The Power of the Pivot

 13th November 2018 by gihan

Many people think of disruption as a bolt from the blue that comes out of nowhere and shakes up an entire industry. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sometimes you can “disrupt yourself” by making a small change in a slightly different direction.

This is not just doing the same thing better, faster, or cheaper than before. That can be useful, but it’s just an incremental change. We’re talking about a change in direction – or, as the management consultants call it – a “pivot”. Think “different”, not just “better”.

A pivot doesn’t have to be a major change. Sometimes it’s just one degree away from where you’re heading now. But that one tiny change in direction will take you into a completely new future.

Here are five examples of companies that successfully pivoted – and in different ways – to transform their business.

Market Pivot

You might know Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook to connect university students. He started it at Harvard, and then gradually extended it to other American universities. The next step of his plan was to expand Facebook into high schools. But he shelved that plan, and instead opened it up to a much wider market: everybody. As a result, we have the Facebook of today: the biggest social media platform on the planet.

Thinking Ahead: What product or service could you offer to a different market? You don’t have to reach “everybody”, but a small shift to an adjacent market might create a profitable opportunity.

Side Pivot

In 1891, William Wrigley Jr. was running a business selling soap (Wrigley’s Scouring Soap) and baking powder. As an incentive to customers, every time somebody bought a can of baking powder, he gave them two packages of chewing gum. Eventually, he realised customers wanted the chewing gum more than the baking powder, and he switched to that as the main product of the company.

Thinking Ahead: What side product do customers value enough that they might be willing to pay for it?

Focus Pivot

Instagram, the popular photo-sharing site with more than 800 million users, started out as a “meetup” service. Founder Kevin Systrom, a fan of Kentucky whiskeys, created an iPhone app called “Burbn” to help people “check in” at various locations, post photos of their location, and make plans to meet up later. But the app was too complicated, with a confusing “jumble of features”, as he described it. Systrom and his colleague Mike Krieger decided to pare down the app to focus on the most popular feature – photo sharing – and renamed it Instagram.

Thinking Ahead: What features of your products do customers rarely use? Can you strip them away to focus on the key features?

Digital Pivot

In the last decade, Air New Zealand has transformed itself from posting the largest corporate loss in New Zealand history to being consistently profitable, and is now one of the most highly-rated airlines in the world. Much of the credit goes to its visionary decision in 2016 to appoint a Chief Digital Officer (CDO), replacing the role of Chief Information Officer. This led to new initiatives around automation, data analytics, optimising manual processes, and a cultural shift of changing everything in the existing operation.

Thinking Ahead: Are you fully tapping into the power of digital, first to replace and enhance existing operations, and then to create new opportunities using AI, analytics, and Big Data?

Perspective Pivot

Intel, famous for the “powered by Intel” processor chips in millions of devices, started with memory chips, which were used for storage rather than computing power. In 1985, facing fierce competition from Japanese companies, Intel was wrestling with the decision about whether to continue with “memory” or move fully into “processors”. Intel president Andy Grove broke the deadlock by asking his CEO, Gordon Moore, “If the board sacked us and brought in a new CEO, what would he do?” Moore instantly replied, “He would get us out of the memory chip market”. Grove said, “In that case, let’s walk out the door, come back in, and do it ourselves.”

Thinking Ahead: If somebody else took over your organisation, what would they do differently because they are not holding on to “baggage” from the past?

What’s Your Pivot?

Which of these examples resonate most with you?

Sometimes it’s not easy to see possible pivots when you’re caught up in your existing operations and focussed on your current strategy. Take a step back and assess each of these five pivots, and what they might be able to do to your business.

Don’t start by asking how you make them happen, because you get bogged down in details. Instead of asking, “How?”, ask “What if?”

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Are You Tapping Into the Power of Wearables?

 8th November 2018 by gihan

Everybody is walking around with data collection units strapped to them in the form of smart watches, Fitbits and other wearables. Are you tapping into their potential to gather, filter and analyse all this data to provide better experiences for your clients, customers, and patients?

