Is technology encroaching on our humanity?

There is an increasing level of belief that with just a bit more computing power, another embedded chip we can fix anything from global poverty to climate change. As the ability for computers to create, collect and analyse large chunks of data and develop more and more advanced models of how our world operates, there is a risk that we become blind to technology’s limitations. And when we become blind to its limitations we increasingly apply it in ways that we shouldn’t.

There are two excellent examples of this currently in the news. The first is the Department of Education’s proposal to use Automated Essay Scoring (AES) to assess the written component of the NAPLAN. The second and related example is the use of algorithms to assess English proficiency as a pre-requisite for either a work visa or permanent residency in Australia.

The argument for the use of these types of technologies normally comes down to two factors. The first, which you most often hear from the supporters of AES and computer scoring, is the use of algorithms in assessments means tests are scored more consistently and it reduces the potential influence from personal bias. The second, which you most often hear from the detractors, is that a computer can scan and score tests much faster than a human can, happily works long hours and weekends and isn’t a member of a union.

Supporters claim that the algorithms consistently score more accurately than humans and that any impact on employment is just the price of progress. But this argument is simplistic and ignores the fundamental disconnect between the task that the human and the computer undertake in scoring an English test. This disconnect is the ability to understand meaning.

The ability to understand and convey meaning is a skill that humans have but technology lacks. AES is effectively a statistical analysis of words, sentences and punctuation. It can use this to ‘indicate’ the author’s grasp of the English language but at no point can the algorithm assess whether what was written (or said) was meaningful or even understandable.

This would appear to be a fatal flaw and has been highlighted quite spectacularly by one of AES’s main detractors. Les Perelman is a former director of writing at MIT who created the Babel Generator, an algorithm designed to create gibberish essays that scored highly on AES software. Take, for example, this piece arguing that college tuition is high because of greedy teaching assistants.

“The average teaching assistant makes six times as much money as college presidents… In addition, they often receive a plethora of extra benefits such as private jets, vacations in the south seas, starring roles in motion pictures.”

The essay was given the top score of 6 out of 6.

But there is another and potentially bigger issue that this highlights. If algorithms are only assessing the indicators of good communication rather than the ability to effectively understand and convey meaning, then the algorithm is also incapable of giving usable feedback. It could suggest you use more big words, create longer sentences, and remember to capitalise proper nouns but this is a somewhat superficial assessment of your ability to communicate.

An example of this is Alice Xu, a childcare worker from China who obtained a master of education in Australia and who speaks fluent English took the test and scored 41 out of a possible 90. A year later, after tutoring she achieved a perfect score. As Alice put it “I didn’t improve my English, I just changed the way I took the test, I did it by learning how the computer worked, I don’t think my English skills or ability improved in any way. This exam is really about your test-taking skills, it’s not about your speaking or language ability.”

This is a classic case of how measuring the things that really matter is difficult. So instead, we take what we can measure and make them the things that matter. It is hard to measure love, good character, happiness and value so instead we measure likes, money, time and sentence length and word count.

Even the proponents of NAPLAN suggest it was never meant to be a ‘high stakes’ assessment but, in the absence of other assessments capable of capturing a broader understanding of what it means to be a good human, it has become one. Schools are narrowing their curriculum and engaging NAPLAN ‘experts’ to help them improve their scores. Students are becoming more stressed and parents are hiring tutors. Whether it was intended or not, NAPLAN has now become a thing that matters. The unintended consequence of this is that children develop to be excellent test takers at the expense of being caring, loving and creative human beings.

But wait.

This is not to suggest that technology doesn’t have a place in helping assess student outcomes. Firstly, it would seem reasonable to apply computers in the testing of things that are computable. Areas such as mathematics, physics and chemistry often involve discrete answers that are either right or wrong. If the test involved showing how an answer was derived, a good testing algorithm could even point out where the mistake was made and provide direction on how to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

It is even reasonable to employ AES or similar technologies in the assessment of creative, subjective and meaning driven subjects such as English Literature and Art. It is just important that we are conscious of a technology’s limitations and apply it correctly. In the case of AES we need to acknowledge that the computer’s assessment is, and should always be, secondary to what the human understands.

