Each year for the past few, I have looked at my prognostications for the coming year and given myself a score. It is now 2018, so time to do it all again, before I rub the crystals to see what might be coming down the track this year.
As a lead in, I find it difficult to improve on last years recitation of J. M. Keynes, it still seems absolutely right.
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?
How did I do? 4/5. The year past just seems to confirm the view that the old is just old, and should be ditched. However, the lessons that can be learnt from the old should not be missed. The foundations of success over the last 200 years remain the same. Uber disrupted the taxi industry, not because there was any really new customer value to be found, but because the taxi industry around the world had dropped the ball entirely, and Uber leveraged some tech to pick it up. People still need transport, so in that sense Uber is not new. We also learnt from them that success has its own dangers
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.
How did I do? 4/5 again, the fight has just got harder and harder, and that will continue. However, it must happen that quality will win out over quantity at some point, so the notion of an overnight success after 10 years of effort still holds.
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.
How did I do? 4/5 again, doing OK so far, except that if anything, I underestimated the impact of immediacy, and again, expectations are becoming more demanding by the day.
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’
How did I do? 3/5. I still think the idea is right, but the creative drivers have become more about immediacy than creativity, so the creativity has suffered. In a contest between the ‘big idea’ and reach/ frequency equations, creativity is losing out due to the demands for immediacy, and creativity takes time. It is just as hard to come up with that great idea as it has ever been, and 10 mediocre ideas do not add up to 1 great one. We have a long way to go.
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.
How did I do? 5/5? Never has anything been more true, and if possible it is getting truer every day as we ‘communicate’ via digital platforms, we are inundated with likes and connection requests that are covers for a sales pitch. No end to this in sight.
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.
How did I do? 3/5. TI think I got this one right, but seriously underestimated the challenge of attracting people to your own digital real estate. The challenge has multiplied as we have gone mobile, up substantially from just a year ago. As the volume of information increases, it is getting progressively harder to attract people to our digital platforms, away from the social ones. In the long term however, the value of owning your own digital property will not go down, and the value of those you can attract, and keep, will multiply.
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.
How did I do? 4/5. Hard to get this one wrong, as it has always been so, even if we did not recognise the importance. I think the turmoil in US politics over 2017, reflected for different reasons in Australia, has just made us more cynical and less inclined to trust anyone we do not know personally.
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.
How did I do? 5/5, and if anything this has become more important than ever, and it certainly has cemented its place in my corral of hobby-horses.
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.
And, now on to 2018, (and my 66th birthday…. do not feel 66) the year in which if we believe the bullshit emanating from Canberra, all will be well. We have made same sex marriage legal, and established that the provisions in the constitution, arcane as they may be in relation to citizenship, need to be followed. Now to get on with the stuff that really matters, like shaping a community for our children and grandchildren. (Always the optimist, I expect to be, again, disappointed)