Innovation is the why, change is the how

There is a lot of talk about being more agile, responsive, lean, etc. These are all very worthwhile approaches. They all very often take a view on different ways of dealing with change starting with the need for change.

The central theme to all of the above is very often that the pace of change is accelerating. We live in exponential times and it becomes an imperative to bake into the organisation the capability to master change. The ability to turn on a dime when the need arises. Very often it is in response to competitive activity and that is increasingly coming from nimble startups disrupting an industry.

Then we need to take into consideration the very substantial industry that exists around managing change in its own right. The purpose of many organisations is purely to facilitate the management of change for other organisations. A substantial part of many organisations is also geared towards offering professional services around managing change.

Amongst the latter organisations, often ones that sell groundbreaking technologies, the focus is frequently geared towards helping organisations deal with the implementation and adoption of the technologies themselves. More fundamentally is the need to change the way you work or think about the way you have been working – a mindset shift in other words. This requires thinking about behaviours and processes, not just the technology. All hard nuts to crack.

What many often miss though, is the real reason for the change itself, the why if you will. All are busy running around changing or trying to change others. Little is understood about the purpose.

The reason the pace of change is accelerating is very often because new innovations are driving users to change their behaviours. This very often forces organisations to change the way they have to deal with these users – customers and/or employees alike.

Some times, in the best cases, the change is brought about by an innovation the organisation itself has come up with. At worst it has been disrupted by another. This is the worst change to manage because it is based on a crises but often it is essential, survival is at stake.

At the intended heart of all innovation, whether disruptive or incremental, is progress. Something that is better than what came before. If you get it right, it is a positive force for good. With progress often comes the need to change.

Why many often put the cart before the horse

Innovation is hard. Anything worthwhile takes time unless you are very lucky and few are. It’s far easier to change something. Many times we do for the sake of it. Just by taking a different tack this provides the appearance of action and we often fool ourselves into believing it is groundbreaking.

As human beings we are also a rather fickle lot. We get bored very easily. Especially with an abundance of digital distractions, it is easy to let ourselves get carried away by the shiny new thing. A new trend here, a new gadget there. Thats all we sometimes need to start following a new piper, but as with the rats, it often ends in a damp squibb.

Organisations are no less susceptible to the vagaries of our time. Many organisations role out one change initiative after another. Many of those initiatives fail – the statistics say that on average over 80% of change initiatives fail. The initiatives are often purported to be in the name of innovation but mostly they are fruitless attempts to fend of another organisations innovation.

How to change the game

Here are some ways to make sure that the change you are making is in pursuit of something truly groundbreaking:

  • Spend a lot of time thinking about the objective of the change effort, this will easily tell you if the reason you are carrying out the change is in pursuit of innovation or just for changes sake
  • Build change capability into your organisation, the ability to very quickly respond to new opportunities in the marketplace – that way you are not at the mercy of change programs
  • Put innovation at the heart of your organisations modus operandi, that means very individual in it is thinking about coming up with new innovations and they are empowered to act on it

State of Customer Success – Learnings from Pulse 2017

I attended Pulse 2017 in San Francisco a few weeks back, a three day event run by Gainsight, a vendor selling customer success software. A massive event for this nascent industry with over 4000 attendees. Gainsight is gaining traction and on the first day of the event they announced a new round of investment at $52M. The article explains how you could see Gainsight as a bellwether for the industry and also the practice to some degree.

percolate cs teamMy first day I joined the entire customer success team from my company Percolate in a training session that lasted a day. The entire trip was spent with the team and that was such an amazing part of the experience and highly recommended. On the 4th day we spent half a day in a team offsite and part of it was dedicated to bringing the learnings from Pulse into our organisation. Several projects have been spun off as a result so very worthwhile on so many levels, not least a great bonding opportunity – cue team selfie :)

The training was run by Success Hacker, a customer success training, recruiting and service consultancy. The theme for the training was Predictable Success = Predictable Revenue which I thought was pretty representative of the conference as a whole actually.

The training was intended to be a level-set for our team as well as all the attendees, to get us all on the same page. It was basic in nature, introductory level stuff. I understand why they took this approach but having been practicing customer success for at least 5 years this was rather too basic for me and many of my colleagues.

Shameless plug: I’ve been writing about customer success for a while and have a collection of my most recent blog posts sharing learnings I’ve picked up over the years.

There were several trends or themes covered at the conference which I synthesise below but first let me recap on some of the best and new learning from the training (I skipped the non interesting/useful stuff). This may take a while so go grab something hot and steamy :)

Training Day

Success planning

A road trip analogy was used to intro this – the customer is the driver the CSM is the navigator – I liked that. Success planning was deemed mostly relevant for larger accounts – it’s not scalable for smaller accounts. There was talk of automating this but no real insights how. I had an idea that survey type forms could be useful for getting customer input – a good way to scale.

Challenges to success planning are typically that there is not enough time, info or value (seen in the planning) for it. Benefits and best practice are that it makes you proactive and it is best when plans are shared with customers (I would say co-created) and are kept updated.

