Future of Work, Sense Making

Meaning and models as future work motivators

We don’t all have the luxury to question why we are working and to what end.

Many are in dead end, soul sapping or even worse, life endangering jobs.

But the reality is they have no choice. No choice but to toil in whatever adversity they find themselves because there is no alternative

On the other hand, many in the first world are spoilt (and I count myself amongst them). We are lucky to have jobs and vast choices with global employment rates at all time highs.

We have incredible jobs, are highly paid and in fantastic industries.

And yet engagement levels at work are at all time lows.

I ascribe this near universal condition of motivation in first world employment to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once our basic needs are met, we will naturally incline towards the higher levels and that is what my enquiry in this post pertains to.

I believe it is in the higher levels that we are falling short and this is leading to so much dissatisfaction and lack of engagement at work.

Dynamics of meaning

I have explored (and still am) many aspects of motivation and meaning because it is so fundamental to outcomes and success in the work I do with customers.

I have taken Maslow’s theory and applied it to organisations and this seems to have resonated: The Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs.

I am exploring that further in a very detailed manner in terms of the things that are measured and how this drives behaviour: Leading the right behaviours through metrics and new work models.

I believe at a practical level, with robots and AI taking some of the lower level jobs that we are going to be forced (or have the luxury – depending on how you see it) to the higher levels: The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation.

I am not alone. The purpose or meaning driven organisation and defining the elements of its success have practically become an industry. Culture as an important contributing factor too.

Whether out of necessity or luxury I believe this to be meaningful work, to get a little meta.

However, as Maslow suggested and I too believe, we will constantly be forced by circumstance (e.g. losing a job) or simply because its healthy, to re-evaluate the lower levels.

As individuals, it might mean our excessive food intake has become a problem that needs addressing. So too organisations might be forced to re-evaluate their business models when the basis for the industry they are in is disrupted.

Dynamics of the business model

I have suggested in my hierarchy of organisational needs that the business model sits at the lowest level. I posit that it is as basic and necessary for business survival to have a good model as it is for individuals to have food, water and shelter.

And the basic business model of many organisations is under pressure to be re-evaluated and transformed like never before.

One such pressure I am currently exploring in a new eBook / trend report is coming from the subscription economy. Software as a Service has influenced enterprise technology and this has led to a broader As a Service trend (that’s a link to all posts with the tag where you can find material I am using in my work).

Business model transformation and innovation has become an industry in its own right too.

I would argue that this sits within a context and hierarchy of its own. The context is probably organisational transformation and what is currently very much in vogue, digital transformation.

It terms of hierarchy, it probably sits at the apex.

I’m doing some work at the moment around these very elements and have two charts that I use to demonstrate these aspects.

By “elements” you can probably see that I don’t mean those of the business model itself (which something like the business model canvas does very well).

In terms of effort and impact, you can see business model innovation is the hardest to do yet has the greatest impact over time and in value terms. Too often I see the focus on lower level transformations because they are easy.

The thing the diagram at right also points to is the limited impact over time that innovations or transformations have, hence the need to constantly be innovating and transforming.

This brings me full circle to the two pinnacles of my modern organisational hierarchy framework: innovation and creativity. The need to constantly innovate and create (or re-create, in a circle of positive creative-destruction) is key in the future of work.

In conclusion

This also brings me to the motivation element in the subject of this post.

One point I make is about the critical role of meaning in our future work roles, as individuals and organisations. About how we must spend time defining what creates meaning and will make a difference and this means going beyond the basics.

The other point is about how we cannot ignore the basics but in the case of organisational business models, how crucial it is to work on reinventing these for greatest impact. But here too, we shouldn’t waste effort on lower level efforts.

I am highly motivated by all this at the moment. In turn I strive to make it key motivator for the efforts of individuals and organisations I work with because I think it will make all the difference.

Customer Success, Sense Making

Thought Rocket: Anatomy of a Perfect Customer Success

I captured a few simple points in a video a few weeks back in a flash of contemplation (hence thought rocket). Other than capture and share it here I wanted to elaborate a little. First the video:

The first thing to say is that customer success is not an isolated event or activity and this video and its content should not be taken to mean that.

Customer success is a series of purposeful activities or events which over time lead to the customer achieving their intended outcomes.

That is my super simple definition specifically as context for this post.

