The best technology of all

At an industry event I attended recently, industry stalwart Amy Cardel shared her views on the changes and impact of technology on doing business, but one simple statement has stuck – that the best technology of all is face to face.

Despite the overload of information, the bombardment of news and the almost permanent connectivity, building relationships with other human beings, talking through issues and needs and resolving them together, remain the best partnerships of all. Somewhere in my early blogs I wrote about similar things that the Tupperware company emphasised back in 1953, and the principles remain today. Sitting across a table, reading and reacting to body language, smiling. It isn’t rocket science.

At the same event I had the pleasure of meeting and listening to NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal – he was inspirational, he was very funny and entertaining, but most of all he was a normal guy with good values. It’s about people, it always is.

What we can learn from an ice cream cone

ice cream coneIn a previous job role, we didn’t have the funds to hire the most senior sales people, so I took the approach of hiring graduates with the attitude and drive to succeed, targeting a variety of new market segments for growth. Not everybody worked out, but several members of the team are Directors there or elsewhere, of which I am very proud. I had the opportunity to meet up with one of the team recently, and he reminded me of a story I used to share which is worth retelling.

At the 1904 World Fair in St Louis, the gentleman selling ice cream ran out of paper cups. He talked to the person next to him selling waffles, who then proceeded to flatten and roll them diagonally to form cones, thus creating the ice cream cone I grew up with in the 1970s (in the UK it was known as the ‘99’ and you could add a small chocolate flake as an extra treat – oh the memories).

The lesson in this? Look away from the obvious and consider the ingredients or components, partnerships or alliances outside of the norm, to create the new future.

We are in a new era of collaboration and partnerships facilitated with or without technology – who or what can we learn from, that sits outside our traditional sector and every day activities?

Secret Weapon

old_cincinnati_library_smallThis is a little story about the secret weapon of a specialist independent bookshop in London. It was shared with me by an individual passionate about books and life in general, and that alone means it’s worth relaying – but beneath lies an important statement about our future.

Today where most things are instant and short-term, where we consume online and read on smart devices, what chance has a small book shop against the giant online stores and discounters? There is not a single book in the store that customers cannot buy cheaper elsewhere.

But the store has a secret weapon. Her name is Claire. She works there and she knows most of the books that pass through the front door – her product knowledge, her people skills and service means people go back and buy again, having decided their loyalty means something to the bookshop.

People continue to make a difference, whether an independent bookshop or an enterprise that spans the globe. With automation on the increase, great people stand out more than ever. It’s about people – it always is.

PS. The little photo is the old public library of Cincinnati, with cast-iron book alcoves, spiral staircases several stories high and marble floors. Sadly it was demolished and the stunning building is worth remembering.

From Mad Men to Math Men

2022 Skills OutlookI had a lot of fun presenting at an uplifting Pearson event in London recently and we talked a lot about millennials, their expectations, work styles and torn jeans!

The World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Jobs Report underlines the need for analytical thinking, innovation and creativity, but I sense it is important not to run down a path that promotes only the STEM subjects and instead also takes into account the significance of humanities and soft skills as part of our well-rounded future workers. Data crunching isn’t much good if the individual cannot articulate the findings with her colleagues.

I stand by what I said at the session – I don’t think the needs of millennials are wildly different to when I was searching for work in the mid-1980s. Yes, they operate slightly differently; yes, the major shift is that there are so many of them entering the workforce at once so there will be style changes (no 9-5 is one example), but the good old-fashioned needs of making a contribution to something important and a career in which they can visualise growing and succeeding remain the major motivators.

I recognise that the Don Draper character from the Mad Men world of advertising in the 1960s isn’t well placed for our times, but we don’t all have to be brilliant mathematicians like John Nash from the movie A Beautiful Mind either. There is a place for all of us.

Can you smell the roses?

Day in the life of corporate vs startupHow many of us can remember the New Year or what we did in December?

We are well into 2019 and have launched straight into the roller-coaster of another year. Whether we are employed by a large organisation or self-employed, it seems everybody complains of the same thing; taxi drivers share anecdotes of people rushing in and out of their cabs with no time to eat or think, but nobody appears to be doing much about it.

This has to be the year to slow ourselves down and build some time into the schedule to think; not to stop or do less necessarily, but to focus on what delivers most impact and brings in the results to achieve more.

I had a few decent ideas in 2018, how to help one of my clients, how to better position a team of people for their future, how to add value at home, but these ideas came on train and plane journeys. Journeys with quiet time where I couldn’t be interrupted.

There is no irony that my post on social spaces which received the most feedback was one where technology should be put down for a moment to savour what life has to offer. Can we learn from this: should we introduce ‘make a connection Monday,’ ‘talk to a human Tuesday’ or ‘work on a solution Wednesday?’

Whatever it is, and with spring in sight, we need to slow down to create time to ponder, to think a little more long-term and to stop and smell the roses.

