication”

It is very easy to get distracted and pulled from pillar to post, especially as we suffer from information overload, overflowing Inboxes and streams of messaging via apps. So my route to handling this, which applies both to myself as well as my team, is to be a hedgehog.

The hedgehog only does a few simple things, but it does it with a laser focus. The fox on the other hand, changes plans and strategy to try and catch the hedgehog, but almost never does.

So be a hedgehog: define what you are good at, and deliver it with increasing quality and a bucket-load of passion.

School as base camp

subbuteo

My team co-hosted a great seminar with the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN) this month, and it underlines what technology will never replace – the benefit that people gain from being in a room networking, asking questions and sharing best practice with each other – in other words learning in the real world.

In his book, Open, David Price talks about learning becoming authentic when it has a specific purpose, impact beyond schooling and supports a student’s communities.

What is school about, if it isn’t helping prepare young people for the real world, however small the steps of progress? My daughter returned from her Duke of Edinburgh trek this weekend tired, frazzled and aching from the backpack which stood almost as tall as her. But the experience was priceless and taught her how set up camp, prepare food and work in a team to navigate walks and hazards to reach their destination – the greatest challenge for them was the intermittent phone signal.

Education has to reflect what industry is looking for in skills. It has a tough time keeping up as it is, with first year degree material becoming out of date before graduation, so there has to be a genuine link between what is taught and its relevance to the real world – after all, kids are already more engaged via devices and the online world than we ever will be.

I do wonder, however, how these kids would have coped in the 70s; with just Subbuteo, a bicycle and local park to contend with.

Final score: People 1-0 Spreadsheets

tea

I recently returned from a trip where I met with the most senior heart surgeon in the country and I was hugely impressed by his humility and leadership. Very few possess the combination of exceptional business acumen plus the people skills to lead from the very top. He certainly had those and he was also keen to innovate and lead from the front. Meeting him and his team, being encouraged by them, talking about the past and visions for the future, are what makes business tick, but also why people never fail to inspire.

Working in a technology-led business it reminded me of the importance of fundamentals in doing business and why people can never lose out to tech in the development of relationships. We have a philosophy which is when you are seeking long-term business relationships (contracts, agreements, partnerships), you have to earn the trust of the economic buyer (read: Miller Heiman selling skills) in some cases a year or two before they have even decided they want to make a purchase.

Technology can certainly go some way to impressing a prospect buyer that you have the tools and the solution to their needs, but in a world where we will see more contractors around the table, more crowdsourced services and just about most things moving to mobile, it will be the people telling the stories, shaking hands, drinking tea and building rapport that ultimately win the day.

This has been going on since time immemorial. Tech can’t match that.

A return to simplicity

Technology is no silver bullet and better technology doesn’t automatically mean better education.TV

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that across more than 40 countries, students who use computers for their schoolwork, but for a slightly lower-than-average amount of time, do better than average on reading exams. Students who spend an above-average amount of time on computers at school scored lower than students who don’t use computers at all. Like everything, how helpful technology is depends on how you use it.

It has also been highlighted how job roles that require empathy, for example doctors and nurses, are better positioned to withstand the changes that technology is sweeping along its path, and with 36% of the workforce in jobs that have a high risk of being automated by 2030 (via a study by Oxford University) we need to de-mystify the confusion and complexity that technology often brings to our day-to-day existence.

This leads me to a paragraph of hope – during my recent travels I read about the declining numbers of subscribers to cable television. Executives in the industry believe “skinny bundles” might be one solution to halt this decline, and I picked up on that – wouldn’t skinny everything help us in the long term? Offer consumers a menu of options and let us piece together only what suits us – move us from mass production to mass customisation.

That way we get what we need, we are satisfied with what we pay, and we don’t spend hours filtering through unnecessary material. Or maybe we just shut down the TV networks at 10:30pm and ask society to read a book for 30 minutes before falling asleep.

 

Live Differently

Ignacio Cubilla Banos sits in his house during his 111th birthday celebration in Havana

I was reading with interest a claim that the first humans to live way into their hundreds are alive today, and remembered this great picture of Ignacio Cubilla Banos, around whom there was a story as he celebrated his 111th birthday at his home in Havana surrounded by his family a few years back. It made me think.

