Mar 20

The ShardI have traversed three continents these last few weeks, from Europe to the west coast of America, then back and across to the Middle East.

The trips all centred around assessment and skills events – culminating in apprentices week in the UK. “Everyone is worried about skills” said the BBC’s Steph McGovern at the CITB Building Futures conference. The challenges are different but the concerns are the same – whether you sit in the US or UK with their growing economies or the Middle East with their large numbers of young people, a shortage of the right skills to meet the needs of employers and their evolving industries will impact progress.

I believe technology doesn’t always help – young people make choices based on cultural changes and technological influences, and yet industries, jobs and the needs of employers are not the same. They must be aligned.

We do have a solution – young people learn from other young people, so let’s showcase our stars and use technology to promote them as case studies of success. In other words, a career in IT can mean working at Sky TV or motor racing, a career in construction might give somebody the opportunity to be in the team that builds the next Shard or Premier League football stadium. Let’s create success stories of young people who love their work and promote them as role models – then use technology to spread the word.

I close with real hope – I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and desire to succeed shown by the apprentices at the JustIT learner awards night where I shared my thoughts on the fusion of technology and education – I will continue to shout from the rooftops, that if you wake up with the attitude, desire and motivation to do a great job, invariably you will do well.

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Feb 16

checking phoneA taxi driver laughed at me as I dodged traffic to run to his vehicle, pulling behind me a small suitcase with a laptop bag that was hanging off to one side, plus one phone in each hand. “Those things have created this non-stop society,” he declared. He is right.

We are always switched on, trying to do more in less time. It makes me laugh how the red light of a Blackberry or the ringtone from an iPhone makes people suddenly jump to action, obsessively responding to the latest message. People wait at the ready the moment a plane’s wheels touch down to sigh with relief as they are happily reconnected.

Head of Ariadne Capital Julie Meyer once said society operates at 2 speeds: start-up and history. I agree, but will we ever get control of it? One major UK consultancy has banned employees from sending internal email on a Friday, but we are caught in a circle of connectivity from which we cannot extricate ourselves.

At a key client meeting this week, the chair asked for a short break. Most people just dropped their heads into their devices and emailed the entire time. One person took out an old Nokia Lumia phone, which sent the group into raptures.

FT columnist Gillian Tett recently wrote, “The challenge of the cyber revolution is that the pace of change is so fast that few pundits have good answers about how institutions – let alone societies – can adapt.” She was referring to the changing face of employment, but it applies across the board. We all just run with it. Nobody knows how to manage it appropriately.

In the end, I had to ask the taxi driver for his advice. He looked so calm, despite having to make his living driving bumper to bumper in London’s traffic. “I just handle it day by day,” he said, “one action at a time”.

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Jan 21

smart-pill-technology-marketThe Consumer Electronics Show this month has led to lots of press on the internet of things, where every gadget and device is connected to the internet, and sending and receiving data.

Samsung’s Chief Executive pledged that every single piece of Samsung hardware will be connected to the internet within five years, including TVs and domestic appliances. This is very much science fact, not science fiction, and while many will yell is there no privacy left in this world, I would like to suggest my top 3, the first of which I presented for the first time back in 2008:

1. The kitchen – imagine if you are on a controlled diet and you decide to break the rules and cook a ready-meal in the microwave followed by sticky-toffee pudding. Your fridge sensors notice what has been removed from the freezer compartment and the microwave tells your fridge you are about to cook that high-fat, sugar-and-salt meal. The microwave declines your request. You are the system administrator of your kitchen, so you override the microwave and instruct it to cook the food. Your microwave obeys, but it then notifies the fridge, which as the central processing unit of the kitchen sends a note to your doctor and your insurance company, and now you are no longer insured.

2. Fruit & Vegetables – coming from a background of food, I always wondered why my father had to keep a box of fruit that was always bruised or damaged to one side. With RFID chips on the cartons plus tighter planning with transportation schedules, more fruit makes it to its destination intact and bad apples cannot influence the rest of the crate.