Just as it has in the past, the technology will continue to get better and the arguments will become more persuasive that the technology can do the same job that a human does just faster and cheaper. For some work (the information drive, logical, right/wrong types of work) these claims will be entirely true. In such cases, the best strategy is to embrace the technology and move onto other things. But for other work, work based in purpose, communication, creativity and meaning this will always be a lie, no matter how hard it may be to tell the difference. In these cases it is important that we continue to fight for our humanity, to do the work that matters even when we can’t measure it.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Stop holding your clients back

The other week, I presented to the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia at Crown in Perth. One of the stories I shared was the frustration I experienced as a paperless person selling our family home in Perth five years ago. I had people asking for fax numbers, ridiculous amounts of forms and other pieces of paper being sent to me via snail mail and contracts that had been annotated, scanned and emailed so many times that they were illegible.

But that was all the way back in 2011, and oh how the technology has got better since then. According to Moore’s law, by the time it came to buying our new home in Melbourne five years later the technology should have been at least eight times better…and yet I struggled through the same inefficient paper driven processes I had previously.

The technology is getting better but many of the processes aren’t.

One of the most common reasons that I hear for organisations not investing more in technology is “our clients/suppliers/staff aren’t ready yet” but whether you think they are ready or not, your lack of investment in technology is probably holding both them, and you back.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that any generalised statements about the characteristics of people are flawed. There will always be some people ahead of the curve and there will always be some behind it. This means that the portion of your clients/staff/suppliers who are early adopters (the ones who know what technology makes possible in terms of convenience, usability, time saving and quality) are currently feeling frustrated and perhaps just a little bit disappointed. This was very much my personal experience.

You could suggest that I’m an exception — that most people are generally comfortable with the status quo and they don’t feel disappointed at all, and I would suggest that this is only because you haven’t shown them what’s possible. Technology development is ultimately funded through developing solutions that improve customer experience and the speed and quality of outcomes. So we may not be disappointing our slow adopters yet but we are not necessarily serving them either.

And I would add that there are probably more people ahead and less people behind the curve than you think. The consumerisation of IT means that most of us have access to better technology at home than we do in the workplace which means the level of proficiency you see is far less than what people actually have. The number of people you’re already disappointing might be far greater than you think.

We are currently recruiting for the next intake of the Digital Champions Club. Join a 12 month program that is guaranteed to improve organisation performance and deliver measurable value. Check out the Program Structure.

It’s like trying to get a fat man to run a marathon

One of my favourite business analogies of all time is one used by IT expert and advisor to CIOs, Owen McCall. He likens most organisations IT efforts to ‘trying to get a fat man to run a marathon’. He suggests that IT teams often get ahead of themselves, they become so obsessed with the end goal, the marathon, or the transformation, that they stop focusing on the individual steps required to achieve it.

As Owen points out, the first step to running a marathon is just getting off the sofa, the next one might be to go for a walk, the next one might be to go for a longer walk, then perhaps a jog, then a longer jog, then a run, then a longer run, then a half marathon and finally after months (or perhaps years) the previously fat man might have done enough preparation to line up for his first marathon.

Maybe we like to focus on the end goal because when we break it down into steps it seems like so much more work. But the truth is, if we miss the intermediate steps then we are bound to fail anyway.

We also need to realise that the goal was only ever symbolic, the real objective was not to run a marathon but to get fit, and perhaps to lose weight. This is not achieved in the running of the marathon but in all the preparation that happens beforehand.

This is exactly the same when it comes to digital projects. We are obsessed with big game changing, future proofing projects but more often than not they fail because organisations lack the ‘digital fitness’ to complete them. Worse still, in the pursuit of what might be considered unobtainable outcomes, we are likely to discourage people from engaging in the next digital transformation project when it inevitably comes around.

If you want to pursue big digital projects, then the logical place to start is with much smaller ones. Smaller projects help develop digital skills and create a sense of achievement and confidence with technology. It is a longer path and involves more work to slowly build towards your big projects but this is the work that will make your organisation ‘digitally fit’. And just like with running a marathon, you will realise that in getting digitally fit you will have  increased agility, reduced costs and made the improvements to quality that really mattered anyway.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Photo by Martins Zemlickis on Unsplash

Doing less to achieve more. Five things I’ve learnt from working a 30 hour week.

