Is Apple Cooling or Transitioning to a Techno-Luxury House of Brands?

June 8th, 2014

Blog graphicThe recent announcement that Apple is acquiring Beats Electronics for its streaming audio and electronics capabilities has caused consternation on Wall Street in terms of whether this is an indication that Apple’s renowned ability to innovate in-house is cooling and that the company is beginning to stall.

Most of the attention around the Beats acquisition has focused on its streaming capability and whether it offers as good a service as Spotify or Pandora. The potential that this joint team brings for developing future offerings in the broader entertainment landscape, including video, should not be ignored.

Other key benefits for Apple include Beats’ wealth of aggregate knowledge of the entertainment, music and electronics industries, as well as its connection with the youth culture – something that many other companies seek to emulate. Beats is considered to be a relatively strong U.S. brand with a youth flavor and one that, when attached to Apple and its global market presence and subscriber base, could infuse a stronger linkage with their younger purchasers, further extending their cool image and status.

At the heart of this transaction, however, is the issue of “the innovation divide”, where larger process driven companies are not always as flexible and in tune with the rapidly changing technologies and consumer demands that startups seem to easily tap into. This is why we have seen Facebook acquiring WhatsApp and Oculus. as well as Google acquiring Nest.

The real challenge faced when executing such acquisitions is being able to blend the cultures and mindsets of the new company with the dominant corporate culture that prevails. This may seem easy but the reality is that the founders and creative thought leaders who drive the acquired company usually leave fairly quickly. What can Apple do to prevent this happening and also create a mechanism and process for future acquisition and expansion going forward? The key may be keeping them as independent operations and brands supported by the power of the Apple global logistics, branding and design machine.

Are there other reasons that Apple should be considering this broader transformation? At the recent DLD NYC Conference, Scott Galloway identified that technology is a terrible business to be in because: “If you don’t reinvent it every year, your stock gets hammered”. He stated that “you want to be in a business that leads with your heart not your head, as it results in irrational wants and needs which in turn lead to larger margins”; he believes that the investment community has recognized this, giving Cartier as an example of having a larger market cap than Deutsche Telecom. Galloway identified that “the best neighborhood in the world is luxury” and although, in his opinion, Apple is the best house brand in the world, it’s in a bad neighborhood which can be a “terrible stock strategy”. He believes that Apple needs to transition its business into the luxury neighborhood in order to become a great iconic luxury brand and, in so doing, become the first trillion dollar market cap company. There seems to be strong evidence that Apple has already initiated this transformation with the appointments of Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry, and Paul DeNeve, former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, into key positions within its organization.

The possibility is that the acquisition of Beats could be Apple’s fledgling step to creating not just a single luxury brand but a house of brands, similar to LVMH, with multiple appeal points for a broader global audience, rather than limiting their offering to a single brand or a single technology. The creation of a new techno-luxury house of brands supports Apple’s quest to become the first trillion dollar market cap company, and the company’s transformative strategy indicates a return to its historic reputation for unpredictability!

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global LLC

The Power of Six in a World of Digital Change

May 15th, 2014

Power of 6 finalFor the last six years I’ve been examining and commentating on Digital Life Renaissance 2.0, the term that my partner, Steve Benton, and I coined to describe the world as we saw it emerging in late 2008, following our escape from corporate life to become independent analysts, advisors and entrepreneurs.

There’s probably never a good time to start a journey in life like this and, looking back with hindsight, this was probably the worst time we could have chosen! 2008 was the start of the global meltdown and, as a consequence, everyone was narrowing their focus on how to survive over the next 3 months. It didn’t matter whether you were a corporate CEO or employee, uncertainty and fear were a daily reality back then.

One of the most significant theories of networking is that everything is connected and that we’re only ever six connections away from someone or something. I was recently invited to DLD (Digital-Life-Design), an interesting “invite-only” conference in New York. This conference was initiated ten years ago by Yossi Vardi, a legendry Israeli entrepreneur, and managed by Steffi Czerny of the Hubert Burda Media Company; it has become a must-attend preamble to the Davos World Economic Forum. This year, DLD crossed the Atlantic for the first time, offering a high profile speaker and attendee list, and the conference covered an eclectic assortment of digital life topics from economics, monetization, media, brands, music, arts, to Internet of Things, neuroscience and consciousness.