The 5 points captured in the video are merely outcomes that can be captured at any given time and may characterise a single moment of success. There could be many others. These are my top five. These and the others happening repeatedly over time would constitute long term customer success. This would be the true customer success.

So now onto a wee bit of elaboration on each of the 5 points because this is a thought rocket after all and I don’t want to over think it.

1. Outcomes

Probably the most important thing about any short or long term success is that a business outcome is achieved. Of course the ideal is that it is positive and satisfies the customer but I would also say that it should be the result of purposeful intent. That means you achieved what you set out to achieve. Unintended outcomes can happen and you can even allow for those and they can be of greater consequence. But better would be those that were achieved as a result of purposeful cause and effect planning because this can lead to repeat-ability.

2. Stories

Being able to capture a success in a way that it inspires greater use, adoption, success and value creation is best. Not all successes can be made into a great story. Stories are what capture the imagination and drive greater momentum but the detail of that is for another post.

3. Reuse

If the success can be reapplied in the same area (team or department say) or ideally even more broadly (another team or even department or company) then so much the better. This again drives further use, adoption and success and is fundamentally a scale lever.

4. Measurable

The ability to quantify or qualify the success in some way greatly increases the value of the success. Nothing succeeds like tangible, measurable success. Especially if it fits in with predefined targets you intended to achieve and then you blow them out the water. I’m talking KPI’s baby 🎯 😁

5. Permanence and impact

If it succeeds in changing behaviour and sticks then so much the better. Most customer success efforts are oriented around driving a change in behaviour so that different outcomes are achieved. This is most often the promise of the new technology being sold, implemented and adopted. So this becomes “très importante”.

What else, what have I missed, what would be your top 5 – let me know in a comment if you dare 😜

Customer Success, Sense Making

The role of innovation in customer success

Customer Success activities are maturing. I have been doing the job since at least 2012 and have seen the profession go through fundamental changes to the point where, to succeed now, you need to be innovating.

I started writing about the role of customer success in relation to customer experience and the subscription economy almost 18 months ago in this post: Customer experience, the subscription economy and 10 ways success teams will make you win.

Just in the time since that post things have changed. There is a constant need to update thinking and refocus. Innovation is be the tip of the iceberg in many ways.

Icebergs

Click to enlarge

The iceberg is not just a turn of phrase. It plays a prominent role in my thinking. I’ve captured other elements using the analogy of an iceberg in the past: The customer success and experience iceberg. These focus on the relationship between customer success and customer experience. They also focus more on the input and output of the two activities.

The iceberg is a useful metaphor and you will see me using it constantly. Customer success as a practice and overarching philosophy should be built and grown to a point where you are mature enough that constant innovation becomes the standard. In the featured image of this post you should see how innovation forms part of the tip of these three elements: build, grow, innovate.

Innovation

Innovation has always been a part of the equation for me and you should see that from the post I wrote 18 months ago and linked above – here is the section covering it. The three subsections below also still also hold true.

  • Automation and AI
  • As a Service
  • SaaS 2.0

Innovation is also at the apex of the maturity model I developed so its fitting to be doubling down on it: The Customer Success Team Maturity Model. The growing and building aspects remain important as they also form the basis for my mentoring.

Outside of the maturity model which relates to activities within the organisation, the profession has reached a point of maturity that means doing customer success well is not enough to differentiate you.

And as all industries face the growing power of the customer and all companies focus on meeting customer demands better, so innovation that drives better customer experiences becomes key.

As a Service Trend Report

The As a Service part which is listed as a subsection of innovation in customer success above will actually be the focus of a new trend report. It will incorporate customer success practices and innovation in this as well as many other practices.

It will also cover innovation as a whole, insofar as practices that are successful in one industry can be adopted by other industries to innovate. Find out more about the report by hitting the button below.

Other considerations

Innovation is a key focus area but as part of this, other considerations need to be borne in mind, within customer success as well as the broader As a Service trend. I’ll cover them in the trend report as well.

  1. Employee Experience. Addressing this leads to good customer experience – there is a powerful connection, see my daneldoodle below. I see the impact of the connection in the work I do and mentor on every day.
  2. Role of Leadership. This is critical in setting the tone in terms of mindset and culture which is so necessary for success with customers and creating great experiences. I will also cover trends in the creation of the Chief Customer Officer or other senior roles like it that indicate the growing importance of and focus on the customer.
Sense Making

Playing your part in the machine of business is hard. Start with mindset.

