At a recent winter Olympics, one of the ski teams famed for their ability on the slopes won no gold models, which was a big disappointment to both team and nation. Post-event the team’s management did some analysis and discovered that if the team performed 5% better – that is an improvement of time of only 5% – they would have won almost every gold medal that they competed for. I think that is a great reflection of society today. One false marketing move, one poor product decision, one error of judgement with a customer and you are left standing and in second place. Technology has sped things up, removed our levels of tolerance and demanded instant and regular communication, but I think the example above reflects true in life and business today. I don’t necessarily like it, but it’s true – just 5% can often be the difference between front page success and dismal failure. We need to ensure our people are the best, our technology is helping us understand and maximise our business, and our strategy clear and lived and breathed by everyone.
A student was asked to describe her good teachers but she couldn’t, explaining that they were all so different, but she could easily describe her bad teachers because they were all the same.
A recent, brilliant report from Sir Michael Barber at our company, Pearson, about the future of education called ‘An Avalanche is Coming’ (www.pearson.com/avalanche) emphasised great teachers as one of the biggest differentiators in learning, and we see it time and again where students of all ages are inspired because of the person that leads their class.
Isn’t that always the case? Whatever a company stands for, is it not always the people building the relationships, doing the deals and serving the customers who are the face of our companies? Therefore why do we attempt to recruit anything but the best to represent us? As the great quotes states, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.”
Some companies I know such as Cisco Systems recruit staff at odd places, such as the finish line of great races, because they figure these are people with true character, grit and determination.
Normal is boring, quirky is memorable and remarkable is the difference between success and failure.
When asked “How will the future look?” I replied “Differently.” How different I am not entirely sure, but I can confidently say a few things.
- The future will include an increasing amount of measurement, ie. using data to crunch our business information. The more we know about our customers, the more we can target them with products they need and want. Why try and sell a lawn mower to a lady who lives on the 10th floor of an apartment block? A scatter-gun approach of marketing to thousands in the hope that five people buy is history. The future market segment is “One.” One person. One set of preferences.
- In future, customers will help set strategy arm-in-arm with CEOs. Technology allows us to be better listeners and social media especially is redefining the way business interacts with both customers and employees.
- The future is up to me. I will assemble my own degree from the thousands of excellent courses available, most of them free of charge. I will learn when I want, on the device I choose. I will learn on my iPhone on the train to work, on an iPad in the evening and on the laptop at the weekend. Each will know exactly where I left off and at which point to pick up.
- In future I will have more control. When I my car breaks down, I will access the ‘Parts’ section of my car’s website, download a new component, print it on my 3D printer, and fit it by watching and listening to instructions. In 60 minutes I am on the road.
- Almost everything in future will be connected. When I brush my teeth twice a day for two minutes, my toothbrush will know. I will be given recognition and offered an ‘m-voucher’ via my mobile for toothpaste the moment I walk into a supermarket – my reward is a free tube of toothpaste by a leading brand and a discount towards my next dental check due in 4 weeks.
People will not allow technology to watch us all day, every day, but these things are happening. It will be interesting to see how they play out.
At a recent event we talked about getting out of our comfort zone in order to be remarkable. If we stay doing the same things in the same way, why do we expect results that are any different?
We must break from the past and need look no further than a company I grew up with, Kodak, if we are to see how destructive this technology movement can be if we stand still and don’t embrace change. Regardless of the sector our business is in, we are being impacted – a new way of listening and engaging, a new way of reaching our customers and in many cases entirely new ways of transacting.
Kodak invented film, but they also created digital photography. What the company didn’t do was embrace a new way of working and let go of the past (I have talked about ‘Learnability’ in this column before). Often it takes bravery and imagination to leave behind a legacy, especially when the legacy has held the company in good stead for decades, but for Kodak it was catastrophic.
The digital age has changed more, faster, than anything that preceded it. The number and speed of smartphones sold compared to desktop and laptop computers is evidence of that. We need to remember the past and learn from it, but we must also leave it behind. Every company has to find where the magic happens, because that place is somewhere different.
I enjoyed being a part of the ‘Voice of Apprenticeships’ Conference this week, where I presented immediately before Skills Minister Matthew Hancock MP. I shared my views on how technology is changing not just how we must think about educating the next generation but how we engage and reach these students today.
MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, are getting a lot of press currently and the UK’s FutureLearn programme led by the Open University is leading the way. Smartphones and tablets are changing how we absorb information and education must follow suit, in smaller, bite-sized chunks, when and where the learner chooses to digest it.
