Women in Learning & Leadership

I was proud to be invited to speak at the Women in Learning & Leadership (WILL) event today in Manchester. It was a great meet with some very good speakers and lots of interaction and participation – Pearson at its best!

I opened with a quote from Accenture that stated digital is the main reason half the companies have disappeared from the Fortune 500 since the year 2000, and we delved into technologies impacting the workplace, education trends we need to be cognisant of and especially the need to attract and retain the best talent.

I referenced one well-known UK businessman who said, “You have to Kill Your Business,” and whilst dramatic, I agree that you have to embrace digital transformation and do business totally differently. We lamented the demise of Nokia and a former CEO made a great comment that they didn’t do anything wrong necessarily, but somehow the industry disrupted around them. The frightening aspect of this is that the traditional graph with a 30-degree growth line is now even referred to as the “path of doom;” in other words, if you are only growing at that rate, you may not survive the disruption. Plus those that are complacent are at greatest risk.

We don’t own our ideas for very long either, according to a former Marketing Officer of McDonalds – today we own our ideas “for about an hour and a half” before somebody is snapping at our heels updating and improving what we started. A simple yet great line cited from Cisco Chairman John Chambers summed it up: “It’s no longer a question of if or when the digital revolution will happen, we are in the middle of it.”

Somebody asked about AI in education: educators and teachers must not stop the drive of AI in the classroom; it is in the real world so if we don’t introduce it into our learning, the next generation wont be ready when they go out to the workplace – we must think of the future.

I closed by using the Fox and Hedgehog story to answer a question about why Pearson VUE is so successful at what we do – we have a laser focus on what we do and we hire and develop the best people.

What if I live to 100?

UBS adThe back page of the current Fortune magazine carried this advert (right) for UBS and it is worth underlining the impact of living for longer.

If we live to 100 in future, it is more than just savings plans and investments we will need to worry about. Very few will be able to retire and live off their savings for half a century, so how will we cope? We will most likely have a career that spans 60-years and have to learn new skills as generations change; furthermore cycles and trends of work mean where we start will in no way resemble how we finish working.

So as our knowledge and skills become redundant, we will have to update just to keep up. Education needs to start thinking today how to prepare future generations for such evolution – will a once in a lifetime education be the correct solution, surely not? The traditional college/university model was invented when our education would get you your first and last job, but our kids will hop from project to project as they see fit – choosing who they work for.

Because we live in a very dynamic society where people have lots of careers, where technology moves faster than we can keep up and whatever we learn expires very quickly, we need to ask if we are no longer faithful to one company or even one profession, why should we be faithful to one type of education at one institution, and at only one point in our lives?

Is the future big or small?

FreelancersWe have just returned from a couple of weeks driving along the Californian coastline, one of my favourite holiday spots, where I noticed a change.

When I first started visiting America I remember marvelling at some of the larger department stores such as Bloomingdales, Macy’s and Nordstrom. Today, these stores look like they are stuck in time, and that is if they are there at all. I sensed more boutique businesses, smaller operators and niche products which are of course supported by mammoth online platforms like Amazon that encourage them to thrive.

How much is technology responsible for this and have the large retailers missed the trend change, or have they been hamstrung by huge properties in malls and cannot move fast enough? Online shopping and service has certainly dented any rosy future for them in their current form.

As consumers we are happy to pay for convenience as ordering online has become slicker and quicker and where product choice is unparalleled. Equally no consumer can tell how large or small an online player really is; plus, who cares as long as the product is genuine and delivered on time to our doorstep.

Combine this with the fact that 20% of people have sold something online in the past year (Pew Research), the reduction in free time most people complain of, and the increase in freelance and contract work, and it all points to a new way of living and shopping which we have taken in our stride. It is likely to gather pace, never to return.

Part of me was saddened to see the old stalwarts fading or missing, but it reminded me that we are on a treadmill of tech-led change, and if we stand still we invariably go backwards.

OODA

ZaraOODA stands for Observation, Orientation, Decision and Action.

It is a decision making model that was created by a military strategist called John Boyd, where information is sent back from the field to the decision maker to construct and modify a new theory of attack. It is especially important when you don’t know how the opposition will respond to your first wave.

Boyd said the key wasn’t about the great plan of attack, but how you learn and evolve quickly – the speed with which your strategy could adapt.

I have referenced global retailer Zara before and they have grown to become one of the largest fashion retailers in the world. At the heart of their success is their ability to manufacture and respond to the latest fashions, having product on hangers within weeks.

The vital ingredient and differentiator is how we deal with information: how we digest and put data to use, adapt to changing market and competitive demands and make technology work for us to lead our customers to change.

Like the best military pilots, sportsmen or business leaders, it is about the gift of perception and reaction, to learn to manoeuvre midstream.

Thank you to Derek Thompson, author of the great little book Hit Makers, who introduced me to OODA.

