Fortunes of the future…..

It’s time for an anology

What did we think before the last transition?

I remember one of my friends telling me that, as a small girl, she grew up speaking to Arthur C. Clarke when they both lived in Sri Lanka. This was because her mum (an AT&T rep) had one of two video phones in the country in the 1970s, and Mr. Clarke kept wanting to demonstrate the other one which he owned. It became her job to be the other end of the call.

The futurologist and sci-fi writer had predicted some of impacts of communications in the below clip from 1964 (broadcast on the BBC Horizon Program). Knowing that he lived in Sri Lanka, perhaps explains his focus on being able to do business from anywhere without the need to go to London. (If you’ve followed this blog you’ll have read about deep fakes – this video isn’t one. This isn’t revisionist. It’s real).

He has interesting, forward-thinking ideas about the impact of communications on travel. I enjoy listening to the thoughts of people that look “around corners”. One of the members of the network tells me that I do this for him. Seeing the knock-on consequences of new innovations if they become successful is useful. I’ve found it is always a good idea to tread carefully around existing business models in times of change – try to work out what of the old will be challenged by the new. Often it’s a second order effect that is the biggest – not the direct challenge.

Watch the clip here:

Lessons from the information revolution

  • The potential of this technology was clear, but it would take 50+ years for it to adopted in the mainstream.
  • While imagining the implications of the technology he missed the boom in business travel that ran in parallel with development, and the implication of non-business users being able to easily communicate and organise (cyber-bullying, conspiracies, revolutions).
  • In the past 50 years most (all?) the great new fortunes were made on the back of communications / information processing.

Implications from the climate revolution

We have started our 50 year journey into cooling the planet. This involves both emmisions reduction and removing carbon from the atmosphere. If we don’t lose interest (and really want to achieve something) then the breadth of change required in technology, behaviour, geopolitics and value systems is staggering.

New fortunes will be made from combating climate change – but how we value those fortunes may also change.

It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it……

This post is about competence, capability, and behaviour. Three words that many people are comfortable using but ones for which, when asked for an explanation of meaning, I have uncovered hundreds of different underlying concepts.

I’ve found that words really matter because they shape the way people think and behave. I’ve found that people can use the same words but mean different things. This gets in the way of organising group activity.

I pay more attention than many people I know to this. I take time to clarify and develop shared understanding. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in many countries and cultures. Maybe it’s because I was trained in solution selling early in my career. Maybe I’m a pedant. I don’t know.

My roles in sales, marketing and as a consultant have presented me with opportunities to interact with hundreds of different companies across different continents and to observe their approaches to structuring work. I find it fascinating to uncover why things are the way they are, and how to make progress in different settings.

I find that people are often unaware of their own assumptions – what they believe to be objective truth is probably only so within an accepted framework, and that framework can sometimes be just an opinion. Maybe it isn’t accepted by others.

I have found that with careful choice of words it’s possible to influence individual performance and create improved group outcomes.

So here is my simple definition of competence, capability, and behaviour.

Competence

This is something that an individual person can do. They have a level of competency ranging from “incompetence” to “mastery”. An example might be “carpentry” – and may consist of sub-competencies such as “joint making”, “cutting to size”, and “veneering”. Competence is a combination of knowing what to do, the skill to do it, the number of times you’ve done it before (accumulated practice), and how recent the last time you did it was.

Capability

This is something that an organisation can do. In a one-person company it’s essentially the same as competence. It is strongly correlated with competency in a lone-wolf role such as rain-making sales. In other areas, capability relies on the successful organisation of different competencies brought by more than one person. In these circumstances an organisation can create capabilities that no single person is competent to perform on their own.

Behaviour

This is the “manner” in which work is performed. Are people polite to each other? Does a person have “presence” and “gravitas”? An organisation can exhibit collective behaviour – which is related to but not the same as culture, another word often understood differently. An individual can exhibit behaviour – which is related to but not the same as personality.

In both the case of capability and of competence it is possible for organisations and individuals to exhibit different behaviours but still be equally capable and competent. In this case they may well achieve different outcomes, especially if they must influence others.

What do you think?

What do you think of these definitions? How can you help improve them? Please comment here or email me directly.

Structured work or just lucky?

I’ve been working with my clients while we’ve been under covid lockdown, and one theme has emerged more than anything else. That is the requirement for organising the activity of groups. My clients have been seeking ways to enable individual unsupervised action towards a joint outcome.

My clients want: independent action; visibility of progress; and accurate outcome. They have lost the ability the office environment gave for short-cycle intervention and guidance. They need structured ways to work remotely that replace it.

In industries that employ large numbers of people all doing sections of a task over a period of time – think of a building site, telephone maintenance crews or even an army – there are defined, co-ordinated systems of work. The modern office with it’s semi-senior knowledge workers has, in contrast, succeeded through flexibility, creatiing adhoc creative solutions and short-cycle leadership intervention.

