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.

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?

A 60-year career

Fishermen

Gladys Hooper, the oldest person in the UK, recently died at the age of 113. This raised further interest in the population living and working for longer and it seems we have the potential to live much longer than generations before us and way beyond 100 years old.

If that becomes the case and we do live to that ripe old age, then we will need work careers of 60 or so years just to be able to support ourselves. Furthermore, if technology continues to develop at the current pace, and the likelihood is it will as there are no signs of a slow down, then we will experience several cycles of work and will have to re-skill in order to keep ourselves relevant.

Throw in to the mix that by 2030 as many as one-third of jobs in the UK could be at risk of being automated, according to research by the University of Oxford, where do we turn? Our learning will be down to us as individuals to own, to continue to update our portfolio of skills, plus as companies contract at the core, people telecommute and we move from project to project and job to job, we will have to learn on an almost constant basis – for new tasks, new models and new work environments.

I quite like this idea – it sounds more interesting than Nintendo brain challenges that the doctor recommends.

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.

School as base camp

subbuteo

My team co-hosted a great seminar with the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN) this month, and it underlines what technology will never replace – the benefit that people gain from being in a room networking, asking questions and sharing best practice with each other – in other words learning in the real world.

In his book, Open, David Price talks about learning becoming authentic when it has a specific purpose, impact beyond schooling and supports a student’s communities.

What is school about, if it isn’t helping prepare young people for the real world, however small the steps of progress? My daughter returned from her Duke of Edinburgh trek this weekend tired, frazzled and aching from the backpack which stood almost as tall as her. But the experience was priceless and taught her how set up camp, prepare food and work in a team to navigate walks and hazards to reach their destination – the greatest challenge for them was the intermittent phone signal.

Education has to reflect what industry is looking for in skills. It has a tough time keeping up as it is, with first year degree material becoming out of date before graduation, so there has to be a genuine link between what is taught and its relevance to the real world – after all, kids are already more engaged via devices and the online world than we ever will be.

I do wonder, however, how these kids would have coped in the 70s; with just Subbuteo, a bicycle and local park to contend with.

Live Differently

Ignacio Cubilla Banos sits in his house during his 111th birthday celebration in Havana

I was reading with interest a claim that the first humans to live way into their hundreds are alive today, and remembered this great picture of Ignacio Cubilla Banos, around whom there was a story as he celebrated his 111th birthday at his home in Havana surrounded by his family a few years back. It made me think.

If the next generations are going to live way beyond a hundred, how many cycles of learning will they require just to stay up to date with change? Surely they will need a 50 to 60 year career, so learning will need to evolve in parallel.

What we learn today doesn’t carry for very long – we have to refresh what we know almost constantly (think of the story of the university degree, and what a student learns in year 1 is out of date by the time they graduate). As our knowledge and skills become redundant we will have to stay on the cycle of learn-and-apply just to allow us to keep up.

I have variations of this quoted on Twitter and other platforms:

My father had 1 job in his entire lifetime.

My job at Pearson is my 5th in 30 years.

My kids will quite possibly have 5 jobs at any one time.

This is the future.

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.

The Number 1 Skill for the 21st Century: Empathy

left brain right brainI read an interesting story recently of a company that dismissed a very competent technician because he lacked the soft skills that was in keeping with their twenty-first century thinking. I delved deeper.

A vice president at a global IT company proclaimed, “Empathy is the critical 21st century skill.”  I agree with that, but has it really changed over time? The CEO for Retail Banking at Barclays said in a television interview that the internet and digitisation agenda is bigger than the industrial revolution. People are not designed to do the same thing again and again, and that we must utilise people where it requires the mind and the application of judgement.

Research  by Oxford Economics asked employers what skills they will need most in the next 5 to 10 years and they said they will not be looking for business acumen or analysis, but instead their priorities will be relationship building, teaming and creativity.

I think this is great news – the left-brain roles and functions will be taken over by technology anyway, so we can go back to using more of our right-brain in social interaction and doing what differentiated us in the first place: being human.