Improve on the Status Quo

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I think one of the reasons for the slow update of Digital Technology in business is a search for the “Silver Bullet” or the “Perfect Solution.” In fact, We seem to systematically over estimate the risks and underestimate the opportunities of the alternative relative to the “Status Quo.”

I had one client who refused to install a cloud file sharing solution for his staff because the data security risks were perceived to be too high. So what was his staff doing in the absence of a provided solution? They were emailing documents to their personal email accounts ( which are more often than not cloud based anyway) and sharing documents on USB sticks.

So which of these two scenario is the unsafe one? The one where your staff used a tested and approved cloud service to share & sync files ( and therefore you always know where the files are stored ) OR the one where multiple copies of documents are stored in the Inbox and Outbox of personal email systems and also on the staff members personal home computer ( which are often not password protected ) and where documents are shared on unsecured USB drives, 60% of which go missing with Corporate data on them?

I think, the BIGGEST risk of all is, assuming that we already have it right, that there is no room for improvement. The next BIGGEST risk is waiting for a silver bullet when all we need to do is ” Improve on the Status Quo.”

What is Digital Intelligence?

As work becomes increasingly dominated by technology we need new ways of thinking to continue to be effective. Our ability to acquire and apply new knowledge and skill is what we call intelligence. In the process driven world of the industrial age this was dominated by concepts of logic, more recently we have identified other forms of intelligence such as Emotional Intelligence which are incredibly important in high human contact environments. As we enter an age of work that is increasingly conducted using digital tools we are going to need a new type of intelligence, Digital Intelligence, if we are to continue to be effective.

A simple definition of Digital intelligence is “the ability to acquire and apply new knowledge and skills related to digital technologies”. It is more than the ability to use digital tools, but rather the know why, know what, know how and know when of digital technology to improve effectiveness and outcomes. Digital Intelligence is fundamentally about our relationship with technology, just as Emotional Intelligence is about our relationship with others. Digital Intelligence is not about the use of digital tools at the exclusion of human ability but rather it is about the relative strengths of both people and technology and playing to those strengths.

Over the last few years access to digital tools has exploded. We have Facebook, Twitter and other social tools to connect and share with our friends, we have cloud backup services such as Dropbox and Evernote for making our information available everywhere and we have new tools such as tablets that allow flexibility in how and where we operate from. As we interact with all these different digital tools we are building our Digital Intelligence.

The only problem is, we are not building our Digital Intelligence intentionally, and as a result we are not doing it very effectively either. A prime example is our relationship with the oldest of digital tools, email. When I ask executive teams who thinks they are effective with email less than 5% would put up their hand. When you ask the same group who has ever had training to develop their email skills less than 5% would put up their hands again (and its not always the same hands).

We chance across new tools rather than seeking them out, we learn basic skills by playing rather than advanced skills through learning, we copy what our friends are doing rather than asking whether this is the best time and place to be using a particular tool. And we also have a fascination with what is shiny and new rather than what is effective. When something shiny and new is also effective then this is a bonus…but rarely our intent. As the role of digital technology continues to grow in business we need to grow our Digital Intelligence along with it.

What do you think of the idea of Digital Intelligence and have you done anything recently to develop yours? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Photo credit: CPOA via flickr

Our survival depends on how we respond

Sydney Hobart 2004

From both an individual and organisational perspective our ability to respond effectively to our environment defines our future relevance and ultimately our survival. When talking about responsiveness I often use the story of the 2004 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. The race stands out as one of the most challenging on record and only half of the fleet making it to the finish line. The difference between the boats that finished and the boats that didn’t was largely about how they responded to the difficult conditions and there is a great lesson somewhere in here for how businesses need to start thinking about digital technology.

There are four defining characteristics of responsiveness: awareness, intention, function and action. When it comes to awareness it is well excepted that the conditions will be variable. As a result, most boats in the race have invested heavily in awareness. Technology has allowed navigators to track changes to wind, wave and other weather conditions in near real time.

The second characteristic of the successful boats was having the right intention. The intention of some skippers was overwhelmingly about winning the race. This included two of the pre-race favourites, Skandia and Konica Minolta, both of which failed to finish because of structural damage to their vessels. For others winning was secondary to the safety of their vessel and crew, I was lucky enough to be on one of these boats instead.