My clients, faced with the pandemic and new ways to work and communicate, have found a new need for structured ways to co-ordinate creative work. Through my consulting company, Klynetic Innovation, I’ve been helping companies re-configure products and services and quickly commercialise them, a task that requires precisely this combination of structure, creativity, direction and focus.

One of the approaches I’ve taken is to emphasise personal responsibility and progress-without-permission at lower levels in an organisation. Then to moderate this with the checks-and-balances of good governance provided by systems and oversight provided by graphics and shared language. I’ve coached people to recognise the differences between the competence displayed by an individual and the ability of management to co-ordinate work and form organisational capabilities.

It struck me that in the last thirty years we’ve been honing our ability to encourage leadership and peronal development while, perhaps, not paying enough attention to management. I use the diagram below as as a tool to discuss this topic with senior teams and help identify what’s missing.

I’d like to know your thoughts, please reach out and email me (or comment here).

It’s all about productivity

If you have followed this blog for a while you will know that, like a broken record, I have been banging on about digitalisation, the 4th Industrial Revolution and the productivity conundrum. I have often referred to Tim Harford’s article about electrification and how long it can take to make a transition.

Recently, I’ve started to add the “Energy Transition” into my thinking on the topic. The outcome remains the same but I keep finding more and more reasons why it will inevitably happen.

One of my go-to reads is Ian Stewart, Deloitte’s chief economist. If you’ve not signed up for his Monday briefing then you really should – it’s excellent. Today I have lifted most of his post (available here: https://blogs.deloitte.co.uk/mondaybriefing/2021/06/the-looming-capex-boom-.html) not only because I’m being lazy but also because it talks to many of the points I’ve been trying to communicate to my clients over the last 7 years (since I started Bestem).

Throughout history economies have been shaped by shocks, from recessions to technological shifts and energy transitions. The Great Depression helped change thinking about the role of government, paving the way for a permanent expansion in the state. The switch from steam power to electricity triggered a vast reorganisation of manufacturing.

The pandemic and the drive to net zero are similarly epoch-making events. The pandemic has driven technology adoption and changes in business practices. The energy transition involves an overall of energy production and distribution.

The structure of the economy will change. The sectoral balance of the economy, the skills needed, the uses of capital, the allocation of capital, will shift, creating winners and losers. It will also bring opportunities to rethink organisations, invest and raise productivity in ways that had not previously been considered viable or necessary.

The unlocking of the economy has unleashed a surge of pent-up demand into an economy operating with reduced capacity. That is creating inflation and bottlenecks, and incentivising investment. Meanwhile large corporates are flush with cash, capital is cheap and institutional investors want businesses to step up investment.

The global semiconductor shortage has spurred a flurry of investment announcements in new factories. Automakers are building new battery plants to meet demand for electric vehicles. Rising freight rates have prompted a surge in new orders for container vessels. And the move to ‘hybrid’ working and the growth of online shopping require a reconfiguration of office space and an ever- rising volume of warehouse capacity.

Labour costs play a role in investment decisions too. As countries emerge from lockdowns labour shortages have started to appear in sectors including manufacturing and construction. In the UK increases in the minimum wage continue to outstrip inflation, raising costs for firms and sectors reliant on lower-income work. An exodus of some 650,000 foreign-born workers from the UK last year, equivalent to 2.0% of the workforce, and a reduced flow of less skilled labour from the EU, create new pressures. More expensive and scarcer labour would sharpen incentives to invest in productivity-enhancing equipment and skills. Machines, for instance, could readily substitute for labour in washing cars and coffee preparation (I was in a motorway service station last weekend where the queue for Starbucks led me to get the same product from a self-service machine in the next-door Waitrose. I couldn’t tell the difference).

In the UK government policy has set out to boost investment with the capital-allowance ‘super-deduction’ targeted at plant and machinery. The Bank of England estimates that this will have its greatest effect in raising investment in some of the most capital-intensive sectors including manufacturing and transport.

A surge in private sector capital spending is likely to coincide with rising levels of public infrastructure investment, particularly related to ‘green’ projects. So, with private and public investment likely to grow, this recovery is looking very different from the one that followed the global financial crisis. Then UK business investment took six years to climb back to its 2008 peak. Today the Bank of England sees investment snapping back quickly, ending next year almost 10% above pre-pandemic levels. A similar story is likely to play out globally. Morgan Stanley believes that global investment will stand 20% above pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2022, a remarkable recovery from last year’s downturn.

This sort of surge in capex could help shift the dial on productivity, especially if, as seems likely, it is accompanied by organisational changes and the application of technology. (While business investment fell in the US and the UK last year, spending on IT and computers rose as firms investing in remote working and new ways of doing business.)

