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‘Tell them what they want to know not just what you want to tell them’

‘Tell them what they want to know not just what you want to tell them’

This is an familiar quote to anyone well versed in designing learning and development interventions for executive audiences from any sector in the private or public domain. It relates to ensuring that the designers listen to the client issues before developing content.

At a recent event for the Association of Business Schools (ABS) there was discussion about the gap between what business schools offer and what business leaders say they need. Senior leaders indicated that while the traditional topics of business were being well covered (e.g. Corporate Finance, Leadership, Strategy, Human Resources, etc.) This menu of business knowledge only covered part of the insights, tools and techniques that global and local businesses need to survive and thrive.

The missing piece is around the ability to look at and over the horizon of the constant change, in many cases disruptive changes, that face business.

So what do business leaders want to know versus what business schools are telling them? The trends related to ever faster moving technology and what it means for them specifically and especially before they invest money in what just might be ‘old technology’ by the time the new systems are implemented. What does it mean for business now that trust and institutional values have been tested and show to be failing in their promise to various stakeholders? Trust in banks and government has equally been damaged by the post-2008 downturn and their reactions to stem the melt-down. Demographics are a huge topic area and how can business leaders distil the information and leverage it for their businesses? The stalwart is environmental issues but go well beyond being a ‘Green’ organisation – what are the strategic planning implications of consequences (positive and negative) sit behind their activity or inactivity in this fast growing business and social issue. Lastly, how are social values changing and what will be the impact on business? Not just in terms of the traditionally viewed family unit of ‘Mother, Father and 2.4 kids’ but in terms of the changing social values across generations, groups and individuals. Again, there are business positives and negatives around social values but many organisations have no idea how to even start the dialogue with customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and a myriad of other stakeholders.

Equally important business leaders want to know what strategies and tactics they should be considering to both take advantage of these disruptive changes and to better shield their businesses from the impact expected. They also want their management and leadership teams to have the insight, planning ability and courage to face these disruptive challenges head-on!

Business schools, like any business in any sector, need to look at their offerings through the lens of their customers to ensure they are relevant and add real and substantial value to the thinking of current and future managers and leaders. There are many models and frameworks that have been created by some incredible minds to help organisations grow and consider their place in the competitive landscape. Tools and frameworks like the ‘SWOT’ analysis, ‘Boston Matrix’, ‘Five-Forces’ and many more have been utilised to great effect and taught in many business schools. A meaningful and relevant addition would be a framework through which future horizon scanning can be achieved to ensure trends and disruptive changes can be properly filtered and utilised as a competitive insight for advantage or early warning radar for changing organisational direction.

This approach will create an opportunity for business schools and the organisations with whom they work. It will also add a new element to the business school-participant relationship dynamic with a new process that starts with ‘Unlearning’ before learning can take place. Business is finding that what got it ‘this far’ may not be enough to take it further. This implies there is a need about identifying and acting on signals from an effective horizon scanning approach.

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An analogy to explain big data: Turning hay into needles

An analogy to explain big data: Turning hay into needles

I have mentioned Richard Stacy before on this blog. He’s a great thinker on social media in business, and speaks a lot of sense where many “social media experts” just talk hype.

Here’s a very short piece from his blog, but I found it very helpful in explaining why “big data” is so important to business in the next few years. You can read the original here, or an extract below.

Here is a quick riff on an analogy. Small data analysis is all about looking for needles in haystacks. Big data analysis is all about turning hay into needles (or rather turning hay into something that achieves what it is we used needles to do).

Being more specific. Small data analysis (i.e. the only form of data analysis we have had to date) was a reductive process – like everything else in the world where the data and information channels were likewise restrictive, largely as a result of their cost of deployment. Traditional marketing, for example, is the art of the reduction – squeezing whole brand stories into 30 second segments in order to utilise the expensive distribution channel of TV. Academic analysis likewise – squeezing knowledge through the limited distribution vessel that is either an academic or a peer-reviewed publication.

As a result the process of data analysis was all about discarding data that was not seen to be either relevant or accurate enough, or reducing the amount of data analysed via sampling and statistical analysis. The conventional wisdom was that if you put poor quality data into a (small) data analysis box – you got poor quality results out at the other end. Sourcing small amounts of highly accurate and relevant data was the name of the game. All of scientific investigation has been based on this approach.

