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.

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.

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).

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.

The greatest word

wordI had a great conversation with Simon Perriton this week – he is the CEO of Just IT and we serve on a global education committee together – and he mentioned that he hires for attitude and can teach skills. Wise words.

Later in the day I thought about what might be the greatest word that we have at our disposal (a close run thing when words such as “love,” “thanks,” “family” and BBQ are considered). That word is “define.”

We can search and find the meaning of any word by using the word “define.” We can action this whenever and wherever we may be, and we get our answer. Let’s put our focus, therefore, on the skills that make a difference – the application of learning, the softer skills, the human side. People can search and find the meaning of anything, how to make things and fix them, on their own.

Don’t teach them what, teach them how, and give them skills employers are calling out for.

Non-technology

Be present slideTo end a busy week and help lead us into the weekend with some downtime (a term I had never heard until technology made its play on our time), I’d like to call out two things to help focus us away from gadgets and devices.

The first relates to this great little photo (on the right). A crowd has gathered to watch a parade, a celebrity or some runners and everybody has jumped to their phones to catch the moment. But isn’t it interesting that nobody is actually watching the event unfold, nobody except one little old lady who is very content to take in that special moment. The look on her face speaks a thousand words. Occasionally, leave your phone in your pocket and just be present.

The other item relates to something I posted on social spaces earlier in the week that received a most positive reaction – handwritten notes. Despite all the wonders of technology most electronic communication lacks the personal touch and if valued, lasts only a short time. Instead people truly value and often keep a handwritten note. I first read this during the 1990s when a famous rugby coach left handwritten notes under the door of each team member before a crucial game. It rallied the troops to great success.

So go on, send somebody a ‘Thank You’ note today. It will please you as much as it does them.

 

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.

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?

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.