Much of the problem of poor productivity in the UK is concentrated in the long tail of medium- and smaller-sized businesses. The pandemic may, paradoxically, have had some positive effects here, as businesses of all sizes adapted and used new digital practices to weather the downturn.

One encouraging sign comes from the retail and administrative services sectors. Both sectors have registered strong productivity growth over the past decade, defying the characterisation of these as labour-intensive, low-productivity parts of the economy. Online shopping, self-service and use of IT in administrative tasks seem to have played a big role. It may be that other labour-intensive sectors, such as healthcare and education, might in time achieve similar gains in productivity.

It won’t be plain sailing. In some important respects the pandemic and the energy transition could act as a drag on productivity. It’s not, for instance, clear how significantly increased levels of homeworking will affect productivity. A recent study of a large Asian tech company found that increased communication and coordination costs more than offset gains from reduced commuting times and reduced overall productivity . Ben Broadbent, a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, cautions that lower use of offices and transport infrastructure imply a less productive use of the capital stock . Nor is capital spending rising everywhere. Some fossil fuel companies and airlines are cutting capex in anticipation of lasting weaker demand. Structural shifts in the economy risk creating mismatches between supply of and demand for labour. The interruption to education and rising youth unemployment could leave lasting scars.

The pandemic and the energy transition represent the greatest structural change since the shift to electrification and the Great Depression in the inter-war period. The question is how these changes can be harnessed to build a better future. The years after the financial crisis were marked by weak investment, productivity and wage growth. We should be able to do better this time

Here are a selection of earlier articles that talk to the same themes.

How’s your Covid score card?

Today the FT ran a story about food inflation. They said:

“Global food prices surged by the biggest margin in a decade in May as one closely-watched index jumped 40 per cent in the latest sign of rising food inflation.”

https://www.ft.com/content/8b5f4b4d-cbf8-4269-af2c-c94063197bbb

15 months ago we flagged that possibility. Mark, Ken and I sat down to collate the findings from our network and to analyse it through our innovation and transformation frameworks. We not only had some sound advice on what approaches could be considered, but also we threw in some “wild-cards”.

Corporate debt overhang will need to be erased before growth emerges – that may be through default, forgiveness or increased inflation. The availability, cost and impact of capital may be unlike anything experienced by today’s finance professionals. Long term mass-unemployment may result from the disruption to our daily lives and lead to political pressure to change the order of beneficiaries from the production of wealth from the application of capital.

It wasn’t universal of course – we also suggested that house prices might crash. I think the government thought that too, because they suspended property purchase tax to stimulate the market. We were wrong, we didn’t expect that thousands of people would want to leave cities and drive up the price of properties with outside space. Though it’s not over yet…..

Why not read the report again (it’s short) it would be great to hear your take on our other advice – where did we nail it, and where did we miss? Alternatively you can also read the much more extensive book “Responding to Crisis, a Leader’s handbook” available from amazon here:

Energy Transition is a horizontal technology.

Until today I thought energy transition was a consequence of the fourth industrial revolution. Now I am convinced it is fundamental driver of change.

I have been an advocate of digitalization being at the heart of the fourth industrial revolution for a few years now. One of the reasons for it is that it is a “horizontal technology”. It is called this because it affects many other industries. Farming gets better, industrial processes get better and (when they get self-driving to work) others, like taxi driving, cease to exist. While I still think digitalisation is at the core, I don’t think it stands alone.

I am a gen-Xer and, 5-10 years ago, I started to notice there was a lack of interest in careers in engineering of fossil fuels from new entrants. I blamed that on all the old folks in grey suits not listening to new hip ways to be digital. While the ignorant old men rejecting digitalisation (and pooh-poohing new ways to work) was definitely correlated I’m no longer sure it was causal.

When I went to the energy sessions at London tech week, no one was talking oil and gas. No one. Not a single fossil fuel company was present. It was all renewables, smart grids, energy efficiency. Now I know why.

Energy transition – and in a broader sense decarbonisation – affects every industry. In the same way that digitalisation is not doing business the same way and just replacing paper with computers, energy transition is not about going about life in the same way and just changing the fuel used.

Today I watched this remarkable video by my friend Rob West who has been in the Bestem Network for a few years now.

It also looks like Rob might think that video is a new skill that’s going to be required to function in the commercial world soon. I do.

Not only has he provided me with a light-bulb moment around energy transition, but also he explained the dilemma of being true to your metier while trying to get people to pay you to do more of what you think is important work. In a way he also shows how digitalisation allows businesses to be more specialised and to reward those who know what they are talking about rather than just those that can harness the power of others. That’s how I intend to run Klynetic Innovation.

Good work Rob, keep it up!

How are you going to innovate?

This year everyone appears to be talking about innovation. Many think it’s being driven in response to the pandemic. If that were so, all we would need to do is wait until the vaccine is delivered and we can forget about it and go back to the way it was. Almost no-one believes this to be true.

The commercial world is evolving, and the end state is not yet known. This means traditional budgeting, planning, efficiency drives and cost reduction will not be enough for success. Organisations must accelerate their innovation agenda – this is not about inventing something new; it’s about taking what you know, reconfiguring it to be relevant and continuing to adapt and evolve.

In the previous three posts I set out some of my thinking about the fourth industrial revolution because I think this model serves well to explain why we are experiencing change. As part of your innovation thinking you may want to consider seven fundamental factors that underpin the revolution. They may not have an immediate impact on today’s business but as Wayne Gretski almost said – it’s best to skate to where the puck is going, rather than where it is now.

It is hard to untangle these factors because they influence each other and form self-re-enforcing feedback loops (which accelerates change). I find it useful to use this when considering issues and deciding where to focus, I hope you do too.

1. information creation and connectivity

The ability to create, share and access information has implications across social, political, and industrial spheres. Whether as flash-mob revolutions, exposure of tax fraud, mob-trolling of celebrities or remote monitoring of industrial plant and machinery.

​Transparent information undermines authority by revealing the inconsistencies, lies and hypocrisy required to govern. Anonymous transmission of ideas on social media leads not only to emboldened action but also to misinformation and on-line bullying. Information is conflicting and unreliable and knowledge and certainly is displaced by opinion. The ability to sift and evaluate data and then apply rational analysis is not evenly distributed among populations.

​The cost and availability of creation, capture, and transmission equipment has reduced nearly to zero. It is ubiquitous. The creative idea, installation of capture equipment and the editing of results is rare and not free.  One cannot go back and measure the past, so value may be found in stored experience. If you can curate information and control its presentation, then there is power to influence perception.

​Commercial innovation is likely to arise from creative firsts, unique archives, collection networks, influencing curation, and low-cost data organisation, error-correction, and editing.

2. understanding and acting upon information

Advances in computing power have led to new ways to analyse information, methods to learn and infer meaning and procedures to decide how to act. This leads to automation – unattended service, purchase reccomendations, warehouse picking and self-driving vehicles.

​Too much data causes problems with human-led processing such as overload, decision biases and selective world-models. We have evolved to make binary conclusions “being decisive” and “acting with confidence” are perceived as star qualities. Leading based on flexible decisions resting on the probability afforded by analysing emerging information is uncommon. Motivating others to make swift progress in the face of uncertainty will require a new set of leadership skills.

​Commercial innovation is likely to arise from increased quality of service accurately targeted towards needs, as well as reduced cost of provision. Companies that can harness learn to direct activity and make progress under conditions of uncertainty will also benefit.

3. additive manufacture

This is not just 3D printing. Many things are traditionally created by removing material using techniques like cutting, drilling, thinning, and shaping. This wastes material, energy, and time. The materials we use – cement, steel, rubber, plastics are chosen because they lend themselves to these processes.

Additive manufacture will change the materials we pick, it will reduce waste in production and change the shapes we create and the material performance we obtain. It will not only impact factories but also it will change extraction industries and trade routes. It will be possible to email design files and create what’s needed on site without the need to ship raw materials, sub-assembled parts or finished goods.

We are seeing the rise of extrusions and laser-melted metal powders and will shortly embark on assembly at the molecular level. This will mean the same forces that change building materials will impact other wasteful processes including agriculture, slaughtering, drug formulation, paper making and paint manufacture. We can expect to also see different flow-processes with lower temperatures and pressures, lab-grown meat, structured drug design and smaller-batch runs. Additive manufacture principles will impact a diverse range of industries including specialist machine makers, house-hold construction, manufacturing, farming, and medicine.

Commercial innovation is likely to come from creative designs, disintermediating supply chains and creation of innovative not-possible-before shapes and material-performance. There will be insights for applying this technology to industries not considered before.

4. planet maintenance, collective responsibility

Some call this activism or environmentalism, but whatever you call it there are growing movements encouraging (and forcing) vested interests to consider the impact they have on the wider world. This encompasses the materials consumed, the energy used, and the waste products created.

​Fuelled by information and analysis governments have concluded that there is a climate emergency which calls for rapid decarbonisation. This is leading to energy transition, smart-grids and electric drive trains on the one hand, and examination of the energy intensity of industry and ways of living on the other. It has also given rise to the notion that resources on earth are finite which leads to the circular economy (where goods are recycled into new goods) on one hand, and the drive for mining of materials from asteroids and the seabed on the other.

​Commercial innovation is likely to occur around opportunities afforded by legislation – such as carbon pricing, outlawing of practices as well as the inclusion of sustainable methods and transparency of operation. Smart ways to redirect and reuse energy will become valuable.

5. organisation of labour

We now have remote working and video conferencing; people don’t need to go to the office. People don’t need to be in the same town or the same country.  The COVID crisis of 2020 saw mass adoption and made it normal to use.

On-line retail, automation, self-driving cars, and additive manufacturing will reduce demand for labour in many sectors and, due to our global supply chains and clustering of industries, this is likely to create geographic areas where traditional work will become scarce.

The gig economy is at one end of a spectrum of employment that runs from employee, through contractor, project team into gig work. The quantum of work purchased is becoming smaller and pay is more related to outcome rather than time spent on a task. Bonds and exclusive service to one employer is becoming less common.

​Commercial innovation is likely to encompass ways to facilitate remote interactions, telepresence, and ways to build trust (both emotional and technical). Ways in which goods and people are transported will change leading to opportunities in non-traditional geographies and innovations are possible in the way labour is accessed, motivated, managed and rewarded.

6. culture, art, craft and beauty

The 4th industrial revolution moves us more towards a world where less human labour is needed to produce and distribute the goods, services, and energy we need. Other factors will come to the fore in determining what is more “valuable”.

​Where we are used to optimise for low-cost production, we will increasingly favour products, services and experiences that appeal on an emotional level. Emotions will become more important. This is occurring already via inclusion policies, social movements, and campaigns for various forms of justice. We can see on-line culture forming value through influencers and followers whose product is purely an experience and a connection between people with similar perceived values.

​How one spends time will become more important. Dedicating large amounts of time to an employer will seem less likely to determine level of “success”. This will lead people to choose to do more things that they like – leading to more artisan production.

​Commercial innovation may occur in the labour market by enabling people to find their vocation and navigating the changed expectations required to transition career thinking to match the 4th industrial age. The types of products and services sold, and the labour conditions required for workers will increasingly require taking account of design, beauty and evoke emotions, resonate with the values of buyers and be fun.

7. politics of wealth and power

This is likely to be the slowest area of the 4th Industrial revolution to mature. But it will be the most profound and biggest determinant of outcome. While it is tempting to ignore this because it does not lend itself to traditional commercial analysis, it is likely to prove one of the biggest source of disruption and should not be left unattended.

Changes in this factor are likely to occur in (possibly hotly debated) jumps because this deals with fundamental and, for many, unimaginable changes to basic principles of societal organisation. If labour is no longer in short supply this could lead to what used to be called mass unemployment.

I believe that we are less likely to tolerate wide-spread poverty such as that experienced when people moved from the land into the cities during the first industrial revolution. Perhaps we will find a way to allocate resources to people other than by labour, while still maintaining civil and ordered society. What was once called welfare may become a universal basic income.

Accepted definitions of wealth may change to include more than money. Because time is an immutable constraint, this may become a currency. How it’s spent may differentiate between rich and poor. Manners, deportment, compassion and popularity may be qualities that people will support to determine unequal reward for others. Honour and shame may become fashionalbe once more. In some socieites this may instead become enforced compliance. Human groups naturally form hierarchies. When traditional methods of determining who has more worth changes then so will our definition of who is more worthy. Some people want to be “top-dog” and will use every method to be so (or remain so) – not only by pulling themselves up, but also by pushing others down.

As information asymetry combines with confirmation bias, we are likely to see politics become more fractional. Groupings will emerge like sides on a battlefield. They may be wealthy industrialists with their capital and bankers, career politicians with their nationalistic tendencies, intellectually enlightened middle classes, disenfranchised and once-proud working classes and individuals who want to be made to feel special and better than their peers. These interests will come with different ideas about what to optimise for success and how to go about doing it.

Different factions with competing ideas, their votes, their followers, and their financial means will be pitted against each other. They will use new technologies, historic resources, traditional oratory, and brute force. They will use the structures and institutions of society – as well as whatever form of subterfuge is available – to further their conflicting objectives. Human history suggests that without acceptable compromise frustration will lead to anger, irrationality and even violence.

Conclusion

Commercial innovation here may be hard to achieve but being alert to the political and social dimensions will provide early warnings and adaptation may keep you on the right side of history.

For more information please see:

4th Industrial Revolution Implications parts 1-3

IR4 Part 1: Information and Communications LINK

IR Part 2: Work, Trade, Taxes and Government LINK

IR4 Part 3: Energy Transition LINK

Earlier thinking around the subject

Innovation and Productivity with the 4th Industrial Revolution LINK

Digital Disrtuption Landscape for Upstream Oil and Gas LINK

Get out of the way of digital Crhis LINK

4IR Implications Part 1: information and communication

Introduction

I am more concerned to know if I am on the right road than “being right” – I believe that we are at the starting phase of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). There are several technology trends leading to breakthroughs in productivity across many industries. I am only going to touch on what these effects are – as information on this is now widespread, easily found and I don’t want to repeat myself. But if these are true, then perhaps there are far-reaching consequences and profound questions that should be considered. It is in these areas where I feel the greatest risks and greatest potential for innovation will be found.

2020 gave me both time to reflect on this and an insight the types of situations that might arise. Rather than write a large piece covering every aspect, I’ll write this as a series, each post looking at aspects in isolation. This post deals with information and communication.

How this will improve efficiency

There are vast amounts of information created, it’s easily stored and transported, and – with increased compute power and new algorithms – it can be quickly analysed. This is leading to opportunities for increased productivity. This is only achieved if we know what information to collect, can understand what it means and – most importantly – change how we act based on it.

I am finding examples in the fields of computer vision, satellite imagery and remote sensing. Technologies such as LIDAR, LoRAN, Hadoop, ESP32 are commonplace in industrial settings meaning that the cost of measurement, distribution and storage of information has fallen dramatically.

We are connected by mobile devices, we hold multi-way video calls with colleagues, customers, and suppliers. We can track packages from factory gate to end user, we can store every aspect of manufacture and store it directly on an object.

There is little excuse for not knowing exactly what is going on, understanding the consequences of that, and acting to make things better.

The unintended consequences

As an industrialist it is tempting to see all these advances in information and communication solely in terms of their positive impact on the workplace. It is tempting, and wrong, to think the world around the workplace and those working there will remain static. They will not. The world will change because the general population have access to these tools and they will impact your workforce in ways that you won’t control.

Information influences behaviour

Information has become more influential as it has become quickly available at scale. Modes of transmission have rapidly evolved; society is moving further away from long formal written communication towards short media-rich content bursts. On the one hand this is leading to rich emotion-laden communication between previously unconnected and perhaps illiterate people. On the other hand, it is reducing consideration of more complex issues and drowns out nuanced voices expressed through traditional means. It is also becoming harder to remember and prove what information led to which decisions and why.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313860181_Internet_Memes_-_A_New_Literacy

http://bestemnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/f8edc-miltner-internetmemes.pdf

Can you trust what you think you know?

There are an increasing number of artificially created video characters (referred to as deep fakes) which can either be entirely fictional people or manipulated images of prominent people made to look like they are endorsing a false message. Backgrounds and images can be created that are almost indistinguishable by humans. This means that we could soon see (or may already have seen) reports from wars and atrocities that never happened. Perhaps, even if you see it with your own eyes, you will no longer be able to believe it. Persuading emotionally charged people (who may not understand how a fake video image can be created) to change their minds might be very hard.

Have you heard of Q? He’s a fictional character and the basis of QAnon, what has become a far-right movement in the USA: https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/how-three-conspiracy-theorists-took-q-sparked-qanon-n900531

MIT has a great primer on deep fakes here: https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/12/24/1015380/best-ai-deepfakes-of-2020/

This site creates a unique image of someone that does not exist each time you load the page. These people are totally fictious. https://thispersondoesnotexist.com/

This has been predicted for a while – Have a read of Victor Pelevin’s Babylon published in 1999 – (or watch the film) [….]Tatarsky is invited to join an all-powerful PR firm run by a cynically ruthless advertising genius, Leonid Azadovsky, who invites Tatarsky to participate in a secret process of rigged elections and false political advertising.[…]

Are you seeing the other side?

We are exposed to so much available information that a person can easily succumb to their own biases and seek out only items that reinforce their snap judgements. This has led to fractionating, polarised camps who no longer share a “Mutual Reality”. They have great difficulty in engaging in reasoned debate as each side has fundamentally different frames of reference. These frames induce them to interpret observations in very divergent and (to the other side) incomprehensible ways.

http://changingminds.org/explanations/models/frame_of_reference.htm

Will information cause wars?

It is possible that our future wars will be between ideologies and triggered by insults, or that – in the face of popular internal revolt – governments will launch “defensive” hostilities to stop the influence of their populations by alien states. Propaganda may cease to be a tool to assist armed conflict and instead become the sole purpose of hostilities. Perhaps the lines of conflict will not be those of countries but between ideologies, vested interests, and traditional institutions. Maybe we should watch the Hong Kong situation more closely?

https://owlcation.com/social-sciences/The-Main-Reasons-For-War

Is there a case for censorship?

In 1984 I received a UK transmitting license for a radio set. At that time (and in the decades before) the license permitted someone to use a station for experimental purposes and research into radio propagation. Of course, I also (and mostly) used mine to chat to my other geeky teenage friends. The point of bringing this up is because the government realised I was to be granted the power to communicate across the world. I, therefore, had the potential to find information and broadcast local conditions to others. Not only was an examination required to obtain a license, once acquired it was very clear about what topics I was allowed and not allowed to discuss. I had to identify myself using a centrally registered callsign. Violation of the rules would mean revocation of the privileges. Now anybody, with no training, no examination can say pretty much anything to anybody (and everybody) without restriction. They can say it anonymously. This is new in human history and the results, so far, are mixed.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/21/the-guardian-view-on-censoring-the-internet-necessary-but-not-easy

What is the role of cyber security?

Cyber security is currently focused on preventing people from seeing information you want kept secret or preventing people denying you access to your own files. In the future security may be required to prevent others from injecting false information into systems and influencing your or your staff to behave in the wrong way. That could be by planting rumours, or direct manipulation of operating data, financial reporting, or automated firing of workers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PLA_Unit_61398

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/data-injection-attack

https://www.wired.com/story/russian-hacking-teams-infrastructure/

Conculsion

Business has been slowly taking advantage of information and sensor data and transmitting it around the world. Remote working has been trialled and tentatively used when there were no alternatives. Now this technology is ubiquotous and in use by the “average Joe”. This is leading to new ways to communicate, new ways to manipulate the unwary and new expecations from workers.

Innovation will be the key activity for all companies that want to operate in this new environment. Setting up systems of work that promote the new and commercialising it quickly will be imperative.

I believe that it will be a responsibility for leaders – including business , political, spirtual and community – to use the tools available to them to continue to promote ordered society. Some of our most important human developments around organisation of effort, support for each other, goals for shared endeavours and, jointly agreeing what we fundamentally value, will depend on it.

2020 closing thoughts

Well what a year it’s been. I have been spending a lot of time at home this year and the Bestem Network members have not been able to meet for most of this year which is unfortunate. Interestingly I dug out last year’s notes from the dinner (link) and they tell an interesting tale of how we were thinking then.

This year the network came together virtually to share experiences at the start of the pandemic. We kept up this approach and, with network members at AGM Transitions, we turned this into a book (link). It’s been a year of finding new ways to do business.

Did you build resilience?

Those that listened to Capt. Mike Paterson’s talk at the network dinner in 2015 (before Trump and before Brexit) might recall his sage advice:

Change is happening faster than ever fueled by: high-speed communications; close trade links; and cross-border
investment. Rising inequality, climate change and cyber-development combine with politically/ideologically motivated ‘real’ and ‘Maskirovka’ type conflict. With increased change comes increased risk and, whilst we are accomplished at compiling risk registers, scenario planning better helps us to understand and to respond quickly.


Business leaders must ask: How do we build resilience? How to make risk based decisions to drive behaviours?

Read the whole report here

Business has been changing for a while

About seven years ago I started to sense that traditional business approaches weren’t working as they used to. I started to investigate what might be going on and uncovered work by people far smarter than me. They were starting to conclude that society was heading for a 4th Industrial revolution. I wrote about some of my influences in this post which I published almost 5 years ago. https://bestemnetwork.com/2016/03/29/innovation-and-productivity-with-4th-industrial-revolution/

At that time, I was a Non-Exec director on the board of an oil and gas technology company. I guided the excutives to pivot part of that company and pursue oilfield digitalisation. This included a mail-out to COO’s of oil companies setting out the case for digitalisation by assembling the works of leading writers. I urged them to make the case that it was too important to be something led by IT. This was now to become the backbone of an operational transformation.

I recall there was division among the owners of this company, I was almost laughed out of the room by one who, despite the evidence, was unable to acknowledge that the world would change and was convinced there was no such thing as digitalisation in the oil field. His view was that IT should remain in charge of anything computers and leave operations to operations people. It was not an isolated view in the industry.

My post on digital disruption of the oil and gas industry (link) from three years ago was this year’s most-read post on the blog, with hundreds of visitors each week. When I published it, it seemed no-one was interested.

The case for flexible innovation

After covid, perhaps the case has been made for investing in flexibility and contingency (as advocated by Capt. Paterson) even if the business case is based on a balance of probabilities and not a black-and-white P&L. I urge you not to be so stuck in the present and the current “rules of the game” that you believe the future will not be radically different. It may.

Perhaps look at the wise words of Patrick von Pattay from 2017. (Pattrick has been the hero of the year for his company.)

Just because we have not yet identified the potential disruption does not mean to me that there cannot be any. It just means that we haven’t thought hard enough. If it were an obvious change then it wouldn’t be so disruptive as we’d all have the ability to respond. A disruptive threat, by its very nature, is likely to come from left field.

https://bestemnetwork.com/2017/11/27/interview-with-patrick-von-pattay/

To me it’s clear we are heading along a 4th Industrial Revolution path. It is a transition and, as with all transitions, it will take longer to get where we are going than we expect, but we will go a lot further than we can imagine.

What will happen in 2021?

COVID-19. First, we scrambled to keep going, waiting for things to return to normal. Then we started to talk about the New Normal, and The Great Reset. People talk about this year accelerating change. I don’t think that captures it. It makes it sound like we’ve just gone a bit faster along a normal path. We’ve seen step changes, fleeting moments of opportunity grabbed, and old models fail.

I am putting together a post for the new year highlighting some of the trends that the network is telling me about. I think these will play out well in the coming period for those that take the heading from the course they set . It will be a jouney of rapid discovery, the answers are not final even if the direction is clear.

Overall though, it’s obvious that to be successful we will all need to innovate and to try new products, services, customers, partners and ways of working – no one has this covered yet, but some people are finding new and interesting ways to respond to the changing world.

You could wait and see if you finally get the opportunity to try the 2020 strategy you made last year – or you can get up, shake off the dust, scratch your head and figure out a way to commercialise the innovations that your team have been making.

For a hint of the changes to come, have a read of this post from 2019: https://bestemnetwork.com/2019/06/17/london-tech-week/

The future is coming, how you choose to prepare and respond is up to you. The choice is yours.

Watch out, they are comming for you

The cost of innovation is going down, barriers to entry are falling

Keeping it special

If you work in heavy industry and are near technology, you will know that there are some very robust pieces of kit out there. What I’ve always been surprised at is:

1. how simple many of the devices are in terms of functionality; and

2. how “special” they are in terms of obfuscating the obvious.

The effects of these two factors has been, for years, to reduce competition. By making it difficult to get hold of units (via price) and creating a jargon around the obvious configuration/deployment it has promoted a closed shop approach.

Keeping up standards

In some ways keeping out the riff-raff can be promoted as a good thing – it provides assurances around quality and safety. But it slows down innovation. You might say that perhaps this is good. Maybe you don’t want to be too innovative around safety and compliance systems. Afterall making mistakes is expensive and dangerous.

Keep up!

One of the aspects of the 4th industrial revolution that will challenge that thinking is simulation. I used to think that digital twins, virtual worlds and simulation would help reduce the cost of maintenance, let the experts create new ways to work and basically bring down the operating costs for the incumbents.

What if it leads to a whole new raft of competitors? What if anyone can have low-cost access to a virtual oil rig, or virtual power station, or virtual chemical plant? Not only will they learn how it’s supposed to work, they can try things and see what happens – learn by doing, learn by breaking, but do it virtually. Perhaps this will lead to:  

  1. they might come up with much better ways to operate it that you do; and
  2. train themselves to operate it before you hired them

Result: Better ways of working, access to more talent, incumbents get beaten.

If you have ever witnessed teenagers playing fortnite, you will know how fast their thinking can become and how fast their brain-hand connetion is. Imagine how quickly they will be able to react to real-world situations and think through the information being thrown at them.

Examples

I’ll provide two examples of where “public access” and “new ways of working” are already influencing established hierarchies. It won’t be long before these mechanisms appear in heavy industry.

Don’t expect today’s engineers to enter the workforce unprepared nor unwilling to take on the establishment. Watch out for competition from smart people who are not part of the established hierarchy. Don’t think the way you work today, will be the way you work tomorrow.

Example 1: Team Huub-Watt bike

I was lucky enough to see this cycle team win gold at the Track Cycling World Cup in December 2019. The team is comprised soley of amateur racers and they ran a completely novel strategy calculated using simulations and software. Their budget is £15,000 per year. They beat Team GB who have the best coaches, facilities and trainers available – and a budget this year of £26m. That’s over 1,000 fold decrease in cost and substatially BETTER performance.

Response from the establishment was to change the rules, enforce the status quo. This may not work forever. It probably won’t work for you.

https://www.tri247.com/triathlon-features/interviews/huub-wattbike-uci-interview

They were not, however, afraid to make use of the technology for their own ends. Zwift is a cycle simulator that people can use at home and join in real-time cycle events and ride-outs while collecting performance statistics. It is now being used by pro-teams to identify and recruit talent.

https://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/latest-news/i-want-to-ride-in-the-worldtour-how-british-cycling-are-using-zwift-to-help-identify-young-talent-454806

Example 2: British Touring Car Championship

In the gentleman’s toilet at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall – in the heart of establilshment London – there are a series of framed caricatures of some of motor racing’s greats from the last 100 years. These include W.O. Bentley and Mike Hawthorn. Motor racing is glamourous. And costly. The money needed to race in formula 1 are legendary, but even the karting in a 125cc class will likely cost you the best part of £50K a season. Developing cars, tracks and drivers costs money.

So what do you think will be the outcome of last weekends win for James Baldwin in the first of the British GT Touring Car championship races? It’s a pretty big series, and winning a race is not easy.

Especially if it’s your first race you’ve ever competed in.

James honed his skill as a driver in a simulator he set up at home for under £1,000. And his talent was found when he entered a competition in an “E-Sports” event.

Turns out that the simulation prepared him surprisingly well.

https://www.goodwood.com/grr/race/modern/2020/8/worlds-fastest-gamer-wins-on-british-gt-debut/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-53554245