Thursday, September 30, 2021

Leadership Advice from a Futurist

Over the years I have conducted many surveys of business and technology professionals, and the one consistent insight across all these surveys is a high level scepticism that leaders will make the necessary decisions and act fast enough to compete effectively.  I understand that.  Most failures can be directly traced back to either bad decisions or a lack of decisions by leaders, but I also have great sympathy for them.   Leading through rapid market evolutions and disruptions is difficult in the best of times, but when you throw in fast changing consumer behaviors, supply chain disruptions, technology advancements and global pandemics it's just unfair.   There are, however, some great insights and wisdom that can be gleaned from all the surveys I have reviewed and research I have participated in.  I put together the following list that I hope you will find useful.
  1. Develop and monitor your own digital mindset and that of your organization's: Understand the need to continuously upgrade and update your own thinking, as well as your organization’s.  
  2. Accept that business success lies within change. Understand digital technologies and their capabilities.  Rethink every aspect of your business in light of technology advancements and changing customer preferences.
  3. Understand the role and impact of platforms and platform ecosystems.  Understand how they will change your marketplace now and in the future.   Think Uber, airbnb, Amazon, Apple, etc.
  4. Recognize the role culture plays in being successful in three key areas: leadership culture, organizational culture and customer culture.  Make every effort to ensure your culture helps, not hinders your success.
  5. Understand the four areas of digital transformation where speed is essential: technology adoption, organizational agility, decision-making and customer alignment.  Recognize the consequences of being slow in any of these areas and focus on improving them.
  6. Organize for agility: Platform ecosystems are changing the rules of business and rapidly expanding into adjacent markets.  Be prepared to rethink and respond rapidly.
  7. Know the unknowns: If your organization is operating on conjecture as a result of data blind spots, fix that with sensors, analytics, artificial intelligence, automation, customer and behavioral analytics.  Help your businesses operate at a level of precision never before possible. 
  8. Harvest the future: Understand that tomorrow’s competitive advantages are created today.  Invest in innovation experts that can identify new and emerging technologies early, and understand the possible business impacts faster than competitors.  The value of innovations and inventions depreciates rapidly over time, so catching them early optimizes value.
  9. Teach the leaders: Continuously educate and train your leadership and board to ensure they keep an open, curious, updated and innovative mindset.  They need to learn at the same pace and cadence as their markets are evolving.  Running the day-to-day operations of a large enterprise is complex and all consuming, and without a formal process, plan and schedule for continuing leadership education it doesn’t happen.
Thriving during digital and market transformation does not happen by accident.  It is a purposeful effort.

Watch the animated-reading of this article here.



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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Winning with Speed and Fridays

"The size of competitors and the longevity of their brands, are less predictive of future success than the importance they give to data, the speed in which they act upon the data, and their operational tempo." 
In 2013 the volume of data created, captured, copied and consumed worldwide totaled approximately 9 zetabytes.  This year the total will be 79 zetabytes.  By 2025 there is projected to be 181 zetabytes of data.  Inside these fast growing masses of data are the answers all businesses need to succeed.  The data tells them what their customers want.  It tells them the prices customers are willing to pay.  It tells them when the products are most in demand.  This data, however, has a shelf life that rapidly diminishes over time just as consumers change their preferences with the changing seasons.  It is up to every business to be able to exploit the data fast enough to be meaningful.

In an always-connected world where consumers and their needs are transient, timing is everything.  In order to capture competitive advantages and contextual relevance before the shelf life of the data expires, enterprises must deploy optimized information logistics systems (OILS) and lean on AI to help analyze and process fast enough to deliver value.

In digital interactions with customers today, they expect instant access to information.  IT infrastructures must be able to support these real-time interactions, and this need requires we solicit the help of AI and our robot friends.  It also takes rethinking business models, organizational structures, decision-making and business processes.  It requires new ways of operating, employee training, and often automation and our own robot Fridays.  

In Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel, Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe rescues a native from cannibals and names him Friday after the day in which they met.  The native stays with him and ultimately becomes a highly valuable companion to Crusoe.  If not already, we will soon all need robot Fridays (aka automation) to help process data and information fast enough to support these real-time interactions.  The following list is what digital winners invest in:
  1. Optimizing their information logistics systems
  2. Implementing effective sense and respond systems (IoT, IIoT, automated data collection systems, sensors, customer experience monitoring etc.)
  3. Utilizing automation to gain speed, predictability and quality 
  4. Achieving real-time and future time business operational tempos
  5. Increasing cultural agility
  6. Using contextual relevance to personalize digital user interactions and experiences in real time
The purpose of these investments is to capture the value of data fast enough to gain competitive advantages through fast decision-making and delivering the best possible customer experiences.  Speeds should be maximized in the following 6 areas to accomplish these goals:
  1. IT systems
  2. Business processes
  3. Decision-making
  4. Business alignment/transformation
  5. Customer alignment
  6. Cultural alignment 
Businesses that embrace hyper-digital transformation will optimize their organizational structures and business models to support the operational tempos demanded by customers.  By tempos we mean the speed at which the organization must operate to compete successfully.  Digital consumers demand real-time responses - rightly so.  To support real-time responses requires an enterprise to move beyond “human time” and into the realm of “digital time”.
  