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Five Smart Ways to Double Your Team’s Productivity

 6th November 2018 by gihan

Most leaders and managers don’t know how to lead teams in a disruptive, fast-changing world. This is true even if you’re an experienced leader – or, dare I say it, especially if you’re an experienced leader. What used to work doesn’t work anymore, and you need new strategies to lead and manage effectively.

When Harvard workplace researchers Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones asked people about what makes “the best workplace on earth”, they identified the things that attract (and keep!) the best talent. They are exactly what disruptive organisations offer now to find the best people.

Here’s a quick summary of the five key differences between the typical workplaces of established and disruptive organisations:

Let’s take these in turn:

  • Fit vs Diversity: It’s still important to find people who fit with the rest of the team (especially when it comes to shared values), but it’s just as important to bring diverse thinking to the team by attracting people who aren’t a perfect fit.
  • Information vs Authority: Everybody has more information than ever before, but people also need authority to act on that information (and even on misinformation or partial information).
  • Training vs Talent: It’s still important for the organisation to provide training and ongoing development, but it’s just as important for the organisation to learn from talented individuals – regardless of their role, experience, or seniority.
  • Money vs Meaning: People expect to be paid – and paid well – for their expertise, but money alone is not enough. The best people also want work with meaning, in a place where they feel proud to work.
  • Policy vs Judgement: Official policies can never keep up with a fast-changing, complex world. Instead, the best organisations build the judgement of their team members, and then allow them to exercise that judgement rather than relying on policies.

These are profound shifts in thinking, especially for experienced leaders who have always done things the old way. You might think you don’t need to think this way, but that’s a dangerous mindset for long-term success. If you don’t make this change, your best people might stay for a while, hoping to be attracted and inspired, but they eventually get pulled by a stronger magnet and leave.

How does your workplace stack up?

When I work with leadership teams in this area, one of the first things we do is conduct a quick survey to see how their current workplace stacks up with “the best workplace on earth”.

If you would like to try this yourself, here’s a cut-down version of the survey.

Read each of these 15 statements below and select those that are true for your workplace. Be honest, and be tough on yourself. If it’s not a strong “Yes”, treat it as a “No”.

  1. We proactively embrace and encourage diversity.
  2. We operate flexible teams (flexible work hours, working from home, freelancing, global teams, etc.).
  3. We help people build their personal brand.
  4. When we delegate work, we also delegate authority.
  5. We transparently share information with our people, even “above their pay grade”.
  6. We identify emerging leaders and fast-track their leadership.
  7. We encourage reverse mentoring.
  8. We offer other on-the-job learning (e.g. shadowing, job swaps).
  9. Our new recruits often come through referrals from employees.
  10. We’re clear about how we’re changing the world.
  11. People say they are proud to work here.
  12. People think their day-to-day work is meaningful.
  13. People know which rules they can break (and they do).
  14. We teach decision-making and good judgement.
  15. We encourage people to make judgement calls, and support them when they do.

How did you do?

If you’re going to be tough on yourself, I reckon 12 out of 15 is a pass, and everything else is a fail.

There’s no shame if you scored low – as long as you don’t stay this way!

If you want my help in doing something about this, please get in touch. I would love to help.

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Five High-Tech Dementia-Busters

 1st November 2018 by gihan

More than 400,000 Australians live with dementia, and it costs us $15 billion a year. But now new technology is making life easier for people with dementia, their carers, and family and friends.

Here are five high-tech dementia busters that help people deal with dementia in their lives.

1. Virtual reality films take viewers back to a familiar time in history.

Do you remember happy times from your childhood? What was the world was like when you were at primary school? High school? Raising a family?

Imagine being able to step into a time machine and going back into that world, and reliving what you saw, what you heard, and how you felt. Thanks to the incredible power of virtual reality, that time machine exists right now.

In the UK, the Wayback Project helps people with Alzheimer’s relive some of the happy memories from their past using virtual reality. In one of their VR apps, they transport people back to the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, which many older people remember as a happy memory. This is not like looking at black-and-white TV footage from that date. It’s like stepping right into it, as if you were there.

