Friday, November 29, 2013

Business Reimagined

Last week E3 Bradford held a Summit.

The closing keynote, entitled Business Reimagined, was delivered by Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer of Microsoft. he’s written a book with the same title, available from Amazon and all good bookshops.

Dave started by telling us he would project forward how people will live work and play in the future. Or perhaps how they could, because while technology is a force for good, all too often the way we use it means that technology has become a prison. We are using it to do the things we used to do, only faster. After 60 years the office has moved from a phone and a mechanical typewriter (I don’t think the IBM Selectric on your slide was around in 1950, Dave), to a phone and a keyboard today. We work with standardised processes which are designed to be efficient but overlook the fact that they dehumanise the workforce and demotivate. Why do we still commute hundreds of miles from home to office each week only to sit in front of a keyboard and screen like the one we have at home? Only the one at home is now often better! Why don’t we have local work centres where we can go and hotdesk with people in the same situation but who work for other organisations? We could spend our money locally and bounce ideas off people who have a completely different perspective from our colleagues back at headquarters. (I had that idea 30 years ago, Dave. Do you think it will ever work?)

Dave explained how open plan offices kill creativity, how we misuse email, how we’re wedded to the QWERTY keyboard (and AZERTY, QWERTZU and many others across the world) designed specifically to be inefficient, how we all have to work harder to overcome these obstacles of our own making.

So what’s the answer? Social business. Flexible working. Light-touch management with long-term objectives and bonus or oblivion depending on your performance. Nice work if you can get it, and certainly a great approach for knowledge-based roles. For me, I think the utilities, production, construction, the health service and a fair number of other organisations will always need careful planning, skilled management and comprehensive procedures. (I don’t want a debate when that nuclear reactor goes critical.)

I agree with Dave when he says that we should liberalise communication. Of course some things are commercially confidential, but as much communication as possible can speed decisions, enhance corporate knowhow and improve the work environment. (At the risk of being political, I believe that Edward Snowden’s revelations were good for democracy.) We already communicate more quickly as consumers. Have you tried tweeting a complaint about your energy supplier/phone company/car/insurance company/ISP? Quicker and cheaper than hanging on to an 0845 number!

Dave’s message is that we must reimagine our world. We must see the big picture and recognise that “We’ve always done it like this” is not a good reason to keep doing it. We must look for outcomes not processes and we’ll always need leaders, not managers. We need to educate so people have skills, not just a knowledge of tools. We need people with critical thinking. We need to teach people to use technology to the full and to use it responsibly. It’s people who do bad things on line, it’s not the fault of the computer.

Dave’s presentation was delivered with anecdotes, examples and humour. I’ve not repeated them here because I don’t want to spoil it if you get the opportunity to hear him live (or on YouTube, I believe.)

Many thanks, Dave. I’m off to read the book now. I hope it’s as good!