They went through a very simplistic overview of what it contains starting with an exec summary. That was probably the most useful piece of advice. Instead though I would offer up the use of a Success Canvas – check mine out (pdf).

I also have an approach to planning you can find here: Lean startup methodology applied to successful enterprise technology adoption. The Success Canvas is normally the early stage work before the full blown success plan is created. But back to the simplistic format they suggested. It included: company highlights; agreed objectives; actions, owners, dates.

Metrics

We went through the meanings of some standard SaaS metric acronyms. They touched on business metrics that often went beyond customer success. This was inane. Any number of the excellent posts on a standard Google search would have done better. This was a total waste of time.

Just a few metrics or measures of performance very specific to customer success worth pointing out were:

  • Active usage – how frequently is the platform being used
  • Feature adoption – depth and width of feature usage
  • CSAT – Customer Satisfaction Score (mostly made up from survey responses)
  • NPS – Net Promoter Score – flavour of the conference and most often a single question rating scale in app
  • CES – Customer Effort Score. A measure of the amount of effort expended by a customer to achieve a task. This was interesting but difficult to measure I thought.

In this article unrelated to the event (Predicting the next Slack: Finding sticky cloud apps with cult-like followings) they define some key growth factors using a handy, five-point framework I really liked.

Building a customer centric view in your org

That should probably have read “building a customer success centric view” because that’s where most of the work is required. Customer centricity is old hat (though still far from well served), customer success and its unique role in SaaS companies isn’t. Building a good undestanding of the role and its contribution to overall company success is key and something I have struggled with before. This actually stood out as a common theme and challenge at the conference. But on to what we covered – some useful nuggets there (with some creative interepretation by me):

  • Avoid inside out thinking. Think first and always from the customer’s perspectives not your internal processes and approaches.
  • Avoid “you need to email …” emails, take responsibility for solving customer pain.
  • Avoid solving for the average customer. Try and think in segments at least. Scale can be a challenge here.
  • Prospect preference. Avoid developing features for new customers ahead of existing.
  • Shiny thing syndrome. Think impact, not feature / function.
  • The solution isn’t a process its a mindset and needs to become habit.
  • Invite customers into “virtual” decision making – “What would the customer think” about an internal decision. “How would this impact the customer?”

How to change things:

  • Invite teams to customer visits
  • Invite customers to your office for lunch and learn sessions. I would go much further and suggest customer meetups which I have written about and worked on setting up at Percolate and they are now taking off.
  • Invite customers to internal all hands sessions to talk to all employees
  • Collect and share customer success stories. We have an awesome database built and maintained by our customer marketing team at Percolate.
  • Provide an internal collaboration tool or channel to share customer success stories

Applying a consultative approach with customers

There’s consultative selling so why not consultative customer success. I like the thinking. Here’s the upshot.

  • Two types of approaches:
    • Boiler man – fixed, package solutions. Less time consuming and open ended and more scalable.
    • Wing man – help guide customers to the right solutions. A more custom and suitable fit to customer need but more intensive.
  • Try solve biggest the problems not the easiest.
  • Focus on selling a solution, not just a feature.
  • Key skills
    • Storytelling – effective way to convey by example.
    • Active listening – improves mutual understanding.

Strategies to manage accounts

  • Help your customers support their customers better – think of the end customer. Cannot stress this often overlooked approach enough.
  • Make your customer contacts look good in front of their superiors. Another sure fire way to ingrain yourself in the business through key stakeholders.
  • The converse of this last point and this is my view not covered in training, is that you shouldn’t get single threaded in case that person leaves. So always broaden your stakeholder base beyond one.
  • Create internal subject matter experts and champions on your solution. Take a train the trainer approach – make them super users. I wrote about this here: Building user success managers.
  • Always try and set beatable expectations – like Amazon deliveries. Great idea and benchmark.
  • Keep up with whats happening in their industry and organisation – Google alerts.
  • Become a trusted advisor and act like a partner and not a vendor. What’s needed:
    • Domain knowledge (their domain)
    • Customer knowledge (organisational) – annual report a good source
    • Product expertise
    • Business acumen

Change management

This wasn’t separated out, I have here and felt it should have been in the training. It was glossed over. Although I emphasise innovation strategy over change (Innovation is the why, change is the how), at the very least successful technology adoption needs some change management element. Main take outs were:

The best presentations that shone a light on the state of the industry

I saw some excellent, top quality presentations. Some I missed and since there were parallel tracks that was inevitable. Thankfully they have made every presentation and the audio from it available here. I need to go back over some of them but below are the take outs from me from the best I attended.

cs trends 15-17
Top trends from past Pulse Conferences: 2015-2017

Before I go into my views though I should point out the trends the CEO of Gainsight (Nick Mehta) shared based on running the last 3 years of Pulse conferences (2015 – 2017). I’ve combined them conveniently side by side above but slides are here and audio here for more. Trends from 2017 are pasted below with a small comment from me.