Six months ago I wrote a post committing both myself and my team to a 30 hour week. I felt now might be a good time to check in and let you know how it’s gone.

But first a confession. I haven’t actually managed to stick to just 30 hours of work each week. There have been a couple where I’ve done less but in most cases I have done more. That being said, I probably didn’t start with an average of 40 hours a week either. So a more accurate title for this post would have been ‘Five things I’ve learnt working at least 10 hours less per week‘…but it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

So what have I found?

I’m more relaxed
We all struggle with a lack of progress sometimes. The old me would have taken this as a sign that I needed to work harder and longer until I ‘broke through’. The new me steps out, goes and cleans the pool or takes the dogs for a walk. In the back of my head, I know I’ve got some time to burn so I might as well just take a break.

I’m more selective
Cutting your hours back is a great catalyst for culling the work and the clients that you don’t want to do or that don’t add value. Over the last six months I’ve had countless conversations with my team about whether a particular task, program or client is really worthwhile. Sometimes they have, sometimes they haven’t, but the most interesting discussion have been on the ones that didn’t appear to be worthwhile but after making a couple of little tweaks, suddenly made sense.

I’m doing better work
Funnily, one of the first clients I told about my 30 hour week immediately booked me to give a keynote to a room of 100 consultants. It made me realise that now we walk around with our work in our pockets, so many people are struggling to maintain balance. But apart from giving me the opportunity to experiment with a different approach to work and to explore a bunch of new ideas about how technology can make us more human, the reduced pressure and additional head space (see points one and two above) has also improved the quality of my thinking and ultimately my work.

I can switch off easier
I used to really struggle to call time at the end of the work day. When you have your own business there is always at least one more thing you could do…and I would generally try and get it done. Cutting my hours has given me permission to call it quits at the end of the day and not be racked by guilt as a result. This is not to say I don’t think about work outside of work hours anymore, rather I don’t feel I need to, but sometimes I still want to.

I enjoy my family time more
I used to work so hard to put boundaries around my work. I would explain to Nomes (my wife) and Miah and Poppy (my kids) that just because I worked in the backyard didn’t mean I didn’t have work hours. I would leave ‘the house’ at 8:30 in the morning and would finish at 5:30 in the afternoon. But these artificial boundaries just meant I missed out on doing cool things like going for a swim with Miah and Poppy after school or taking Nomes out for lunch during the week. Now I get to be the person who says yes to everything.

As I write this I’ve been trying to think of the ‘cons’ as a counterpoint to the ‘pros’ above…but I really can’t think of any. I really have no intention of returning to my old schedule, if anything, I would like to cut back my hours a bit more. In fact the family is currently planning a three month ‘work-cation’ in our campervan Dennis where the intention is to experiment with a whole lot more flexibility than I employ at the moment (if you’re interested, you can follow follow the adventure through my YouTube channel).

Probably my biggest take away to date is that our current obsession with busyness means we are often doing more work rather than ‘good’ work or the ‘right’ work. Perhaps this is because employers still struggle to define output in other ways apart from the number of hours worked. Perhaps it’s because our identity is increasingly tied to what we own or what we earn. Perhaps it’s because we are worried that if we don’t look busy we might lose our jobs. But regardless of the reason why we feel compelled to be busy I have little doubt that we are often doing a whole lot more than we need to achieve a whole lot less than we could.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

The three best reasons to change how you work

Change might be the new black but it almost invariably comes with uncertainty, discomfort and short term costs. So if we are going to embark on any form of change we need a good reason. These are the three best reasons I know:

1. We don’t have the time. It is unlikely that you are flat out doing only the important things. Research suggests that out of an eight hour work day the average working is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes. Other activities that contribute to being busy include reading the news (one hour per day), discussing non-work related things with co-workers (forty minutes per day), and searching for new jobs (26 minutes per day). If, out of the three hours of productive time, we are often spending it in ineffective or unnecessary meetings, communicating poorly, rushing to meet deadlines, constantly following up emails and fixing mistakes, then we might be busy but we are not being effective. Fixing some of this would be a good investment.

