Never have JM Keynes’s words been more relevant: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones”
He said this in relation to economics, but it seems to me that it is now ubiquitous across everything we do personally and as communities and countries.
Working as I do with medium sized businesses, particularly those who actually manufacture stuff rather than flogging intangibles, all are hugely challenged to compete in a globalised and commoditised world. Some common themes that underpin, define, and are redefining the path to commercial sustainability appear to be largely ignored.
What is old is not new again. It seems to me that this old truism is now redundant, as the pace and scale of change is so vast that the old stuff no longer gets recycled, and while by not understanding history we are doomed to repeat it remains true, the new versions are radically different to the old ones.
The ‘old’ ways of doing things are not being changed, which implies that there is a progression of some sort, they are being disrupted, by which I mean thrown out the window. Uber and Airbnb are the poster boys, but look at what is happening with artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, and it is hard to conclude anything other than the old is dead, and the most relevant question has become ‘how will we cope with the new?
The fight for attention. The tsunami of stuff coming at us in a myriad of ways, increasingly mobile, is overwhelming, and most are seeking ways to aggressively filter out the stuff they do not want, but there are industries out there finding ways around the filters. The old notions of privacy are out the window, and so the tsunami just grows geometrically. So called digital helpers, might claim to make life easier by anticipating what you might need and want based on previous behaviour, but they are really just ways of gaining and holding attention in order to create a transaction favourable to them. Mobility is an absolute requirement of attention. Not just do we require our data to be immediate on demand and mobile, we do our searching and thinking while mobile.
Immediacy is currency. The world is immediate, we want it now, on demand, and will not be satisfied with less. However, it is hard to get immediacy from legacy systems. Why should it take Telstra a week to connect a new mobile phone, interspersed with bullshit from an off shore call centre, when obviously it takes a few seconds on a keyboard. Not good enough anymore. With the immediacy is mobility, a sort of coinage from the currency of immediacy. Everything in life is on demand, from cabs to grocery deliveries, and not meeting the demand has become a harbinger of failure. If you are not mobile you will be missing out
Creativity delivers attention. Amongst the tsunami of stuff, the few that stand out will be different, and in some way strike a chord in an individual. It is ironic that the notion of ‘big data’ is really geared to ‘little data,’ picking through the masses of data-garbage to find the few bits that are focussed on the individual. The customer journey, so easy to map over the past few years, has had its day in the sun. No longer can we rely on the standardised generic journey from which, while we know there will be deviation, remains in general sufficiently true to use as a base for decision-making. No longer. There are simply so many ways to travel the road, that the only way to get them to stop is too be creative, arresting, or as Steve Martin says, ‘so good they cannot ignore you’
Business is personal. Peter Drucker is famous for observing amongst other things that the sole purpose of a business was to create customers, and never has that been so right. However, in order to create a customer, being different is essential, which requires continuous innovation and more importantly the ability to deploy innovation almost in real time. Marketing is now all about the personal, therefore the ability to create automated personalisation , or perhaps personalised automation, will define the parameters of success.
Success is dependent on attention. This is getting harder and harder as the access to organic social feeds is increasingly limited by those with their feet on the choke point, the digital platforms through which this all flows. In order to be successful the need to own your own digital platform is getting greater by the day, just as it is getting harder to achieve it, simply because the task of gaining attention has become geometrically harder.
Trust requires transparency, and transparency requires trust. The world is a way less trusting place than ever, nobody leaves their front doors open any more, and we are wary of public gatherings. Even in a place like Sydney, where last night’s New Years fireworks on Sydney harbour brought an unprecedented level of security, which really serves mainly to get in the way of most, as the really determined would simply plan their way around the cops on the beat. The most concerning danger is the one we do not see and understand, and by over-reacting we are just making things worse for most while offering solace to those who trade in mistrust.
Are we educating for the future, or reflecting the past? I am no expert in education, but between my 4 grown kids there is 6 undergraduate degrees and a masters, so I claim to have rubbed up against the system a bit. My education goes back a long time, but the best teacher I ever had was an old Harvard professor, Jim Hagler who was somewhat ostracised even by that august institution because of his ideas about the value of rote learning Vs creative thinking. That was in the 70’s, and I do not see much progress, he would still be outside the mainstream of bureaucratic education implementation. It seems to me that we are setting about the process of education by reflecting the past, and assuming the future will be pretty much the same, when even the most blinkered thinker will concede this is not the case. Our universities need to be funded, but the economic rationalists seem to be in control, and are screwing the pooch. The environment of thought, learning and education in its broadest sense is bastardised by the requirement to flog bits of paper to whomever is willing and able to pay for them. Somehow It seems to be a road to perdition, a place where a degree can be bought, and is therefore worth little as a mark of true education. At the same time we have been telling our kids that they are second rate if they do not have a degree. The trades have become dirty, and the skills that built cathedrals, bridges, machines, and the water systems that enable us to be civilised are rapidly being lost to generations who think that manipulating digital currency is useful work.
I am 65 in a few days, so perhaps I am just a dinosaur, but from the perch of all those years in and around businesses, education and the public sector, I am becoming seriously concerned with the world my grandchildren will inherit.
Anyway, I hope that 2017 turns out to be a great year, one that marks a turning point in our capacity to see ourselves as others see us, and understand that as communities we simply have to live and work together, as the alternative is pretty ugly.
Happy 2017 to you all.