After six years as an independent analyst examining the world of Digital Renaissance, I’ve clocked up well over 20,000 hours of knowledge and expertise in the area; I was therefore amazed to discover at the DLD conference two weeks ago that, as much time as I’ve invested here, I’ve only been skimming the surface of the phenomenal change that’s occurring. This was the first time that I’ve witnessed the real breadth of this change so succinctly exposed and exquisitely showcased as work in rapid progress.

The overwhelming impression that I came away with from the DLD conference is that there is not one aspect of the life that we’re living today that is not, has not or will not be touched by the digital force that’s consuming human thinking. The opportunities and possibilities have never been greater, and the urgency for us to understand and harness this knowledge is paramount.

So what is the “power of six” beyond my six years of learning and the six degrees of separation? “The Power of Six” was the theme of one of the DLD conference sessions that focused on the power of reductionism, to simplify and clarify in times of chaos. It’s the ability, as Hemmingway advised other writers, to “boil it down” and “know what to leave out”; the six word tag line of advertising that captures the essence of an idea. It’s translating this to Twitter where, if you can’t express your idea in a tweet, then you really don’t have an idea. In other words, with such rapid change occurring, it’s vital to simplify in order to help people grasp and understand what’s going on.

The power of six also refers to the persistently interruptive world that we have created with social media, email, messaging and online marketing that consumes our lives. Today, six seconds is often all the time you have to grab someone’s interest, and the six images that convey a broader story and context around those six words could well be critical to your success. The ability of the human brain to interpret and absorb images in order to comprehend the whole is greater than with words alone. Additionally, these images will probably be delivered on a screen of six inches or less, confirming that this really is a digital mobile world.

At the DLD conference, Scott Kurnit, CEO of Keep Holdings, identified that it took thirty seven attempts for him to repeat his message before his company finally embraced mobile, as opposed to relying on digital and web-only mechanisms for change. To me, this is “six to the power of six plus one”. In other words, I believe that persistence is the true key to success, particularly when faced with the evangelical task of converting people to a mobile mindset, and this has become my goal and the prime focus of my company, KeySo Global.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global LLC.

The Trap of the Better Mousetrap

April 15th, 2014

5G Press ConferenceThe “better mousetrap syndrome” is where a basic, cheap, functional and familiar product is reinvented with something that does the same thing, but is potentially better and costs more. It’s a recognized trap for product designers and companies, and yet it still occurs.

Here are two examples of this syndrome that I recently experienced:

1. I was assisting an associate respond to a request for tactical marketing support for a new product from a relatively established company entering the fiercely competitive mobile space. The more we discussed this the more it became apparent that this company had a solution but didn’t really know the problem they were trying to solve. Their solution provided certain advantages /benefits but they hadn’t found out if these were something that their mainstream customers really needed or wanted.

Having been actively involved with a startup that offers a new technology solution to an age old problem, I have spent much time exploring the benefits of minimum viable products and the use of business model frameworks to best test and define customer needs and value propositions. It is therefore mind blowing to see that companies don’t learn from this process before rushing blindly into product development, market extensions or new products; or more significantly, close their ears when being informed about the folly they are about to commit.

2. During a 2009 visit to Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona the following astute observations were made about the mobile business by a colleague from outside the industry:

  • There’s a tendency to start with a technology and build it into a product, instead of starting with consumer behavior insight and creating a product to serve it.
  • This industry tends to approach development in a sequential manner: firstly, system and network decisions are made to accommodate long infrastructure lead times. Then devices and user interfaces are developed, next applications and services are developed and, finally, a consumer proposition is made – but this is often late in the development cycle when critical decisions have already been made.

These perceptive observations returned to me as I attended a press conference at this year’s MWC in Barcelona, when the EU sponsored initiative to create 5G was announced. At this same conference, and indeed over the past 12 months, I have heard and read nothing but moans and groans about the sorry business situation of mobile operators as voice revenues decline, data volumes increase and over the top providers piggy back on their networks, providing the messaging services that consumers want instead of operator provided expensive text and picture messaging services.