2. Listen to popular music from your youth.

What music do you remember from your childhood? What did your family sing at home? What kind of music did you first like as a teenager? What about on your first date? Or that you both liked in a relationship?

Music brings back happy memories, and Spark Memories is a special radio station that takes you back into the past to relive those memories. It’s an app on your phone that plays popular music from the past. You just give it your date of birth, and it automatically creates a playlist of popular songs from when you were younger.

3. Know when somebody is wandering off.

If you’re caring for somebody with dementia, one of the things you worry about the most is that they wander off, so you’re always worrying about where they are and if they are safe. What if you never had to worry about that again?

There are smartphone apps – such as Jiobit – that alert parents of young children if their kids are wandering away from them, and carers of dementia sufferers are using the same apps for their loved ones. It reduces stress, gives you more freedom, and gives everybody more peace of mind.

4. Voice-activated personal assistants answer simple questions.

Sometimes people suffering from dementia struggle to remember the most basic things, like what day it is or even where they live. Instead of being embarrassed by having to ask somebody, they can ask a digital personal assistant – like Siri on their iPhone or Google Home in their living room. It might sound simple, but it can make a big difference to the person and their carer.

5. Record your own voice to play gentle reminders.

Personal connections are really important for people suffering from dementia, and the amazing Alzheimer Master app combines high-tech features with a high-touch personal connection. If you’re caring for somebody with dementia, you can program the app to remind them to take their pills, lock the doors at night, call a friend during the day – all in YOUR voice, so you’re making a more personal connection.

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Are You Really Solving Customer Problems?

 30th October 2018 by gihan

I was recently in Melbourne, delivering the opening keynote presentation at the AHRI (Australian Human Resources Institute) National Convention. These are senior leaders and managers in the HR space in Australia, and one of the questions they ask is:

“How do I make sure that HR stays relevant in this fast changing world, where jobs are changing, careers are changing, and the nature of work is changing?”

My first answer is the answer I give everybody, in every industry, and in every role: Make sure that you’re solving problems – ideally, your end customer’s problems.

Being fit for the future is all about understanding what problems you solve for your customers, your clients, your team members, your employees, and your other stakeholders. And ultimately, it’s got to be about solving external problems, whoever “customer” means for your business, in your role, and in your organisation.

So, if you want to be fit for the future, solve their problems!

Even if you have a purely internal role, the best way you can future-proof your career and team is to focus on solving your customer’s problems.

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Education 2030 – What the World Needs Now

 25th October 2018 by gihan

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released the first position paper from its “The Future of Education and Skills 2030” project. In a nutshell, the aim of this project is to identify the key skills for the future and show how the (school) education system can deliver them.

To start with, the OECD correctly identifies the biggest challenge schools face:

“Schools are facing increasing demands to prepare students for rapid economic, environmental and social changes, for jobs that have not yet been created, for technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve social problems that have not yet been anticipated.”

The OECD working group developed a number of “design principles” for changing our broken education system. I won’t list them all here, but I’ll highlight four of them here:

  • Student agency: The curriculum should be designed around students to motivate them and recognise their prior knowledge, skills, attitudes and values.
  • Transferability: Higher priority should be given to knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that can be learned in one context and transferred to others.
  • Authenticity: Learners should be able to link their learning experiences to the real world and have a sense of purpose in their learning. This requires interdisciplinary and collaborative learning alongside mastery of discipline-based knowledge.
  • Inter-relation: Learners should be given opportunities to discover how a topic or concept can link and connect to other topics or concepts within and across disciplines, and with real life outside of school.

I’ve chosen these four because they share a common theme: They are about aligning education with real-world needs.

Far too much time is currently spent teaching things that won’t have any use later (“Miss, when will I ever use this again?”) or that are taught solely to pass an exam (“Will that be on the test?”). The biggest impact will come from changing the system so it links in-school learning to real-life application.

