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Things will never be this slow again

25th November 2021

Author Richard Hollingum

Competing in the age of transformative change

Earlier this month, our parent company Merkle, along with Salesforce and Sitecore, invited renowned global futurist Anders Sörman-Nilsson to reflect on the pandemic, technology and human creativity and share his vision for what he has coined The 2nd Renaissance.

If history has taught us anything, Anders says, it’s that out of disruptive events and adversity can come great innovation and creativity – and he points to the (first) Renaissance as one such example of this.

In this virtual session (accessible here for a limited time), Anders argues that, through the pandemic, technology has become our lifeline for human connection and creativity, and that a time of “creativity and flourishing” lies ahead for organisations that take the opportunity to combine creative expression with the power of technology to design human-centred experiences that win “digital hearts and analogue minds.”

We’re at a point in time where technology has the power to liberate human creativity, Anders says, but what do organisations need to do to fuse technology with creativity to create what Anders calls the most human touch of all – the digital touch?

We asked Richard Hollingum, our Experience Consultancy Practice Lead, to share his thoughts on what organisations need to be thinking about and acting on to design transformative human-centric experiences and make the possibility of a ‘2nd Renaissance’ a reality.

 

Where we are today: an inflection point

In time, when we look back on the period of COVID-19, and the change – along with the robust innovation – that it has brought, it’s likely that as organisations and as individuals we’ll remember it as the harbinger of the greatest paradigm shifts we’ve seen in our lifetimes, across all aspects of our lives – from daily life to the business of relevance in daily life.

As organisations, we are constantly being challenged to connect the dots between our brands and the daily lives of the people we serve and seek to connect with in meaningful ways – whether these people are customers, users, citizens, consumers, our own people or the wider ecosystems and societies in which we operate (or likely an ever-changing mixture of any of these stakeholder groups at any time).

As stewards of our brands and as purveyors of ideas, the impact and sheer speed of technological innovation today can be both humbling and exhilarating. It can be all at once empowering and daunting to think about how we can unlock untapped creativity – and then what might happen to a compelling idea when it’s amplified by the scale of technology and personalised by the intimacy of human interaction.

The possibilities are boundless, but we believe that an organisation’s ability to innovate isn’t just about technology. It’s about creating seamless connected experiences that allow us to connect people with each other; and it’s about connecting technology with powerful ideas and insightful perspectives on human moments to create highly relevant ways to connect.

 

If we are now in the transformation economy, how should we transform?

The transformation of businesses and industries isn’t a new phenomenon. The engineers and inventors of the past have been harnessing and evolving the technologies of their age at a pace that must have been bewildering for the folks of that time. And we are no strangers to that same sense of bewilderment.

The reason that digital transformation is so significant for our age is that it signifies the coming together of rapid change in consumer behaviour, technology, business models and a growing awareness of the impact that business and technology has on societies and our environment.

Digital business transformation is akin to permanent disruption, a self-imposed regime that recognises transformation not as a one-and-done endeavour but as an ongoing commitment to adapt in line with changing customer needs and shifting industry landscapes.

 

Learn, unlearn and relearn* – and create value

One of the most significant shifts in business over the past decade is the call for value creation.

While established businesses have always been value-centric, for most of their existence businesses have created value with an eye firmly on a combination of core products and services, brand, economies of scale, and efficiencies. But perhaps the most foundational component of building a sustainable company today is creating the ability for your organisation to *learn, unlearn, and relearn. This is a valuable lesson I learned from an esteemed ex-colleague of mine, Nigel Vaz, now CEO of Publicis Sapient

For established businesses, Nigel states, requires a shift from a product mindset to a software mindset. Traditionally, product companies think in a linear way, with a clear beginning and a clear view through to product development as the ‘end’ point. Software development and management, on the other hand, is continuous and ever evolving, adding new functionality and changes as a reaction to customer, business, and market demands. This allows for a more rapid response to the rate and scale of change in consumer expectations.

While most companies have seen and followed the rise of digital over the years, there were few who invested in it early. Many thought (or still think) of digital as tangential to their core business. Yet the shift of digital from being tangential to being existential is no longer about any singular technology or innovation; it’s about how consumer behaviour and expectations have and will continue to change as a result of digital, whether or not a company is influencing that change or simply reacting to it.

 

Paving the way forward – where to focus

Once you have a vision of what your differentiated future business model can look like, one of the biggest questions to answer is: What capabilities should we invest in? What are the capabilities that are the essence of what it means to be digital?

Many established businesses have structures and processes in place that wrongly put the emphasis on the scope and outputs of projects rather than on the outcomes for the business. This creates what’s well known as ‘technical debt’, where those companies take what appears to be the easier, surer path instead of the path that will produce the right outcomes.

The questions facing many businesses are similar: What to do about legacy technology investment, how to connect disparate datasets to create a single view of the customer, and (one of the most challenging shifts), how to break down financial silos that were originally designed to support your legacy organisation.

How will you change your orientation now that the primary focus of your technology investment is not just cost and risk, but value and differentiation?

How will you pivot away from what made your business successful in the past to what will make it successful going forward?

Sometimes established businesses will see that their need to transform is evident, but they miss that it is not just about becoming more digital, or even just about improving the customer experience.

Viewed through this lens of your organisation’s experience capability, this means recognising that every aspect of your business – whether customer facing or internal – shapes the customer experience, and that your organisation’s experience capability plays a central role in optimising every component of the customer experience.

 

Where to from here?

As organisations looking to bring together creativity and the power of technology and data to create connected human experiences, we should:

  • Consider whether ‘experience’ in our organisations is truly multidisciplinary, with teams encompassing not just ‘experience’ capability but strategy, engineering, data and product as well.
  • Make sure our goal for experience capability is not only to change what we can produce, but also how fast we are able to produce and evolve it. The ‘move fast’ organisational goal is borne out of strategy, engineering, and data capabilities as well, but how we approach experience and design will prove pivotal to the achievement of our goals.
  • Think about how we will build a system capable of moving at the rapid rate of change in the world. The key difference between classic design versus design thinking is iteration and continual improvement built on data, data systems, AI and machine learning amongst others.

Digital business transformation is always the culmination of the work of whole teams across organisations. It is not something you can do to companies or for companies, but with companies.

How we think, how we connect, how we challenge, how we create and how we create value and how make a difference as sustainable and meaningful entities in this new world will become the most powerful way in which we can define and differentiate ourselves – and the time for us to do it is now. Because, as Anders said (making reference to the much-quoted epithet attributed to marketing consultant Graeme Wood writing for the IPA back in 2009 and referenced by Justin Trudeau at Davos a couple of years back), “The rate of change has never been this fast, and will never be this slow again.”

If you’d like to chat about what’s next for your organisation and how you can bring together technology and creativity for connected human experiences, we’d love to talk. You can find me here.

 

Related reading

Watch the 2nd Renaissance virtual event on demand here and download Merkle’s CX Imperatives whitepaper.

Connected experiences: Making the difference we need through experience transformation

Nigel Vaz: Digital Business Transformation: How Established Companies Sustain Competitive Advantage from Now to Next – Wiley Publications