Has this industry learned nothing over the last 6 years? The OTT and software startups see the need to create a product and are, in the main, testing and refining their product and pivoting in accordance with lessons learned from consumers. The mobile industry, on the other hand, seems hell bent on creating a better mouse trap without checking that it’s something that the customer wants or, more importantly, is willing to pay for.

There are mechanisms that can bring consumer understanding to the forefront of the product development process; there are also business model frameworks that force holistic thinking about the solution, value proposition, and customer experience across all the business touch points. In some cases they are freely available and in others they are proprietary, but they are there for companies to explore. In today’s connected world, solutions shouldn’t be continually created for no known problem or for no identified customer need.

To learn more about effective approaches to more successful product development, contact us at info@keysoglobal.com

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

International CES 2014: A tipping point for the Internet of Things?

February 18th, 2014
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Cisco’s shopping cart

As predicted, the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show simply overflowed with examples of IoT finally becoming a marketplace reality – from the connected home to the connected automobile to digital health – as well as large companies vying for the opportunity to merge cloud and mobile technologies with sensors and MEMS technology.

In his keynote presentation John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, predicted that “2014 would be the transformational pivot point for IoT” and that the total cost benefit going forward could be as high as $19 trillion for both public and private sectors. He foresees retail, for example, gaining at least $1.5 trillion in benefits from the implementation of smart shopping carts that both assist and track customers.

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FootLogger demo

The pace, scale and potential impact of IoT emergence has drawn attention from multiple interested parties associated with policy and regulations. During a panel discussion on this subject, FTC Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen encouraged governments to better understand the effects and benefits of innovation on society, and to assess whether existing laws or regulations in the market place can right any potential threats. Adam Thierer, senior research fellow with the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, warned against the “precautionary principle” model which curtails innovation until it can be proven to not be a serious threat to society. He sees the EU as following this worldview in its approach to privacy and IoT, and he strongly endorses the principle of “permissionless innovation” fostered by the U.S. which deems that experimentation with new technologies and business models should generally be permitted by default. In reality, evolution of IoT will most likely be a combination of all three due to the explosive growth and diversity of the technology globally.

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FashionTEQ notification ring

In another session on MEMS and sensor fusion, Mike Luna, CTO of Jawbone, pointed out that technology on its own is not the key to success. Luna believes that the real challenge for companies such as Jawbone, Nike and Fitbit with their new wearable products will be ensuring that they seamlessly fit into consumers’ everyday lives. Key to this is making sure that they do not adversely react with bodily or external substances, so that they can just be worn and forgotten. Only then can consistent and reliable data be obtained from them and used in such areas as health, sports or general lifestyle enhancement. These new wearables not only communicate with smartphones but with one another and, according to Luna, are in effect creating the Internet of Me, where they become hubs for connection and exchange of data. For wearable technology to really take off I believe that people need to feel socially comfortable with it, and I was interested to see the large number of European, Asian and American companies pursuing the fashion vector for wearables, whether it was notification jewelry such as pendants and rings, or watches that blended style with technology.

grahpic 4

Multiple eyewear options

Rival eyewear products were also abundant at this year’s CES, some incorporating cameras that stream everyday life or automatically take pictures to create an individual’s video blog. Others focused on the industrial space, creating safety glasses with video streaming capability that can be used for training, diagnostic or quality assurance purposes, for example on a production line when a video recording of the process could prove useful. Add to this the increased use of augmented reality, as seen in Googles Glass, and the production and education environment of the future looks very different.

Judging by the technologies on display at this year’s CES, the future is closer than most of us realize. Conference speaker Rob Nail, CEO and Associate Founder of Singularity University, warned, however, that humans are not educated to cope with the exponential technology growth curve that we are currently experiencing. Worse still, he presented evidence that we have limited capability to forecast it. The good news is that, when we finally accept what’s happening, we apparently adapt very quickly! Over the next year it will be interesting to see if the Internet of Everything turns out to be the fundamental tipping point that keynote speaker John Chambers predicts, or if it’s merely one of many on the accelerating exponential technology curve referenced above.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

Has Google Seeded the Future of Mobile?