As the OECD report goes on to say:

“Students who are best prepared for the future are change agents. They can have a positive impact on their surroundings, influence the future, understand others’ intentions, actions and feelings, and anticipate the short and long-term consequences of what they do.”

Read the full report here.

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Jugaad Thinking – Do More With Less

 23rd October 2018 by gihan

From the time Scottish professor William Cullen designed a small refrigerating machine in 1755, artificial refrigeration has transformed the way we store, transport, and preserve food. It has enabled settlement of areas that aren’t served by natural transport lanes, facilitated the dramatic shift from rural areas to cities, and changed the daily lifestyle of millions of families.

The modern refrigerator has one function – moving heat from one place to another – but requires different interconnecting parts: a condenser, compressor, evaporator, and expansion valve. There is no secret to how it works, but not everybody has access to all these parts.

This was the problem facing Manshuk Lal Prajapati, a middle-aged Gujarati from a small town in India. Prajapati was earning a living selling tea from a roadside stall, but always had an entrepreneurial mindset, and yearned to build a business building and selling household appliances.

His big problem was a lack of resources. When he set out to build a refrigerator, he didn’t have the sophisticated components used in Western appliances, and anyway he knew he couldn’t include them and still build something affordable to ordinary Indian families.

But he turned that limitation into an asset, forcing himself to find a way to create a feasible commercial product using limited resources. He turned to his own experience in pottery (an interest passed down over generations), and that gave him the spark of an idea that eventually led to his first – and now most successful – product: a clay refrigerator.

Although it doesn’t use the same components as more sophisticated appliances, it performs the same basic function, and keeps vegetables fresh for four days and milk for two days. It’s only about the size of a large microwave oven, so it doesn’t take up much space in a crowded kitchen.

Most importantly, it’s affordable, and Prajapati’s company MittiCool has sold 9,000 units across India.

Here’s the Point

The Mitticool refrigerator is an example of what Indians call “Jugaad innovation”, from a Hindi word that loosely means doing something innovative with limited resources. We might call it a “hack”.

This kind of innovation is often seen as a temporary workaround or cobbled-together solution that isn’t perfect, but is “good enough” until we can fix it properly. Unfortunately, that often means it’s only seen in a negative way.

Sometimes less is more! A lack of resources forces you to focus on what really matters.

There’s a management movement called “lean” (popularised by the book “The Lean Startup”, by Eric Ries), and that’s a good way to think about resourcing your project. Skinny runners don’t have enough energy, and fast runners carry too much weight. The best runners are lean: They have the right balance between too little and too much.

It’s tempting to throw as many resources as possible into a new project, because that seems like the best way to gain momentum and ensure success. But that isn’t always the best approach.

Don’t under-resource the project to the extent that it’s impractical or demotivating. But don’t go too far in the other direction and pile on so many resources that people get complacent and lazy.

Even if you have the luxury of these additional resources, consider holding them back and working within tighter constraints. Find the right middle ground, where people have enough resources to get the job done, but not so many resources that they waste them in non-productive activities.

For example, in 2015, Stephan Aarstol, the founder and CEO of one of America’s fastest-growing companies, Tower Paddle Boards, challenged his entire company to switch to a five-hour workday. He didn’t reduce their pay; he simply asked them to achieve the same results in just over half the time. The results were outstanding, and what started as a temporary initiative (introduced over summer, so staff could enjoy the long summer days with their family) became standard in their workplace.

It might seem counterintuitive to impose restrictions and remove resources, but it works because people tend to use the resources available to them. When you have a big budget, you can spend it on feasibility studies, reports, consultants, and expensive tools. When you don’t, you’re forced to find more “jugaad” solutions.

Thinking Ahead

  • What projects are currently “top heavy” and could be trimmed to encourage jugaad innovation?
  • What project could you launch right now with a lean set of resources?
  • Which start-up companies in your industry are operating “lean and mean” – and what can you learn from them?

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Top Trends for 2019 – Artificial Intelligence

 18th October 2018 by gihan

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already around us, and will continue to grow and expand. If you don’t have AI as part of your strategic planning, it’s time to add it now!

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