Business transformations or change management efforts are a dime a dozen. We are bombarded by the constant need for change in the face of accelerating change. We get we need to build an ability to master change.

The problem is in the face of cynical change or transformation programs
where many have gone wrong, we have become inure to them.

Business is hard even without these constant demands and efforts. Competition is stiffer as the world becomes open to more entrants and barriers are lowered.

As individuals we are also constantly bombarded with admonishments to be better, more productive, keep up.

Mental health has never been more in focus and yet more pernicious in the face of all this. It imperils us as individuals and the businesses we work in – it comes at a cost to both. It can bring both to a grinding halt if left unchecked.

Mental health is a serious matter which often needs serious treatment that can come from expert help and with medication.

We also know instinctively that many afflictions arise in the mind by our own doing and can be solved there.

I am a huge believer in the power of the mind. As a keen follower of Buddhist philosophy over many years (a DharmaHacker really) I am convinced of the role the mind plays in guiding our reality. As the saying goes:

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.

Acharya Buddharakkhita’s translation of the Dhammapada

But just as much as vacuous mission statements and change or transformation initiatives cannot really change an organisation if the behaviours of leaders do not reflect them, so too with thought alone we cannot change anything.

The Buddha’s view on positive thinking was that if it violates reality, it’s worthless. Just as you can’t make a boulder rise into the air by means of wishful thinking, so you can’t experience happiness unless you actually do the things that lead to happiness, such as living ethically.

Speech and action determine our reality as much as our thoughts do. Yet thought and mindset is a factor and so on that front, let us mind what we think.

We can do that through stories. And metaphors. And the minds of others.

I am as inspired as the next by great stories, metaphors, quotes and the great minds who have shared their thoughts with the world, like the Buddha.

Coming back to the world of business, there is none more inspirational than Buckminster Fuller (July 12, 1895–July 1, 1983).

In the light of all of the challenges we face as individuals in companies big and small and faced with the daunting proposition that we cannot make a difference, Buckminster Fuller presents the ultimate metaphor to help us – the trim tab.

There is such a great account of his trim tab metaphor here on BrainPickings: Buckminster Fuller’s Brilliant Metaphor for the Greatest Key to Transformation and Growth.

In essence, the trim tab is part of a large ship’s navigation and contained within the rudder. It is like a little rudder that is easy to shift but this effects the big rudder, the one harder to move, and this one moves the ship.

It speaks to the power of individual action and the effect of habit on transforming our lives. You can see how this translates to the businesses we work in every day and how to overcome the feeling that we are powerless.

There are so many more and here below are just a few of my favourites.

Stainslaw Jerzy Lec who was a Polish poet said “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” Actually, this metaphor is a great compliment to Fuller’s in my view.

At first it may not seem to be the case because it speaks to herd thinking, mob rule and the danger of conformity and going along with the crowd which have lead to some of the worlds worst atrocities.

Yet I love it because it points to accountability and the need for you to avoid the above and make sure you can stand alone, against the winds of change sometimes.

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” Mother Teresa said that and I love it too because it says look to yourself for inspiration and just do it.

At Google X, the company’s “moonshot factory,” they supposedly use the mantra of MonkeyFirst.

“The idea is that if you want to get a monkey to recite Shakespeare on a pedestal, you start by training the monkey, not building the pedestal, because training the monkey is the hard part. Anyone can build a pedestal.”

“The problem is that most people start with the pedestal, because it’s what they know and by building it, they can show early progress against a timeline. Unfortunately, building a pedestal gets you nowhere. Unless you can actually train the monkey, working on the pedestal is wasted effort.”

The analogy with my line of work is striking. I deal with how organisations adopt technology and often it is the first port of call for most but technology alone is not enough. One has to look at the outcomes, the motivations and inspiration, the people, etc.

And finally…

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one”. Stella Adler said that which is why I am so inspired by art and design and so I doodle which brings me to a recent one 😁

What are your favourites and how do they work for you?

Future of Work, Sense Making

Leading the right behaviours through metrics and new work models

Metrics drive behaviour. Organisations also know that they can better manage, what they can measure.

So if you want to change behaviours, look at the metrics you are using and how they are driving behaviours.

You also need to look at the models and frameworks in which the metrics are contextualised and which drive them.

The foundation

A while back I felt that an overarching model or framework for the modern organisation did not exist considering the many accelerating changes we face.