Not so now with big data. We are just starting to realise that a funny thing happens to data when you can get enough of it and can push it through analytical black boxes designed to handle quantity (algorithms). At a certain point, the volume of the data transcends the accuracy of the individual component parts in terms of producing a reliable result. It is a bit like a compass bearing (to shift analogies for a moment). A single bearing will produce a fix on something along one dimension. Take another bearing and you can get a fix in two dimensions, take a third and you can get a fix in all three dimensions. However, any small inaccuracy in your measurement can produce a big inaccuracy in your ability to get a precise fix. However, suppose you have 10,000 bearings. Or rather can produce a grid of 10,000 bearings, or a succession of overlapping grids, each comprised of millions of bearings. In this situation it is the density of the grid, the volume of the data and, interestingly, often the variance (or inaccuracies) within the data that is the prime determinant of your ability to get an accurate fix.

To return to haystacks, it is the hay itself which becomes important – and rather than looking for needles within it it is a bit like looking into a haystack and finding an already stitched together suit of clothes.This is why big data is such an important thing – and also why a big data approach is fundamentally different to what we can now call small data analysis. It is also why there is now no such thing as inconsequential information (i.e. hay) – every bit of it now has a use provided you can capture it and run it through an appropriate tailoring algorithm.

Source: Richard Stacy

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Dear CEO, You have to be in it to win it (I’m talking social media, you dinosaur)

Dear CEO, You have to be in it to win it (I’m talking social media, you dinosaur)

You’ll lose 100% of the shots you don’t take.

You’ll find this pithy advice in almost every motivational book. But being a cliche doesn’t mean it isn’t true. You have to be in it to win it.

In the business world, this maxim is applied when companies look seriously at new opportunities and take risks in new markets. This is the essence of business development, and most business leaders pride themselves in their ability to spot key growth opportunities and push their companies towards these.

It seems strange then, how few CEOs are taking social media seriously. An American report released last week by Domo and CEO.com surveyed 500 top CEOs and discovered that less than 4% of them were active on Twitter. Fully two thirds of them (68%) have no social media presence at all. The only network CEOs have a reasonable presence is LinkedIn, but these are mainly just static profiles with no interaction or activity.

So, possibly the greatest revolution in communication is a mystery to the world’s business leaders. This is a space they have no personal understanding of. So how can they make decisions that are meaningful in this space? And how can they lead their companies into the digital age?

My colleague, Mike Saunders, based out of South Africa, is one of the world’s leading thinkers in what is being called ‘social business’: the ways in which social media is reshaping every aspect of business. He has recently written about the importance of social media for businesses in what we call ‘the connection economy’ – his post is well worth reading. The key point is that CEOs and business leaders need to get their heads into this game. It’s not something they should simply delegate to others – it’s something they should be personally invested in. Social media is more than technology: it’s a mindset.

Another social business expert (and also ex-colleague of ours at TomorrowToday), Mike Stopforth, also wrote recently about why leaders should take social media seriously. He quotes a McKinsey research report: “by fully implementing social technologies, companies can potentially raise the output of employees by 20 to 25 per cent. McKinsey’s research also reveals that seventy two per cent of companies use social technologies in some way, but very few actually realise the full benefits.” Could it be because the implementations do not reach the very top? I am pretty certain this is key!

Business leaders who do not embrace social media are becoming dinosaurs in their industries and within their own companies. Luckily, this is fairly easy to fix. But it will require them to step out into unknown areas where they have limited skills and no experience, where they risk making mistakes and possibly looking a bit foolish (none of this has to happen, of course, if they’d be prepared to get training and assistance – something most CEOs are not keen on). So, this boils down to a control issue really. And possibly a pride issue too. But the alternative is extinction.

Come on, CEOs, do the right thing! Get some skin in the game. And get into social media.

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Mirrors, cameras, social media and cultural evolution – Seth Godin

Mirrors, cameras, social media and cultural evolution – Seth Godin

Earlier today, Seth Godin posted an interesting piece on his blog about mirrors, cameras and cultural evolution. Read it at his blog or below.

