Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Reinvention Economy

The skills you need today, are not the skills you need tomorrow.

We are entering an unprecedented era of accelerating change, and learning what to learn and when is the key to staying relevant. Since publishing my thoughts on Linkedin on and the Totara Learning blog …I thought I would re-post here for posterity. I look forward to your comments.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ray Kurzweil back in 2012 when he spoke at the Learning Technologies Conference in London. He’s described as an author, entrepreneur, futurist and inventor — I remember him from his Kurzweil digital piano days where he applied AI techniques to produce real-sounding synthesised instruments, but he has since become a key influencer in our wider understanding of technology and its impact on our society. He made a key observation that due to the accelerating and catalysing effect of technology we will experience the equivalent of 2,000 years of change in the next 100 years. The force of this change is becoming increasingly visible as industry sectors, economies and political systems are being reshaped, seemingly in real time before our eyes.

We are in a continuous cycle of reinvention — we have entered the reinvention economy.

This has a huge impact on organisations and the workplace environment. Richard Foster, a lecturer at the Yale School of Management, found that the average lifespan of an S&P company dropped from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years today. It was not that long ago that Kodak owned the photography market — it is no more. Nokia dominated the mobile phone market. It failed to adapt and innovate as Apple (and then Google with Android) entered the market and changed all our expectations of what a smartphone should look and feel like. This cycle is turning again as technology moves away from the touchscreen and more towards more natural and visual language conversation. Samsung is wobbling, the Nokia brand is re-entering the market — the only thing certain is the uncertainty. It comes as no surprise, then, that a massive 95% of learning professionals want to respond faster to today’s changing business conditions (Towards Maturity Benchmark Report 2016).
There is an increasing and persistent pressure to reinvent our products and services, our organisational structures, and ourselves at an unprecedented pace. And as that cycle shortens, the ability to learn and relearn becomes absolutely critical to survival and staying relevant, as is the means to rapidly transfer that learning into productive action. We are in a continuous cycle of reinvention — we have entered the reinvention economy.
The conditions that demand reinvention
With exponential change, you may not notice much at first. Technology has tinkered with the edges of traditional business models, societal design and human behaviour. But now those small changes are being replaced by fundamental shifts in the way the world operates. The effects of Google and Facebook on our ability to connect with information and people are well documented, but in many ways have only just got started. Newer-wave technology companies such as Uber and AirBnB reduce redundancy and inefficiency by allowing more of us to leverage existing assets (cars, accommodation). This is already leading to significant changes in employment patterns and challenging regulatory status quo. The next wave of AI-driven automation will only have deeper implications for how we define work and the economic frameworks needed to sustain our societies.
In the world of work, organisations are finding that technology is transforming the way they can organise themselves. Hierarchical structures are being replaced by interwoven networks where everyone reports and shares with everyone. People can occupy multiple job roles and work across silos. This is essential in order to operate at a competitive pace. This clearly has implications for employees who need to understand the numerous roles they are undertaking, and the necessary competences that they must maintain to be positively productive. Leadership and management need the means by which to nurture, build and redistribute high performing teams, bringing together complementary skillsets to meet specific goals, while remaining vigilant and responsive to changing circumstances.
When change is now business as usual, it is essential that flexibility and control is retained.
Not only that, the very definition of employment is changing. Many companies now are ‘porous’ by design. Their workforce is made up of armies of stakeholders that are not necessarily directly employed. This is challenging everything from the sustainability of government taxation revenues to workers’ rights and benefits. It also challenges how these stakeholders stay optimally productive. As the definition of an ‘employee’ continues to blur, the need for continuous and effective learning technologies only grows.
Staying relevant
While there are newsworthy trailblazers, the larger majority of organisations are in danger of being left behind. They need simpler ways to respond positively to market change, to reorient the skills of their employees and stakeholders (such as their reseller and freelance communities). To achieve this, they need tools and technologies that they can shape around their own needs. When change is now business as usual, it is essential that flexibility and control is retained. Unfortunately, when it comes to procuring enterprise technology platforms, many lack this fundamental ability to support rapid, cost-effective change in a sustainable manner. Indeed, many businesses find themselves locked in, contractually and functionally, to systems that are no longer fit for purpose, and are acting as a drain on their ability to respond positively to a changed marketplace. This seems particularly true of the talent and learning management providers, as clearly characterised by the very low satisfaction levels continually expressed — as few as 30% say they are happy with their learning platform.

Out with the old, in with the new
The traditional — let’s call it ‘old world’ — model no longer cuts it in this new world we live in. Too many organisations find themselves delivering out-of-date training in a style and pace that does not engage their learning community in any useful or productive way. In the worst examples, training intervention is seen more as an interruption to productive work. Reframing learning design so that it produces resources and activities that naturally support productive workflow is more likely to have a net positive benefit to the business. Offering true blended learning experiences that are personalised to the needs of the individual means fundamentally moving away from generic, one-size-fits-all ‘solutions’. These are more accurately described as ‘one-size-fits-none’, and rarely deliver tangible benefits in isolation.
This equally applies to the learning platform itself. Proprietary software — whether offered as Software as a Service or On Premise — are too often ‘one-size-fits-none’ solutions. The feature set is fixed and not easily extended or integrated with other existing systems once finally in place. It is not uncommon to hear of two-year implementations with eye-watering price tags, which are then repeated 3–5 years later once the equally inflexible long term contract expires. The new world demands fresh thinking every 1–2 years, so we can see that this procurement/implementation cycle is just not fit for purpose going forward.
To stay relevant demands the freedom to learn, the freedom to procure well-supported software that remains in the control of the business, not the vendor.
The alternative is to invest in technology that is fundamentally open in nature, both in software and contractual terms. Open software can be extended and integrated much more readily with other systems. Yes, this comes with implementation costs, but by avoiding licence costs and working with a much more flexible and supportive community, the overall cost of ownership becomes dramatically lower. In a world where you need to change direction more frequently, the investment in open source software platforms remains accumulative — you can cost effectively reintegrate, extend functionality (and benefit from others’ extensions too over time) and relocate your implementation completely in line with the needs of your business. Indeed, you, the business, is in control, not one single vendor. With a rich ecosystem of partners committed to supporting open software platforms, you can tap into alternative services and skills that align with the business as it changes.
Reinvention demands greater agility and nimbleness of organisations, their employees and stakeholders. The Towards Maturity Benchmark Report 2016 revealed that 54% of top learning organisations are successfully cultivating agility (encouraging conversation, facilitating connections, tailoring learning to individual needs) compared to just 20% of other organisations, showing that this should be a key priority for businesses looking to stay ahead.
To stay relevant demands the freedom to learn, the freedom to procure well-supported software that remains in the control of the business, not the vendor. Those organisations willing to embrace this wholeheartedly increase their chances of living longer than the current 15 year average.