An holistic one that encompassed business needs as well as that of the individual and collection of individuals that go to make a business work.

One that was current and kept up with the times.

Abraham Maslow defined a model for the individual that started at a basic level and went through increasing levels of motivation through to actualisation.

It has been broadly adopted in many fields, including business and has survived the times. It focuses on the individual. I wondered if a similar model could apply to organisations and the Modern Organisations Hierarchy of Needs was born.

The application of an existing and accepted framework/model to a new field is nothing new and works if the respective fields have similarities and largely they do.

The new framework/model has been well received and even replicated since which is validation to some degree.

What is missing?

For one, the quantifiable, measurable determinants that would validate the levels and allow it be applied in a real world context.

Further external validation of the model itself is needed too.

I teamed up with Natalia Dobias (a colleague at Microsoft and a change management consultant) and we set about exploring the options.

One task has been to look at whether we could make the current model measurable and the reason for this post.

There are other factors we are going to look at to validate and indeed improve the model if we can.

In this post I wanted to work openly to capture and progress my thoughts on measurement of business performance in the context of the existing model. A classic sensemaking piece.

My theory is that if there are valid metrics being used out there for the many different levels and aspects of the current model, that is a form of validation.

What do good measures in the current model look like

On the basis of some simple Google searches I found a few good posts in each category and chose the ones that ranked at the top and I thought did the best job of covering the category. The exercise was simply to see if the category was covered and how well, as a proxy for its importance.

  1. Business metrics. Loads of results for this category as you would expect. Here is a great post that captures a wide array of business metrics. The author has done a good job of collating a range of metrics covering financial, human resource, marketing, sales and SaaS metrics. So many of these sub categories fit into mine below, naturally.
  2. Technology and Space metrics. This is also a broad area so some elaboration. This post covers the technology side on the pure IT function metrics but that is just one area. How technology helps achieve specific business outcomes requires delving into each business category the technology supports in helping to achieve those outcomes. That’s another area, for example, CRM tools are clearly designed to focus on driving revenue metrics for sales teams. Then, as with Microsoft where I currently work and perhaps uniquely, there is technology to help track personal and organisational productivity through use of technology. On space metrics, there is lots on the facilities management front, this post for example. What I was keen to find out was the impact of physical space on employees and any metrics that were used to judge that. Do a Google search on the keywords in italics and you will find much on the subject. I’ve kept these two areas together because technology is increasingly intertwined with the physical, think IoT, digital twins, etc.
  3. Culture metrics. Lots of results on querying this category. Some great pointers in this post and I thought worth mentioning because of its well rounded and holistic views on how culture impacts other areas, eg, innovation, collaboration, etc.
  4. Performance and learning metrics. My first port of call is metrics that HR departments will use to manage employee performance – great post here on that and many more besides. Similarly on the learning and development side which is a pretty robust field of study with a good post on that here.
  5. Creativity and innovation metrics. As I was hoping and expecting, tons of results on the innovation side and not just focused on R&D activities, the traditional domain for innovation performance measurement. This article captures some really good alternative metric categories for innovation. Creativity is a little more nebulous but is often tied into innovation. This discussion thread and in the last comment a whole bunch of excellent onward links, identifies the challenges and opportunities for measuring these two inter-related areas.

Other factors and new work models

In early discussions, Natalia and I have identified a bunch of opportunities for improvements and further work to develop a more robust model. I’ll share those here as we progress.

Metrics are just one aspect but you have to start somewhere and this is as good a place as any. This post does work that I never did on the model too, so is also a good start.

Metrics have shortcomings when they are purely business focused as I have been in this post. Without a sense check on ethical, social, humanitarian and other grounds, you could be blinded. By any measure (pun intended) there are some classic mistakes of this having gone wrong.

So the one thing that I think is missing from the model so far is the social impact of an organisation’s activities. Also the collective effort of the organisation – the network or community which was a problem identified in criticism of Maslow’s original Hierarchy of Needs – see underlined part that comes from Wikipedia. An organisation is after all a collection of individuals striving to achieve a singular purpose.

Natalia and I have our work cut out. This is a beast of an exercise but imagine having a “theory of everything” for the modern organisation. I’m looking forward to the journey in any event.

If you have any thoughts, research or experience to share, please hit us up in a comment below.