He points out that a few centuries ago nobody would have known what their “true” reflection looked like as their were no mirrors available. Today, nobody is scared of mirrors. But some people are scared of cameras. They might not feel scared, but the way they act when a camera is pointed at them indicates otherwise.

And he then pushes his point to the issue of social media, and how some people still fear it. This is a fascinating insight in the same week that Domo and CEO.com released a report saying that only 19 out of 500 of America’s top CEOs are active on social media (only 28 of them have Twitter accounts at all). I am writing a separate blog entry on that statistic (it will be released later this week, here). But for now, I’ll leave you with Seth’s thoughts about cultural evolution. And the fact that it’s inevitable.

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Why do UK retailers continue to report Internet sales separately?

Why do UK retailers continue to report Internet sales separately?

Apologies to regular readers of this blog. This is a repeat of a short rant I had when last year’s UK Christmas retail report came out. Now the half year retail results have been released, and we’re stuck with the same problem.

Marks & Spencer released their retail results for the last quarter yesterday. Management Today dutifully picked up the story. Their clothing sales are down for the eighth quarter in a row, with a 1.6% drop in the last quarter alone. This sounds horrifying. Until you read that their “Internet sales” are up by 30% in the same period. The MT reporter makes no effort to make sense of these numbers for us, by (for example) telling us how much of the 1.6% drop in clothing sales has been compensated for by a rise in online purchases. This must be the case as overall sales for M&S increased by 3.3% in the quarter. In a flat-line economy, this is great news.

My rant is simple: why are we reporting “internet sales” as if they were something different from “actual sales”? Why do we worry about a 1.6% decrease in in-store sales when we’ve had a 30% increase in online sales? And why report these numbers separately? And why treat the one number (in store sales) as if it was more important than the other?

This is NOT a small issue. The Management Today article‘s tone was one that indicated M&S are in trouble. If they’re getting 30% improvements in a quarter, and 3.3% growth overall (per quarter!) then they’re in remarkably good shape. No crisis. And no-one’s going to lose their job. But that’s not what you’d think from reading the MT article.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: UK retailers need to join the 21st century. Or maybe it’s just the journalists who write about UK retail. I don’t know. But someone needs to tell us what’s REALLY going on!

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Intel’s Top 5 Tech Trends

Intel’s Top 5 Tech Trends

I am sitting at a conference in Dubai, listening to one of Intel’s top guys in the Middle East talking about technology disruptors that Intel expects to see in the next few years. He is listing five “technology-led tectonic shifts”:

  1. Big data becomes useful (my addition: and integrates cloud computing, the internet of things and massive data processing power – I don’t think these are separate trends, see below). The key is making sense of the data.
  2. Cloud computing that is open, federated, automated and client aware
  3. The Internet of Things
  4. The client continuum – from device centric to user centric computing. The device dies, and the interface becomes more intuitive and pre-emptive, including .
  5. Security – 5 million new malicious websites are launched every month, and the malware ‘industry’ is worth double as much as the global drug trade.

By the way, it costs less to build one intel processor than to grow one grain of rice.

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I want you in my office. Now. What’s really going on at Yahoo?

I want you in my office. Now. What’s really going on at Yahoo?

The biggest tech news so far this year has been an announcement by Yahoo that they want “all hands on deck” and that all work-from-home is being cancelled as from June. Irked Yahoo employees have leaked the memo that was sent by HR head Jackie Reses. Apparently the move comes from the very top, from CEO Marissa Mayer, and will be applied without exception to all remote workers, both those who do so full-time and any who have flexible work from home arrangements. Read the memo and some initial analysis here.

The key message is that Yahoo wants to become “the very best place to work”, and wants to do this using “communication and collaboration” and “working side-by-side”. But then, the real intent is clear: Yahoo wants to be “more productive, efficient and fun” and says that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home”.

The response from a world that is assuming that more remote working is the future has been loud and incredulous. Is this really the way forward? Has Marissa Mayer made a huge misstep here? Or does she know something we don’t?

What’s going on?

We know that Mayer is under pressure to produce profits at Yahoo, and does not have much more time to deliver a fairly radical turnaround. We also know that she has a fairly forceful leadership style. Business Insider resported a few months ago that an unnamed staffer told them of a team of Yahoo’s product designers who pitched a new product to Mayer. She approved the product on the condition that they get it to market months ahead of their own schedule. Then Mayer supposedly told them they had exactly one week to figure out how to get the product out by the end of the year, and that they would all be fired if they couldn’t get it done.

