Improve Your Innovation Fitness: Make Yourself Redundant

“Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear.”
Buzzy Trent

When we talk about technology – and when we talk about change – we often talk about “waves”. Like surfers talk. Except it’s nowhere near as interesting or compelling. Except when we add a tinge of fear to it.

When I first started working in publishing, I realised that I was already redundant. Or was on the way to being redundant. I led the way in implementing online coding in a world full of typesetters, and I started using desktop publishing when it seemed like blasphemy. The change was coming and I was doing all I could to ride the wave was there before me.

Later, at IBM, I learned about process re-engineering. And “restructuring”. And “outsourcing”. Everywhere I looked, I could see disruption, dislocation and relocation. There were people losing their jobs, careers being swept out from under them. It was a time of tremendous uncertainty.

The thing is, it is no different now than it was then. In many ways, we now live our lives in a constant state of disruption. Gone is the fabled “job for life”. Gone is the bond between employer and employee. And gone is the social contract that saw us all working towards a shared future where a “fair go” was on the table for anyone who stepped up. In its place is uncertainty, change and anxiety.

But disruption is not just about fear. It is also about opportunity.

One of the better lessons from my time at IBM was the need to treat a company like a living organism. Every year or two, there would be a restructure. While this was used as a way to reduce costs or shift them to another country, it was also amazingly invigorating. It challenged us to forge new networks in new parts of the business. It forced new and often unexpected ways of working. And it did so when all we wanted was to stay in our comfort zones.

Now, “restructuring” is not always the most pleasant of experiences. And it is emotionally bruising to find yourself out of work suddenly.

Disrupt yourself first

If you take your job seriously – and almost everyone I have ever met does – then the challenge is to make yourself redundant. The opportunity is to disruption yourself, your career and your industry before it happens from the outside in.

This is partly what we are doing with the Disruptor’s Handbook. Despite the name, it is not a “book”. It is a strategy and innovation firm. Our mission is to bring the innovation practices and methods used by startups to the enterprise. And yes, we have handbooks. We make them freely available on our website so that you can apply these practices to your own business. We also have thought leadership eBooks designed to help you make the case for innovation in your business. We also have a series of techniques and approaches that have not been published but are used in our client work. These are shared with clients so that they learn to do what we do – so they know what we know and grow in confidence and capability. We are effectively disrupting ourselves as we grow.

Challenging yourself

I believe that you must challenge yourself and your industry. Can you do better? Can you reinvent your business?

In challenging yourself this way, it keeps you thinking about the long game. It keeps you focused on the health of your skills and networks, your capabilities and your ability to deliver. And it keeps you focused on your customers and their needs, serving them as they shift and change.

And in a time of uncertainty, making yourself redundant puts you in the driver’s seat of your career. You can choose the timing of your next step and its direction. You can prepare yourself for the changes that are coming. It’s Darwinian. Survival of the fittest.

And this … “innovation fitness” means that you are giving yourself the best next chance possible. Don’t just see the next wave coming, ride it, baby. Ride it.

Taking Digital Leadership to a New Level

When I started this blog ten years ago, it began with a rant. A call to action. It was a poetic exploration of what it might mean to focus on your customer above all else. It was also a warning about what would happen if businesses refused to do so.

There are more to the words of consumers than the corporations expect.
We huddle in groups, in chat rooms.
We explode on the keyboards of a million call centres.
Our imagination is unheard of. Our thoughts cancel out the process.
We are your hearts and your minds.
We are everywhere, all places, all over the shop.

Fast forward ten years and over 2200 articles later, and it feels like we might be making a little progress on this transformation in business that we call “digital”.

When I spoke at Telstra’s Vantage conference just a couple of months ago, there was a palpable sense that a shift was underway in the way that Australia’s largest telecommunications company was presenting itself. It was more assertive. Less about cables and wires. More about services and transformation. About helping customers solve business problems.

And with the Telstra Digital Summit, we are seeing a stronger Telstra yet again. Also see Joanne Jacobs’ live blog.

Kicking off with Andy Penn, CEO of Telstra

It was the most comprehensive display of digital leadership that we have seen from Telstra. In fact, I would be hard pressed to think of another company that is making such a concerted shift. There was context setting from Telstra CEO, Andy Penn and newly minted Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, sprinkled with humour, references to 80s music and examples of how Telstra is shifting from its telco base to become more of a “technology business”. There was still a reliance on numbers over storytelling and “core” messaging than vision, but it’s a new dance that Telstra is learning and like anything at this scale, it takes time.

