I spend a fair amount of time in large corporations – helping them transition from the industrial era to the technology era. I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you can see the future of the organisation based on subtle hints in the physical environment. And hence the title of this post. Two different organisations I visited had signs on their bathroom cubicle walls which told me all I needed to know about these companies and their prospects.
“Did you bring your best self to work today? Can you show us something new and amazing we haven’t thought of?”
“Please leave the toilet the way you found it.”
Both of these signs tell me so much about the culture of the organisations in question. Whether or not an opinion is valued, whether contributions should be original, what they think about rules and following instructions. But most of all whether they regard their staff as adults or children. The second is interesting, because it also infers that if there’s a problem, you should definitely not take any responsibility to improve things.
Let’s also remember that someone had to think of these, decide it was what the company valued, print them and put them up…. this isn’t just a slight office quirk, it’s a public display of deep corporate values. The reason I decided to point this out is because if there has ever been a time in business when doing things as they were done before is a dangerous tactic, that time is now.
Things are changing so rapidly that we are again suffering from future shock. It’s hard to comprehend the pace of change, not just to business or pop culture, but to the way we live our lives. We’ve had for the best part of 100 years, certainly the last 50, a very stable business infrastructure and lifestyle. This makes us feel as though the changes we see are new to the human experience, when in fact they are only new to the experience of our generation. To understand it, we need to take an anthropological view of business and relearn the lessons we forgot, that other generations already learned. We need to lose our immediacy bias and review how our species has coped with radical change before.
None of this is new in the human sense, just the industrial sense. As the industrial era transitions into the technology era it’s worth worth taking a look at what happened when had epoch shifts in the past.
It’s not uncommon to hear about an ambition startup or entrepreneur wanting to change the world. But does the world really need changing? Is everything we live in so bad that some of it isn’t worth keeping? Are we that limited in our thinking that change is all we can come up with?
Maybe what we really need to do is improve the world.
And sometimes improving the world might just mean keeping some things exactly as they are. Some traditions, physical locations, products, services, events and attitudes are just perfect the way they are. What might be needed is the fortitude and vision to maintain the things of great beauty we are already blessed with. Maybe that’s where the next important opportunity lies. Human endeavour, and startups for that matter aren’t all about change, and certainly not change for changes sake. They’re about problem solving and creating value for others.
Yes, I like the rain forests just the way they are.
It’s not that difficult to be an expert on yesterday. The way it was done. The story of who won and why, or even the implementation of the known formula that works (worked?). Experts on yesterday have the rational and believable viewpoint. They can support their position on that pesky little thing called evidence. Of course evidence is always historical. We tend to find experts on yesterday in senior positions in organisations and they tend to proliferate and thrive in legacy industries. Places where protecting revenue is more important than growing it.
Ironically there is no such thing as an expert on tomorrow. There can only be viewpoints on possibilities and the willingness to experiment with those possibilities. What this means, is that the ideas presented by the tomorrow guy are often met with doubt and even derision. I guess we should expect this because most of what they predict simply wont happen. Statistically the tomorrow crew will be wrong more times than they are right. But within those ten crazy ideas they present one of them is usually what eventuates. And this is the time when what works quickly becomes what worked. Just ask Kodak management.
One thing I know for sure, is that experts on yesterday rarely invent tomorrow, and in times of significant change it pays to have a couple of tomorrow guys in your corner.
I think demographic segmentation should be added to the bundle of tools from yesteryear. The redundant list. Note just because it is a cold and dehumanizing concept, but because we no longer have to use economic and social indicators to guess who cares about something. In a connected world, where we opt in to tracking our own behaviour guessing is no longer required. Instead we can know precisely who cares, and what matters to them.
Age, Location, Income, Education levels, Employment, Race and Gender are all proxies. Estimating by proxy is very quickly being circumvented by knowing through tracking and connecting. In the old world we’d imagine a potential target audience or we’d research a target audience if we could afford it. The good news today is that none of us have to guess anymore, and all of us can afford the price (very often zero) to find out who they are. And most importantly we should remember our people are not some statistical cohort we attack, but a group of individuals that we should be bending over backwards to help out.