Education may well take the form of a pick-and-mix bag of choices, but hopefully not as expensive as the pick-and-mix outlets selling confectionery. It may be that the role of the education institution includes tracking and approving building blocks of learning that add up to a unique qualification and that very few degrees actually look the same, but are pieced together based on an individual’s requirements and more importantly, the needs of a job role and the workplace.
What are the choices? History and prestige means the top tier universities will always have a demand for places, because of the prestige of having the institution listed on one’s CV or profile on LinkedIn. But for the rest, there is no choice. The majority of learning establishments have to change their value proposition; a student in a small town in England, or even as far as Africa or Asia, won’t pay to attend a mediocre lecture, when they can learn online from world experts.
More than half of UK GDP comes from small businesses. In the US, it has been quoted as high as 70%. At a meeting in Brussels, one of the ministers told us that if every small business was helped and encouraged to hire one new member of staff, there would be no unemployment in Europe.
So why am I a big supporter of the small, the underdog and the start-up. Because it is the lifeblood of our economy and it means people will continue to be creative, use technology to collaborative and think and share in communities rather moving backwards to an era where we clocked in and worked 9-to-5.
While big brands such as General Mills, General Motors and General Electric will still have their place, this is the ‘long tail’ of business. A billion little entrepreneurial opportunities ready to be exploited by smart, creative people. The future will be about ‘more’. More innovation, from more places and more people – people focused on narrow niches, where collectively all these producers will reinvent the industrial economy.
I liken it to the old days of small specialist shops and boutiques on a high street, but this time online, trading via Etsy or some other platform or ‘storefront.’ I don’t think we are too far away. In the meantime, I am happy to attend, support and present at events that encourage businesses of all sizes to come together and talk, share, exchange. I will be at Business Expo 3.0 (www.national-expo.co.uk ) on March 8th – we have a lot to learn.
Technology is one of the great levellers. With a smart and creative online presence, a small business can often give the impression of a large organisation, and yet technology alone doesn’t hold the key moving forward.
A look at unemployment rates across Europe shows that the employment bubble of the past 30 years has burst and the need for lower-skilled roles is drying up. There are currently 25m unemployed people in Europe plus 15m discouraged workers, which together would make the unemployment rate over 15% in total. Plus, over 20% of the true unemployed in Europe are under 24.
Yet a common thread amongst employers looking to fill skilled positions is that they can’t find the staff, and this trend is global! Almost half of employers in Europe report a shortage of skills (Accenture: ‘Turning the Tide’ survey).
By 2020, it will only get worse. An extra 16m high skilled jobs will be needed, countered by a decline of 12m less low-skilled positions.
That was the landscape. We must solve it by training and certifying our employees; we must use ‘big data’ to predict, anticipate and better target our customers, and we must apply technology to engage and connect everyone to our brand. Once again, the solution revolves around companies investing in their people, and individuals investing in themselves, in lifelong learning, in whatever shape that may take.
One of my favourite quotes comes from Richard Reed, one of the founders of Innocent, the smoothie drinks maker, “You can imitate our services and technology, but not the quality of our people.” I am guessing not many people choose to leave that company in a hurry.
Technology continues to disrupt and next in line is education. There has been a lot written about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and many renowned institutions are involved – Harvard, MIT, Stanford and more recently the Open University here in the UK with their FutureLearn model. The Khan Academy, launched by Salman Khan, delivers 200m classes via YouTube, with zero hosting costs, now that is clever.
MOOCs are still trying to establish their model and this may take some time, but what is really important is that traditional learning institutions cannot just sit back and disregard this wave of change. I accept that tier-one universities such as Harvard or Cambridge will always have demand for places due to the prestige associated with studying there. But a student in Europe or Asia will refuse to pay large sums of money to sit in a mediocre lecture in their own country when they can learn online from world class tutors and be associated with a leading university.
Currently the MOOC interest is more about bridging the gap between current knowledge and acquiring new skills in order to do a better job, or find a new one. These modular, bite-sized chunks of learning are possibly the icing on the cake. If 5 candidates interview for one role and have a similar degree and one has an additional 20 certificates of mastery in a specific area of study, it is likely that their CV will stand out. In today’s world, it is all about differentiation. The modules offered by MOOCs not only allow an individual to keep up with changes in the business world but possibly in future even anticipate how market sectors will evolve.
This is just one example. Technology is breaking up the majority, the mainstream and the mundane. Which sector is next?