A vision of the future with Robert Scoble

Peering into the near future, Robert Scoble and Kathryn Parsons talked about the way technology is empowering people, students and businesses to transform their own futures. Robert, in particular took us into a world whose future is inextricably linked to technology. Part geek fanboy and part techno-utopian, Robert’s exciting new world is populated by ever more deeply connected, yet strangely disembodied, individuals shuttling between meetings in driverless cars and adventures in virtual reality. Robert is an expert at connecting out-of-this-world market valuations for new technology with a vision for the future that is yet to be created, but in a country that is struggling to spread 20th Century broadband copper across its vast distances, it feels like it may take Australia longer than most to reach this new future.

Decoding the future with Kathryn Parsons

The energy of Kathryn Parsons, CEO of Decoded is palpable. A great storyteller, she effortlessly weaves her own story with that of Decoded – the accelerated learning program designed to get you up and going with coding, data and technology in a day. Soon to be launching in Australia, Decoded’s launch reinforces the fact that education is one of the great opportunities of the early 21st Century. And just as Australia exports a substantial amount of education to overseas markets, we are now seeing more overseas businesses eyeing the Australian markets keenly. Joining the US-based General Assembly, along with almost all the universities, Decoded brings a rapid sense of flair to adult learning. It will be interesting to see the ripples as they roll out here.

Enterprises learning to dance – Telstra’s Muru-D accelerator

Annie Parker, founder of Telstra’s startup accelerator, Muru-D, showcased two of the current businesses working through the program. When I first saw Holly Cardew talk about her Pixc business, it was all images, and online products. Today, just months later, it’s storefronts, investments and ecommerce – a dramatic and welcome move up the value chain. And Cate Hull’s vision for FreightExchange – an uber for excess freight capacity – remains clear and eminently viable as it did on day one.

Dazzled by data – Lithium’s Rob Tarkoff

Rob Tarkoff, CEO of Lithium dazzled the audience with insight, data and a world of big data experience. He toyed with the audience – testing our understanding of Daniel’s Market Theory (ie there is no theory, Daniel is his son) – going on to explain how the “born digital” generation are already exhibiting different behaviours and expectations from businesses and communities.

The rear view from out in front – Uber in Australia with David Rohrsheim

Uber’s David Rohrsheim was a crowd favourite, riding the wave of popularity that Uber is experiencing in Australia. When he asked how many in the audience had taken an Uber in the last week, almost the whole audience raised their hand. Here, David was preaching to his choir. This is where I hoped for a little more than the “why Uber is so uber”, but the audience certainly loved the storytelling.

X marks the spot with Brian Solis

After lunch is one of the most challenging speaking slots. Stepping into the void, Brian Solis took us the challenging landscapes of customer experience. As ever, Brian delivered insight in a smooth, easy to understand way. He is certainly one of the most accomplished speakers I have seen – polished, word perfect and authoritative. This time he was all these things, but with another quality. A depth or humility that I had not noticed previously. And this made his talk on X – customer experience, the crossroads for business – so good.

A brain on legs – Larry Marshall moving CSIRO to a new tune

We often say that “if you are the smartest person in the room, you need to get out”. And if this is the case, Larry Marshall, CEO of the CSIRO, is likely to find himself meeting-free for years to come. A great combination of entrepreneurialism and scientific chops, he has a clear vision for his 90 year old startup. Echoing Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull’s push for innovation and “agile government”, Larry challenged not only the audience but his own teams – “we have to be beta all the time”.

Telstra’s digital journey with Kartsen Wildberger

Rounding out the day was Telstra Group Executive, Karsten Wildberger sharing part of the Telstra digital journey. He touched on the challenges as well as some of the wins. It was refreshing to hear Karsten taking on the challenge of disruption, reframing it as opportunity rather than a threat – and encouraged the audience to think the same way. “Keep the customer at the centre of everything”, he urged.

Lethal Generosity with Shel Israel

The nicest man on the internet, and in many ways, it’s chronicler, Shel Israel, stepped us through what it takes to be “lethally generous”. And he is that in person. In fact, this is the title of his new book, generated to the millennial generation which he sees as the “greatest hope for the planet”. Listening to Shel, you hear not just a connection to technology but also a sense of the great underlying humanity which the technology was created to serve. As he says, “great customer service, even if it costs you a sale, gets you a customer for life”.