2. We don’t have the right people. If you are consistently thinking you don’t think you have the right people, it might not be them, it could be you. The difference between the right people and the wrong people is often in how we motivate, train and support them. By providing an environment that encourages change, celebrates success and tolerates failure people are more likely to be show initiative…otherwise the first bit of initiative we are likely to see is when our best people leave to start a new job (see point one above).

3. We don’t know what to do. We live in an age of constant change and disruption. If you don’t already have a steady stream of value adding improvement opportunities coming your way, then your current approach clearly isn’t working. If you want to know what to do, start by asking people about the challenges they’re dealing with every day (once again, see point one above). If you spend just a little bit of time looking around your organisation you will definitely find things worth fixing. Spend a little bit of time after that and you will probably find some possible solutions. The gap between identifying opportunities and implementation can be shortcut with the right motivation (see point two above), methodology, guidance and support but if you don’t know what to do then you clearly need to change your approach to doing things.

As I said, these are the three best reasons I know for changing the way we work. Unfortunately, in so many organisations these are the excuses we give for inaction.

 

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

You can’t find what you’re not looking for

One of the biggest challenges that small and medium sized businesses face when it comes to technology opportunities is that they don’t know where to look for them, and, without knowing where to look, the cost of finding things becomes time consuming and expensive.

In some ways, it’s a bit like playing hide and seek as a kid. The first time you play in a new house or yard you have to look everywhere because you don’t know where to look. But if you play the game long enough in the same space you eventually become better at finding people because you know where people tend to hide.

But the ability to find and execute against technology opportunities is not a game, it’s a value generating activity that can dramatically improve an organisation’s competitive advantage if done well. The real problem for many SMEs is that a lack of knowledge about what to look for and where to look means that it is often done badly, or sometimes not at all.

So what’s the number one thing that SMEs can do to improve their likelihood of success?

Research has shown on countless occasions that the intelligence of the collective is almost always greater than the individual’s. To use the hide and seek analogy above, we are more likely to find people if there are more of us looking…and we are also more likely to find people if we work with an expert who knows all the best hiding spots.

Within the Digital Champions Club we strongly believe in the value of collective intelligence. That’s why all the members openly share the details of the projects they are working on and have completed (since the program’s inception 18 months ago more than 80 projects have now been shared within the community). It is also why we bring in noted experts to educate members on the types of opportunities they need to be looking for.*

*This is not a unique model, it’s just unique in a digital space. In fact, the Digital Champions Club was based on the success of other programs I’ve been a part of such as Thought Leaders, The Executive Connection and The CEO Institute.

If you’re running a small to medium sized organisation, how are you using collective intelligence to improve the way you identify digital opportunities? If you’re not, then I’d suggest it’s both costing more and taking more time than it should. Either that or you’re missing out all together.

At our most recent Digital Champions Bootcamp in Sydney, our guest speaker was Dr Andrew Pratley, a lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School who came and discussed how SMEs need to think about their data differently. He dispelled some of the myths about big data and got members thinking about their data in terms of the questions it could help their organisation answer (this follows on from previous talks by Chris Paynter on artificial intelligence and machine learning and Dermot Crowley presenting on how to use Microsoft Outlook to work smarter). Click on the video above for a short interview we did with Andrew.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

The fine line between sharing and self promotion

There is no doubt that digital technology has greatly enhanced our ability to share and connect with others. Whether it be email or social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, we are more connected than ever before. As the ease of connection has grown we have expanded our networks beyond the tradition inner circle of friends and family to include many ‘weak ties’, people we’ve met at networking events, people who found our profile online, people who’ve reached out to us and we felt obliged to accept their ‘friend’ request lest we hurt their feelings…people we would struggle to recognise on the street.*

*Professor Robin Dunbar famously determined that we can only maintain 150 meaningful relationships at any one time. This was termed ‘Dunbar’s number’ and has been shown to apply online in much the same way as it does in real life

Sharing with an audience of people we don’t know well is impacting how we communicate. For some, it means sharing less on public platforms, unsure of who is listening and what people might think. For others, it’s carefully curating the content we post online to highlight the best parts of their life and work. And for a few, it is a genuine and meaningful opportunity to expand reach and impact.