  1. Involve Your Whole Company. Reinforced by McKinseys study – see below.
  2. Include Your Customers. Can’t emphasise this enough and I’ve been trying to bring this aspect into my organisation with some degree of success: Connecting customer advocates to drive product strategy and customer success
  3. Partner With IT. I tend to agree with this whereas once I would have said, whatever it takes to embed yourself in the business do it, including ignoring IT. But I’ve learned you can get much further partnering with them.
  4. Extend To The Real World. This has a lot to do with the Internet of Things and customer success moving out of its traditional home in SaaS companies where they become custodians of the entire customer experience. This HBR article co-authored by Michael Porter, one of the world’s foremost experts on strategy and competition, covers it well How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Companies (see section covering customer success).
  5. Scale Through Your Partners. I observed first hand how Microsoft, who already has a formidable partner network, tried to embed customer success and technology adoption through its partner network. Its a massive challenge for such a large organisation and network but they have serious intent and I’ve seen it work well with some early stage successes. Cisco was also held up as an example of this approach.
  6. Invest In Your Community. A point was made by Nick Mehta that part of the funding they had just recived was going to be about building the community. He mentioned expanding on their PulseLocal efforts which they started on way back in 2014. I’m looking forward to joining their London chapter. I also see this as a focus area for specific company CS efforts – building a community of customers, partners and employees starting with customer meetups as I covered under point 2.

McKinsey’s Customer Success Benchmark study – main findings

customer success within experienceThis was a lunch and learn session where two of the study’s main authors went through their main findings. Definitely one of the highlights for me. The fact that McKinsey is putting so much effort into this says a lot in itself. Slides here and audio here. My take aways as follows:

  • Value of Customer Success is realised far better with an integrated approach, not in isolation (slide 3 – see above). That is, part of a broader customer experience journey and aligned with full business strategy, not just as a “go to market” strategy.
  • When setting KPI’s pick the right metric (churn, NPS, etc.) then the parts of the journey that are key to drive impact. Churn is the most prevalent KPI.
  • Most organizations do not allow enough time for real results. I’ve seen this time and again – many are too eager for results, too early on. True success takes time.
  • CS needs to have a seat at the product table and play a quarterback role. The CS and product teams presentation I cover further down expands on this.
  • Onboarding and product experience are by far the most important journeys, yet product teams are rarely involved in driving customer experience / customer success.
  • Centralised governance from the top down is key. Centralized accountability and governance drives a big lift in value according to respondents.  A single “integrating leader” to track and manage end-to-end is required.
  • Guided journeys automated throughout the journey lead to insights for success plans
  • People are still key for success despite digital automation. Automation is definitely an important element going forward (see Hubspot presentation) but customer success is still predominantly about people and relationships.
  • Use design thinking & in-product triggers to guide users to desired outcome. My success planning approach which I linked to earlier is based on lean startup principles which in itself is based on design thinking. I also cover the importance of in product triggers in my customer success primer slides and my post on Scaling your customer success efforts online – a guide.

Adobe – fostering a culture of innovation through customer success

This was one of the first presentations from organisations adopting customer success practices successfully (slides here and audio here). These are always best in my view. Just as with customer success, examples of success are the best way of learning from and perpetuating further success. Adobe was the first I saw but I’ve included the best from the others. Their key points:

  • Lots of experimentation – try something see if it works. You should make space for this and invest in it. Love this and my success planning approach is all about experimentation.
  • Best CS teams focus on specific and different aspects of customer lifecycle (team broken up into specialisms). Also don’t ask a non technical CSM to emphasise product, for example. Or no sales skill but needs to renew.
  • Ok to lose customers if you understand why – not if you don’t.

Fastrack at Microsoft Office 365

I worked at Microsoft on this approach with Mike Grafham who presented and has his own take of main learnings from Pulse 2017. So I had to attend this session to see how things had progressed since leaving Microsoft (slides here and audio here). I wasn’t dissapointed :) The main thing is that the focus on scale with such a large customer base continues to be the driver of activities.

What stood out for me was the approach to qualifying customers before they come into the CS pipeline. It’s the first lesson he shared – slide 3. I love this approach and funnel which again borrows from another discipline – the best sales practices.

Bessemer Ventures – state of the cloud (customer success edition)

This was a solid session on the overall state of the cloud (slides here and audio here). The relevant part started with the startling statistic linking improvement in churn with an increase in company valuation.

churn improvement increases valuation

They also pointed out that of the multiple ways to be successful, upselling existing customers is the major driver.