What the tweet – Twitter in Australia with Karen Stocks

Rounding out the day – in the last presentation before drinks – was local Twitter CEO, Karen Stocks. Given that the whole room could be categorised as “early adopters”, it was a shame that the presentation didn’t take us more into the future of Twitter. Clearly there was a lot of love in the room for Twitter and for Karen as CEO – and the segments on #likeagirl and Periscope reinforced the power and relevance that Twitter has created in the community. But it would have been great to hear more about their story with data and the tools that are available for businesses, their partnerships with companies like IBM or new features and capabilities coming down the track.

What’s next for the digital summit?

It was a broad brush conference and tied together many of the digital challenges in easy to consume, shorter, 20 minute snacks. There was fabulous diversity in the speaking line-up – it certainly wasn’t yet another conference dominated by MAMS (middle aged men in suits). The tweet stream provided some great, light hearted moments and worked to engage the audience across the day.

The faster pace also kept the audience focused and the energy levels high. And Telstra’s new-found confidence was surprisingly refreshing. Where once, their positioning was tinged with the air of superiority and arrogance, this conference felt like a more hands-on, let’s get things done attitude was pervading proceedings.  Some ideas for the Telstra Digital Summit 2016 (hey ideas are free):

  • More Australian speakers actually speaking about Australian businesses and conditions. It would be great to hear from Telstra business customers and the successes they are having. Some of the Telstra Business Awards winners had compelling stories and amazing digital outcomes. More of that please
  • Breakout sessions for case studies and deep dives. There’s plenty of room in the exhibition area to have mini-talks on digital topics. This would be a great way for Telstra to showcase their depth of expertise and “lethal generosity”
  • Connecting the audience. With around 1000 people attending the conference is now at the scale where connecting and networking with others is a challenge. With plenty of conference apps now available, it might be worth investigating something that helps connect people, ideas and opportunities.

Interestingly, while reading back over my blog, I found this article from 2008 urging Telstra to embrace an “almost unmatched opportunity” on the digital frontier. It has taken six years to hear these words from the lips of a Telstra CEO. Let’s hope that this forward momentum will continue.

Minimum Viable Policy – the Pitches from Australia’s First #PolicyHack

On 17 October 2015, Wyatt Roy, the assistant minister for innovation co-hosted Australia’s first policy hackathon with startup accelerator Blue Chilli. It was a great opportunity to get up close and personal with the machinery of government, and hopefully use a little disruptive thinking to bring about changes in policy for the “innovation industry”.

Working with the “corporate innovation” policy challenge, I helped facilitate a team led by champions, Michelle Narracott and Justin Strharsky. Also on the team, tackling this challenge were policy advisors, representatives from industry, entrepreneurs and startups. There was serious expertise on hand from the Department of Industry and Science, Treasury, the fields of intellectual property, international trade and the mining, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

In the world of startups, there is a great deal of focus initially on an MVP – the minimum viable product. The idea is that as a startup we create the best possible product with a minimal feature set in order to test market viability. But with a “policy hack” the focus is not on a product but a policy. As such, the challenge for the teams was to develop a “minimum viable policy” – delivering a policy tweak or shift with the potential for a big impact on the “innovation industry”. This was a significant challenge given that:

  • The teams self-formed on the day
  • The participants had no prior experience working with each other
  • Time was limited to about 5 hours
  • Problems were broadly articulated.

That almost all teams positioned strong proposals for “policy hacks” is testament to not only the team champions, facilitators and mentors – but also the disciplined, lean methodologies used across the day.

You can read more about the experience here – and also the views from participants and observers:

And now, thanks again to Blue Chilli, you can watch the pitches in the video below. Where do we go from here? The machinery of government and policy is turning. The question is, how fast, and with a focus on what kind of outcome.

DiG Festival – Australia’s Best Conference You’ve Never Heard Of

There is a low murmur sweeping in to the auditorium from outside. There are people moving in and out – greeting each other, chattering, delivering coffee (yes, true, and more on that below). On stage, author and digital transformation leader, Jesper Lowgren, is stepping through the “new thinking and new doing” required by businesses to deal with the challenges of digital disruption. All around me, I can see people taking notes, nodding, whispering to each other.

“This is great,” I think to myself, “Jesper is going to make my job easier”. I’m speaking next, sharing the “Seven Unbelievable Rules for Survival” in the age of disruption – and I’ve been focusing on the positive aspects of disruption in my recent talks. It makes opportunity more tangible. Realistic. And “disruption” can often feel too loaded and combative for an audience.

2015-10-13 10.05.38-1 This year’s DiG Festival focuses exclusively on “digital disruption”. It’s a theme that almost every business is facing but few have plans for. In almost every client interaction I have had in the last 24 months, we touch on disruption and innovation, but always find a lack of preparation or willingness to tackle the challenge beyond the technology. But the challenge is profound.