Sense Making

Thought Rocket: The Conversation is the Collaboration

Workplace chat is something I am heavily focused on at the moment, i.e. my customers use of Microsoft Teams. Either through lack of knowledge or legacy thinking, I’m faced with initial confusion. This quick video aims to tackle that.

I’m trying to emphasise that it’s not about the many things I get asked to address first. After doing a demo, often the immediate questions are around how to structure files and folders, Teams and the different environments themselves, how to organise Teams and Channels, Tabs, etc.

I try get to the essence of a tool like Teams. For me it’s first and foremost about the conversations – in channels or chats. That is where the essence of teamwork and collaboration happen. Get that right and then the structure will flow – that is the right order and based on getting the hard but most impactful stuff done first.

That is the essence I am trying to distil in the short video which is a play on Marshall McLuhan’ famous view on the Medium is the Message. So since this is a thought rocket, a super quick view on things expressed in a short video, doodle or blog post, I’ll leave it at that and for you to make of it what you will.

Sense Making

Thought Rocket: Persona’s and knowing your users

I put this simple video together the other day. I shared it on LinkedIn and it got some good feedback – check the comments. The post and comments go in to more detail in terms what I was thinking and how responses helped me flesh it out a little. So herewith, the video:

Customer Success, Sense Making

What good data looks like

This last week I attended a meetup and workshop in London organised by Customer Success Network, a European based not-for-profit community for customer success managers. It had the same title as this post.

An excellent session which started off with a few minutes of talking by Dan Steinman, GM Gainsight EMEA. I then facilitated one of the breakout workshop sessions on how good data should be used in QBR’s (Quarterly or Executive Business Reviews as they are commonly known). Here are some brief notes.

Getting started

Dan started off talking about we all have some “good enough” data, which should be good enough for starters. In other words, don’t get hung up with not having a perfect set of usage data or reporting setup. You can easily get started with things that don’t require usage data but can tell you a lot about your customer and how to manage them. Things like:

  • How long have they been a customer?
  • How many renewals have they done?
  • What is their ARR now vs originally?
  • Are they paid up on their bills?
  • # of Support cases open?
  • Survey results?

In terms of the elusive product usage data though, you HAVE to get it at some point. Some ways mentioned: Segment.io, MixPanel, Google Analytics, Aptrinsic. I’ve used MixPanel which was okay but had great experience with Looker too and in my current work I use PowerBI where we actually focus on enabling the customer to have the same views and insights as the customer success manager.

On the last point above, this is holy grail territory in my view because then you and the customer can have truly meaningful conversations since there is a plain and evident, single source of truth you can discuss strategies around.

Back to product usage data. Your product/engineering team should want it as badly as you do. Start with the bare minimum – logins, pageviews, reports run, etc. Don’t accept no for an answer.

Muck in even if it means having to learn a new tool. I remember spending an enormous amount of time learning first MixPanel and then Looker in my last role. All the product team had done was create the connections with the usage data and the reporting tool but how to make sense of it was left up to your own devices. But oh how rewarding when it works and you start making sense of the data and having the right conversations with the customer.

And its not just your product/engineering team who should want it as badly as you do. Marketing and sales teams have spent decades and millions perfecting understanding of prospects. Once they understand that customers are the new growth engine, they’ll be on board to help you create and share access to the same level of understanding on customers.

Different use cases for data

The workshop breakouts were pretty much focused on different use cases for data. I facilitated the one on QBR’s. The activity was focused on mapping as-is and to-be QBR data definitions. First we defined traditional definitions. Next we challenged these. How else could we focus on predictive or future-focused growth measures? What were they?

The output was a view of mapped current and future-focused CS measures, and why you’d use them. Here is the groups output after I took the raw material, cleaned it up, tweaked it and added a little of my own spin.

QBR To-Be – Traditional Approach
QBR To-Be – Future Approach

 The other breakout sessions all explored different aspects/use cases of data usage like:

  • You work in a small start-up where customer success is just evolving. You want to able to demonstrate the role of the team to show the impact you are making internally.
  • Your company has been expanding rapidly, the growth of MRR is now driven by expansions and upselling, which is owned by the Customer Success team. You’ve been asked by your CEO to demonstrate CS’s impact across the business to prepare for another round of funding.
  • Customer Success teams are increasingly expected to become more financially driven. This exercise was intended to demonstrate their role in contributing to the growth of the company.
  • Drawing out a success plan which would help the most immature customer success team understand:
    • What value looks like and where CSM’s can get data from (even if they don’t “have any” today)
    • How to track customer health through the life cycle with what they have

NOTE: There is an evolving document capturing the output of all the sessions.