Humans are biological entities that operate at a pace governed by our biology, the sun, moon, and the physical requirements that keep our carbon-based bodies alive.  These requirements and mental limitations make scaling human productivity beyond the limits of the Circadian Rhythm impossible without augmentation.  Augmentation takes the form of a robot Friday - automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning and algorithms.  Robot Fridays have the advantage of being able to work 24x7x365, and don’t as yet ask for holidays and sick days.

Once the business is running in digital time, the challenge becomes business agility.  Agility is the speed at which a business can recognize, analyze, react and profit from rapidly changing market conditions. Businesses that can accurately understand customer demand, and the strategies of their competition, and then respond faster will soon dominate those, which are slower.  The military strategist John Boyd called these competitive advantages, “getting inside of your competitor’s decision and response curves.”  This means your actions and responses are occurring at a pace that surpasses your competitions’ ability to understand and react.

To succeed today leaders must have a business capable of competing.  They must develop a company culture where change is viewed as an opportunity.  They must transform their businesses to operate at real-time tempos and move beyond “human-time” limitations to algorithm and automation supported “digital-time.”  They must understand that rapidly changing consumer behaviors mandate companies operate in a more agile manner capable of rapid responses to new opportunities and competitive threats.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
View my profile on LinkedIn
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Robots vs Humans - Are You Prepared?

Humanity's strongest advantage over the fast approaching robot hordes is our thinking and creativity.  We need to do everything possible to develop these skills.

In Cal Newport's book, "Deep Work" he posits that most knowledge workers need concentration and substantial time, that is dedicated and uninterrupted, to produce their best work. He argues that a lot of technologies and working environments inhibit creativity, and it is creativity that delivers creations.  Our minds require "deep work" and "deep thoughts" to produce new products, new businesses, new strategies, new competitive advantages and new improvements.  These are the most highly valued items an organization can develop, yet often we focus very little attention on optimizing the environments to foster them.  They are also the strongest differentiators we have between ourselves and the machines.

Newport argues that we must understand and optimize the conditions and environments that help our brains work best.  He argues that constant alerts, notifications, meetings and messages (sent by the machines) serve to prevent us from achieving deep thoughts and deep work.  He recommends that we restructure our working environments, schedules, activities and technology uses to provide substantial, reserved "deep thought" time so we can maximize our brain's productivity.

It's important for us to recognize that just because technology can do it, doesn't make it useful for our brains, person or society.  I am a huge advocate of technology designed to foster societal, planetary and business good, but when technology and the machines degrades our brain's function and our quality of life we need to take a pause and ponder.  In a recent series of articles published by WSJ, The Facebook Files, the scope and scale of ill effects that technology (the machines) can have on our communities and persons is revealed to be significant.   It's time for us to approach technology with more consideration and caution.

In our professional life, it is so easy to let our email inbox, collaboration sites and calendar invites become our boss and dictate our day's focus.  If, however, our highest contribution to our organization is our thinking and creativity, then we may want to approach our day with more purpose and discipline.  

It is my opinion that we should be guiding our technologies, not the other way around.  Technology needs to disappear into the background, while  purpose should be our siren's call. The average human has approximately 692,000 hours between birth and death. About 90,000 of those hours are spent in our careers working. How many of those hours do we want to waste? 

I wrote the following list to serve as a north star to keep me on track:
  1. Prioritize thinking time, mental productivity and purpose.
  2. Our time and activities must reflect our purpose.
  3. Receiving a call, email or message isn't automatically a justification for disruption.
  4. Important communications should all be found in one location.  
  5. Honor schedules that deliver on purpose and productivity.
  6. The creative parts of our minds work better at different times of the day. Those times need to be reserved, protected and honored.
  7. An addictive urge to immediately respond to trivial messages must be restrained.
  8. Technologies and practices that hinder creativity, productivity and innovation must be minimized.
I propose that digital technologies (aka the machines) should be required to make our human experience richer, deeper and more purposeful than ever before.  This year, I am more committed than ever to making technology work for me, not against me. What do you think? DM me.


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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Expanding Boundary of Opportunity and Employment

W. Edward Deming taught that quality is achieved by measuring as much as possible and reducing variations.  Japan widely adopted Deming's philosophies in the 1950s and, largely as a result, became the 2nd biggest economy in the world.  This revolution in manufacturing, that introduced a system of quality improvement and innovation, led directly to jobs and economic expansion.

This same kind of revolution is now taking place around decision-making.  Algorithms are now able to expand and codify Deming's philosophies and to take them to the next level.  Algorithms can standardize decision-making and make improvements to them, and for the first time in history uncoupled them from the very human dynamic of unpredictability.  This is a rich area for innovation and job creation.

Markets are often like a balloon - when one end is squeezed the other expands. When the market catches up with a competitive advantage and the advantage ceases, competition is squeezed and moves elsewhere.  Employment acts similarly.  When one industry is contracting, another often expands.  

Digitizing the physical world to more efficiently measure, monitor and make decisions about it is one of those expansion areas where competitive advantages can be found. This area today is rich with new ideas, new businesses and job creation.