Scaling Success Through Layered Communication – HubSpot

Essentially this presentation was about automation, a major theme of several presentations. This one by Derek Roberts, Director, Services Strategy and Operations at HubSpot was one of my favourite of all. Slides here and audio here. Highlights as follows:

  • One of the main thrusts of their view is that they see the customer application as an active participant in Customer Success. I couldn’t agree more – customer success should happen as much in app as it does outside, by and through people. So much can be automated and scaled this way as the user interacts with the product and in this context, is where CS activities are most powerful.
  • He showed such good examples of some of the simple ways in which they are automating activities. For example, they send data on usage via email – triggers to the right people for low or high usage. This can encourage further use.
  • Scaling happens at the process level. It’s so important to map your processes, dare I say customer journey map, and understand where you have an opportunity to automate and make life easier for yout CSM’s and customers alike. At the same time you can boost key outcomes. Below is a chart showing how Hubspot break it down.

cs automation hubspot

Working with Your Product Team to Drive User Success

Becky Banasik of TrendKite, Katie Leighton and Nicole Salzman of Box were part of a panel discussion moderated by Todd Olson of Pendo. No slides but audio here and my notes below. In essence, cooperation between product and CS teams was seen as critical to customer success. Since I believe CS teams are the window to product for customers and vice versa, this was heartening.

  • I love that Box have built a tool to get customer success feedback to product teams. Before a feature is built, CS and sales are asked if they think customers would value it.
  • At TrendKite features are evaluated on the basis of potential impact on usage, revenue and retention. CS own NPS scores but account managers are responsible for outreach.
  • At Box product and CS teams both co-own NPS scores. No compensation is tied to NPS at Box but it is at TrendKite.
  • Based on product usage trends, both spoke about how triggers are sent to CS teams, e.g. when usage drops off or spikes in a specific area. This links to play books for CS to respond to customers. This tied in with what HubSpot does.
  • At Box, CS and product teams work on new feature releases to come up with a common strategy and comms to set up the release for success.
  • The panel chair asked whether either involved product teams in onboarding sessions to learn from the user experience. Neither Box or TrendKite do but great idea I thought.

How high trajectory startups manage CS

A panel session chaired by Jason Lemkin of SaaStr involved the founders of several startups: Sarah Nahm of Lever; Michelle Zatlyn of Cloudflare and Jennifer Tejada of PagerDuty. No slides but audio here.

  • NPS and retention rates are key measures they all used and NPS covered product, brand and company measures.
  • Use of industry benchmarks was made to judge success, not just improvements over time.
  • The whole company owns NPS but CS is seen as the cheerleader.
  • CSAT (customer satisfaction) was also used at Lever. And they try and give various team members (not just CS) specific targets that are actionable.
  • Role of marketing in CS was discussed. CSM’s feedback customer messaging to marketing to use in campaigns instead of generic and bland marketing messages. Head of customer marketing should sit within the CS org and a budget should go to it from marketing.

Phew, finally done. If you managed to get this far down I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment.

Role of the customer success manager

csm role
Click to enlarge

This is pretty much an abridged description.

I’m adding a few words to some of the headers in the diagram although I think they are pretty self explanatory.

If you think I got anything wrong or missed anything let me know in a comment. I’m doing this because I think it will be useful in the work I am doing for the company I currently work for, as well as the startups I mentor.

NOTE: This is generally applicable to a technology company in service of its customers. And while we can show the path to them (the customer), we cannot walk it for them. As I wrote in this post, you cannot outsource success.

1. Tracking progress

By this I mean progress against the strategy and execution plan. It will generally cover things like whether actions planned have been carried out. It typically happens in periodic sessions, like monthly and/or quarterly reviews.

2. Issue Escalation

A customer success manager (CSM) is not a support manager and a robust support service and team should be in place for that. When things are not resolved for the customer through this path, the customer can escalate to the CSM.

3. Product Development

Again, the CSM is not a product manager but provides a window to them for the customer and vice versa. The purpose is to take ideas and thinking for what the ideal product should be to either party. Things like product roadmap, new feature requests, etc. are covered.

4. Success strategy and execution

Probably one of if not the most important roles in my view. Not that I think a huge amount of time needs to be spent on this – if anything it should be lean, iterative and open to change as I wrote in this methodology: Lean startup methodology applied to successful enterprise technology adoption. The thing is that all success flows from this when it is done right.

5. Usage/adoption

This is really about one of the most important metrics to the CSM. Having a view on whether users are using the system and where (which features) as well as over time, is critical. Providing dashboards that provide these views is critical. If you can track success activities against usage (i.e. what activities you plan with the customer and how these impact on usage), then you have discovered the holy grail. If you can track against other parameters like value and satisfaction, so much the better.

6. Value

Maybe this is more important than usage. Although you have to have usage first before you can get to value since only when a platform is adopted and being used can you drive value. The fundamental point of everything a CSM does is geared towards driving and showing the value a technology provides in relation to investment or effort. This is arguably the hardest part of the CSM’s role.

7. Experience/satisfaction

One leads to the other. The CSM is not entirely responsible for either because experience for instance is made up of many factors outside of his or her control. The product plays a big part for instance. Other departments that touch the customer, starting with sales. And many other factors. But the CSM could be seen as the custodian of experience. If positive it leads to high satisfaction levels. This should be measured. Net Promoter Score is a popular means used by many but there are other ways.

