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.

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.”

 

Make our jobs better

The General Manager of Deloitte UK, robotssaid “We should automate work and humanise jobs; give the mundane to the machines and the purpose back to people,” as part of Deloitte research called Essential Skills for Working in the Machine Age.

We need to make our jobs better (different) and add more value to the human side of what we are truly good at. It is not simply a case of putting technology in place of people; Starbucks could quite easily replace people with robot coffee machines in its outlets, but the conversation that takes place in a Starbucks shop, the smell of coffee beans and even the individualisation of your name written on a cup, is part of the carefully crafted Starbucks experience.

We must learn to understand what technology can do for our business and then use it to enhance the customer, but also the employee, experience. Every company has the opportunity to apply technology to make it better.

No question that both customers and employees will be better engaged.

Humans: a case for the opposition

humansThe Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum highlighted that over 7m jobs will be lost to redundancy, automation or disintermediation, although they did also state that some of this loss will be offset by 2m jobs in new areas.

We know that as industries evolve and technology puts its arms around a business model and disrupts it, that jobs are created elsewhere, just as retail and services have replaced the factory and manufacturing, so the message to us as employers is invest in the skills of our people, rather than hire more workers, as the key to managing disruptions to the labour market long-term.

Jobs aren’t going away, they’re just changing. We know that softer skills like empathy, communications and prioritisation are essentially human. The future of work is not about jobs going away, it’s about redesigning what we do to make better use of the tools and technology at our disposal.

My point? Robots and technology are already in place. They trade on the stock markets, they drive cars in some cities and they are persistently recommending what we buy next. What they can’t do is serve the delicious loaves of bread in St Albans market with a chat on a Saturday morning or provide that extra bit of care and attention when you’re not feeling at your best – so work with the humans in our teams to find the things they are good at, the tasks and roles that require thinking, judgement and emotion.

Finally, is Nike really launching self-tying shoelaces on sneakers/trainers? Isn’t learning to tie a shoelace an important step in our childhood?

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?

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.

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.