Customer Success, Sense Making, Startup Innovation

What business are you in?

The question in the title derives from the classic marketing thought piece by Theodore Levitt entitled Marketing Myopia. At the time it rocked not just the marketing world but the business world in general and has shaped business thinking ever since.

Published in the Harvard Business Review in July/August 1960, it is no less relevant today. I remember being excited about the concept on encountering it for the first time when doing my Masters in Marketing and I still am. It’s a foundational positioning model that I consider in some of my mentoring work. There are limitations to its applicability but it is still a sound concept.

By way of explanation, the famous piece starts with an illustration:

“The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because the need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, even telephones), but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves.”

“They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry wrong was because they were railroad-oriented instead of transportation-oriented; they were product-oriented instead of customer-oriented.”

The myopia referred to is a failing of definition by being too narrow in how you view the business you are in. Levitt urged marketers and business owners to stop defining themselves by what they produced and instead reorient themselves toward customer needs. This would ultimately define the business they were in on the basis of the most important stakeholder group that mattered – the customer.

An example of mistaken definition

Again by way of explanation, I made these points to one of the founders of Percolate about two years ago, mid way through my employment there.

I had questions around the business Percolate was in and how it was being defined. I framed my thoughts and feedback in the context of Levitt’s.

At the time (thankfully this has now changed), they defined their business as being in the supply of enterprise systems of record. They compared themselves to Salesforce for sales, Workday for HR.

In Percolate’s case, they were catering to marketers with a system of record for marketers. All of their marketing messaging and branding was centred on this key definition.

I questioned this fundamentally as a short-sighted and inward looking approach to marketing that focused on the needs of the company instead of defining the company and its products in terms of the customers’ needs and wants. It would result in a failure to see and adjust to the rapid changes in the market. My reasoning was as follows:

  1. The marketing record is the byproduct of a transaction and necessary for monitoring and tracking outcomes over time. But as a concept it’s not very inspirational to a typical user. It’s also the function of technology and by that virtue, product-oriented.
  2. It may appeal to an executive who wants to account for expenditure and effort in his or her organisation and you should appeal to this person’s needs in selling efforts. But to be successful you also need to focus on and inspire end users.
  3. Focus on end user input and how it is facilitated (briefing and planning necessary for creative work). Focus on output (execution of great creative marketing campaigns). Focus on how it makes them better at their job. System of Results might be a more appropriate positioning statement, especially in a SaaS world where usage is a major factor in retention and you need to go beyond the initial positioning focused around customer acquisition.
  4. Increasing pressure is being placed on marketers to be more creative and stand out. Creative work that can, will be operationalised, automated and performed by AI. Most creativity that counts, dealing with imagination and innovation that moves other humans to action, will remain with humans.
  5. Marketers are in the creativity business. Data skills are increasingly coming to the fore but that can be handled by machines. Products that help marketing customers manage their creative work and stand out, will stand out themselves. Doing more to spark creativity and collaborative features to aid collective creativity will stand out but it’s also what’s done on the service side and how you orient to enable organisational actualisation that matters.
  6. The Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs positions creativity and innovation as the pinnacle of organisational actualisation and all other layers as necessary but supporting elements – like a system of record.
  7. Focus the Customer Success service on helping customers achieve this level of actualisation. It takes the focus away from product and features which is always tricky and prone to disappointment (the difference between what is promised by sales and what is delivered post-sales often falls short).
  8. I would argue that all of the above positions the company proposition on uplifting and inspiring activities like enabling creativity, imagination, innovation, etc. This is the right way to position it, on the right activities, that will make humans stand out in a sea of machines. That move away from products and technology and onto human ingenuity. This will make all the difference as good positioning strategy should.

I didn’t share the above to dis Percolate. I wanted to share my original thinking and revisit it because I’ve been thinking a lot about this again recently. It keeps coming back like a bad habit. So many industries are faced with a fundamental re-evaluation of the business they are in because of rapid changes in the market. Much more so than the railroads faced back in the day.

Changes that are disrupting incumbent players and being taken advantage of by opportunistic startups that are positioning themselves in the right way.

What’s working and what isn’t?

It’s about getting creative with how you deliver products and services, leverage technology and position yourself. Getting creative with the very fabric of your business, its business model. That is what creates the Uber’s, WeWork’s and Air BnB’s of tomorrow.

