Connecting not Cocooning

Technology is a tool that should empower us to reach more people and bind us together, connecting communities, workplaces and ideas. Although technology helps create great individual experiences, social interaction is a basic need and fundamental part of humanity, and we must encourage against people locking themselves away in their rooms for hours on end, especially at meal times.

As part of this humanisation endeavour, here is an interesting story to share: a law firm research revealed that the senior management profile pages (usually found under About Us) of its website were the most visited. So the firm decided to turn up the spotlight, including the addition of video interviews with its lawyers which included answering unconventional questions!

The message was: you wont find corporate stuffed shirts here; we are real people who value relationships with other real people. I like that. Put technology to use as a platform to inject some personality into our companies and humanise what we do. It’s about people. It always is.

Automate the work – humanise the jobs

Let’s make a further case for humans: there was a great feature in this week’s Sunday Times on President and CEO of Hewlett Packard, Antonio Neri. Talking about artificial intelligence and how it relates to his business, he said, “AI will not replace human beings, but will enable human beings.” He goes on to say they are making their infrastructure more intelligent and reliable, thus allowing humans to focus on innovation.

I truly endorse this and want to underline that we need to automate the work and humanise the jobs – let the machines do the mundane and our teams add value to our customers.

It will help give purpose back to our people.

Everyone has to be a technology company

ChangeAgent_oilingthewheelsofchange500pxI have been following a story of two companies and how their brands are playing in almost completely different arenas and yet for the same customer.

One, let’s call them Goliath, has decided to change the colour of their product in order to reinvigorate sales. Same basis of the product, same distribution channel, same target audience.

David, our little guy, sells a similar product but not through stores. Instead he sells it online. Customers can’t touch or handle the product, but they can follow it on Instagram and Facebook pages and be part of a community of likeminded users. David still has a minority market share, but he is growing at a handsome rate. He also has a far lower cost base and is therefore more profitable. Rather than targeting only the audiences of the stores that sell his products, David can reach millions.

Goliath knows very little about their customer as all sales are through stores and usually in baskets full of other products. David knows everything about his customers. I see only one way out for Goliath; the smarter companies are going to be the ones that go out and buy the technology and engineers needed to drive disruption.

Every company has to be a technology company: if you are at the top of your sector today and you are not a technology company, you wont be at the top of your sector for long.

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.

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?

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.

Humans turning robotic – robots becoming human

I enjoyed being part of an engaging panel session at the CompTIA Annual Member & Partner Conference in London where we talked about skills and employability, and how employers continue to struggle to find the people to meet their needs.

Well how about the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) and Generation X (born 1965-1976)? We have the time, wherewithal and the experience, and more often than not the resilience to compete. That determination is manifesting itself by standing our ground – we won’t give in easily, to age or to retirement plus we can handle the demands placed on us.

I suppose technology isn’t helping us, but is it really tech’s fault? Haven’t we brought this on ourselves? Are we just obsessed with being online and staying connected for more and more hours throughout the day, waking at 4am for a sneak peek at email and responding to the last of the day’s messages with drooping eyelids 20 hours later? Moreover, if you are in a business that covers all time-zones of the world, does it ever stop?

We need to remind ourselves what humans are good at and take a good look at the work and roles that machines cannot do as well as humans in future. We need to reassert and take control, yet isn’t it ironic that we have become robotic in automating our lives, at precisely the time that robots endeavour to become more human.

Non-technology

Be present slideTo end a busy week and help lead us into the weekend with some downtime (a term I had never heard until technology made its play on our time), I’d like to call out two things to help focus us away from gadgets and devices.

The first relates to this great little photo (on the right). A crowd has gathered to watch a parade, a celebrity or some runners and everybody has jumped to their phones to catch the moment. But isn’t it interesting that nobody is actually watching the event unfold, nobody except one little old lady who is very content to take in that special moment. The look on her face speaks a thousand words. Occasionally, leave your phone in your pocket and just be present.

The other item relates to something I posted on social spaces earlier in the week that received a most positive reaction – handwritten notes. Despite all the wonders of technology most electronic communication lacks the personal touch and if valued, lasts only a short time. Instead people truly value and often keep a handwritten note. I first read this during the 1990s when a famous rugby coach left handwritten notes under the door of each team member before a crucial game. It rallied the troops to great success.

So go on, send somebody a ‘Thank You’ note today. It will please you as much as it does them.

 

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.