February 10th, 2014

This past week’s news was dominated by Apple struggling to fulfill Wall Street’s expectations, Samsung’s proposal to reinvent itself as a software company and, the coup de grace, Google selling Motorola to Lenovo. All of these events reveal an industry in transition.

Smartphones, as we know, have transformed the mobile experience for consumers but have hardly changed since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. They have become faster, bigger and have more sensors but they remain square, slim screens that in developed markets cost around $400. In this scenario Samsung and Apple have thrived, sucking out 90% of the industry profitability.

ARA Motorola projectClearly, the future for smartphones lies in the emerging markets where the next 2 to 3 billion devices will be sold and the price point will be closer to $100. So will these two giants still dominate or will Chinese players such as Lenovo, Huawei, ZTE, Coolpad and an army of white label manufacturers take over this space? Is the smartphone/mobile industry about to enter the commoditization phase?

Against this background it was interesting to see that Google is holding on to the Advanced Technology team that is developing the Ara endoskeleton phone design system, which was revealed late last year. Also revealed was a partnership with Phonebloks with the intent of creating an ecosystem of hardware developers to work with the software developers that support Android. The initial offerings will probably not be successful but the following should be taken into consideration:  for the past few years chip manufacturers have been producing ever more capable systems on chip designs, two examples being Qualcomm’s Snapdragon that dominates the smartphone space and Intel’s Edison for the M2M and Internet of Things space. With the advent of 3D manufacturing and ever more capable components, the concept of a spine that acts as a connector may be the catalyst for a fundamental rethink of devices.

Eco-mobIt is no coincidence that ZTE presented a concept design, Eco-Mobius, at CES 2014 that uses a sliding track enabling users to assemble and disassemble screens, core processors, memory, camera and battery; here the concept of “customize your own device” seems to coincide with a growing interest in wearables. The future may well see the fusion of these two trends with fashion styling enabling devices to fit seamlessly into peoples’ lives.

Discussions around the Internet of Things, Internet of Everything and the Internet of Me are all about the future pervasiveness of mobile connectivity across multiple industries as well as the “always on” digital world we live in. These modular architecture concepts that Google and ZTE are experimenting with will help facilitate this. But, more importantly, since Google excels at building ecosystems, if they succeed in creating an ecosystem of hardware developers to fuse with software companies, the future of mobile will see a complete change. Google may well have seeded the future direction of the industry in a way that only a few of us have foreseen.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

2014: The Year of Digital Renaissance?

December 31st, 2013

Digi Renaissance firework 2013As fireworks fill the skies tonight and 2013 comes to a close, it seems a good time to reflect on the current state of the telecoms and ICT industries, and what has changed in the last five years. Having just participated in the 2013 ITU Telecom World Conference in Bangkok, this gave me the opportunity to assess whether the Digital Renaissance that we at KeySo Global have being predicting has in fact transpired.

In 2009 the world was reeling from 12 months of global financial turbulence and anxiety levels were high. WiMAX was causing angst for U.S. carriers and the iPhone was forcing the rethinking of how Wi-Fi and cellular could effectively inter-operate. Data congestion on overloaded 3G networks designed for voice was reaching critical levels as operators adjusted to the realities of YouTube video upload and downloads. The European markets and technology suppliers were firmly in control of the industry, with Nokia the dominant handset supplier controlling 38% of the 1.1 billion phones sold that year. Apple, on the other hand, was gaining credibility and achieved a respectable 2%. ICT was the main theme of the conference as cellular held center stage with 67% market penetration, having enabled 4.6 billion people globally to have access to personal communication capability. In 2009 the prime discussion, therefore, was around internet connection and the role that mobile could play here.

