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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.

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

Where’s your humanity?

WARNING! LONG POST

[Insert cup of tea here]

In a month or so I’m delivering a keynote entitled ‘Will technology make us more human?’ It’s a keynote I’ve had in my speaker guide for over a year but until now, no one has actually booked me to deliver it. I’m not sure why that is. It feels like a discussion that many organisations need to start having. There is a very real risk that, without clarity on what we want from our technology, we will ultimately accept anything we are given.

When you delve into any news report and research about our emerging but unknown future, a future where we face being outsmarted by our technology, you piece together a story that goes something like this. Sometime in the next 15 years you have at least a one in three chance of losing your job to a robot or AI. This will be a challenging time, you might try and re-skill into something more current like coding (it’s the new blue collar work) but as technology keeps getting better it will be hard to keep ahead of AI. At some point 20 to 30 years from now it will be deemed that the singularity has arrived, meaning that Artificial Intelligence has surpassed human intelligence at which point we will either need to merge with AI if we want to remain relevant or face becoming technology’s ‘pet’.*

*On the flip side of this doom and gloom is the argument that many of the jobs that face being automated weren’t that great anyway. And I’m not just talking about monotonous factory work, the good news is many lawyers and accountants face automation as well

But something important is missing from this view of the future, and that is…why? What’s the point of all this technology driven productivity? What is it that we want out of life? And before we decide to merge with AI or upload our consciousness to a hard drive, what will we potentially lose or leave behind?

At the core of all this is a question that’s been bouncing around in my head for some time now and that is ‘What does it mean to be human?’ As technology continues to encroach on the activities that we once considered the domain of people, it is reasonable for us to question what it is that makes us special.

Now bear with me. From a philosophical perspective we often use the word ‘human’ in a contextual way. From an evolutionary biology perspective it might mean ’not an ape’ but from a interpersonal perspective it might mean ‘fallible’ (as in ‘we’re only human’). Ultimately, being ‘human’ is being similar to how we see ourselves. Which leads us to an important point, technology will never be human (no matter how good it gets) because it would undermine our own sense of identity. Kiwis hate being considered the same as Australians and Canadians hate being confused with Americans…but everyone would feel a little bit hurt if, during a phone call, someone thought they sounded like an automated answering service.

So, what is human is ultimately defined by what our technology is not.*

*This is compounded by the fact that once we create a technology to do something the value of that thing falls. This is a basic supply and demand equation, technology makes things more abundant and ultimately the value falls. When we didn’t have mechanical tools, physical strength was valued. When we didn’t have calculators, mental arithmetic was valued. And while AI is still in its infancy we will still value certain types of knowledge and expertise such as what you learn in eight years of medical school. 

In this sense, the definition of humanity continues to evolve. In our not too distant past, physical prowess paid a far more significant role in defining our humanity. The Alpha Male is a throw back to when the ability to lift heavy things and swinging them around your head (like, say, a sword) had a significant impact on both our personal success and our value to others. But with the advent of steam power and the flourishing of mechanical technologies, physical strength meant less and less.

In fact, with the first industrial revolution came a revolution in humanity. We came to value people for their brains more than their bodies. Bodies couldn’t compete against the technology of the times and as a result brains became the new competitive advantage.

In his book Unnatural Selection: Why The Geeks Will Inherit The Earth author Mark Roeder argues that many traits that were previously considered detrimental to human survival such as Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD or being on the autism spectrum have now become an advantage. This is not to say that physical appearance no longer matters, but rather that ‘the book’ is not ‘the cover’.

But this is neither the end of evolution in either technology or our definition of humanity. The rapidly emerging field of AI is casting a shadow across what were once greatly valued mental feats. We can no longer compete again computers in Chess, Go* or Texas Hold ‘em. Computers are helping diagnose cancer, completing our tax returns and even recommending where we can get the best Chinese food.** So if the geeks can’t outsmart our technology who get’s to inherit the earth?