Silver is worth more than gold

I read a series of articles and opinion pieces about developing young leaders and the importance of doing so in light of the retirement statistics of Baby Boomers.

According to Harvard Business Review, 10,000 Boomers will retire every day over the next decade. This is great for young people, who will have the opportunity, and have to be ready, to assume some of the roles made vacant; plus in many cases they will be fast-tracked by their companies into these positions to address skills gaps.

So with that companies are targeting millennials with the majority of their advertising, after all by 2030 the millennials will make up almost 3 out of 4 members of the workforce.

But pause for thought – are we ignoring some people? We know that the silver surfers have all the money and they know how to spend it (largely on leisure). In addition, as Tom Peters tells us in his inspiring way, women make most of the key decisions, so why does advertising continue to ignore them? I think we may be missing a trick here and not just for allocation of advertising spend. Sure millennials will be an important audience in 10 years, but why wait? Target the most important groups today, because they are ready to spend.

It seems to me the silvers are worth more than gold futures, at least for now.

One size fits One

bootsOne of the most exciting opportunities that technology brings to the table for businesses of every size is the utilisation of data to tailor their offering to each individual customer.

Although we are told that 95% of business data in the UK still remains untapped (Forrster Research), the opportunity to serve each individual’s needs and offer a truly bespoke service is mouth-watering at the prospect. This isn’t Harvey Specter and made-to-measure suits (for fans of the brilliant legal drama Suits), but more about understanding preferences, buying-patterns and data in the aggregate to shape future sales.

I have talked before about the correlation that WalMart made in the US between thunderstorms with sales of torches and pop-tarts! No in-store manager could ever have worked out the link, but the data made it sound obvious.

For those of us in a B2B environment, the dynamic is somewhat different, but we have an additional layer to use to our advantage. We don’t need to make over-the-top sales presentations to our prospects; customers tend to know who we are, they do their own research and they can find pretty much anything they want online. Plus in many cases today they reject sales people outright.

You can tell your story online – your website, blog, videos and customer case studies all wrapped up in your social presence will do as much talking as any salesperson. But augment this by building relationships at a human level, person to person, team to team over time, patiently and with integrity, and you have a formula that is very hard to beat.

One size fits one: the one thing technology can support every business with.

True Grit

JohnWayneI spent today at a client, talking futures and opportunities: smart people, open discussion, transparency; the most productive forum for communication.

As I travelled back (reading The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle and doing 3 things at once), I remembered something about people making connections and it is worth a note.

Many commentators talk about the human side being just as important, if not more so, than skills or IQ these days. Recruiters look for accomplishments outside the norm, such as inventions, entrepreneurial achievements and especially how an individual has come from or dealt with difficult circumstances.

With soft skills carrying more weight in hiring decisions, those that can show courage, perseverance, resilience as well as an openness and willingness to learn, will win the day in future. This is defined as grit, and some even pattern-match to find people that have these gritty characteristics. It’s part of our evolution and only today we talked about traditional education transforming in response to digital technology and culture – industries will move ahead without us if we don’t change.

One final consideration – no mention of the word “technology” in grit. We are in the people business. We always will be.

(Image to the right: the legendary John Wayne from the Western ‘True Grit’, 1969).

Customer Experience

netflixWhen you consider the brands that genuinely stand out, they do so due to customer experience.

Why do people buy from Apple? For the product and design experience.

Why do people so many subscribe to Netflix? The experience of watching quality TV anytime, anywhere.

Why do people go to Selfridges? For the ‘yellow bag’ shopping experience.

How can technology help enhance the experience for your customers?

Speed up or slow down?

Dubai workshopI spent a great week in the Middle East last week where we hosted a skills workshop for clients and guests – with the topics productivity, talent and technology high on the agenda.

As always, following the media and talking to locals I picked up some interesting stories, no least from an article describing the ability to “zip through the airport in 10 seconds” on its way to the region. This is great news, especially as most people have a story to tell about crowds, delays and hours standing at baggage carousels scrolling through emails on their phone waiting for their bag. But is it really that good for us?

I welcome technology making our lives easier, speeding up processes and helping avoid queues, everything faster and shorter, but does it genuinely save us time or encourage us to try and fit more in. We seem to have fallen into the habit of squeezing more into less time, allowing ourselves no time to think and more items to have to juggle and worry about.

Should we be cramming more activities into less time, or should we be doing less in order to think it through and do a better job of the task?

Does technology ultimately buy us more time, or just more pressure?

The answer is in the room

Most people think that to generate and brainstorm the next big idea has to involve far-reaching experts nobody has ever met, when in fact, regardless of age or generation, the answer to our needs is normally in the room – all we have to do is find the most effective way to facilitate the discussion and identify it.

Plus you don’t need a focus group; the world talking and debating online every day, customers talking about your company and product and service, is the biggest focus group you will ever need.