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.

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.

You may hate gravity, but gravity doesn’t care

Let’s open with a great quote from Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen:

You may hate gravity, but gravity doesn’t care. Substitute gravity with cloud computing, big data, mobility, or social.”

However you challenge and dispute it, technology-led change is happening all around us. I recognise how hard it is to adjust decades-old practices and how different these may be compared to traditional methods of marketing and communication, but it isn’t about to slow down or go back to how it used to be. The transformation is ongoing, it will lead us down its own path, and like many the job roles in future, we are not quite sure where it will end up, because a lot of it has yet to be invented.

But we must take note, and here is a quick story to make the point:

A Chinese consumer spends millions each year in Beijing and is recognised across the city for her taste in luxury goods, lifestyle and events. She flies to Europe on business, takes her morning exercise and whilst in her running gear, pops into a designer store (of which she is a top 5 customer back in Beijing). She is ignored because she is not recognised and she leaves, unhappy. This is not acceptable. Because of the customer service expectation that the likes of Amazon, Netflix and others have bestowed on us, we expect the shopping experience to be highly personalised.

Data is the new currency. People will gladly share their data but in exchange they want value (however your product or service might define it). You have to recognise every customer, regardless of where they are and when they move across the world, and provide them a unique experience utilising the new technology.

Think of the impact if you don’t.

Lifetime employability not lifetime employment

bowler hatI am currently preparing for a presentation that will look at how the acceleration of today’s market trends, coupled with cross-sector technology innovations, might affect the future of education and assessment. I enjoyed Richard and Daniel Susskind’s book The Future of the Professions and will be referencing some of their thoughts – I recommend it as a very good read.

The changes this is bringing the professional world is a far cry from a time when McKinsey consultants had to wear a bowler hat as part of their uniform as evidence of their professionalism. Today, with fewer jobs for life, much less security and very little predictability, we will see both disintermediation and decomposition of roles within the professions and a new emphasis on the ability to learn and adapt as roles change – in smaller, bite-sized pieces, learning and quite possibly assessing on the go.

Knowledge and information have taken on a greater importance compared to traditional assets such as physical capital and natural resources – an educated and highly skilled workforce is among the most valuable assets an organisation has today. But because of the pace of change and progression, the workforce must continually retool its skills.

The knowledge economy is also borderless and knowledge workers are not a homogenous group; they have specialised skills and perform specialised roles, and knowledge workers do not spend their careers with one company; they change jobs frequently and with future generations the likelihood is this will increase.

Therefore, lifetime employability instead of lifetime employment is the goal of knowledge workers. Yet more and more tasks that once required human beings are being performed more productively and cheaply by machines and new capabilities are emerging on an almost daily basis. Machines can look back into data, discern patterns and make predictions (Big Data). Systems such as IBM Watson, with whom we have partnered here at Pearson, can perform tasks that we normally think requires human intelligence. Machines can interact with manual skill and dexterity via robotics and systems are getting smarter at detecting and expressing emotions.

We used to believe these tasks were the sole purview of human beings – are we just training machines to make us redundant? How do we stay in the game, differentiate and compete?

My quote of the week

The rate of adoption of some technologies and the pace of disruption is such that it is almost out of control. How can we keep up?

Three things are clearly leading the way in technology-led change: cloud computing and related services, mobile solutions and internet of things, and this is one of my favourite quotes, from Clayton Christensen, Professor at Harvard Business School, to support what is happening and to underline that we cannot ignore it:

You may hate gravity, but gravity doesn’t care. Substitute gravity with cloud computing, big data, mobility, or social.”

 

Technology and impatience

Girl magazine iPadWe are losing patience with technology and it is putting pressure on companies to provide services at record speeds, yet it seems as though it is never enough.

I always felt one of the greatest wonders of technological change was how organisations put services into the hands of the customer and we marvelled at this as great service – for example, checking ourselves in for a flight and printing our own boarding passes. They made us do the work and we thanked them for it.

I use a 10-second video to make my case of a young girl less than a year old who is given a copy of a magazine to keep her occupied. Within moments she is swiping the magazine because she thinks it operates like an iPad and when the magazine shows no sign of responding, the girl is crawling away having lost interest.

Today, the tables are turning on technology and we are becoming ever more unsatisfied – I thought technology was supposed to be the next utility but when Wifi was down for a while at the house this weekend it caused much consternation and one of kids declared they “couldn’t function.” When networks are down, we criticise the technology, when a store runs out of a product, we complain that they haven’t mastered big data and when online banking is not available we ask why they couldn’t update their systems when we are asleep.

I have seen “internet”, “wifi” and “phone battery” all added to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and it isn’t always in jest. It is one thing technology progressing leaps and bounds to give us new ways of working and shopping and learning – but can it match our ever-increasing standards?

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.

 

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.

Internet of Things

smart-pill-technology-marketThe Consumer Electronics Show this month has led to lots of press on the internet of things, where every gadget and device is connected to the internet, and sending and receiving data.

Samsung’s Chief Executive pledged that every single piece of Samsung hardware will be connected to the internet within five years, including TVs and domestic appliances. This is very much science fact, not science fiction, and while many will yell is there no privacy left in this world, I would like to suggest my top 3, the first of which I presented for the first time back in 2008:

1. The kitchen – imagine if you are on a controlled diet and you decide to break the rules and cook a ready-meal in the microwave followed by sticky-toffee pudding. Your fridge sensors notice what has been removed from the freezer compartment and the microwave tells your fridge you are about to cook that high-fat, sugar-and-salt meal. The microwave declines your request. You are the system administrator of your kitchen, so you override the microwave and instruct it to cook the food. Your microwave obeys, but it then notifies the fridge, which as the central processing unit of the kitchen sends a note to your doctor and your insurance company, and now you are no longer insured.

2. Fruit & Vegetables – coming from a background of food, I always wondered why my father had to keep a box of fruit that was always bruised or damaged to one side. With RFID chips on the cartons plus tighter planning with transportation schedules, more fruit makes it to its destination intact and bad apples cannot influence the rest of the crate.

3. The health pill – my favourite of the three, which is a tiny pill that you take weekly that monitors your wellbeing and sends a weekly status check to your doctor over wifi via a traffic light system. If it displays green you continue as normal; amber and you are sent a text message asking you to make an appointment; if the doctor receives a red signal, you are called within the hour. Preventative action can save the health services millions and technology must be used to help facilitate change.

I am all for the internet of things because the possibilities are endless, I just think they could have found a more interesting name for it.