graphic oneFast forward to the 2013 conference in Asia and the global economy, having experienced five years of unprecedented instability, is still in a volatile state where virtually every treasured economic rulebook has been proven ineffective in controlling a 24/7 interconnected digital world. This has been facilitated in part due to cellular penetration reaching 96% and 6.8 billon people having access to cellular – 3.5 billion of whom are in the Asia Pacific region. More significantly, the number of people now online has increased from 26% to 39%. The single biggest contributor to this has been mobile broadband access which has grown from below 10% in 2009 to 30% penetration this year. This growth is closely tied to smartphone growth as well as the availability of lower cost data packages.  In 2009 smartphonesgraphic 2 accounted for approximately 10% of handset shipments, whereas in the 3rd quarter of 2013 smartphones totaled 250 million units, over 55% of total phone shipments that quarter. The biggest loser in this dramatic shift in emphasis towards smartphones and operating systems has been Nokia, but others such as Sony Ericsson, Kyocera, Sharp, Rim, HTC and Motorola have been damaged along the way, to greater or lesser degrees, by the shift to an Android world.

In conclusion, we are living in a far more connected world than we were five years ago. However, the extent to which the interconnection of this increasingly complex human digital and physical world is understood is limited and the ripple effects of these technologies on industry structures have only just started to appear. Telecoms and ICT are certainly not immune to these, as we have seen, but within the next five years we will see the boundary industries of automotive, medical, retail, utilities and manufacturing become increasingly subject to the transformative effects of the mobile internet.

Of greater interest will be the unanticipated consequences that will undoubtedly emerge from the mobile internet and Internet of Things blending with big data analytics, and the unavoidable impact this will have on digital life and behaviors. As an increasingly urbanized planet adopts these technologies to facilitate ever smarter cities, the opportunities for ICT to make a difference to societies are colossal – but the question is how to bring the people along with these changes, and instill trust in them that technology will be used for good and that ethical government will prevail? Clearly, the recent Snowden revelations on the NSA and other agencies have given everyone pause for thought.

As we enter 2014, it is clear that the Digital Renaissance is technically well underway but the structural and behavioral implications are only just beginning to emerge and, when they do surface, I suspect that the predominant challenges we face will be societal. In shaping the future of this brave new world we need to engage its citizens, understand their needs and manage the “Faustian bargain” that will be a fine balance between a surveillance state and the right to privacy. None of these challenges are unsurmountable but they are ones that will need careful monitoring, open conversations and perseverance on the part of governments, industry and citizens around the globe.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

Can Innovation Survive in the Telecoms World?

November 27th, 2013

From an innovation perspective, I have always been convinced that “the language we use defines the horizons of our imagination” and so it struck a chord with me when I read in a recent ITU document that “voice calls are no longer the preferred communication mechanism between people”.

This phraseology implies peril for the telecoms industry and a golden opportunity for the internet world. Voice is, however, still the preferred mechanism of human communication but voice calls via a fixed or mobile telephone system are now not the only option available.

This glass half full, myopic misperception leads me to suggest that the business models of telcos are overly focused on the delivery of “coms”. While this has been a highly successful strategy throughout the 20th century, it is rapidly running out of steam as the internet world and telecoms collide to create the new mobile cloud world of today.

Maybe we should learn from Max Frisch (1911-1991), the Swiss author and critic, who said: “We live in an age of reproduction. Most of what makes up our personal picture of the world we have never seen with our own eyes—or rather we have seen it with our own eyes, but not on the spot: our knowledge comes to us from a distance, we are tele-viewers, tele-hearers, tele-knowers”.

So is it time to pivot this focus? Given the colossal change that convergence has forced within a concatenated time frame, the answer should most definitely be “yes”. The challenge for the telecoms industry is to shift its mindset to focus less on the delivery of “coms” and innovatively focus on “tele”literally meaning “at a distance”.  This demands a focus on innovation that leverages the assets already in place, the layered technology developments of the last 5 years as well as the new ones that are emerging; most importantly, a focus on the evolution of global consumer and business usage needs and patterns. It means combining capabilities and services to “enable engagement over distance”. Now the question to ask is: what is it that tele-consumers and tele-enterprises really need in this 3.0 world?

As an entrepreneur, I have learned much over the past five years about the concepts and practices of lean startups, and I realize that some of the challenges they face are very often closely aligned to those of the telecoms companies: namely, having to pivot and adopt a change in strategy without changing the vision, as well as creating multiple iterations of minimum viable solutions to solve customers’ real problems. In essence, getting back to what mobile operators were doing naturally in the early days of cellular. This may require smaller out-boarded organizations but, more importantly, a return of the visionary leaders and problem solvers to replace the accountants and managers before they succumb to the same fate that awaits many startups – running out of resources!