If the next generations are going to live way beyond a hundred, how many cycles of learning will they require just to stay up to date with change? Surely they will need a 50 to 60 year career, so learning will need to evolve in parallel.

What we learn today doesn’t carry for very long – we have to refresh what we know almost constantly (think of the story of the university degree, and what a student learns in year 1 is out of date by the time they graduate). As our knowledge and skills become redundant we will have to stay on the cycle of learn-and-apply just to allow us to keep up.

I have variations of this quoted on Twitter and other platforms:

My father had 1 job in his entire lifetime.

My job at Pearson is my 5th in 30 years.

My kids will quite possibly have 5 jobs at any one time.

This is the future.

Think Different

Think Different

‘Think Different’ was created in 1997 to promote Apple, and what a company and set of products they turned out to be. The statement itself is never more relevant than today.

Because of the pace that everybody works, always connected, never stopping for breath, technology has allowed some companies to become lazy, their staff converted to order processors and order takers. But that doesn’t last forever.

How about using technology to buy time in our schedule, to give us 10% of our week back to think differently, strategically and long-term? Forrester tell us that 95% of data within organisations remains untapped and 40% of companies don’t target specific customer or visitor segments. How about using technology to create market segments of one and treating customers (and learners) as individuals with unique needs.

Segmentation is a key step toward meeting customers’ demands for more relevant experiences, and by 2018, Gartner predicts that organisations that excel in personalisation will outsell those that don’t by 20%. It’s the treadmill scenario – in this rapidly changing world, if you standstill, you go backwards.

Benefits of staying small

95 pc dataIn 1983, Theodore Levitt, economist and professor at Harvard, encouraged companies to “Think Global, Act Local,” as part of their globalisation strategy. Today that message is reinforced as we are told to stay small and nimble, and keep our ears to the ground by staying in touch with our customers and the wider marketplace (social spaces and listening to the conversation).

Technology allows us to do this, and yet a Forrester report highlighted that 95% of data within organisations remains untapped – we need to understand how to put this data to good use, and create market segments of one! One customer, unique needs.

I worked on a skills project with a global consulting firm who said that for the first time in history, customers are joined arm-in-arm with CEOs in setting strategy for their companies. The goalposts have moved. In a 2015 study that promoted 5 key digital marketing trends, Gartner stated that the purchasing funnel has been fundamentally broken – customers have moved from a discreet linear purchasing path to moving at their pace, when and wherever they want to. They also talk about the experience economy, and that we have to think less in terms of discreet steps in a standard campaign and instead think of every interaction over time as the experience.

We have to put technology to use, to facilitate and analyse this for us or we stand still, and today that means going backwards.

The world’s new language

felix-baumgartner-standing-in-his-capsule-about-to-diveMore often than not, the most powerful messages are the shortest.

I think this is one of the statements of the year: the world’s language isn’t English or Chinese. It’s pictorial. It’s how the next gen engage, it’s how they communicate, it’s how they understand.

It’s time we learned to speak it.

The Number 1 Skill for the 21st Century: Empathy

left brain right brainI read an interesting story recently of a company that dismissed a very competent technician because he lacked the soft skills that was in keeping with their twenty-first century thinking. I delved deeper.

A vice president at a global IT company proclaimed, “Empathy is the critical 21st century skill.”  I agree with that, but has it really changed over time? The CEO for Retail Banking at Barclays said in a television interview that the internet and digitisation agenda is bigger than the industrial revolution. People are not designed to do the same thing again and again, and that we must utilise people where it requires the mind and the application of judgement.

Research  by Oxford Economics asked employers what skills they will need most in the next 5 to 10 years and they said they will not be looking for business acumen or analysis, but instead their priorities will be relationship building, teaming and creativity.

I think this is great news – the left-brain roles and functions will be taken over by technology anyway, so we can go back to using more of our right-brain in social interaction and doing what differentiated us in the first place: being human.