But the real risk that lies within these expanded networks is that we stop caring as much. Rather than considering them as friends or acquaintances we start to think of them as an audience (either a personal or a professional one). We can still pinpoint close friends and relatives within that network, but when we consider them as a collective, the number of weak ties often outweighs the number of people whom we care deeply about…and we don’t have the capacity to care about them all.*

*The definition of care is ‘the provision of what is necessary’ and I don’t believe we can show true care for others without taking the time to understand their personal interests and needs.

And so just like an actor treats their audience different from their loved ones, we start doing the same. We play a part for our audience that is different from what we show in private. We seek approval…and we self promote.

The line between sharing and self promotion is a fine one. From the outside they appear much the same but the intent is so very different. Sharing is done from a position of generosity to help the people we care about. Self promotion is what we do to make people like us and remember us…and to confuse matters further, sharing will generally result in some element of self promotion, and self promotion always requires some form of sharing.*

*Case in point is this post. As much as possible, I’ve tried to write this from a position of generosity, to articulate a problem I see many of my peers dealing with and help them find a way past it. But if we are to assume for a moment that it achieves it’s objective, then there is also little doubt this post will also serve to promote me. 

This fuzziness between sharing and self promotion is not just theoretical, it’s a problem I’ve been struggling with over the last few months.

About a year or so ago I started working with Mykel and Dave Dixon (aka The Dixon Effect) to produce a short video that articulates the motivation behind the work I do. It was based on an awesome video that they had done for a good friend of mine Dr Jason Fox, a video that beautifully captures his wonderful complexity and thoughtfulness.

I acknowledge that my willingness to fund the project was not altruistic, it was conceived of for promotional purposes…but along the way the intent changed. The original script was rewritten, Mykel composed new music and Dave reshot some of the video because I felt so uncomfortable with the self promoting elements in the first cut…so uncomfortable that I knew I wouldn’t be happy sharing the video once it was finished.*

*The final product is more a call to action about the choices we make with technology than it is about me. I wanted people to see that making smart choices (or any choice at all) about how we use our digital tools can improve balance and quality of life. 

I received the revised video a month or two ago but have continued to struggle with how and when it is OK to share it.

This dilemma has meant that apart from one little airing on Facebook the video has spent most of its life sitting dormant on my hard drive.

So where does that leave us?

The fuzziness between sharing and self promotion means that only we can determine whether what we post online is done from a position of generosity or selfishness. The fuzziness also means that we will always be able to pretend to others (and ourselves) that one was really the other, but if we continue to operate from a position of selfishness we will ultimately devalue our networks, including the people in them that we genuinely care about.

So with that in mind, I’m sharing my video with you now in this post. I’m sharing it because I think it is a good example of the fuzziness that we are all grappling with when it comes to social media. I’m sharing it because regardless of the self promotion, I believe the message is an important one…

…and I’m sharing it because if you like the video and you find it valuable, well maybe you will like me just a little bit more as well.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Your technology doesn’t care about you

There has been much written over the last few years of the threat that artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies pose to existing employment. There is no doubt that there have been incredible achievements in these areas, consistently outperforming people who would normally be considered the ‘smartest in the room’.

There is no doubt that smart machines will become increasingly prevalent in our lives but they have a significant shortcoming that is unlikely to be addressed any time soon.

At the end of the day, the machines don’t care. They don’t actually give a shit about you and the impact their decision has.

…and to illustrate this point we need to discuss the biscuits I baked on the weekend.

In actual fact, my wife, Naomi, baked the biscuits.

Perhaps the most well known of these smart machines is IBMs Watson which, in 2011, beat not just two of the smartest people in the room but two of the smartest people in the United States. In a special edition of the game show Jeopardy, Watson was pitted against the game’s best ever players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter (both previously undefeated champions), and beat them…twice.