Are things really changing?

Somebody prompted me to write this, by asking earlier this week, “Are things really changing?” I think they wanted me to say “well, not really” so they could go back to doing the same thing in the same old way, probably because it would be easier to do so.

We don’t have the space here to quote all the areas of change, but one of the most impactful will be the demographic shift. Populations in the US and UK especially are aging: in the US 10,000 people turn 65 every day.

By 2035, the number of Americans that will be of retirement age will be larger than the number of people under 18 for the first time in US history. It is a setup that has never been experienced before, plus it will be interesting to watch 5 different generations all interacting in the workplace with their varying characteristics and demands.

Sprinkle over the top some of the unchartered trends and behaviours and we have a melting pot of transformation; an experienced 55-year old protects their information and doesn’t share too much, whereas an 18-year old is upset if the public doesn’t read and respond to their weekend exploits. This change in living very public lives will be an area of contention and yet this is just one behaviour that is cascading down to organisations and forcing them to rethink.

No one quite understands millennials but they are hugely important to the future – they will have different views, ideas and work styles for sure, but more importantly they will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. There will simply be so many of them and they are going to be the largest generation ever to enter the workforce. We need to attract them on their terms, or they will choose not to work for us.

Remember the (recruitment) ‘milk round?’ Back in the ‘80s we used to attend job fairs wearing horrid ties pleading for companies to give us a chance. Today, organisations must shift from creating an environment where they assume that people need to work there to one where people want to spend their time.

We are mobile, geographic boundaries do not exist, attitudes are disruptive and the work day is being redefined. I feel sorry for companies that refuse to change. I feel more sorry for manufacturers of mens ties!

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.

Silver is worth more than gold

I read a series of articles and opinion pieces about developing young leaders and the importance of doing so in light of the retirement statistics of Baby Boomers.

According to Harvard Business Review, 10,000 Boomers will retire every day over the next decade. This is great for young people, who will have the opportunity, and have to be ready, to assume some of the roles made vacant; plus in many cases they will be fast-tracked by their companies into these positions to address skills gaps.

So with that companies are targeting millennials with the majority of their advertising, after all by 2030 the millennials will make up almost 3 out of 4 members of the workforce.

But pause for thought – are we ignoring some people? We know that the silver surfers have all the money and they know how to spend it (largely on leisure). In addition, as Tom Peters tells us in his inspiring way, women make most of the key decisions, so why does advertising continue to ignore them? I think we may be missing a trick here and not just for allocation of advertising spend. Sure millennials will be an important audience in 10 years, but why wait? Target the most important groups today, because they are ready to spend.

It seems to me the silvers are worth more than gold futures, at least for now.

One size fits One

bootsOne of the most exciting opportunities that technology brings to the table for businesses of every size is the utilisation of data to tailor their offering to each individual customer.

Although we are told that 95% of business data in the UK still remains untapped (Forrster Research), the opportunity to serve each individual’s needs and offer a truly bespoke service is mouth-watering at the prospect. This isn’t Harvey Specter and made-to-measure suits (for fans of the brilliant legal drama Suits), but more about understanding preferences, buying-patterns and data in the aggregate to shape future sales.

I have talked before about the correlation that WalMart made in the US between thunderstorms with sales of torches and pop-tarts! No in-store manager could ever have worked out the link, but the data made it sound obvious.

For those of us in a B2B environment, the dynamic is somewhat different, but we have an additional layer to use to our advantage. We don’t need to make over-the-top sales presentations to our prospects; customers tend to know who we are, they do their own research and they can find pretty much anything they want online. Plus in many cases today they reject sales people outright.

You can tell your story online – your website, blog, videos and customer case studies all wrapped up in your social presence will do as much talking as any salesperson. But augment this by building relationships at a human level, person to person, team to team over time, patiently and with integrity, and you have a formula that is very hard to beat.

One size fits one: the one thing technology can support every business with.

True Grit

JohnWayneI spent today at a client, talking futures and opportunities: smart people, open discussion, transparency; the most productive forum for communication.

As I travelled back (reading The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle and doing 3 things at once), I remembered something about people making connections and it is worth a note.

Many commentators talk about the human side being just as important, if not more so, than skills or IQ these days. Recruiters look for accomplishments outside the norm, such as inventions, entrepreneurial achievements and especially how an individual has come from or dealt with difficult circumstances.

With soft skills carrying more weight in hiring decisions, those that can show courage, perseverance, resilience as well as an openness and willingness to learn, will win the day in future. This is defined as grit, and some even pattern-match to find people that have these gritty characteristics. It’s part of our evolution and only today we talked about traditional education transforming in response to digital technology and culture – industries will move ahead without us if we don’t change.

One final consideration – no mention of the word “technology” in grit. We are in the people business. We always will be.

(Image to the right: the legendary John Wayne from the Western ‘True Grit’, 1969).