The stated reason behind the move by Mayer is that she had done an analysis of the VPN (virtual private network) data of remote workers, and Yahoo employees working from home were not logging into the system for enough hours during the day. Supporters of the move have largely pointed to two things: the fact that work from home people can slack off, and the need to have everyone in the office if you’re going to effect quick culture change.

The second reason may be right, but the first one seems spurious. Most remote workers are unlikely to be constantly on the VPN, especially if the system itself is not as user friendly or helpful as it could be. And if you’ve employed a bunch of slackers, you can bet that they’ll slack off in your office almost as well as they could slack off at home. The only difference is that you’ll have lost some productive hours due to traffic and commuting time.

Studies on telecommuting are conflicted right now, mainly because it’s a nuanced thing. It works well for some functions, but not others. It works well for some people, but not others. However, it seems that, in general, in increases productivity, wellness and motivation for most people.

So, why did she do it?

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When will they learn that we live in an age of transparency?

When will they learn that we live in an age of transparency?

This is a bit of a nerdy blog post. Or as we say in the UK, I am being an anorack. But I’ll declare that I am a fan of Elon Musk, of Tesla, and a media skeptic (all will become clear). I also believe that we are living in an age of transparency, and not enough people understand the implications of this.

It might just be that you’re the CEO of Yahoo and you think you can put false information on your CV (your name would be Mark Thompson – read his story here). Or you might be a journalist who literally just made up stories for the New York Times (that would make you Jayson Blair). Or you could be any number of politicians who say one thing one day and another thing the next (that might also make you a Fox News commentator). Whatever the issue, in the age of transparency you’re less and less likely to get away with it.

So now to Elon Musk. He is a South African who went to the same school as my brother did (Pretoria Boys High). He made a fortune as one of the founders of PayPal, and has since used his money to do some really cool “boys own” type stuff. He’s the first private individual to successfully launch a space rocket. He’s also started a really cool car company, Tesla, aiming to create high performance electric sports vehicles. He seems to be succeeding.

But the entrenched motor media and car journalists don’t like it, and enjoy trying to discredit him and trash his cars. But Elon is fighting back. His cars have all sorts of logging systems in them, and he ensured they were turned on recently when he gave one of them to a journalist to do a road test. It appears as if this journalist has just flat-out lied about the road test he did – and Elon can prove it.

The latest episode in the story is well reported here – if anything I’ve said so far interests you, I am sure you’ll love reading the whole story.

The lessons: data rules; nerds rule the world now; transparency wins; electric cars are coming; Elon Musk is the man. But mainly: Transparency wins! Be transparent: in your life and your company. You have been warned.

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Make the most of social media: the difference between an audience and an individual

Make the most of social media: the difference between an audience and an individual

One of the numerous quotes attributed to Albert Einstein is: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” This is true in business, as it is in other areas of our lives. It has always been true, for example, of public relations. My wife trained professionally in the art and science of PR, and one of the ongoing issues is proving the true value of gaining media and public exposure. There are methods, of course, and PR agencies spend time tracking these benefits. But, ultimately, it comes down to seeing improvements in related – but not directly connected – issues. And maybe, right now, this statement is most true of social media.

Many senior executives are demanding impossible levels of measurement and “proof” before they approve the use of social media for their companies. And others that are trying to use social media end up abusing the channels because of a need to be measuring and counting specifics. Let’s call a spade a spade: companies want to know how they will get more money for their social media spend.

That’s a reasonable question. But the way to go about measuring it might not be.

Seth Godin wrote a great little piece last week that sums up what I am thinking about this:

Clean bathrooms

The facilities at DisneyWorld are clean. It’s not a profit center, of course. They don’t make them clean because they’re going to charge you to use them. They make them clean because if they didn’t, you’d have a reason not to come.

It turns out that just about everything we do involves cleaning the bathrooms. Creating an environment where care and trust are expressed. If you take a lot of time to ask, ‘how will this pay off,’ you’re probably asking the wrong question. When you are trusted because you care, it’s quite likely the revenue will take care of itself.