*It is interesting that during one of games between the world champion of Go and Google’s Go playing AI, Alpha Go, a response to one of the moves by European champion Fan Hui was “It’s not a human move. I’ve never seen a human play this move”
**In fact that’s all being done with just one AI called Watson. Just don’t ask Watson what’s for dinner, his food suggestions have been generally less than appetising.

Notwithstanding the potential risks to the very survival of the human race that unfettered AI brings, it is perhaps time to once again redefine ourselves and embrace the next chapter in human evolution. Just as in the past, the things we will value going forward, the things we will choose to associate ourselves with, are the things that our technology can’t do for us. This will include traits such as empathy, love, ingenuity, ethics and, perhaps even romance.

Which is a lovely segue to the Business Romantics.

Perhaps the highlight of my last two weeks has been The Business Romantics tour I went to last Friday in Melbourne, The tour was hosted by Mel Grablo of Talking Sticks and Mykel Dixon and featured the amazing Tim Leberecht. What was truly inspirational about this event was not just the content (which could have just as easily being downloaded via YouTube or read on a Kindle at greater convenience) but Mel and Mykel’s commitment to creating an event that rejected established norms (read logic) and catered to an emerging humanity.*

*For someone who speaks at a lot of business conferences it was the first time I’d seen a three piece band to accompany the speakers, a host with a grand piano, a resident artist, an unscripted half hour slot for audience contribution…and a whole lot of wasted catering when this overtook the afternoon tea break.

In his keynote Tim made one particular point that stuck with me. The Romantic period of art and literature was a direct response to the obsession with empirical evidence and the scientific method that emerged during the industrial revolution. We are now in the midst of a new industrial revolution (the fourth apparently) and echoes of the same overt focus on productivity, logic and data can now be seen throughout society’s (and most strongly in business).

But just as data and logic failed to complete our understanding of humanity 300 years ago I believe it will fail again now. This is not to say that there isn’t value in scientific pursuits but rather that parallel to these pursuits we need something else, something more, something that is difficult to automate and therefore retains it’s inherent value.

Our value has always been in our humanity, even if our understanding of what this means has changed over time. I believe we all need to start exploring what we want humanity to mean next. Failure to do so leaves us open to both replacement and control by AI and other emerging technology. In which case, we better hope our future AI keepers like having pets.

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

Transformation sucks

Digital Trans-for-ma-tion has a certain sweet ring to it. It says

we’re getting our shit together

we’re going places

and we ain’t taking prisoners.

transforming-leaf_6x4

But in truth, digital transformation is playing catch up. It’s for organisations that have been slow to change and have missed opportunities. As a result, things are now gonna get lumpy (and we might not all make it out the other side).

In someone else’s words “Transformation… requires radical, systemic shifts in values and beliefs, patterns of social behavior, governance and management.”

So here we are.

Whether we like it or not, digital transformation may now be a necessity

and on the other side of transformation we hope to find something magical

…but in between it might not be all chocolate and roses.

This is the worst of digital technology

We think the worst of technology is behind us. That mobile technology and apps have ushered in a new era focused on usability and productivity. But the reality is that the worst of technology is not behind us, it is amongst us right now.

time - bennyseidelman via flickr

Growing up I dealt with some pretty bad technology. I remember the days of dial up internet, when you could make a cup of tea in the time it took you to connect, and if anyone picked up the phone to make a call it would immediately disconnect you.

But this was not the worst of digital technology.

I remember the days of the blue screen of death, days where you seemed to live in constant fear of your computer crashing and your work being lost. These were also the days where whole assignments could be lost because you forgot to press the save button.

I use to think that this was the worst of technology but although this type of technology was hard to use, at least it was useful.

When technology was hard and useful we had the sense to avoid it unless we absolutely needed it. We got away with only having one computer because the chance of everyone in the household wanting to subject themselves to the pain of using it simultaneously was pretty limited.

I have now come to realise that the worst of digital technology is amongst us right now.

[tweetthis]The worst of technology is not hard and useful, it’s easy and useless.[/tweetthis]

The worst of technology is not hard and useful. The worst of technology is easy and useless. This is the technology that distracts us, that sucks our time away when it could be spent on something more valuable. It is Candy Crush Saga and Words with ‘Friends’ (sorry Mum and Dad). OK, sometimes you could mount an argument about downtime and relaxation but the reality is that some of these games are considered more addictive than crack. They suck up hours of our life and our hard earned dollars for little, if any, long term meaningful reward.