8. Renewal

Also arguably one of the major outcomes a CSM is expected to influence, if not be responsible for. Making sure the customer is deriving value from their technology investment and satisfied with their experience leads them to renew their subscription when it comes time to. That is, as opposed to allowing it to lapse, or churn as it is known in the industry.

9. Expansion

I would argue that this is more important and possibly indicative of the highest satisfaction levels. If a customer is not only renewing their subscription but buying and spending more with a vendor, does this not mean that they are delighted with the product and service? This perhaps is the zenith of a CSM’s successful effort in his or her role :)

Building user success managers

One of a customer success managers (CSM) main tasks with customers he or she works with is to build user success managers (USM).

It’s not unlike the famous Intel Inside campaign that targeted end users of a technology component (microprocessors) through promotion of the PC in which it was used.

The hero was the PC. Sales of personal computers dramatically shifted to Intel-based PC’s after the campaign started.

The fact is Intel spent a lot of marketing dollars on behalf of the OEM’s (Original Equipment Manufacturers) that were the buyers of their components. Intel were competing with cheaper processor manufacturers. Intel benefited hugely because sales of their microprocessors shot through the roof.

I’ll stop the analogy for now but being an ex marketer and adman and in the marketing technology business at the moment, that was a fun excercise :)

A customer success managers first focus – the user success manager

This typically means the admin or project manager in the customer’s organisation. They have primary responsibility for the technology platform.

Sometimes it is just one person and they are not dedicated to the job full time. In complex organisations and with complex technologies you are lucky to have a full time team.

It’s important that these members are enabled and empowered to deliver successful outcomes to the organisation through users.

They should be educated. They should have resources and a network they can scale their efforts through – like a champions/advocate network. More on that later.

Resources should take the form of templates, documentation, training programs and generic succes stories they can take to the user community to drive usage and adoption.

Also hugely important is that the USM has insight into usage and adoption data. So either directly or via the CSM, there should be access to dashboards showing daily and monthly usage, by feature set, etc.

Ultimately, the CSM should turn the USM into a close approximation of his or her role. That would be deemed a major success.

The USM’s focus should be the end user. Of course they will have other key stakeholders to consider and prioritise but the end user community is one of the most important.

A customer success managers second focus – the user community

Never forget that the end users are the final arbiters of success. They are the ones that will adopt a platform and use it to drive value creation for the organsiation. Or not. They will have lots of competing priorities and technologies so it is a battle for their attention.

Mandating a platform or technology might go some way to ensuring end user adoption but its never a guarantee and should never be your only strategy.

While a USM is getting up to speed it might make sense for the CSM to focus on the end user. But this is temporary as the goal should always be to bring the USM up to speed as quickly as possible to do the job themselves.

It’s not scalable for a CSM to be spreading his or her focus too widely considering they are probably managing many customers in parallel.

Related to scale, this brings me again to a point about champions or advocates and they are so important, they deserve their own section.

Champions and how to scale success

champion program
Click to enlarge

The above explainer is from various programs I’ve helped to run at companies and combines the why, what and how of champion programs.

These are also sometimes referred to as advocate programs although this is often customer marketing terminology. In this case they are user and platform champions or advocates. I’ll keep it simple and refer to them as champions.

The first point in bold under why explains their core benefit around scale.

And just as a CSM is trying to create and scale his or her efforts by identifying and working with USM’s (a form of champion), so too should the latter.

The USM should try and identify champions as early as possible. The explainer provides some guidelines for doing that and more.

Technology alone is not enough

As we approach a fourth transformation (according to Robert Scoble and Shel Israel it’s How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything), we face some challenges and questions.

  • Will machines master humans, especially in the work place?
  • How will we coexist with machines that begin to outstrip our intelligence capabilities?
  • What are humans uniquely positioned to do in a new world dominated by robots and super intelligence?

I cannot see into the future so its pointless prognosticating. Others far more knowledgable have done and at least concluded that No, the Experts Don’t Think Superintelligent AI is a Threat to Humanity.

Nevertheless it’s safe to say that software is already eating the world and robots and AI are going to play a massive role.

I am writing my next trend report on a related subject (post on that here) but am deeply embedded in the here and now. I work with some of the worlds largest companies and have been for many years trying to help them make sense of and drive value from their technology investments.

I am constantly thinking about technology in the here and now in making mine and my customer’s work world better? One thing I come across time and again is the misalignment of focus and priorities.

The technology and increasingly the data around its use is held in thrall. I’m not innocent of the many mistakes made. Here are some examples below of the kinds of ways in which I think we go wrong:

  1. The features and functions are exhorted over the outcomes they are intended to support or problems they are intended to solve. Great post on that here: 12 signs you’re working in a feature factory.
  2. Growth in usage data is also driven without giving thought to the outcomes or value being attained
  3. Technology is prioritised without giving thought to the humans and the behaviours around it – mindset, culture, etc.

