Saturday, October 29, 2016

Play the Disruption Game

Do you ever go down memory lane and think about all the things that were normal then that are very different now or gone completely?  I find myself reflecting on the past while I consider the present and how different the future will be.  We live in truly interesting times don't we.

I haven't been writing in this space much in the past few years.  I kind-of lost interest in writing about what I've been up to, what I've been thinking, or what I've been speculating about.  However, I was watching an interesting clip from Doc James Whittaker @docjamesw recently where he talked about the past, present, and future and it inspired me to write again.  I don't know that this will become a habit again but there is this post at least.

James mentioned playing the disruption game.  This game involves taking an industry and thinking about how it could be disrupted in the future by technological advancements.  As you know, technology is probably the most disruptive phenomenon weaving through history.  In our life time it has been the digital form that has relentlessly disrupted everything we know.  A quick side story... my wife and I just underwent a little kitchen reno replacing counters, sink, faucet, and installing back splash.  When the contractor came to estimate the back splash he asked if we wanted
to cover over the jack for the phone.  Even though we had switched from 'home phone' to iPhone a few years ago, it did cause us to pause before answering.  We knew we would never use it again but when we sell would the new owners care?  We decided 'tough luck' for them :-) and had the back splash cover over the jack.  This is just a small example of disruption of the traditional phone business.

It was only a few years ago that I wrote about autonomous cars, back when there wasn't a lot of buzz about this.  Fast forward to today, and many people are writing about, speaking about, and speculating about the future of this disruption.  I read recently that Tesla is installing in all future models all the hardware and sensors necessary for fully autonomous driving.  Over time, their software will be updated and delivered wirelessly to gradually transform their cars from human driven, machine assisted to machine driven, human assisted to machine driven and likely human hands-off.  I mention this idea to friends, colleagues, and family and most are not comfortable with the idea and say they will never let a machine drive.  I say that will be a gift and make our roads far more safer and driving, er, transporting, more productive with our time.

So, imagine with me the future where cars drive themselves and humans are mere passengers.  I get up, get ready, have breakfast, brush my teeth, grab my lunch and coffee and head out the door.  I get into my car, and sit down for a relaxing drive into the office.  My car detects that I'm ready to go and quietly starts off (it's all electric by the way).  It auto connects with my smart device (aka phone), looks into my calendar and sees that I am indeed headed to work.  It calculates the optimal route given current weather conditions, traffic patterns, and known accidents.  The car can see all routes simultaneously to my office in Vancouver including every vehicle on the road, how fast they are traveling, what road work is going on, etc.  It has 360 degree visibility all the time.

I arrive at my office and my car parks in one of the spots and 'reaches out' it's plug to a charging station.  I head into the office.  30 minutes later, my car 'wakes up', unplugs, and heads out of the garage.  Where is it going you might ask?  Well, my car is registered into the VanCity Car Share Coop and someone asked for a car with the # of seats mine has available and my car was the nearest one available.  Off it went... my car picked up and delivered passengers throughout the morning parking itself on side streets here and there when it wasn't needed.  Knowning from my calendar that I have a 1:15 appointment at a school, it arrives back at the office out front, messages me 5 minutes before arriving, and waits for me to get there.  I get in and it takes me to my appointment.  It sees that I plan to be there an hour so makes itself available for callouts in the area within a 10km radius.  And so the typical work day goes - I make money from owning a car rather than just spending money and leaving it idle 90% of the time!

With autonomous driving vehicles, many things will be disrupted.  There will be far fewer (if any) accidents which will lead to very low cost insurance or will there be none and a small residual is built into the price of the car and the rental callout fees?  Fault of course will be the car manufacturer, not the owner.  Fault is an interesting problem here.  If a human is driving and a dilemma occurs say where two small children run out in front of you and on the right is a cliff and the left is a crowd of 12 people, what decision will the human make?  Will they stay the course and kill the two children, swerve left into the crowd perhaps killing and injury many, or sacrifice themselves off the cliff?  What would an autonomous car decide?  Great question...  it's dilemmas like this that need accepted solutions before the autonomous car will be accepted.

