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.

 

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.

People are our biggest problem

A lot is being written about robotics and the impact on the workplace, as well as the form and structure of tomorrow’s workforce.

I think we are all in agreement that technology is increasing the pace of innovation and forcing us to think differently: be more customer centric, open via multiple channels to customers, and collaborate more and differently. But what underpins this is that it is always people that companies need to drive that change – exceptional, creative people.

However placing an even greater responsibility on people means the pendulum can quickly swing from people as our greatest asset to our biggest problem. My Pearson colleague Andy Stockinger, Manager of our Product Strategy Team and I presented this at the eATP conference last week. Technology is impacting how we work and disrupting old ways of doing business, so people have to change too, but you can’t simply retrain staff – an organisation needs to think and operate differently, with an entirely new attitude.

With that comes changes to how people learn and how we assess their suitability for the job. We will need to understand how technology has changed their role day to day, and figure out how to reach them accordingly, most likely introducing learning as part of their daily work, integrating training-module updates at more regular intervals and in smaller bite-sized pieces; and then testing and assessment will follow suit, quite possibly taking place live in the workplace.

Finally, let me add: Gen Z, iGen, Next Gen or however we label them, ultimately want the same thing as other generations such as Millenials and Boomers before them, namely job satisfaction, decent pay and career development.

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?

Does your company have a fusbol table?

fusbol

I read a stat recently that said 24.1 per cent of start-ups have a fusbol (football) table in their office. Is this the new silver bullet, the difference between company success and failure? Are we missing out?

We have all seen the images of the coolest offices in Silicon Valley or Old Street with young hipsters in torn jeans and suede boots, mismatched colours painted on the walls and a corner set aside for unpronounceable coffees, portrayed as the best places to work, fuelled by leading-edge technology. But how real is this?

Does a fusbol table really attract the right people? I don’t think so. Aren’t the old values of making a genuine contribution and a clear career plan still the most important factors, regardless of generation? I believe they are.

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.

Hewlett and Packard: the difference

I blogged about Intel a couple of posts ago and today I will blog about another IT-industry stalwart, Hewlett Packard.bill_and_dave_21c

Quite simply, this is a brand that I have always liked. I have only ever bought HP printers and I like the story of the founders, William Hewlett and David Packard (take note, no shortening of names taking place here – the two gentlemen deserve full name spelling). They started HP in 1939 out of a garage in Palo Alto where the company was born.

What really stands out, however, is their reaction to the market soon after the war began. Not surprisingly, the government labs were shutting down and the engineers leaving their employment. But Hewlett and Packard saw the opportunity. Although they were going through staff layoffs themselves, they realised that the greatest opportunity their company ever had wasn’t that of technology.

So instead they went out and hired those engineers.

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.