In conclusion, the panel on innovation that I moderated at last week’s ITU Telecom World 2013 conference in Bangkok was about the need for new mindsets and a reevaluation of the telecoms landscape, chiefly because the current map and strategy no longer accurately represent a territory that has been ripped up by the convergence forces of the last five years. I have no doubt that innovation will thrive in the converged industry but the questions still remain: who will the players be and where will this innovation come from?

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

Technology Scouting and the Catch 22 of Innovation

October 14th, 2013

I came across what I would call the “catch 22 of innovation” the other day while working on a project that’s tipped to disrupt an entire industry.

Every major city now has the desire to become a smart city and to use digital technologies to provide better services and products for its citizens. However, as anyone who reads the news understands, the majority of this innovation in digital technologies is coming from small startups, not from the larger more established companies. One of the services that KeySo Global provides is technology scouting to large companies and for exactly this reason; they are not innovating broadly or rapidly enough, and are beginning to recognize the urgent need to partner with smaller startups that have the technology capability to enhance their more traditional offerings.

So the “catch 22”, as we see it in this context, lies in the request for proposal (RFP) / request for quotation (RFQ) process that cities use when looking for new technologies and solutions to meet existing needs. In most RFP’s and RFQ’s there is a statement that says “we are open to new ideas and technologies that will provide services to enhance the process or reduce the cost of providing those services”. However, buried deep within the RFP, under terms and conditions, is a sentence that also states “any company proposing a solution must have been in existence for at least 3 years, provide a list of existing clients and show financial capability to support the project through its anticipated life.” How many startups do you know that can meet these criteria?

The real drawback of this is that true innovation is unlikely to come to a city near you at any time soon. Of course there are ways around this dilemma but most of these are not straight forward. The technology scouting service we provide at KeySo Global can help by offering new and innovative startups the hybrid solution of partnering with more established companies so that together they can leverage the digital components needed for a thriving smart city infrastructure.

The process of scouting, filtering, evaluating and on-boarding technologies is crucial to an organization’s future success but it can be challenging as well as time and resource consuming at a time of restricted budgets. The option that we offer is to partner with a team that has successfully performed similar roles and created transformational processes at Motorola, Sony Ericsson and TRW. We offer a unique blend of experience, insight and proven processes to achieve this outcome. Our strategic review process and implementation framework enables us to rapidly partner with clients to successfully find, evaluate, acquire and on-board innovative technologies. A significant aspect of our approach is to help the startup and the established company understand one another’s’ mindsets. We use the “two weeks analogy” to help frame the fundamental differences in perspective of the two:  two weeks to a startup can mean life or death whereas to a large company it’s just a meeting!

Contact us  for more information and to find out how we can help accelerate innovation.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

 

The Value of a Global Mobile Mindset

September 26th, 2013

Over breakfast the other morning with a former Motorola colleague, we reflected on how we had both been part of teams and companies that had created two exponential growth industries:  cellular and, most recently, the mobile internet – both technologies and industries that have drastically changed and still are re-shaping lives, societies and economies today.

Being part of this transformation can’t help but influence and shape you as an individual; to have lived through an era where the rate of growth outstripped supply of components and capacity on a global basis was no trivial experience.

As a result of this, having a “global mobile mindset” has become part of my DNA. I believe that I intuitively think differently, and deliberately look for the inter-connections and the multiplier effects. Boundaries and borders between business, industry and nation states are historic and do not reflect the flows of knowledge and trade that are enabled in a digital mobile world.  I look at how humans interact with systems, things and other people whilst in motion. Nothing that used to be static or fixed remains that way any longer, and the systems and business models that support the current status quo are subject to continuous disruption.  I tend to assess each situation that I encounter with this broad and open minded approach, and pose the question “how can mobility fundamentally change current assumptions or remove existing constraints?”