So, less accidents will mean less health care for accident victims.  This will lead to fewer clinics, fewer hospital beds, fewer nurses, doctors, and other health care workers.  Fewer painkillers will be needed.  People might drink more alcohol after work because they don't have to drive.  There will be no taxi drivers, Uber drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers.  Car ownership in cities will likely be non-existent.  Why own if you have on demand access?  There will be fewer fuel stations.  With fewer car owners there will be fewer parking lots, spots, and garages.  Fewer meter maids, fewer traffic cops, fewer court cases and thus fewer lawyers and judges.  There will be fewer car washes, tire shops, automotive repair garages, and fewer dealerships.

I wonder if there will be dealerships?  People that do buy will likely do this online.  I bought my last two vehicles by picking models, colors, and options online and emailing back and forth with a salesperson.  Why not do it all online.  Perhaps test drives will be done with Oculus Rift, HoloLens, or some other virtual or augmented reality experience.  This will lead to fewer sales people, business managers, etc.  Someone will still need to repair and service the cars, at least until robots are capable.

You get the point... one quite miraculous change... the autonomous driving car, will disrupt many associated, loosely or otherwise, businesses and occupations.  I wonder what new jobs might be created as a result.  You watch, I bet some version of this story will play out over the next 10-20 years.  20 years from now someone will read this blog post and think 'wow, that was prophetic!' :-)

Monday, February 8, 2016

People Process Technology, The Triple Play

I often think about how to create an environment where the velocity can increase for how things get done.  I used to think technology was the main answer, just put in new tools, expect people to use them, and more stuff will get done.  I learned that adding technology on its own will often cause velocity to slow.  Most people need help seeing their way through the learning curve new technology brings.  So if adding technology isn't the answer, I thought 'what about better processes'.  If we could just design better ways of working, we will get more stuff done.  Well, this outcome really depends on who the people are and what their mindset is.  If people are not engaged in their work, see it as 'just a job', are not connected to the organization mission, great process won't really make a difference either.  Okay, so that just leaves the third element, people.

Over my career, I have learned a lot about myself and about the diversity of people and how they think.  I used to get frustrated when I would eloquently communicate direction to my team and some would be enthused, some ambivalent, and others resistant.  I would think to myself 'what is wrong with these people, don't they get it?'.  Well, I've learned that as a leader or communicator, it is my job to figure out and understand people and how to tailor my messaging to better fit each type of person.  In some cases this will require 1:1 communication fit for a person.

I wrote previously about how I was working to better understand my team and help them understand each other.  In December last year my whole team and I responded to a profile survey created to produce a personal profile report on each of us.  It was very interesting to see how everyone was reacting to their reports.  Some would say how it described them to the letter, others argued that it was no where near accurate - ah but they asked their spouses or kids and they confirmed it.  In early January we had a facilitator come in and take us through the material to help us understand how it works and how we can use it for more effective communication and relationships.  We will bring her back for three more sessions over the next year to help us learn how to read people and tailor our ways of working with each other to a better result.  My goal in this is for people to appreciate and leverage their differences for better communication.

Knowing your people, investing in and supporting them, spending time with them, coaching and mentoring them, are all important steps.  With a large team it may be difficult to get to know everyone personally but by mentoring your direct reports to know their direct reports and so on, you can get a pretty good picture of your overall team.  From that you / your leadership team can design teams with optimal balance to set them up for better success.  You can use your limited resources wisely and support people where they need it most.  Essentially, by knowing your people better, you can be more strategic in how you help them grow and thus get more stuff done.

It's not all just about people however.  Your people may be your greatest asset but you can amplify their success with great process and fit for purpose technology (tools).  You can design processes that accommodate different working, thinking, and communicating styles.  When you add technology to their toolkit, make sure to invest in training them how to use it effectively.  Our front line support technicians were given Mac computers and expected to just learn them to they can support their customers.  You can probably guess how well that worked for most.  Not everyone has a natural tendency to self-learn.  Once we started training them properly on the tools AND the technical processes, their ability to get stuff done and support their customers with their new tools was improved dramatically.  The other interesting fact is that when you provide good tools and design and teach good processes, your people feel more confident and capable and they, wait for it... get more stuff done.  They also feel better about themselves which can improve team work, morale, etc. and help people, get more stuff done.  A positive feedback loop emerges.

None of these ideas are rocket science but sometimes we just need to be reminded that the three components of people, process, and technology are together a winning formula and separately you need to invest strategically for an optimal outcome.