The third characteristic of successful boats was function. This is about having the right gear and maintaining it in the right condition. The boat I was sailing on was built by a commercial boat builder as his personal boat. As a result it’s hull was nearly twice as thick as other boats of a similar size. We may have sacrificed some speed but we had the right boat for unexpected conditions.

The final characteristic of the successful boats was action. The experience and ability of the crew to act in accordance with the skippers intention and within the functionality of the boat. Our crew consisted of young and old, experienced and novices.We had three ex-professional fishermen aboard and the oldest woman to ever compete in the Sydney Hobart (Norma turned 80 days before the race). The watches were structured so that there was always an experienced crew member available to mentor and support the novice ones.

So what does this got to do with digital technology in business? Firstly, many organisations are unaware of the exponential impact of technology in business. The operating environment is changing fast and many organisations are not aware. Many still operate under a false mantra of stability and have invested little in understanding the opportunities and challenges of digital technologies.

[tweetthis]Our survival depends on how well we harness digital tools to weather difficulties.[/tweetthis]

Secondly, most don’t realise that in business there is no winning or losing, just survival, and survival ultimately means working to your conditions. We are operating in a knowledge and information economy and our future relevance is going to mean engaging our organisations in digital tools sooner rather than later.

Thirdly, we need to equip our people with the right tools. We need to be looking how we can digitise our information and knowledge flows so that our people can find the right information wherever and whenever they need it. We need to be investing in mobile and we need to be investing in cloud.

Finally we need to make sure that our people are guided and trained to act. They need to know the digital imperative and have the skills to act appropriately. We also need to identify the digital masters and digital leaders in our organisations and provide them with the resources to train and guide others. And we need to do these things as if our organisations survival depended on it. Because ultimately it does.

Technology could make you worth less but not worthless

Pony Express

The rapid rate of information technology deployment is one of the great transformations of the 21st century. Throughout history technology are deployed to do repetitive and information based tasks. When this happens the human skills associated with those tasks get rapidly devalued. They become worth less.

A great example of this is the impact that the telegraph had on the Pony Express. One the telegraph was hooked up the Pony Express went out of business in four days. This meant that the once highly sought after skill of horsemanship was now worth less. They weren’t worthless but the laws of supply and demand meant that Pony Express riders were no longer worth the 1o times premium that they earned over the standard non-skilled wage.

[tweetthis url=””]Human skills that are deployed to technology become devalued. Focus on skills that retain their value.[/tweetthis]

As a new breed of technologies are deployed to do everything from manager our customer relationships, complete our expense reports, and compile our client proposals we need to think about which of our skills are going to maintain their value in the 21st century. Skills such as working the fax machine, letter writing, and long division are already largely gone. Soon to follow might be filing, typing, searching for information and information analysis.

Conversely the skills where technology will take a long time to replace, such as creative thinking and relationship building, are likely to maintain their value over the medium to long term.

What are your 21st century skills and what are you doing to ensure that you focus on the tasks that are worth more not worth less?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Cyborgs at work part 3: How do we get there?

This is the third part of a three part series on cyborgs in the workplace. If you haven’t read Cyborgs At Work Part 1: Are you for real? and Cyborgs at Work Part 2: The Technology, I suggest you start there.

Cyborgs in the workplace might seem like a distant reality but personally I don’t think we are far off a significant tipping point when it comes to personal technology. It seems that many individuals and organisations are already investing heavily in mobile technology, primarily in smart phones but increasingly in tablet computers such as iPads and Android tablets.

From the work I have done with organisations it seems that much of this investment in mobile technology is being undertaken without a clear objective and no real understanding of what the technology makes possible. As a result there are many examples of stalled iPad pilot programs and a general frustration amongst users as to how to get value out of the devices they have.

Like many new technologies, including the current debate in Australia about the NBN, it is not always clear what benefits will deliver. But this is a small hurdle and with a bit of training, support and time users will identify amazing opportunities to apply mobile technology in unique and valuable ways. I think this will be the tipping point. Just like the problem gambler who’s addiction starts with one big win, I think that when users experience their first big boost to productivity and effectiveness they will immediately start looking for their next ‘hit’.