I’m a big fan of Richard Stacey and his insights into the world of social media. A few weeks ago on his blog, Richard highlighted the dangers of measuring the wrong things when using social media for business purposes, especially when using Facebook. Once again, I think he’s spot on. His article is definitely worth a read.

His point is that:

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Our secret recipe: Playful AND Powerful

In this world flooded with data and information, we need to learn to repackage information to make it useful, accessible and influential. Peter Drucker is credited with the statement that we need to be both “playful and powerful”. If what you do is merely powerful, it might be important, but it will be boring and therefore ignored. If you err by making it merely playful, then it might be interesting, but it will be trite and quickly forgotten.

At TomorrowToday, we have always strived to package our strategic insights in ways that are both powerful and playful. We use multimedia, humour and other forms of stage craft to help us achieve “powerful and playful”. This is something every communicator has to aim for these days.

 


This video of Graeme Codrington was recorded by our good friends at Your Business Channel as part of their ongoing work to capture the best business insights in video format. See more video at our TomorrowToday TV channel.

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Trends to watch in 2013

Trends to watch in 2013

It’s that time of year when we take stock of what has happened in the year that has flashed by, and look ahead to the year that’s rushing towards us. What will it be like? Our team has some ideas based on our work looking at disruptive change and trends.

The dominating driving force in 2013 will be technology. No surprise there. But the big news is that technology is changing. It’s no longer merely a means of doing what we used to do, but doing it cheaper, better and faster. We’re rapidly reaching the tipping point where most technology is designed to do things we’ve never done before. I call this the third wave of the digital age – see my TED talk as a primer.

Your best example here is the 2012 breakout innovation: the driverless car (made legal in Nevada and California this past year). By 2020 it is conceivable that not only will major cities give these cars licenses, they will also make them compulsory. Once every car in a given area is driverless, every car can interact with every other car, and the system of cars can negotiate a traffic pattern that is optimised for that period of time. We can also get more cars going faster on existing roads. Networked cars can do things humans cannot do. This use of technology to do things we cannot do is what we will begin to see more and more of in 2013 (and beyond).

2013 is also going to be a year of revenue boosting for tech companies. Market research company, IDC predicts that consumer spending on IT will increase globally by 6% in 2013, to a whopping $2.1 trillion in the year. Companies are in dire need of upgrading their tech, and will fuel this trend. That 6% prediction is just a global average, however. Tech growth in emerging economies will roar ahead, with 10%+ growth in the year. In this environment, the winners will be the big companies that dominate and the small innovators who come out with new products and services. Struggling mid-market companies will be unlikely to survive. At TomorrowToday, we track trends, and tend to steer clear of specific market predictions, especially in the short term, but we’d not be surprised at all to see both Nokia and RIM bought out in 2013.

In this context, then, here are some specific trends to keep an eye on:

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TEDx: The Third Wave of the Digital Age

TEDx: The Third Wave of the Digital Age

My TEDx talk has finally been uploaded to the TEDx YouTube channel, and is now available to view. I delivered this at TEDx Square Mile in London in October this year.

The topic was an introduction to an issue I think is absolutely essential for us to understand right now. We are living at a moment in time when our use of computing technology is about to shift dramatically. This will impact our lives, and create huge opportunities for our businesses.

I’d love your feedback, questions and comments on my thesis.

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Primary Blog contributors

The main contributors to this blog are:

Dr Graeme Codrington, co-founder of TomorrowToday, author, speaker and expert on the changing world of work
Dean van Leeuwen, co-founder and CEO of TomorrowToday UK & Europe, speaker, consultant and Chief Intellectual Adventurer
Keith Coats, co-founder of TomorrowToday South Africa, leadership development guru, speaker and author
Professor Nick Barker, director of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program at the East-West Center in Hawaii, leadership development expert
Markus Kramer, marketing director for Aston Martin and brand building expert
Keith Holdt, Visionary Enabler of business growth and change, currently works for LDC as an investment executive.
Dil Sidhu, Chief External Officer, Manchester Business School; Executive education specialist.
Dawna MacLean, expert on fostering meaningful change and creating authentic experiences through transparent and trusted partnerships.

Click here for a full list of contributors


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