There are very few people in the world who know how the thing in the picture above actually works. Yet, there are also very few people in the developed world who have not been a major beneficiary, and even a driver of this complex technology. There is not generally a fear of the technology that makes cars do what they do. Instead we embrace the benefits they deliver and use them in every way we can. They changed where we live, how we travel, our leisure patterns, the structure of living spaces and cities, they changed the world more than anything that came before them. They totally transformed our culture.
And it is happening again. A new set of tech tools are providing both fear and opportunity. I wasn’t around when cars became common place, but I imagine there was as much fear of the unknown then, as there is now. There was probably talk of jobs evaporating and the end of economics as we know it. And yet, it was the bellwhether for the greatest period of prosperity in human history. While it’s impossible to know how most anything works these days (division of labour), it’s very easy get behind the power technology provides to win in business. In fact, it’s probably easier to win because fear of the technology is holding so many people back. We don’t need to know how something works, we just need to know that it does. And once we embrace that fact, it will reshape our perspective and quite possibly our fortune.
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.