What is your moat?

moatI read an insightful interview with an executive from a major player in hotels where he discussed the future of the industry and his organisation’s “moat.”

When you think about a moat, you immediately see protection and defence, and with so much change happening around us, and accelerating in many ways, we all need to consider what it is that differentiates, but also protects, our company and service, to such a degree that we can actually visualise our place in the market for years ahead?

Today, most companies can’t.

 

Tech = Art + Science

Driving in my classic car, listening to Grover Washington Jr on cassette tape (honestly, after all this car is 30 years old), I marvelled at how reliable this car is and how little tech was involved all those years ago in these machines, but mixing old thoughts with new, I realised just how technology is both art and science today. It is worth a post.

I think the biggest opportunities lie where technology is able to span both; let me explain why and how with education in mind.

Tech is science: one of the greatest opportunities in education is where technology can create a market segment of one: the individual. Where tech can help us create personalised learning so that students can learn at their own pace and level, and achieve goals and qualifications that are unique to their requirements, career aspirations and future. Tailored learning to suit a unique need at one point in time.

Tech is art: I experienced this a second time with air travel recently, where the entire check-in process was automated and I, as the traveller, had to self-serve. This is a masterstroke. Companies putting technology in place to allow customers to check-in themselves, print out their own documents, weigh their own luggage, print their own tags and calling it improved customer service – while saving costs all along the journey. How can technology help and even encourage people to learn, test and credential themselves, consuming small modules to achieve a goal, then move on to the next one? How can we utilise technology to predict, based on past learnings, what we need to do next?

I assembled the idea for this post sitting in traffic. I wonder as we get older whether we start going back to the old days, where we can be creative and have time to think, and not worry about the InBox.

A 3-layer cake worth sharing

cakeI recently returned from participating on a global advisory board on education and certification and we debated not just the future but how we can pin it down long enough to be able to describe it and build a strategy around it.

Tech refuses to stand still and while it isn’t quite the bedlam that the comedy series Silicon Valley portrays, it isn’t a million miles away. On my journey back I deliberated and concluded one thing for certain – the larger the audience we try to reach, the simpler the message has to be, otherwise it flies over our heads along with the rest of the information box labelled “overload.”

So what is the next wave? I summarised it as a 3-layer cake with all manner of ingredients built around intelligence, security and people.

The first, top layer, a segment called ‘intelligence,’ is the topping that will propel us into creative new spaces – AI, AR, VR, 3D, (already too many acronyms), drones, robots and my favourite internet of things. This will lead us towards everything cloud, everything connected and everything mobile.

The foundation or base is the security that will be necessary to hold things together, protect the safe business transition to the above and without which we can expect a myriad of challenges that could well hold back progress.

The flavouring in the middle, always the best bit, is where we come in – the people and the skills that underpin the change, the brainpower to drive it forward and the mindfulness to ensure things are done correctly, competitively and for the long-term.

The ultimate in convenience

Westin-Gear-Lending-New-Bal Move WellI don’t normally talk about one product or brand but this deserves a mention, even though I have learned it’s not that new. Staying at a Westin in Chicago last week, I noticed the room keys had a small advert promoting their Stay Well campaign.

For just $5 you can borrow a complete set of New Balance running gear including training shoes, so you don’t have to pack your own each time you travel – this is very smart. I didn’t take up the offer as I had my gear with me, but in future…

That is real innovation in thinking and also the ultimate in convenience to the customer.

So let’s loop technology into this – it is a great example of how technology needs to be serving us, integrating with and re-imagining business processes, offering customers choice and making it easy for them to purchase from or partner with us.

Plus, if we exercise in the morning and have to hand back the kit before check-out, it leaves that extra little bit of time for email and online activity later in the day…or is that counterproductive? Either way, I am impressed.

Be the disruptor, not the disrupted

Here is a great story from one of pioneers of the IT industry, Andy Grove, former Chairman and CEO of Intel. It comes from his book Only the Paranoid Survive and is well worth retelling.

In a discussion with then Chief Executive Gordon Moore, he asked what would happen if the board kicked them out and started anew. They agreed that a new CEO would no doubt leave the past behind and detach them from their memories.

So Grove and Moore decided there and then to do that themselves. They left the business of chips behind, moving into microprocessors and thereby set the stage for the next generation of the Intel business.

It was, and remains, a lesson in management: leave the past behind, don’t let a single line of business define you and be the disruptor, not the disrupted.

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.

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.

Time away from technology

boots at lake photoThis post is something of a rebellion. I am going to make a case against technology and was inspired by my friend Richard Tubb to write this.

I describe technology as the oxygen of the net generation, but Richard took a day away from tech and found it to be a “revelation.” I am short of breath at the thought, but I think I understand.

According to a study by the United Nations of the world’s 7 billion people, 6bn of those have access to a mobile phone but only 4.5bn have access to toilet. Furthermore, 1.3bn still lack access to electricity. Technology has connected us and extended our reach but in many cases it has also cocooned us. Tech is a tool that should empower us to reach more people and bind us closer together, not separate us from our friends and families and colleagues. We must remember that social interaction is a basic need, a fundamental part of our humanity, so I welcome walking into a café that outwardly proclaims, “No Wifi Here.” Meet people, talk to them, share ideas – that is how real friendships are born and businesses are germinated.

Historically great cities were built around resources – water (harbour), minerals and fuel. Today, and certainly tomorrow, great cities will be built around people – it isn’t about ‘B2B’ or ‘B2C’, it’s about ‘H2H’ – human to human.

 

 

The Emotional Bank Account

piggy bankI enjoyed the Certiport EMEA Partner conference last week and presented my thoughts on how we can turn some of the current tech-education trends into opportunities for our regional distributors.

As usual I talked about the new mobile workforce, the mismatch between skills available and employer needs, and the importance of young people owning their learning paths and skills portfolio, but I also opened the door to one of my favourite concepts of the emotional bank account, originally defined by Stephen Covey.

When you work in consultative sales, it is all about building a strong and long-term relationship with your customers. The work you do, the time you commit, the actions you take, all deposit into an emotional account with the customer that builds your reputation and cements the partnership. Over time, you deposit enough into the account to have lots of credit and if something happens that causes the account to need a withdrawal (a technical error, a mistake, a bit of bad service) then you have enough in the account to keep the relationship strong.

As technology takes over more of the fact- and rules-based decisions, the people who excel at building and maintaining relationships and the emotional bank account with their customers, are the ones who will stand out – this is how people will make a difference in future and where technology is less likely to have a say.