I believe usable and useful technology that solves real problems is critical for driving adoption and deriving business value, especially in the more complex world of enterpise technology. But I believe you can get further when you address the mindset behind technology use and I am far from alone in this view. Ultimately tackling both in healthy doses is best.

adoption - technology vs mindset

 

A call to arms!

In addressing human factors, when it is done at all, are still often wrong. Organisations typically address it from a change management perspective. It’s become an industry in its own right.

Call me a cynic but most change management efforts I’ve been involved in or observed have often seemed shrewdly calculated to meet the ends of a chosen few. Not the user or a better way of working.

Often it’s simple humanity that is missing.

In the enterprise technology business we sometimes miss what I think Steve Jobs alluded to when he said “technology alone is not enough”.

To quote him in full he said:

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

As robots and super intelligence increasingly play a greater role I want to avoid becoming one (a robot :).

I want to celebrate my humanity and the difference I can bring. This goes beyond what Steve Jobs was referring to. I’m thinking of a real caring and nurturing that is authentic and deeply rooted in our collective wellbeing.

I see our innate creativity as an essential human expression of being, hence the subject of my new trend report.

Creativity is what drives us. It’s essential to all progress. Sometimes at the expense of what we leave behind (read disruption). We are always on the march to creating new possibilities. It’s the way we grow.

I want to embrace new technology because I’m a tech geek and I trust my techno lust but I still want my heart to sing.

There is thrill to be found in technology that works and enhances my productivity and the way I live my life. This is momentary though. It does not penetrate the deepest recesses of my being.

It is in the way that I am empowered as a fully alive human being, constantly evolving, that makes my heart sing.

Most of all it is when I create something of value and it is appreciated, in even a small way, that my spirits rise. Progress and all of humanity is founded on the principle of creation. Of ideas and new possibilities and setting out on adventures to achieve them.

Organisations can play a big part in nurturing this. Here leaders have the greatest responsibility. They can choose to nurture our humanity and provide the freedom for our greatest creative expression and output. Failing that organisations and people will wither I believe and die soulless or go off and find it elsewhere.

Notes for system design

system designI was thinking, since I’ve done some work on a few systems, that I should capture some notes. Guidelines really since I plan to create a few more :)

Here is an example of one system I recently created: Lean startup methodology applied to successful enterprise technology adoption

So here are the notes in summary, in the doodle at left, for easy reference.

Below I’ve added a few points in elaboration.

This is just a very simple take on the things I think that matter. As you can see I scribbled them down on a whim in one of my favourite apps: Paper by FiftyThree.

Before I elaborate on the notes, a few words on systems. Systems thinking is not new and nor is it entirely clear what it is. Just look at the Wikipedia entry on systems thinking to see the myriad sources and references in the article.

So for the purposes of this post I see it as the combination of guidelines that govern a broad base of activities and outcomes and the thinking that goes into making this effective.

1. Outcomes/strategy over process

Key for me is not to get bogged down in the process part. Make it as simple as possible. The more complex the environment or activities the more steps the process will need but should have no more than necessary. Things to focus on is the main purpose, strategy and the outcomes you wish to guide achievement of.

2. Behaviour over technology

Technology and process (the latter already referred to in 1 above) are key components of systems but people, the third, is probably the most important. It’s also the least controllable and therefore the one that requires the most attention. And when it comes to people, it’s their behavious we want to be most attentive to and how to work with them or mould them.

3. Loose principles not rules

Ties in a little with point 8 but worth separating. What I mean here is that it’s important that your guiding principles are open to change. Just as the system should guide iterative thinking (see point 4) the system itself should be open to changing from learning what works and doesn’t. Rules can be put in place but they should not be hard and fast, hence the preference for loose principles.

4. Fail fast and learn

I would steer clear of this practice if it verged on the unethical or being done without the right intentions (good points here on that: Why Silicon Valley’s ‘Fail Fast’ Mantra Is Just Hype). But I do totally believe that a system should allow you to reach points of awareness as quickly as possible about what is not working, so you can abandon the practice and learn from it.

5. Build feedback loops

This ties in with the previous point about learning. The system should have mechanisms that allow you to learn about what is working or not as soon as possible. This is as much about measurement as about capturing learning in effective and shareable ways and then passing that on to all concerned.

6. Be visual and brief

I’m a big fan of design thinking which almost by definition requires some visual element. I’m also a huge fan of doodles to capture insights and share and simplify the complex easily. I just think in this day and age of attention deficit, that drawings and infographics that are effective (no mean feat) are more able to convey critical information than reams of documentation. Ideally they work in tandem, a little like this post. Keep this in mind when capturing your system.

7. Interdependence

No part of a system really works independenly of other parts. All are connected in a web of productivity. Some elements may be two or three steps removed from the other but there should always be awareness of what the levers of interdependence are and how all the parts go to making an effective whole. Systems thinking is after all about holistic thinking.