Once unknowns become knowns (through data capture, digitization and analysis), smart people will build new businesses and solutions to take advantage of them. Investments and jobs will then migrate to the new frontier, the outer-edge, in search of new competitive advantages.  When something new is made possible - jobs are always created.  As something new ages into something ubiquitous it will be automated, jobs will decrease and investment will move toward the outer-edge.

The good news is that the the outer-edge, this expanding boundary, represents areas of recognized job creation, innovation and emerging competitive advantages.  The rule of the "Expanding Boundary of Opportunity and Employment" says that those who willfully move to the outer-edge through lifelong learning, focus and purposeful career choices dramatically increase their career and earnings potential.  Job markets never stop moving.  What about you?


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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
View my profile on LinkedIn
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

The Greater Good - Technology on Purpose

Adam Smith wrote about the concept of rational self-interest, which posits we work together for the greater good when it benefits ourselves.  Is this argument valid in the context of robots, automation and employment? I think so.


I believe most of us would agree that replacing large numbers of humans with machines that result in wide scale unemployment and suffering is not in our rational self-interest. Having massive numbers of jobs terminated by the Terminator does not result in a safer, healthier civilization or vibrant economy; therefore, it is not in our best interest.

Just because something is possible, does not mean it is good. A powerful ruler that takes all the food, property and means of production away from his people resulting in their suffering, quickly becomes a target of community wrath.

Businesses that replace human workers with machines and software, out of self-interest, will over time find it increasingly difficult to sell their products to their unemployed or underemployed consumers. At what point do businesses seek to expand employment opportunities out of a rational self-interest rather than decrease them through automation? Is it a realistic option for profit maximizing businesses to seek the greater good?

In the short-term, factories hope to benefit from automation faster than their competition in order to gain advantages, while there are still sufficient numbers of consumers employed elsewhere to provide a market for their goods. In the mid-term, entire industries will automate and terminate large numbers of jobs, but hope other, slower-to-automate industries will employ their consumer base. In the long-term, however, when digital transformation has swept through all industries, who is left to employ the consumers and provide them living wages, and who is left with capital to buy goods?

As jobs that require little training or education diminish in numbers, we have important choices to make, 1) Increase education levels to equip our population for the digital future, or 2) subsidize the unemployed and underemployed with a sufficient income to survive and maintain their dignity. 3) Fund infrastructure development in areas that employ people and benefit the common good.  If there are still not enough jobs for those that work hard to increase their level of education, then we are reduced to only two choices.

There are plenty of problems left on this planet to be solved. Solving these problems could employ many. Today, however, not all of these problems have economic values assigned to them. Fresh water sources, clean air, forestation, peace, better health, better education, etc., all of these have the potential to generate enormous economic benefits, but they need society to place a value on them and reward innovations and employment in these areas.

A vibrant economy, and a safe and secure society depend on healthy employment numbers, adequate wages, property ownership and rights, hope, peace and purpose. Digital transformation must foster these goals or risks accelerating a break down in our society and economy – two things that can diminish our future.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
View my profile on LinkedIn
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Convergence, Combinations and Challenges in the Future

I first read about futurist Frank Diana's concept of combinatorial technologies several years ago. He wrote, "We are seeing exponential convergence across the areas of science, technology, economics, society, ethics, and politics. The combinatorial nature of an overwhelming number of building blocks drives an accelerating intersection across these areas.  As an expert Lego player, I can appreciate the concept of building blocks, and the near infinite number of combinations these blocks can be used to form.  The idea that we have now reached a critical mass of digital building blocks, and that we are now experiencing exponential growth through the combinatorial nature of them is compelling.

The World Economic Forum described the future in similar ways, “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before... Billions of people are now connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge.  And these possibilities are being multiplied by breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing."

Both of these quotes, and the idea that we have reached a new era as a result of the combinatorial nature of digital building blocks, begs the question of what does this mean for our organizations today?  The answers can be found in the simple Lego block.

Legos come in standardized shapes, sizes and integration points that allow for us to rapidly build billions of different combinations.  The standardization of Lego blocks doesn't restrict our ability to create new and unique combinations, rather it enhances it. 

We must all recognize that the winners of today and tomorrow are not organizations that create their own bespoke building blocks, but rather the ones that have a vision to use standardized digital building blocks to offer unique combinations faster than their opponents.  That is where ecosystems play a role.

Ecosystems often form around a digital platform.  Think about the Amazon ecosystem.  Hundreds of different kinds of businesses and services have formed to take advantage of the building blocks Amazon has already developed and made available.

The future is impossible to predict, but as mentioned earlier we do know that it will consist of the convergence of science, economics, society, ethics, and politics and a whole lot of different combinations of existing and new technologies.  Our challenge is to watch for the signals that will help us recognize which possible future scenarios are developing and which are fading.  

As we watch these possible future scenarios, it is helpful to practice a sense and respond approach.  Sense how possible future scenarios are evolving and respond and plan accordingly.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
View my profile on LinkedIn
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
Join the Linkedin Group Digital Intelligence

***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.