Posted tagged ‘adaptability’

Foching up social media

18 October 2011

General Ferdinand Foch

Aviation is a good sport, but for the army it is useless.

So declared General Ferdinand Foch in 1911, merely 3 years before the outbreak of World War I.

To be fair, we shouldn’t forget the context in which the statement was uttered. It wasn’t even a decade since Orville Wright managed to keep his engine-powered Wright Flyer in the air for 12 seconds.

By the end of the year, however, the Italians were already using aeroplanes for reconnaissance and bombing raids in their war against the Turks in Libya.

First successful flight of the Wright Flyer by the Wright brothers.

Aeroplanes were used extensively for reconnaissance by both sides in the early years of World War I, with opposing pilots even waving to each other in gentlemanly fashion.

Sure enough, this behaviour was soon replaced by the pilots throwing bricks and grenades at each other, then firing handguns, then operating mounted machine guns.

A painting of aeroplanes in World War I engaged in a dogfight

Today, of course, aeroplanes are a critical component of warfare. They are used for close air support, air interdiction, strategic bombing, interception, military escorts, transporting people and cargo, and even distributing propaganda.

Jet fighter

Of course, I don’t accuse the good general of stupidity. He simply lacked imagination.

Foch struggled to make the mental leap from what contemporary aircraft was being used for, to what it could be used for – particularly in terms of advancing technology.

Are we any more imaginative today?

Unfortunately this kind of thinking has not been lost in annals of history. It’s alive and well in modern corporations, perhaps most conspicuously in relation to social media.

Many executives still don’t “get” social media. They see their daughters dilly dallying on Facebook; they hear their sons laughing at skateboard crashes on YouTube; they read about Charlie Sheen attracting 1 million followers on Twitter in a single day; and they learn about lonely hearts finding true love on Second Life – only to meet in real life and promptly break up.

No wonder they think it’s crap!

But don’t let them off the hook that easily. Help them make the mental leap from what social media is currently being used for (at least in their world) to what it could be used for – particularly in terms of customer service, sales, marketing, public relations, communication, engagement, collaboration and innovation.

It’s an arms race. If your business doesn’t start running, it’s foched.

The Parable of the Monkeys

8 March 2011

BananasI was pondering the notions of innovation and adaptability the other day – nerd alert! – when I remembered the Parable of the Monkeys.

I’m not sure who invented this parable. I don’t think it’s a true story; at least I hope not (poor monkeys). Perhaps it’s a corruption of an ancient fable? If you can shed any light on it, please let me know.

Anyway, here’s the ryanised version…

The experiment

In a room there were 5 monkeys.

A bunch of bananas hung from the ceiling, and a ladder stood nearby.

Inquisitive and hungry, one of the monkeys climbed the ladder and reached for a banana. As soon as he did so, a scientist opened a port hole and drenched all the monkeys with a high-pressure hose.

After a few minutes, angry and dripping wet, but no less inquisitive and hungry, another monkey decided to give it a go. He climbed the ladder and reached for a banana. As soon as he did so, the scientist opened the port hole again and drenched all the monkeys with the hose.

After a few more minutes, another monkey decided to give it a go. This time his mates were having none of it. As soon as he touched the ladder, they rallied around and beat him up.

None of the monkeys dared go near the ladder any more.

Ladder

The next day, the scientist removed one of the monkeys and replaced him with a new one. Since this monkey was not aware of the consequences, he headed straight for the ladder. The other monkeys headed him off and beat him up.

The next day, the scientist removed another monkey and replaced him with a new one. Since this monkey was not aware of the consequences, he headed straight for the ladder. Again the other monkeys headed him off and beat him up.

This continued for few more days. Each time, like clockwork, the new monkey would head for the ladder and the other monkeys would beat him up.

Then on Day 6, a strange thing happened. Yes, the new monkey headed for the ladder and the other monkeys beat him up. However none of those monkeys was an original from Day 1. They all dutifully beat up the new guy, but they had no idea why!

Monkey business

I’m sure we’ve all had times when we’ve felt like one of those monkeys.