My view on where Microsoft is (re)positioning itself.

And it’s not just startups. Microsoft is reinventing itself very successfully on the back of its new positioning. It’s why I am (back) here. It also goes beyond business models and touches on aspiration and effects culture which is what Microsoft has fixed led by its new CEO Satya Nadella. From an aspiration led vision to be “a PC on every desk” which was applicable then and worked well for them and the time, to “empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more”. This latter is very much focused on the type of creativity we need to engender with employees and is reflected in its (re)positioning – in my view. How we help customers get creative is what I was arguing Percolate should do and what I think Microsoft is helping do more and more.

The auto industry is not doing so well. If you leave Tesla aside you will see an industry struggling to find its place in the new world and with reinventing themselves as they must. I’m not the only one to think so: Why Car Makers Are In A Death Spiral.

Since I’m working with the industry at the moment I am noticing first hand the lack of speed and imagination in doing the work necessary to reinvent themselves

I’ve suggested solutions (see below) – time will tell if they listen and how things pan out.

SaaS beyond Software – Automakers

The connected car vision is missing a few connections

Sense Making

An explorers guide to the new era of work

The explorer

There’s a long list of traits prevalent in the explorer, people that are naturally inclined to overcoming challenges and seeking new discoveries in any field, place or time. Those traits that stand out for me are the joy of mastering new skills or knowledge, an insatiable desire for uncovering truth and new things and stoic perseverance.

No matter how you define it, you sense whether you have it from an early age. I remember as a little boy, wondering the savannas of Southern Africa where I grew up, feeling like Livingstone even though I was only in open fields (veld as its called) immediately surrounding my home. In the early days few houses had been built where I lived and it was more savanna than suburb.

And far from new lands, wild animals and indigenous peoples it was ants nests, puddles with tadpoles spawning, old ruins and early constructions of the new house being built in the twilight hours, after the builders had left for the day, that I was exploring.

I spent hours there. In the holidays it stretched into days.

The joy and thrill I felt has never left me and I know I am not alone in this feeling.

It has guided me in everything I have done since. Leaving the country of my birth to explore London with my new wife a month after we married. A changed career from advertising to technology supported by new studies there. Again leaving for new lands, this time The Netherlands, for new work opportunities and to build a family, three wonderful children all born there. Then after 7 years, back to the UK starting my own business which I ran successfully for a similar time period. Since then it has been forging new paths in customer success management, in itself a new career type.

Being an explorer is part nature part nurture. From a work point of view, my experiences transcended into making me an accidental intrapreneur.

I’m not sure we (as workers) have a choice any more.

I remember reading an article back in 2013 by John Hagel, John Seely Brown, Tamara Samoylova called Unlocking the passion of the Explorer.

It resonated powerfully with me. It captured the essence of what I was and how I approached things. I’m an explorer. I’m passionate.

It captured beautifully the era we live in and the shift we are undergoing, especially in the world of business.

In my mind, the shift refers to the transition between the industrial era into the one we are now in, the digital era.

The Digital Era

Digital explorers have advantages over our industrial era forebears. In the digital era, things can be measured more easily (response and feedback loops are immediate and traceable). It’s all manifested through data. Insights are the outcomes you achieve once you have sifted the data tea leaves. The digital world is more open to more people and experimentation is rife. Experience is more malleable and accessible to more people.

Digital explorers can learn more quickly by doing. They create meaning as they experience. They are data driven and entrepreneurial. They learn from and are driven by others like them who share their learning openly.

Oh what a joy to be a digital explorer 🚀

I put this daneldoodle together to characterise some of the different traits I think are important. Other than the traits needed, whatever you think they may be, the one other factor that you need to consider is speed and agility.

So get cracking fast or face extinction. Being a digital explorer has to be a given in today’s business world if you want to be successful.

And build the capabilities of the explorer that will allow you to discover your place in the next era.

The Next Era

As the industrial era ended, so too will the digital era.

We are well into the digital era and feeling the early impact of the next era.

The next era will be characterised by intelligence, automation and creativity.

The intelligence will be artificial. The automation will be machine led.

The creativity will be human led.

Explorers of all era’s but even more so in future, will have to rely on their imagination, their passion, their humanity and most importantly, their creativity. Things machines are not great at.

I’ve written more about that here: The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation