My wife and I have had season tickets to the American Players Theater for many years. In mid-November we were heading to Spring Green to catch one of the plays and decided to stop on the way at Arcadia Books for an author reading from The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America’s Food.
Here’s how the event was billed:
“Following his critically acclaimed Preparing the Ghost, renowned essayist Matthew Gavin Frank takes on America’s food in a richly illustrated culinary tour of the United States through fifty signature dishes, and a radical exploration of our gastronomic heritage.”
Some of the state dishes that are profiled in the book include deep-dish pizza (Illinois), hummingbird cake (Alabama) and, of course, bratwurst (Wisconsin). Frank was a passionate and engaging speaker and we enjoyed his quirky writing style (the passage read was on the Minnesota hotdish). We were treated to a sample of hummingbird cake prepared by The Kitchen (the bookstore’s café). All in all, the afternoon was a delightful prequel to another lovely evening at APT.
- Learn more about the author at his website
- Check out this interview with the author from the Joy Cardin Show on Wisconsin Public Radio
The article Predicting the Future and Exponential Growth certainly caught my attention right from the beginning, by asking, “How many times would I have to fold a sheet of paper for the height of the folded paper to reach the moon?” It goes on to build on its thesis, “Human beings have terrible intuition for exponential growth.”
Looking in a historical rearview mirror can encumber our projections of the future, especially in a period of exponential growth. The article helped articulate my perspective on why now it is more important than ever to look at the business challenges of today and the factors contributing to those challenges, then create strategy based on what the emerging future might look like. The linear progression of the past may not be that relevant.
I am currently working on a technology plan for my organization. We find ourselves with a legacy architecture that has existed for a long time. Its not that we didn’t realized it needed to change—we saw that need several years ago. The factors contributing to the need for something different include new technologies, mobile workers, need for sharing work and a greater geographical reach of our business.
Perhaps what we didn’t see was how the change curve was continuing to accelerate. There’s a tricky bias in looking back. If you don’t look far enough, it’s easy to think you haven’t changed much, as any small portion of a curve look like a relatively straight line. We have to take a longer-term approach to be able to see the magnitude of change and how it accelerates over time. Here’s where logarithms come into play. In doing so, it becomes clear that if we don’t significantly increase the pace of change, we will fall further behind.
Breaking out of a comfortable speed limit of execution is really difficult. What must change to accelerate execution? It’s not just a headcount and funding solution, it’s revisiting historical approaches, beliefs and methods. The journey has just begun.
When I recently took inventory of my to-read list, I was surprised to find that I haven’t ordered a physical book since August. Meanwhile, my e-reader is getting a little overwhelmed. Here’s what is loaded up—we’ll see how much progress I make while on vacation this week. The titles below all have links to their Kindle versions.
Design Thinking: Business Innovation by MJV Press
143 Visuals To Inspire You to Take Action by Scott Torrance and Mirka Volakova
Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time by Jeffrey Pfeffer
24 Hour Mindfulness: How to be calmer and kinder in the midst of it all by Rohan Gunatillake
Leading Continuous Change: Navigating Churn in the Real World by Bill Pasmore
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations by Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone
Since I last reported on my reading habits, my pending pile—or what I affectionately call the guilt pile— is growing. Here’s a sampling.
The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation by Josh Linkner delves in the pitfalls of failing to change and provides strategies for reinvention.
Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated by Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman gets into the intricacies of dealing with complex situations and offers a solution for companies that is based on leveraging the potential of their human resources.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande shows how one’s end of life can be managed with more compassion and dignity than currently provided with today’s standards of care. His powerfully delivered message results in three important questions about your mortality: What is your biggest fear? What is your greatest hope? What trade-offs are you willing to make (or not make)?
I can remember a time when the only news programs on television were on CBS and NBC and late arrival to the game, ABC. Now, there is an explosion of news options, particularly online—and no two are alike. Here are a few of the newest providers that have captured my attention.
“Digg does curation: building products that make life smoother, simpler, and smarter. Re-founded in 2012, Digg now provides the most relevant and compelling content to millions of users a month. Using proprietary data sources and a crack editorial team, we cut through the clutter of the Internet and make sense of the noise so you don’t have to.”
Credentials: Digg was an early entry into this niche with its launch in 2004. After many stumbles, it shuttered in 2012, only to be reborn after its purchase by Betaworks (previously know for Tweetdeck, Chartbeat and Bitly).
What I like: Visually, Digg stands apart from other news curators. Its clean look is uncluttered by the onslaught of ads we’ve come to expect from other curators. Regarding content, it focused on the top stories gaining traction in cyberspace, going for quality rather than quantity.
“Medium is a different kind of place to read and write on the internet. A place where the measure of success isn’t views, but viewpoints. Where the quality of the idea matters, not the author’s qualifications. A place where conversation pushes ideas forward and words still matter.”
Credentials: Medium was launched in 2012 by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams as an invitation-only blogging platform. It has since opened up and evolved to include both professional and non-professional authors supplemented by talented editors.
“When we launched OZY, we had a big idea. Instead of bringing you yet another news site pulling together the latest stories from across the Web, we wanted to give you something better. We wanted to give you a news site you actually loved. From the start, we promised only original content, focused not simply on where the world is but, more importantly, where the world is going. And every morning, we set out to profile the people, places, trends and technology that are ahead of their time and worthy of yours.”
Credentials: Contributors include Bill Gates, Condoleezza Rice and Bill Clinton. Partners include NPR, CNN, USA TODAY, Huffington Post, PBS NewsHour, MSN and Axel Springer.
What I like: Stories are grouped into compelling themed sections: The Presidential Brief (a daily top ten list), Rising Stars, Provocateurs, Good Sh*t, Wildcard and more.
“Quartz is a digitally native news outlet, born in 2012, for business people in the new global economy. We publish bracingly creative and intelligent journalism with a broad worldview, built primarily for the devices closest at hand: tablets and mobile phones.”
Credentials: Quartz’s business focus comes naturally; its founding partners are Chevron, Boeing, Credit Suisse, Cadillac and GE. Their founding team has serious journalism pedigree and they have staff on the ground in key bureaus worldwide.
What I like: Obsessions. These are hot topics of interest to their writing staff, often those that might not make the front page of other outlets.
Workplace Culture vs. Climate – why most focus on climate and may suffer for it painfully points out that much of the current focus is on rather superficial “climate” issues, not on the deeper culture of an organization. As part of the ongoing theme that the definition of work matters, this article does a great job of pointing out the difference.
Predicting the Future and Exponential Growth shatters assumptions. Our intuition, based on a natural tendency toward linear forecasting, is that the next five years will grow (or change) at the same rate as the past five years. That’s a pretty significant amount of change. However, when growth is exponential, this is not the case. In simpler terns, this rapid construction of the future happens because the tools that are built today for tomorrow make it easier to build the future the next day.
Uber and AirBnB get a lot of press about their new and innovative approaches. They are providing access to services without owning the assets—they provide a technology platform without owing the underlying service. Uber offers access to thousands of on-demand drivers as an alternative to a taxi company. AirBnB connects travelers with accommodations without having to build and market hotel rooms. All with a very different pricing model, and (dare I say?) a superior customer experience. Networks and the Nature of the Firm explores the huge economic shift generated by adapted software and connectedness.
But, is this so new? There have been many iterations of low-cost networks or platforms replacing large organizations or fragmented providers.
- Travel agents aggregated knowledge on travel, and then services like Kayak and Expedia replaced travel agents.
- Ebay was a platform for individuals to sell things that were previously sold through local outlets, classified ads or hobbyist conventions. Etsy and Amazon have subsequently expanded on the model.
- Digital media has given rise to an exponential number of individuals providing reporting, opinion, and content where large-scale organizations just 30 years ago had the only national and global platforms.
How can networks and platforms, especially digital ones, impact your organization and role. Isn’t the driving factor a superior customer experience?
As I approach the 30th year of my career, I begin to wax nostalgic about the changes I see in the workplace. Available people, process and technology are in the process of redefining the space we call “the office.” Beyond the physical space, “the office” includes how we work together and define productivity. While today’s tools may be new, we’ve been through this process before—several times, in my case.
During the first three years of my career, I focused on transitioning from handwritten accounting schedules, forms and journal entries to electronic methods (13-column green pad to spreadsheets). Later, there were additional improvements in systems, access to data, and sharing of work (network shared drives and graphical charting capabilities).
The next phase was marked by a more complete transition from mainframe/mini technologies to server and personal computer technologies. Large ERP systems transitioned from green screens to client/server technology. Many new capabilities and features were enabled, including: scanning of receipts and shipments; electronic exchange of data and documents; and data importing and exporting.
Currently, we’re in the middle of transitioning from “behind the firewall” to “in the cloud.” This has dramatic implications, perhaps even more pronounced than in past phases. I believe that both the degree and speed of change are more dramatic and significantly faster than in the past. This is aided by the new low-cost, pay-as-you-go cloud options, a dramatic change in workforce demographics and global access to talent, markets and customers. No longer are large corporations at the forefront of the innovation, nor the adoption of new practices.
Transitions are endless and a natural part of life. What I find fascinating and important is looking at what have we learned from the past, evaluating what aspects are still relevant, and determining how lessons learned are applied in the current transition period.
Given my career, one of these keys learnings is around how we work. I believe we’re in a phase of “step-function” change, not “incremental” change. Put another way, we need to not look for little improvements in efficiency, but look at what is happening around us, create a shared vision of “what could be” and map a course toward this future state. As Michael Hammer noted in his seminal 1990 Harvard Business Review article Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate:
“It is time to stop paving the cow paths. Instead of embedding outdated processes in silicon and software, we should obliterate them and start over.”
Today’s key technologies—social, mobile, data/analytics and cloud—offer an opportunity to create new ways of working. We can leverage the same management disciplines: customer experience, quality principles, agile and responsive design, teaming and leadership principles, concepts of manufacturing efficiency and automation…and the list goes on. Outcomes must be relevant to the future environment and address the realities of competitive global economic talent, and resource challenges.
We’ve been here before. We need to stay future focused and use well-known disciplines to create the new future workplace. Incremental improvements in efficiency won’t be enough to be competitive in today’s and tomorrow’s marketplace.
- Benedict Evans provides and extensive history of office technology in Office, messaging and verbs.
- Microsoft: Productivity Future Vision video will stretch your imagination. In many ways, we’re not that far off from many of these technologies. The integration and access to the data / user interface…well…that might be further away.
- From the AT&T Archives: Seeing the Digital Future (1961) includes their ambition to provide: “Solutions to changing problems and pressures. Answers to every growing needs and complexities.”