And they suck up a LOT of hours. Based on the average of one hours game play per week for casual gamers and Candy Crush Saga 93 million active users (it has been downloaded more than half a billion times) this equates to 4.8 billion hours of wasted, meaningless existence EVERY YEAR.

This is the worst of digital technology and it is getting worse. Poker machine manufacturers, such as Australia’s Aristocrat Leisure, are now investing in social gaming and applying their extensive monetisation know how to the games we play on our mobile device and on Facebook. But given that the makers of Candy Crush Saga, King Games, generated revenue of over US$2 billion last year (a little under half the combined revenue of all 23 casinos on the Las Vegas strip) this is perhaps an unsurprising development.

The worst of technology is the technology that takes up a lot of our precious attention and offers little return. The best of technology offers a great return with little time invested. What type of technology are you using?

 

Image credit: bennyseidelman via flickr

The humanity of technology

Humanity of technology

I would like to share with you what I believe might be my biggest and most important revelation of the last 12 months. I have no doubt that many of you may get to the end of this post and go ‘duh!’ but this post is not for you, this post is for all the other people like me, especially ones working in IT and business, who might benefit from my ‘a-ha!’ moment.

There is no shortage of logic

For a long time I have been providing extremely logical reasons and approaches to digital technology. It has been about dissecting your work into individual tasks, allocating the right ones to technology, managing information correctly, being more effective and multiplying returns.

But for some reason, even with an overwhelming abundance of logic many people have been slow to adopt technology or still actively avoid it. I would lay out logical arguments as to why we need to be using more digital technology and using it better, how that it will allow us to make more informed decisions in business which in turn will positively impact the world we live in, but even close friends and family have failed to act.

[tweetthis]You won’t engage w/ digital technology if negative associations are holding you back[/tweetthis]

For a long time this has been a real frustration for me. How is it then that even people who trust you implicitly, who know what you are saying makes sense and who know they really should do something about technology fail at the first hurdle? Even worse, they would often nod their heads in agreement, say a couple of reassuring things, but ultimately do nothing about it.

Even just today I have been presenting at a conference for a large financial services firm and all the messages are about what technology can and will do, the functionality and services it will make possible. There has been nothing about what this means for people, how they will benefit (or suffer) as a result.

It’s about people

But then I had a glass of wine with a good friend (thanks Inge) and was sent a fantastic book (thanks Matt and Pete) and now it all makes sense. It has finally dawned on me that the decision on whether or not to engage with digital technology is not based on logic, it is based on emotions. The potential of digital technology doesn’t matter if you have beliefs, fear or negative past experiences that are holding you back. After all these years of working with people and technology I have now realised that the challenges we need to address are no longer technological ones, they are human ones. The technology is good enough (and it will only get better), we now need to learn how to implement it in a way that matters to them and addresses their needs. We need to bring the humanity into technology.

Please help me out

So whether you went ‘duh’ or ‘a-ha’ I would love to know what beliefs that have held you back, or perhaps even still hold you back, from using digital technology? Please email me your thoughts, or if you have time, complete a short questionnaire to rate some of the most common negative beliefs that I have heard.

 

Thanks for your help!

Tennis and technology

Performance enhancing technology

Tennis and technology

I’m not what you would describe as a tennis fanatic but when the Australian Open rolls into town I always find myself glued to the television for a few of the Aussie matches (and thanks to the great performance by Tomic, Roth and Kyrgios there have been a few more to watch this year than in recent years past).

One thing I find interesting is the impact of technology on the game. Although the rules of the game haven’t fundamentally changed in nearly 90 years (with the exception of the tie-break) the way the game is played is fundamentally different than what it was 30 years ago.