8. Descriptive not prescriptive

Again this is about not beeing too hard and fast about the behaviours you want your system to guide. The more it describes ways of tackling activities where the user is given freedom to create his or her own optimal path the better. Unless there is a particulary structured or routine activity where it is critical for it to be repeated precisely for quality purposes, you should leave openings for interpretation of different approaches.

Hope this is useful and happy systems building :)

Creativity jumps in top ten skills 2020

At least according to this World Economic Forum report: The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

top-10-skills-2020

Something to add to my new trend report – intro to that here: The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation

#creativity #trends

The battle for the self and the essence of being

The other day in a meditation session I arrived at an insight – roughly represented in the doodle.

In my best sessions when I can get to that calm place, insights arise.

Finding that place of calm, focus and insight is difficult and not always achieved in a meditation session. Sometimes just getting to calm is my best outcome. That’s because of all of the things that come into play to take you away from that place.

This situation is kind of a metaphor for life. I wanted to write a post to share my insight about why meditation is such a powerful tool. It can lead to many insights and one of the most important is about our true self.

In meditation, many things keep us from practicing well with good outcomes. Discomfort with sitting, distractions like noise, thoughts, etc.

In life, many things detract from the ability to enjoy and be productive every day. Some are cirmcumstancial and others of our own doing.

If we can but learn to see past circumstances, distractions and our own bad habits, we can arrive at the essence. The essence is where we are enjoying who we are and what we are doing. When we are in that state of being, we can be productive and lead meaningful lives.

Being aware of the barriers is the first step. Doing that consistently takes practice. Meditation is one such practice.

Getting to the truth or essence you can then start distilling that further and form insights about reality.

Allow me to elaborate on the main elements in the doodle.

Distraction

These are the minutea that get in the way of a focused, productive and enjoyable life. Many are of our own making and we allow, even encorage them. Whittling away fruitless hours on social media with the contsant dings of notifications to entrench it. Endless but pointless to do lists that don’t have any meaningful outcomes – shallow work instead of deep work. Even circumstances that require our attention but we sometimes overblow just because it allows us to avoid facing a painful self.

Ego

This is the persona or identity of who we would like to be but is most often the furthest away from our true selves.  It could be the vision of the person we would like to become yet so frequently becomes a mirror of what the media and modern society tell us we should be. We very often face a battle between the structural identities of our idealised selves that Freud wrote about: Id, Ego and Super-Ego. We can spend hours playing out these mental games without any discernable enjoyment or benefit as research is increasingly showing.

Thought

Many of the thoughts we have when we have the time and are not distracted by the mundane, are useless. They are often in service to the ego as mentioned but can be equally mindless as other distractions. Daydreaming for example is a pernicious type of mind wondering that research has started to show is either useless or even leads to unhappiness. Mostly it is the aimless flitting from one thought to the next characterised in Buddhism as the Monkey Mind.

Emotion

In my doodle I have emotion as an offshoot of thought. I often find I have a thought and the emotion follows. If the thought is negative, the emotions that arise are negative. This flows into an ever downward spiral. I’m no psychologist and have no idea if this sequence is correct. This is just my observation. In the long term its as if continuous thought leads to a cementing of an emotion. It becomes ingrained, like a habit. At some point I feel like these habitual emotions start leading and effecting my thoughts. The key of course is to stop the cycle and mindfulness and meditation practice always does.

Essence

When I mediate and achieve that state of untrammeled calm I recognise a form of being that is pure. It’s a pretty beautiful state and feels authentic, not shrouded by any masks. It is also thoughtless and emotionless. But it doesnt mean that insights cannot arise. These insights are sensed. They don’t become articluated into thoughts until afterwards. It’s difficult to describe which is kind of the point. Our words are just a way to attach meaning to something. Most often we confuse and get things wrong by applying our cognitive biases.

In my best sessions I sense this state to be the true version of myself that is fully present and aware. A state of mindfulness that leaves me refresed and focused for the day. Over time I’ve become more attuned and closer to this state on a permanent basis. Every so often I achieve these breakthrough insights.

The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation

You’ve heard the news. Jobs will come under fire if not already so. Machines, robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are going to take over. The Matrix, Terminator, all those movies had it right. So is it time to start a resistance movement?

What happens if it’s all true but the ending is not a tragic one. Can we find a happy coexistence with machines? In an alternative scenario, machines would be our servants and tackle the hard tasks they are brilliant at. Retaining, processing and repeating rule-based information. Complex calculations in milliseconds. Massive infrastructure and mechanical jobs that require strength, are dangerous and may even need to happen on other planets and atmospheres.

And whither humans? With land, capital, and labour safely being managed on our behalf, might humans be able to realise their full potential? Creative powerhouses constantly renewing and improving, stimulated by human interaction and fired by endless imagination. With time to put that strength to work.

Intro

In this post, I’m attempting to set out my stall for the next trend report I write. This will be my third. You can find out about the first two in the trend report page.

This is going to take about a year because I’m doing this alongside a day job. This post expands on the main hypothesis I am working on verifying.