As part of my consultancy practice, I now apply this honed intuitive capability and process to help traditional companies and industries look at how the mobile internet, as well as the emerging Internet of Things, can create seismic opportunities for growth. I have translated over 30 years of international experience and best practices into an adaptive solution to client needs. However, there are only a handful of companies that are readily open to this approach; the reason being that strategic innovation requires venturing away from familiar ground into uncharted territory – and that requires courage and leadership.

As a manager, do you consider yourself to be a strategic visionary or digital leader of change that intuitively senses the impending shifts in your industry? If so, you are our natural client and we can help. What we bring are unique insights, frameworks and valuable experience that can help you reshape the way you perceive your industry, and an adaptive methodology to accelerate the strategic innovation plan needed to drive your company into the digital age.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

The Challenges of a Digital Artisan in the 21st Century Workplace

September 11th, 2013

A recent article on top technology trends talks about “wiki-work”, which describes today’s seamless internet-facilitated creation and distribution of work, and the “porous workplace” where mobile technology enables work to be carried out in any location and at any time. Trend spotter, Howard Tullman, believes that these and other trends will contribute to a future where more people will piecemeal their workloads, working multiple freelance jobs instead of one full-time position. “By 2020”, Tullman claims, “40% of the U.S. population is going to be acting as free agents.”

This projection aligns with the concept of the “digital artisan” that we have defined in our previous blogs; an individual who is adept at leveraging digital capability to create, enhance and deliver high quality products or services in small quantities, tailored specifically for select customers and markets. In other words, it’s the antithesis of today’s world of mass-production and mass-markets.

For me, however, Tullman’s forecast arouses some concerns and prompts me to pose the following questions: if 40% of the population becomes freelance by 2020, what will the overall economy look like? Will large companies still dominate the economic landscape? Will mass-production and consumption still be the drivers of economic growth? What will be the role of Wall Street in this new world? How will labor law and human resources operate? How will people transition into these new roles? And how will society and the ecosystem evolve to support them?

I’ve also recently been reading about the new Catch 55 – a derivative of the famous Catch 22! Catch 55 refers to the requirement for employees to now work beyond the traditional retirement age, primarily due to dwindling pension funds. This is becoming complicated, however, at a time when companies are being forced to ease the 55+ year olds out of their positions as the younger generation – which is cheaper to employ – push for promotion and the top jobs.  Again, this is something that we have written about – with the loss of the older, more experienced worker goes a wealth of tacit or aggregate knowledge that corporations traditionally hold so close to their chest as proprietary capability. This loss of know-how is effectively released out into the collective where it can, potentially, become fuel for the fire of competitors or new entrants.  The question then arises – how do these 55+ year olds transition into a new world where the corporate workplace considers them too expensive to hire, even though they invariably bring valuable experience-based capabilities and a keen desire to continue working for at least another 10 to 15 years?

Having been one of those 55+ year olds who made the transition from corporate life to free agent / freelancer / consultant, I can attest to the challenges that this brings, and in particular the acquisition and application of new and practical skills. Aspects such as learning how to sell and market yourself,  building a pipeline of work, ensuring that projects are in various stages of completion and execution to maintain a continuous cash flow, dealing with large companies that often delay projects, don’t pay or delay payment – all these are taken care of by others in a corporate environment. There is clearly an opportunity for a new type of agency to emerge – one that seeks and feeds jobs and projects to this select group of freelancers, and leverages their talents to meet corporate requirements. In a report by Vistage “The Future of Work”, this concept is referred to as “Going Hollywood”,  where in movie making today a different set of actors, directors, screenwriters and producers are brought in each time to fill the necessary roles, versus the days when large movie studios controlled the whole process.

One final thought that comes to mind is that, if 40% of the working population is going to become free agents with no guaranteed employer or income, then credit bureaus, mortgage companies and banks will have to drastically rethink and readjust their perspectives on how they assess people for loans and mortgages, or otherwise the future implications for home ownership and wealth creation, as well as the building industry, appear pretty grim.

Since collaboration is now the name of the game, the social networks and communities that have rapidly emerged over the last 5-6 years should now be evolved into broader learning and support mechanisms for today’s digital artisans, to ensure that this group of individuals acquires the necessary skills, support and training to make a smooth transition into the 21st century workplace.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global