3. The health pill – my favourite of the three, which is a tiny pill that you take weekly that monitors your wellbeing and sends a weekly status check to your doctor over wifi via a traffic light system. If it displays green you continue as normal; amber and you are sent a text message asking you to make an appointment; if the doctor receives a red signal, you are called within the hour. Preventative action can save the health services millions and technology must be used to help facilitate change.

I am all for the internet of things because the possibilities are endless, I just think they could have found a more interesting name for it.

Dec 01

CCALast week I presented at the CCA Annual Conference at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms. An excellent event. Despite all the noise around technology – big data, wearables, the internet of things – our audience created more conversation around my stories and emphasis on talent. I liked that. This was a crowd of deep thinkers.

The greatest mix is that of old and new. Whilst I implore companies to give young talent a chance and to watch how the net generation will flourish if we attract and engage them on their terms (normally with technology in mind), I equally underlined the value of the older worker. The more experienced employee has a lot to offer, they are committed, they know the ropes and their experience is telling; and they are staying in post for longer, so the younger generations need to be better skilled to displace them.

Here is a summary of a story I told last week where two generations didn’t quite gel, or understand each other: a young lady beat off other applicants to make it to the final stage of interview and meet the CEO of the hiring company. She arrived on time and was immaculately presented. All good so far.

She was invited into the office of the CEO, a gentleman with years of success on his sleeve and decades her senior. The interview was progressing well, as planned, and then her phone start buzzing in her bag. The young lady pulled out the device mid-interview and started texting in reply, oblivious to the sudden stop in proceedings. This is what she was used to doing. The CEO waiting patiently for her to stop and then ended the interview, thanked her for her time, and saw her to the door. The interview process was about to start again, for this lady did not get the job.

I can see that the net generation does things in its own way and communicates differently, but there are certain rules of etiquette, respect and simple good manners that stand the test of time. I hope those things will never change.

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Oct 11

fishStandard thinking is that technology has made our lives easier, that it takes care of communication for us, that we can broadcast our messages on multiple platforms from one place. That is not altogether accurate.

Technology is a gateway to communication, it is the oxygen of our net generation, that much is true, and allows us to reach people plus gather and share ideas like never before. In fact crowdsourcing is still hugely under-utilised in my book. But technology has lowered the barriers to entry, it allows more companies to compete regardless of size, and more people apply for the same jobs. Add to the mix the recovery in the markets and we now have to work even harder to stand out from the crowd.

When you look at LinkedIn, you are one in 300 million potential job seekers. One executive search agency said recently they receive up to 200 emails from job seekers each day. The agency continued to say if an email comes in with a straightforward CV attached, they are unlikely to even look at it. So what impresses?

Handwritten notes, an individual who clearly has undertaken vast amounts of research and a unique characteristic, personal interest or achievement is what it takes.

Technology has made life easier in many ways, but it is harder to differentiate. What are you doing to stand out?

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Sep 16

DSC_7552I had a great time presenting at the Learning Live Conference in London last week and engaged in some great discussion afterwards. I wanted to share one of my points here, and how we can use change to our advantage.

Our work environment is evolving and more than 1 billion people will work virtually by 2015. Are we thinking about this – can it help us attract new talent, from further afield, and save operational costs?

At the same time, artificial intelligence and robots could automate a high percentage of jobs (40% of jobs within 20 years across the board), as technology pervades every work environment – this means it is down to us as individuals to continue to up-skill and stay in touch, particularly as more and more low-skilled positions are taken over by technology. This will result in fewer job opportunities and weakened job security for the low-skilled. Coupled with that is those who do work hard and seek the next step may well be trapped in low-level entry positions as older workers stay in post longer. Just because the older generation have the cash to spend doesn’t mean they want to retire. In fact, older workers are better engaged and can add more value in the workplace than ever before. In many cases their experience is priceless.

But with change, automation and new technology comes opportunity – we have to believe that – and as Ashok Vaswani, Barclays CEO for Retail Banking said recently, “People are not designed to do the same thing again and again and again. Utilise people where it requires the mind and the application of judgement.”

Let’s think about that.

Feb 26

crunch2

I found the best definition of Big Data and I think it is worth sharing. It stated that big data is simply about joining the dots of all your data sources.