No doubt it will change over time.

It’s important to start somewhere. A diagram is one of my favourite ways to synthesise thinking. So I drew some lines.

post-robots-ai-creativity-innovation

This post is also a part of an attempt to work out loud as much as possible. That could take the form of an occasional post to update on progress.

Or I will curate articles and any research I compile as I did before and after publishing my last trend report. See these posts tagged research and innerventuresupdate.

Follow along if you have a mind to or an interest. Better still, take part. But don’t feel obliged.

For my last trend report I set out with great intentions to involve contributors.

I found out it’s not so easy especially when you are time constrained to start with. It takes effort to do well. Others are in the same boat and have their own priorities.

So if you manage even a read and a comment, I would be grateful :)

An explanation of the diagram

I hope it’s straightforward enough. I struggled with this for a while and am still not sure I have the right angles. I’m not referring to the arrows :)

I grappled with how to characterise the trajectories of the three arrows. I mean what did they constitute. I concluded that they were learning priorities. Wether by humans or machines, they were directions of learning intent.

By machines I mean AI for the most part. In the case of super AI even more so. By definition it is self learning and its intent is to become super intelligent.

Robots are something that are going to take over physical work. They have mechanical capability more than intelligence. Their intelligence will come from computers that drive AI.

Together you could see them as a whole – machines.

If all projections on AI are correct, then its trajectory is due for a massive jump soon. Capacity to learn as well as intelligence will rise exponentially.

Human learning is different. Learning directions and priorities are often imposed. By schools that teach who are often lead by organisations that hire based on skills taught.

I have distinguished between STEM based learning directions and creativity based.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (as an educational category). This has dominated learning priorities for at least the last fifty years. As mentioned, institutions of all kinds impose it.

Creativity, if seen beyond the narrow confines of education in the arts, has lagged. That in my view, should change and I’m not the only one. I’m suggesting we will need to see a massive increase in learning emphasis, both at school and at work.

Creativity is as important as literacy. Sir Ken Robinson

I assume there is going to be a need for humans to take care of the machines. Even if humans will not remain on a par, they will have to maintain their STEM focus. They will need it to maintain the machines – at least in the near term. So the STEM based learning trajectory continues roughly on par with past trends.

As for my vertical axis, here too I grappled. I was thinking what is the point of all this activity. For the moment I have couched it in the familiar. Innovation and productivity are after all the holy grail that many organisations aspire to achieve.

So that will do for now on my current standpoint. My hypothesis in essence is as follows:

Machines are self learning and will become super intelligent. There will soon be an exponential rise in their capability. They will outstrip our current STEM based capabilities. We will no longer need the capabilities as much since we can rely on machines. Mastering our creative capabilities is the next frontier. We will use them to put ourselves and machines to work and solve the biggest challenges humanity face. We need to start preparing now.

Below I describe some of the main influences on my thinking so far.

Main influences on my thinking so far

Tim Urban: The Road to Superintelligence

I attended a Tim Urban talk at Transition, an event my company hosted last year. We didn’t record and share the full presentation. Luckily this Google talk he gave was and he spoke about the same topic.

He makes compelling arguments simple, as he is know for doing. A couple of things stood out for me. That we are at the cusp of exponential growth in AI’s capability for self learning. And the distinctions between standard and super intelligence blew me away.

The latter especially lead me to believe we are not thinking big enough about AI. In essence he showed me the limits of my imagination.

He didn’t project futuristic outcomes, he only shed a light on the possibilities. Extrapolate from only recent progress and a super intelligent future is hard to deny.

Don’t want a robot to steal your job? Be creative

The title is not mine – here is the article: Don’t want a robot to steal your job? Be creative. The title alone is what nailed it for me. Then on reading it several points jumped out. The first was this one:

Cheap computing power and rapidly advancing AI mean that machines already outperform us on tasks that involve retaining, processing, and repeating rule-based information.

Then their point about STEM learning which I incorporated into my diagram and thesis.

creativity-vs-robots-nestaThere was also the link to the NESTA report (pdf). This provided rich, research based evidence. The results confirm that “creative occupations are more future proof to computerisation”.

They also define a far broader concept of creativity than common perception holds. That it’s more than the arts. It encompasses “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something”.

The part in italics is what stood out for me .

That lead me to Richard Florida’s paper: The Creative Class and Economic Development (pdf).

Modern Organisations Hierarchy of Needs

Independent of all this, I wrote a post some time ago that seemed to resonate with many from all the likes and shares it received (in the thousands).

Based on Maslow’s model I positioned the Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs. Creativity and innovation were at the pinnacle of organisational actualisation.

What I left out was the AI and robots element. I’m convinced I should include it. I propose to remodel the hierarchy and include these considerations. I’ll make this a core part of my trend report. I’ll use it to advocate how organisations should change to refocus their efforts.

modern organisation hierarchy of needs

Any feedback at all on my initial thinking would be great. Please add a comment.