This is a really interesting piece from the late George Carlin – who, despite all his success took the best part of 35 years before he thought he found his place. While all of this 4 minutes is interesting, and it isn’t so much for entertainers, but really appeals to the spirit of any entrepreneur or employee with the entrepreneur wanting to break out. The bit I find most compelling is when he discusses the choice he made at the age of 30. That he was living in the middle of a generation gap and had to choose a new audience – a new young crew who got it, or an older crew who bought into it. We too need to choose our audience carefully. Should our audience be a bunch of senior managers in company XYZ who believe in the status quo, or should it be a new breed of entrepreneur / intrapreneur whose enthusiasm might be the missing ingredient to change stuff?
- thanks to Ender for inspiring this post.
Guys – this link was made private by the Arts council while they get other stuff ready – they promise me it will be available shortly and I will advise.
Here’s a talk I did for the Arts Australia Council Marketing Conference. It’s kinda long – around 30 minutes, but it might have a few useful ideas for my readers in the entrepreneurial and marketing space.
(I apologise for making up the word ‘decomplexify’ during the talk. My mouth was moving faster than my brain at that stage)
Meet Alistair Leathwood. Alistair is the Managing Director of a large research firm. Research is a typically conservative industry, which for good reason is filled with conservative individuals. The type of individuals that are diligent, thoughtful, sedulous, hard working and considered.
Alistair is also one of these people.
The interesting thing about Alistair is that he doesn’t let the reality of hard, thoughtful and considered work get in the way of fun. Alistair knows that it is possible to display personality, have fun and actually still get work done in a professional manner. And when I caught up with Alistair for lunch today he told that he doesn’t just ask his people to have fun in the office, he mandates it.
Just quietly, this is the kind of attitude I can dig. An attitude that knows that a suit and tie are not the basis of diligence or insight.
So here’s little picture of how cool cat Alistair rolls. He’s an everyday colored sock man, regardless of what else he happens to be wearing…. and the bead necklace? Well he’s had it on every time I’ve seen him and he reckons he’s worn it everyday for the past 10 years. He then went on to say, the shirt and pants where for me, while the socks and necklace were for him!
It feels a lot like the industrial revolution and the marketing of widgetry had a subconscious influence on what business people would wear. A specified expectation of limited differentiation which I will be glad to see the end of. I think we should all take a sock out of Alistair’s drawer and ensure we don’t become our own version of Mista Bob Dobalina
And don’t panic, the world is quickly learning that how smart and capable we are is not dependent of our uniform.
There are many business models that are under attack. The landscape is changing and their future is dim. If we face this reality, the most important thing we can do is not pretend it is just a phase.
And if we are the disruptor, then we must continue even if the movement is slower than we expect.
I think Winston Churchill said it best with this quote:
The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.
Every now and again we are forced to re-consider what is possible. Maybe it is due to some form of technology advancement. Maybe it is due to a new scientific discovery. And sometimes it is due to a single person pushing themselves to the limit, and in doing so pushing human possibilities to levels that had previously been considered impossible.
Kelly Slater is a person who has consistently been doing this for 20 years. In fact, I regard him as the greatest sports person of all sports of all time. Anyone who disagrees with this has simply failed to consider what he has done over this period. He has dominated, and reinvented the sport again and again. To the point where we has been world champion 11 times over 20 years and is still competing against and beating surfers who were not even born when he won his first world title. At the age of 40 he is still setting the bench mark. His dominance of the sport is almost embarrassing for other competitors.
He did something amazing this week in the Bells Beach Ripcurl Pro. In fact it is the best manouvre ever seen in competitive surfing. A full 360 aerial rotation – no hands. You can see it below. Just 30 years ago surfing magazines were full of discussions as to whether a simple 360 turn on the wave face was physically possible. And while every year, we think our sport has reached its limit it manages to forge into uncharted territory.
We should use this as motivation and a reminder of what we ourselves can do. That we are never too old and that the only limits that matter are the ones that we set for ourselves.
Enjoy this visual orgy of surfing goodness.