Amazon is a master of data – it believes it can send us our next purchase before we decide what it is, via what it is calling anticipatory shipping, based on a user’s shopping habits, age, income, even how long the cursor hovers over an item. I guess this is no different to thermostats from Nest Labs that learn from their owner’s behaviour over time.

This is my favourite tale because only data could have revealed the opportunity. Walmart, owner of ASDA in the UK, realised that prior to hurricane warnings, sales of torches increased, but so did sales of Pop-Tarts, the breakfast snack.

So as storms approached, as well as putting torches at the front of the stores, the managers also put boxes of Pop-Tarts at the entrances, and sales rocketed. No store manager would have ever worked that out unless they looked at the data and correlations of events and products. It is not what comes from individual data points that is critical here, but what they reveal in the aggregate.

Zynga, who own FarmVille and other social games, describe themselves as “an analytics company masquerading as a gaming company – everything is run by the numbers.”

I believe that big data could well be the next corporate asset and it is quite possible that it will be recorded on balance sheets in future. We shall see.

Dec 04

I recently finished reading Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It focused on a model of continuous improvement, but in short bursts, via what he called a ‘minimum viable product’.

In other words, we shouldn’t wait for version 10 of our product or service before we go to market, but release a product where members of our core audience can start to use and provide good feedback that allows us to make small improvements and re-release very quickly, over and over again. We have an aversion to taking risks for fear of how the market may react, but the best technology companies have perfected their business by being in permanent beta mode, always looking for change and improvement. It is the way forward. We have been raised not to screw up, but technology allows us to try things and correct course along the way.

When you consider a history of great success, normally that success has a shadow of spectacular failure behind it, from which the company has learned and benefited. Famed Canon company President Hajime Mitari was quoted as saying, “We should do something when people say it is crazy. If people say something is good, it means someone is already doing it.” I like that. Take a chance and try things.

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Oct 11

friends-fingers

The CEO of one of our clients retired recently, and I heard both sides of an incredible story of partnership and friendship that was built up over many years of our companies working together. It was truly impressive and reminded me of a story.

My dad used to say, “You can count your real friends on one hand.” Today, kids add friends to their Facebook pages in an instant, because technology makes us think we can shortcut the process to making friends. This is not true.

One of biggest mistakes about building relationships is trying to build a rich experience to win people over very quickly by using technology, and for those people with the greatest influence – I have called them the ‘one-percenters’ in the past – to share your message or story across their network so that it goes viral.

But in real life, and in business especially, relationships form via many lightweight interactions over a period of time, and usually with your customer getting to know the person first of all and gradually building trust.

So despite the speed of interactions that technology brings to the table, when you meet somebody for the first time and have a conversation, you are not suddenly best friends.

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Aug 30

Annual Trends

I gathered a lot of useful information from my travels this summer and particularly liked a story around global trends. I have mashed some of this with my own thoughts on how technology is at the heart of change:

  1. Rising demand for resources as the world’s population grows – the large emerging markets will drive this need, and as well as staple food and clothing, they will insist on smartphones, online shopping and the fastest connectivity.
  2. A growing urban middle-class in emerging economies – this huge group of people knows what it wants and it buys the latest trends; as the generations grow up, technology will very much be a part of their day-to-day existence.
  3. The population in those economies will experience lifestyle changes – lifestyle means quality of life and this implies disposable income to buy and consume – technology sits at the centre of this movement, be it phones and gadgetry or purchasing via smartphones.
  4. More online shopping everywhere – my key message here is where in the past people went through a process before purchasing something, now we are online all the time, so in effect we are always shopping, especially via mobiles.
  5. The percentage of the world’s population that is over 60 will be a third bigger by 2050 than it is today – let’s not wait for 2050; right now, people over 60 know what they want, they purchase leisure-related goods and services like never before, and they have the cash – this demographic needs to be targeted starting now.

 I like to stay grounded, so as I lead a global project for the company looking to the future, I have started by looking back, as I think the future will be best served by a mix of old-fashioned values and people interacting, combined with the evolution and speed that technology brings.

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