Since graduating from quiz shows, IBM’s Watson technology has been applied in a whole bunch of different ways including helping doctors diagnose cancer, facilitating tax returns and providing advice on where to get the best Chinese food. But of all the applications perhaps the most intriguing has been Chef Watson. Chef Watson is what you get when you combine machine learning with a large database of recipes. By parsing 30,000 odd recipes Watson started matching which ingredients work well together. The free Chef Watson app then combines this with Bon Appetite magazines recipe database to generate new and intriguing recipe combinations.

Last weekend I was speaking at the Mindshop conference in Sydney and thought it might be nice to bake some biscuits for the delegates.* So after browsing Chef Watson and disregarding the biscuit recipes that included pulled pork and other types of meat, I settled on cream cheese, red onion, pecan and raisin cookies. According to Watson these ingredients have a 98% synergy.

*OK, anyone who knows me knows this is a lie. I don’t bake, I only cook. I think this comes down to two things, firstly, with cooking you don’t need to really follow instructions (and I don’t like following instructions), and secondly, I will almost always order the cheese platter over the dessert. So in actual fact my wife, Naomi, baked the biscuits.

 After handing out the biscuits at the conference the feedback I got was close to unanimous.

“Mehhhhh”

They weren’t terrible but they clearly weren’t great. And the truth is, Watson doesn’t even care. On the other hand, if I’d called my Mum and asked her for a recipe she would have taken the time to find out the type of biscuits that I wanted, gone through some options helped me narrow it down…and then probably baked them for me.

Now the theory is that if I then gave my feedback on the recipe back to Watson it could then use that to fine-tune the algorithm and serve me up a better recipe next time. On the Chef Watson website IBM suggest “Chef Watson really needs you to use your own creativity and judgment”…but all this is really doing is outsourcing the care to users. At the end of the day if Watson doesn’t care about us, why should we care about it.

So what does this all mean?

Most jobs involve other people and as a result require more than just facts, answers and judgement. They require a full range of emotions including compassion, empathy and care – all of which are required in any relationship worth having. Even call centre work (which is generally regarded as one of the most likely short term victims of AI and machine learning) is not immune from this. A study by Duke University suggests that customer satisfaction within a call centre environment is overwhelmingly influenced by how they were made to feel (81%) rather than the information that was presented (19%).

It is through human connection that we may gather information that in turn feeds our AI systems, and it is through human connection that we will also get people to understand and accept (or debate and question) the advice that is generated.

And what will make human employment safe for the foreseeable future (though potentially in different form) is that unlike technology, care and human connection is far more difficult to scale.

Following the match Ken Jennings wrote a piece for Slate magazine which included this:

“Just as factory jobs were eliminated in the 20th century by new assembly-line robots, Brad and I were the first knowledge-industry workers put out of work by the new generation of ‘thinking’ machines. ‘Quiz show contestant’ may be the first job made redundant by Watson, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.”

I have no doubt that Ken is right but it also highlights both the strength and weakness of smart machines such as Watson. They excel at jobs where success is defined by facts rather than feelings. In a quiz show, the only thing that matters is whether you are right or wrong. But in most jobs, being right or wrong is often just one small part of the equation.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

There are only four approaches to take when it comes to digital technology

When you break it down, there are really just four approaches to take when it comes to dealing with digital, or in fact, any type of change.

And to determine which of the four approaches to take, you only need to answer two questions:

The first question is “do you currently offer a product or service that is a substitute for, or complementary to, technology?” 

When a new technology is introduced, its success is defined by its ability to do what it does faster, cheaper or better than what was available previously. If what you do is a substitute for new technology then your job will be worth less, but if what you do is complementary then it is generally worth more.

Take Uber for example (overused but at least we all know it). Uber has dramatically reduced the time and effort associated with finding, booking and paying for transportation. For some elements of the transportation/taxi industry, such as drivers, Uber is a complementary service. Research shows that drivers now have a higher utilisation (spend more of their shift actually driving passengers around rather than waiting for fares) and earn more money than before. And not just Uber drivers, taxi drivers are also using the Uber app to improve their earnings.