Unlike other competitive activities, such as elite sport, there are no rules against performance enhancing technologies in business. Once mobile technology moves from the early adopters to the early majority there will be a massive pent up demand that will drive us towards a more seamless integration between people and technology. In a couple of years, as users search out the next big boost to personal effectiveness, wearable technology such as Google Glass will become more common work place. And once you have seen your colleagues walking around with something like Google Glasses on their face most wearable tech will become acceptable.

Given that we already live in a society that is obsessed by its mobile devices this future might seem like a scary prospect. My feeling is we are currently too caught up in the novelty of technology but as we find more and more practical applications for it we will start to see it more as a tool than a toy. As someone who uses mobile technology in my business every day I can vouch for the fact that I rarely want to use it in my down time. In fact I am far more conscious of work-life balance and other quality of life issues than I ever have been previously.

For most, this new world of work is just around the corner, and for some, it is already here. The only question left is ‘what type of technology you will be using when the cyborgs come for your job’?


Photo Credit: XPRIZE Foundation via Flickr

Simon presents on mobile technology as part of AMP’s Amplify Festival

AMP Samplify session on mobile technology

The view from AMP’s theatre: The most amazing, and distracting, backdrop I have ever presented in front off

It was with great pleasure that I presented a Samplify session in Sydney as part of AMP’s Amplify Festival last week. I have long admired the work of Annalie Killian and the Amplify Team in bringing amazing new ideas into both AMP and the broader community. It was a dream come true to be able to contribute my own ideas to such an great initiative.

The response from AMP staff was fantastic with the first session selling out and a second session almost reaching capacity. As much as I might like to think that this is all about me, the truth is that mobile technology users are crying out for someone to help them understand the why what and how of mobile technology use.

If you would like to find out more about the session you can read a great summary of the session by Johanna Scott on the Amplify blog.

Digitise what you can and focus on everything else


I recently attended the Future of Work conference jointly hosted by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency and Australia’s Industry Skills Councils. Over two days expert researchers and speakers from around the world shared insights into the drivers and possible outcomes for the future of work. A strong theme of the conference was the likely loss of high skilled jobs as a result of overseas competition or due to improving technology.

Professor Hugh Lauder, co-author of ‘the Global Auction‘ pointed to China’s target to have 195 million graduates by 2020 as a cause of concern for Australian workers, suggesting that although we have traditionally accepts outsourcing for low skill jobs there will be increasing pressure on high skill jobs as well. Increases in computing power and the growth of the robotics industry is also resulting in ‘digital Taylorism‘ as more and ore complex tasks can now be done by computers.

Although I agree with the drivers I don’t necessarily agree with the outcomes. Although we will undoubtedly continue to see TASKS outsourced or digitized I believe that it is much harder to outsource/digitize whole jobs.

Darren Williams, Chief Technology Officer at suggested that you could now hire an architect and get your house plans done from a skilled overseas service provider via their outsourcing site. Although you can get a set of house plans I would argue that this is not the same as hiring an architect. The role of an architect involves a complex and interactive process of understanding client needs and integrating these into the prevailing community and environmental dynamics of the building site. This is not a process that can be easily digitized. On the other hand, once the architect starts drafting the plans this should be a digital process (and in a lot of cases already is) as digital allows for the fast and effective development and sharing of the design data.

Rather than focus on the loss of certain tasks, we need to identify and enjoy the benefits we will obtained from digitizing parts of our jobs. Individually it will allow us to be more effective at what we do and to focus on the more human and creative elements of our work. The outcome of this may mean that there is excess capacity within certain fields but this may not necessarily result in fewer jobs. Take architecture for example, excess capacity amongst architects may lead to consolidation in the industry OR it may mean that more people get to enjoy the benefits of  architecturally designed houses as reduced costs make them more affordable.

In fact I believe the greatest risk of digital Taylorism and off shoring work is not about losing your job but about not being proactive about identifying which parts of your job should be digitized. We have a competitive marketplace for work and if we don’t start to work proactively to identify how we can use technology to do our jobs more effectively we risk losing it to the competitor down the street well before we lose it to the robot or the competitor overseas.