We do something a particular way because that’s the way we’ve always done it.

Monkey on a computer

That line of thinking is oft-derided, but you know what? Sometimes it makes perfect sense.

For example, if you live in northern Europe, it’s a good idea to build your roof with a steep incline, just like everyone else has done for centuries. You might not know why that’s the way it’s always been done, but if you deviate you will be sorry.

Roof collapsed under snow

Having said that, high performers like to challenge the status quo.

Suppose the scientist running the monkey experiment dies and is replaced by a gentle soul who would never harm a monkey. Or the laws change and mistreating monkeys is prohibited. If the monkeys continue to do what they’ve always done, they’ll never enjoy the bananas that are now freely available to them!

If I draw a parallel to the workplace, m-learning springs to mind. I admit I haven’t done much in this space over the years, but that’s because hardly any of my colleagues have owned a smartphone. My previous analysis warned me that any work done in this space would be a waste of time because there was no demand.

But times change. Now every man and his dog owns an iPhone or a Blackberry or an Android or an iPad. Phone plans are a lot cheaper, and download speeds are smoking. Returning my attention to m-learning this year is probably a wise idea.

Group of business people with smartphones

The moral of the story

For me, the moral of the story is to take a proactive but cautious approach to innovation.

Respect the fact that prior generations have done things a particular way for, in all likelihood, good reasons.

To be adaptable, however, you need to remain cognisant of the fact that the world changes and, hey, most things can be done better.

So give your ideas a go – but do your homework first; and protect yourself so that if you fail, you fail quick and you fail small.
 

Smartfailing the vintage future

15 November 2010

A little while ago, Ben Betts blogged about a wonderful book called 2010: Living in the Future, which was written by Geoffrey Hoyle back in 1972.

2010: Living in the Future (1972)

I love these vintage visions of the future.

Reading the book prompted me to seek other predictions from yesteryear, and I found plenty at Vintage Future.

Doctor consults a child via AV media

A woman obtaining ready-to-eat meals out of a machine

Space station

Some predictions were remarkably accurate (eg telemedicine, prepackaged meals, orbital space stations) while others were way
off the mark.

This got me thinking

Why do some predictions of the future pan out so wrong?

I remember as a child being fascinated by a 19th century illustration of space travel that depicted a steam train flying among the stars and planets.

Clearly at that point in history, the futurist was so convinced of the modernity of the locomotive that he did not conceive any other possible mode of transport – let alone the depletion of fossil fuels.

It was perfectly natural for him to expect that, one day, trains would be hurtling through outer space.

More examples

Consider these…

Mechanical servant vacuuming the floor

Why is a robot pushing the vacuum cleaner?

Because contemporary practice was for the housewife to do it.

Naturally, then, the innovation was to replace her with a humanoid.

Shoppers in a supermarket push buttons to bring items on a conveyor belt. (1964)

Why must the shopper be at the store?

Because contemporary practice was for the shopper to visit the supermarket in person.

Naturally, then, the innovation was to automate the system on site.

Dick uses his famous 2-way wrist radio in Dick Tracy: America's Most Famous Detective. (1952)

Why is Dick talking into his watch?

Because wristwatches were the contemporary fashion.

Naturally, then, the innovation was to add an audio channel to that device.

Why did they miss the mark?

In each of the above examples, contemporary practice prejudiced the futurist’s expectations of future practice.

They were wearing blinkers.

Of course they had no concept of jet engines, infrared sensors, the World Wide Web and smartphones. But without an audacious imagination that dared to consider the possibility of these technologies, their predictions were doomed to fail.

Not so fast

It’s easy to look back with a smug sense of intellectual superiority. How rediculous those predictions were! How primitive the science!

But are we really any better today?

I hear a lot about innovation in the workplace, but I doubt we have mastered the creative thinking that is required to forecast beyond our immediate future with any sense of confidence.

If we don’t wrap our minds around the stuff that doesn’t yet exist, our “innovations” will become the latest examples of charming vintage.