On the other hand, businesses such as Cabcharge which provide a payment service for taxi and hire car operators has seen their revenue plummet as Uber not only provides a booking service, it provides a payment service as well.

The second question is “Are you a proactive identifier of new technology or generally late to the party?”

Regardless of whether your offering is a substitute for, or complement to new technology, you have distinctly better options if you can identify emerging technology trends early.

If you’re an early identifier and offer a complementary service your best approach is to double down. Continuing with the Uber example there have been a number of individuals who have identified new opportunities that have emerged within the Uber eco-system and done incredibly well as a result. One of these is Joseph Ziyaee who realised he could make more money out of referring people to be Uber drivers than being a driver himself. By helping new drivers qualify and register as an Uber driver he now earns about four times as much as he did when he was driving.

If your an early identifier and offer a substitute product then your best approach is to divest. When Uber launched in NSW in 2012 the value of taxi plates were around $400,000. By the time it was legalised in 2015 they had dropped to $200,000 (with the most recent sales at around $150,000). The early identifiers of Uber, the ones who took the time to investigate it’s impact overseas and understand the implications, they divested early and saved themselves significant pain.

So regardless of whether you’re on the right side or the wrong side of technology driven change you have fairly good options as long as you are proactive. When you’re slow to identify opportunities or don’t act on them your options diminish rapidly.

Even if you have a complementary product or service, if you’re reactive to technology driven change then your best option is just to keep doing what you’ve done before.  By luck rather than good management, everything you do should be worth a little bit more than it was before, but the big opportunities are likely to be already gone.

On the other hand, if you have a substitute product or service and are slow to react to change the only real option you have is to defend. The problem with defending is that it diverts energy and resources away from both doing (incurring short term costs) and/or adapting (incurring long term costs). Once again this strategy has been clearly at play in the personal transportation arena. The taxi industry has applied significant resources to try and stop the legalisation of ride sharing services such as Uber. This may have slowed the transition and won some small concessions but the continuing slide in the value of taxi plates suggests the energy invested on defending has had much wasted.

So what’s the moral of this story? The only way to ensure you’re on the right side of digital driven change is to constantly seek it out and endeavour to understand it. If just one app, built with largely off the shelf components, can destroy billions of dollars of value in just a few years imagine what might happen in your industry/organisation/job next.

The blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

What comes before commitment?

Over the last few years social media has dramatically changed what it means to date (and I say this without a shred of personal experience).  Whereas the old approach to dating was

Not dating > Dating > Move in > Engaged > Married


The current landscape goes something like this

Not dating > Texting > Dating > No longer on Tinder > Move in > That talk > Deleting your dating apps > Officially in a relationship on Facebook > Should we get married…ever?*

* With reference to http://www.bolde.com/ridiculous-new-stages-relationships-happen-youre-fully-commit/

This is not a critique on modern relationships or the value of marriage, but rather an observation that greater choice has resulted in people delaying significant decisions. In a sense, what comes before commitment is a commitment to finding out.

But here in lies the rabbit hole.

Often we are unwilling to make the commitment before the commitment. Instead we end up with “F#$k it!” and don’t make a choice at all (even though technically this is itself a choice).

In many ways an overwhelm of opportunity is reinforcing the status quo. I would argue that this is a significant factor in why so many organisations are falling behind when it comes to digital technology. It’s not that they don’t know there are opportunities out there but rather the sheer number of opportunities and so many options result in, well, not doing very much at all.

This is one of the fundamental reasons for starting the Digital Champions Club. I wanted to give people a simple, easy to follow framework for prioritising opportunities and assessing options. But somewhat ironically, the biggest barrier to people joining the Digital Champions Club has been the decision to join.

So in the belief that incremental change is better than nothing at all, I have just launched the Digital Champions Club Resource membership. To follow through with the analogy above it’s like dating but still maintaining an active Tinder profile. You get a half hour one-on-one mentoring session with me (to help you determine which opportunities to focus on), 12 months access to the Digital Champions Club online resources and invitations to some digital champions only events (you can find more details here).

So if you’re looking to go digital, but not willing to settle down just yet, why not swipe right and get in touch.

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