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.

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.

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.

 

The world’s new language

felix-baumgartner-standing-in-his-capsule-about-to-diveMore often than not, the most powerful messages are the shortest.

I think this is one of the statements of the year: the world’s language isn’t English or Chinese. It’s pictorial. It’s how the next gen engage, it’s how they communicate, it’s how they understand.

It’s time we learned to speak it.

These kids operate differently! How many times have we heard that?

We know that mobiles and smart devices are transforming how we shop and communicate today, and how we will learn in the future. Generation Y has mastered the art of mobility and will not want to be tied to one office, nor one company, as they seek varied and interesting employment in future.

What remains is that our role as educators is to transform these learners to earners – to give them the skills to embark on career pathways to suit their needs, to give them a platform to upskill or change direction as they see fit – but importantly to furnish them with the skills for the world of work.

It is important we understand how they operate, for they are both our workforce and our customer of tomorrow. How do we offer this to them? How do we engage them to shape how learning meets their needs in future? With things evolving faster than ever before, how can we stop for long enough to make impact?

Pictures and Words

fresh guacamole

A picture speaks a thousand words. Today, people multitask and run 5 windows on their machines and tablets concurrently and we have even less time to grab their attention with our message.

I think text is yesterday’s business and to engage we need pictures and headlines. If I created slides that were made up only of bullet points, what would the audience think? Would anybody concentrate for longer than a minute or two, before switching to reading messages on their phones, surf the web or look at what was happening on social platforms and completely ignore my presentation, no matter how compelling?

People respond to images, they like short videos and their brains are like filters. They block out the majority of information, so why do we send our customers and prospects long emails, pages of text and documents, and expect them to respond?

Take note how the market for short films is booming. At this year’s Oscars, “Fresh Guacamole”, at 1-minute-41-seconds, was the shortest movie ever to receive a nomination. It has no real characters, no dialogue, no traditional storyline, but got 8 million viewers on YouTube. There is a message in there for all of us.

Think of the world like Twitter

I presented at the ‘Make it Happen 2013’ conference this week. I was in esteemed company – great speakers like Phil Jones, Steve Clarke, the irrepressible Steve Head, as well as our great host Kriss Akabusi. I enjoyed the day immensely, meeting people from HP, Yahoo and many others. My favourite story of the day was the moving account of the terrible accident and never-say-die attitude of 2012 gold medal paralympian Mark Colbourne – you could hear a pin drop as he was telling his story.

The event underlined another thing – if I created slides that were made up only of blocks of text, what would the audiences think? Would anybody concentrate for longer that a minute or two? How long would it be before people switched to reading messages on their phones, the web or social media platforms, and completely ignore my presentation no matter how compelling?

Text is yesterday’s business and droning on with repetitive messages is passé. To engage today’s audience, we need pictures and headlines. People respond to images, they like short videos, their brains are like filters and block out the majority of information thrown at them, so why do we send our customers pages of text, long documents and expect them to respond?

Reach people with messages they can absorb in seconds and stop putting out material that is off-putting before you start reading; engage using images, video, material that is interactive and engaging and quick and easy to absorb.

Think of the world like Twitter – you have 140 characters to get your message across. Technology allows us to try things and quickly change course along the way – find out what works and measure everything.

My Future

When asked “How will the future look?” I replied “Differently.” How different I am not entirely sure, but I can confidently say a few things.

  1. The future will include an increasing amount of measurement, ie. using data to crunch our business information. The more we know about our customers, the more we can target them with products they need and want. Why try and sell a lawn mower to a lady who lives on the 10th floor of an apartment block? A scatter-gun approach of marketing to thousands in the hope that five people buy is history. The future market segment is “One.” One person. One set of preferences.
  2. In future, customers will help set strategy arm-in-arm with CEOs. Technology allows us to be better listeners and social media especially is redefining the way business interacts with both customers and employees.
  3. The future is up to me. I will assemble my own degree from the thousands of excellent courses available, most of them free of charge. I will learn when I want, on the device I choose. I will learn on my iPhone on the train to work, on an iPad in the evening and on the laptop at the weekend. Each will know exactly where I left off and at which point to pick up.
  4. In future I will have more control. When I my car breaks down, I will access the ‘Parts’ section of my car’s website, download a new component, print it on my 3D printer, and fit it by watching and listening to instructions. In 60 minutes I am on the road.
  5. Almost everything in future will be connected. When I brush my teeth twice a day for two minutes, my toothbrush will know. I will be given recognition and offered an ‘m-voucher’ via my mobile for toothpaste the moment I walk into a supermarket – my reward is a free tube of toothpaste by a leading brand and a discount towards my next dental check due in 4 weeks.

People will not allow technology to watch us all day, every day, but these things are happening. It will be interesting to see how they play out.

The Evidence

At a recent event we talked about getting out of our comfort zone in order to be remarkable. If we stay doing the same things in the same way, why do we expect results that are any different?

We must break from the past and need look no further than a company I grew up with, Kodak, if we are to see how destructive this technology movement can be if we stand still and don’t embrace change. Regardless of the sector our business is in, we are being impacted – a new way of listening and engaging, a new way of reaching our customers and in many cases entirely new ways of transacting.

Kodak invented film, but they also created digital photography. What the company didn’t do was embrace a new way of working and let go of the past (I have talked about ‘Learnability’ in this column before). Often it takes bravery and imagination to leave behind a legacy, especially when the legacy has held the company in good stead for decades, but for Kodak it was catastrophic.

The digital age has changed more, faster, than anything that preceded it. The number and speed of smartphones sold compared to desktop and laptop computers is evidence of that. We need to remember the past and learn from it, but we must also leave it behind. Every company has to find where the magic happens, because that place is somewhere different.

Haircut sir?

I recently finished Walter Isaacson’s brilliant biography of Steve Jobs. The more it described Steve as different, the more I warmed to him, because the imperfections made him more human.

One of the early Apple board members recounted when he first met Jobs and Wozniak, sharing how he looked beyond the fact that both desperately needed a haircut. He was amazed by the ideas and the work that he saw, figuring that the two Steve’s can always get a haircut!

The Apple ‘Think Different’ campaign really put the company on the map, raising awareness of the brand to new heights. Today, we take the genius Apple products for granted and yet we ignore the talent of people for whom the gadgets and technology are second nature. Remember the need to understand them on their terms, for they will be both our customer and our workforce of tomorrow, so market to them on their terms, and when recruiting them, please don’t ask them to fax through their CV. You will be waiting for some time..