Racquet technology has allowed players to have larger racquets with a larger sweet spot and that generate more power and more spin. As a result the game has shifted from one of placement to one of power. In fact increasing the racquet size by 20% increases the size of the sweet spot by 300% which can dramatically improves both quality and consistency when hitting the ball. It has had such an impact that new rules regarding the design of racquets have been required to control the impact of technology on the game.

We may look back with nostalgia to the days when the likes of Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Margaret Court gracefully moved across the court artfully dropping the ball over the net but the game has moved on. In a competitive environment the best players will always seek out better technology to give them an edge, and that is why no one is using wooden racquets.

[tweetthis url=”http://bit.ly/1BEwb76″]The best technologies in business amplify performance through greater power, quality and consistency.[/tweetthis]

If you think about it the way we use technology in business is no different. In a competitive business environment using better technology can result in greater power, quality and consistency. What is more, in a business environment performance enhancing technology is not banned or controlled, it is actively encouraged. The best technology will amplify our performance and as a result we will want to use it more, where as old outdated technology will feel depleting and make us want to use it less.

Look at the tools you are personally using in your business. Which ones are the performance enhancing technologies you should be using more of and which are the depleting technologies that need replacing? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Photo credit: lavagirl6699 via flickr

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

When the student is ready, the master appears

technology master

 

When the student is ready, the master appears. ~Buddhist Proverb

I really love the parallels between a set of spanners and screwdrivers as hand tools in an Industrial Age and mobile apps as a set of brain tools for a Digital Age.

What strikes me as a key difference is that we take learning about hand tools far more seriously than our learning about digital tools. In an Industrial Age there is an expectation that a professional would have completed a three year apprenticeship overseen by an established master of the craft, before they would be ‘qualified’.

While most knowledge workers would like to consider themselves ‘professionals’ most have never had any training whatsoever with the tools of their trade, even though we use them and rely on the every single day.

Why is this? Why have we been so happy to continue to use our digital tools so poorly?

[tweetthis]Professionalism with digital tools also requires the commitment of an apprentice.[/tweetthis]

Maybe we don’t realise they are tools? Or that we are meant to use them for work? Often it seems that or level of professionalism with digital tools is more that of a tinkerer than that of a qualified tradesperson.

Perhaps we are lacking role models? Maybe there aren’t enough Masters out there to train a generation of digital apprentices (think about your own organisation, who are the digital masters that you could learn from).

Or maybe, once we have realised the importance of digital literacy in the workplace things will change. Maybe when the students are ready, the masters will appear.

This is partly because we have been fascinated with the novel rather than focusing on the practical. We are more interested in downloading and playing with the latest shiny new app than learn how to use the ones that we have more effectively.

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=”http://bit.ly/1HRDHAu”]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

Don’t outsource IT. Insource digital innovation

Outsource IT, insource digital innovation

For many SMEs IT services has become a commodity purchase, ripe for outsourcing and cost reduction. But while there might be a few dollars to be saved in outsourced IT the real value proposition is in insourcing digital innovation.

For many organisations IT is considered a non-core activity. We value it based on price, uptime, security and timely support. Although these are valid drivers of value, they ignore the big picture. Technology is one of the key drivers of change in the business environment. IT, or more broadly, digital services are increasingly important source of innovation and revenue growth (a recent McKinsey research report suggests that 1 in 5 CEOs expect revenue from digital to increase by more than 30 percent in three years’ time).

[tweetthis]IT can drive value through innovating business processes to improve productivity.[/tweetthis]

To tap into this potential we need to start thinking differently about our IT partners. We need to stop looking for a substitute service provider (where value is driven by cost) and instead look for ways that technology could drive value through augmented or modifed business processes (where value is driven by productivity and improved decision making).

The fast pace of technological change and limited IT budgets means most SMEs cannot afford a full time digital innovation resource. To access emerging value opportunities (such as cloud and mobile technologies) SMEs will increasingly need to partner with external suppliers with the requisite expertise.

But to do so many SMEs will need to dramatically rethink the role of technology in their business and will also need to trust external providers to deliver the expertise they choose not to maintain in-house. Ultimately, whether they are looking at technology as a cost or an opportunity they will probably get exactly what we are looking for.