Macquarie Bank research evaluated the potential impact of disruption to the Australian payments system at $27 billion a year. And while this has spurred an interest in “fintech” startups and innovation labs within parts of the financial sector, there remains plenty of wheel spinning. Not only is there more to do in financial services – many other sectors are still just covering the bare basics of digital strategy and execution. The retail, healthcare, pharmaceutical and mining/energy sectors – Australia’s engines for economic growth – are notorious digital laggards.

But digital disruption is not all about technology. It’s also about culture. Opportunity. Diversity. It’s about shared value and a vision for the future. And it’s about education.

And this is where the DiG Festival outstrips the performance of almost every other conference.

Over the next two days, we are treated to a feast of international and Australian speakers, workshops, announcements and networking opportunities.

Is DiG Australia’s SXSW?

Originally envisioned as Australia’s answer to SXSW, DiG is punching above its weight, attracting world-class speakers on business essential topics:

  • Women in Tech advocate, Ruthe Farmer, head of strategy development and partnerships at the National Center for Women and Information Technology in the US, is blazing a trail that we are just embarking upon. She has spoken at the White House, advised the United Nations and has a formidable list of achievements
  • Rebecca Caroe lays bare the hard truths of working with millennials and what it takes to challenge and grow the next generation of leaders. Her talk was jaw droppingly insightful as well as entertaining – and saw her swamped by questions in the breaks
  • The University of Newcastle used the festival to announce its new Entrepreneurship and Innovation program scheduled to start in 2016
  • The dynamic Eve Mayer flew solo off-the-cuff to step through the gory details of social media in a serious business context. Inspired by the University of Newcastle’s new program, she offered one lucky student an internship in her business in Texas. Now it was just a matter of sponsoring travel and accommodation. Within minutes, business leaders were jockeying for position.
  • Trent Bagnall from Newcastle’s Slingshot startup accelerator launched into my favourite topic – corporate innovation, sharing the hard won stories of innovation mis-matches, middle management anti-bodies and the successes of their partnership with the NRMA JumpStart program
  • Scott Yates from content crowd sourcing machine, Blogmutt, showed just how powerful crowd generated content can be when focused around your business goals and strategies
  • Alison Michalk shared the process of “birthing a business and launching a baby” while building a global business without an office, but with a strong sense of culture and purpose.

And like any good conference, there was more. More great speakers. Fantastic ideas. Workshops were jam packed. And the open areas were abuzz with conversation. The whole vibe was one of collegiality and good will. Speakers and audience members easily mingled, drank coffee and exchanged cards. Speakers vowed to return. Business leaders left inspired.

But this conference should have been 10 times the size. The topics and insights delivered are hot for Australian business leaders right now. Luckily, the DiG Festival team are packaging up the conference content and will make it available online. Register your interest online. And next year, show up in person. You’ll be glad you did.

Coffee Mornings Reaches a New Milestone

I remember it like it was yesterday. A little cafe in North Sydney on a Friday morning. A touch of trepidation. The smell of coffee.

Walking in, I scanned the room looking for a familiar face. There wasn’t anyone I recognised. Or knew. I was almost ready to leave when I caught Emily’s eye. Yes, this was the right place.

Hours later, we had solved the world’s problems and were drunk on conversation and chaos. I had found “my people”.

We decided to meet again the following week. And the following week. And so on.

And this Friday, this gathering that has weathered Sydney’s weather, busy work schedules, promotions, growing families and commitments and even overcome profound inertia turns NINE years old.

If you haven’t been down to visit in a while, maybe it’s time to come back. And if you’ve never been to a coffee morning in Sydney at Single Origin in Surry Hills, then perhaps it is time to start a new personal history. See you there!

Coffee Mornings - Single Origin

State of the Nation: Australian Community Management 2015

Community management has, over the last decade, a professional, high growth industry. Touching on social media, knowledge transfer, customer service, PR and marketing, today’s community manager wears many hats, is often the most recognised representative of your company and has become a vital business asset. Yet despite the importance of the role, there is surprisingly little information about the role, salary, focus and breadth of community managers in an Australian context.

Now, thanks to the Swarm Conference, Quiip and Dialogue, the first research report into Australian Community Managers has been released. Some of the highlights include insight into community managers:

  • Education levels
  • Areas of study and expertise
  • Focus for professional development
  • Salary
  • Seniority

For those well versed in community management, it is not surprising to see that most community managers work significant levels of overtime (paid and unpaid). They also experience higher than usual levels of harassment:

Community managers often bear the brunt of aggressive and abusive behaviour online. They are generally accountable for protecting and defending organisational liabilities in digital social contexts, yet rarely find adequate support when managing, or personally confronting, bad actors.

But working at the coalface of customer engagement, community managers are in a unique position to understand the pulse of the community. And in an increasingly contested media landscape, community management can make a massive difference across the entire marketing cycle (yes, from planning and product development through to loyalty). As one respondent confided:

I think some people underestimate the power that community management has over a brand’s identity in this increasingly digital and social world.

Judging by the survey results, there’s work to be done at a corporate and community manager level in the years ahead. Download the report here.

60 Seconds to a Startup Future

Got a problem worth solving? A solution to that challenge? A market and a team to tackle it?

Then it’s time to step into the spotlight at the Muru-D 60 second pitch competition.

What is involved?

Muru-D and Seven West Media are providing you with the opportunity to pitch your startup to Annie Parker, Clive Dickens and Alan Stuart with the winner receiving a fast track ticket to the interview stage of the muru-D accelerator program.

You can RSVP here.

Get a head start

If you want to give yourself an unfair advantage – set aside some time to get clarity around your business, messaging and pitch. Seriously. One of the greatest mistakes many startups and founders make is to rely on the sizzle of the product, believing it will sell itself. Focus not on the Product-Market fit, but on the Market-Product fit. To help you, download the Disruptor’s Handbooks:

This is just a start – remember you only have 60 seconds. You’ve got to work really hard to make your pitch simple enough to wow the judges in 60 seconds. Rock it hard.

MediaScope Blab: Australian Ad and Media Industry Round-Up

The rise of streaming social media continues to produce surprising results. We have Meerkat and Periscope putting powerful, real time streaming capabilities into our hands at the touch of a button, we have Facebook Live Video in selected release – and now, one of my new favourites, Blab.im offering a virtual, live streaming app for panel and group discussions.

But if you have tuned into a Meerkat or Periscope stream, you’re likely to find them largely one dimensional. To host and hold a stream of people, you really do need to have a level of comfort in front of the camera. Add to this the difficulty with storage and replay, then the utility value of the stream can be quite minimal.

The group format of Blab, however, has a number of benefits over the single live stream offered by Meerkat and Periscope:

  • The panel format means that the performance pressure is shared by three other participants
  • Real time discussion can take place directly rather than via text/messaging
  • Discussions can be opened out through the platform, via Twitter or messaging.

But the best thing to do is to watch a Blab in action. Here, MediaScope’s Denise Shrivell does a wrap-up of the Australian Ad and Media Industry with Jules Lund, Charlotte Valente and Seb Rennie – along with contributions from others. Usually this kind of production would take coordination, equipment, scheduling and so on – but with Blab, participants beamed in (and out) without leaving their offices. It’s fantastic to see where this may go.

Watch live conversations about topics that matter most to you

Thrive in an Age of Disruption

Disruption is the new normal. Everywhere we look we find traditional business models under threat from emerging players, technology creating new opportunities for fast-moving businesses and the creaking bones of industrial age enterprises labouring to stay current, fresh or even just relevant. The darlings of our blue chip stock markets have given way to tighter, more technologically aggressive firms who wield tech not for COMPETITIVE advantage but to create UNFAIR advantages. Facebook and Google are the obvious examples, but there are more. Many more.

Many of these massively scaled companies have locked their valuations away from the markets – creating a vibrant behind-closed-doors market where Venture Capital firms tease out $1 billion valuations. Just take a look at the Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar Startup Club to get a sense of the scale in operation. Uber, with a current valuation of over $50 billion, leads the pack and now boasts a valuation way in excess of General Motors.

valuations

But while Uber, is on the surface, a business about transportation – and cars in particular – it is far from being a car company as we have known them. It is, in fact, a technology company. A software company. And a data company. It is disruption paradigms at every turn.

Even on a more micro level, disruption is taking place in our suburbs and in our streets. The NBN – when it arrives at it eventually will – will sweep non-digital businesses away in a tide of data. And those local institutions like post offices and newsagencies that are the hubs of our suburban malls, will be the first to go (if they have not disappeared already).

BUT

Disruption is not destruction.

It is possible to not only thrive in an age of disruption but to also prosper. And this is what I will be discussing at Newcastle’s DiG Festival on 12-13 October. In fact, the whole two days of the conference are devoted to the theme.

So if you’re wondering what disruption has in store for your career, business or enterprise, you might find this is the best investment you have made in years. See you there!