There were many business messages that I took away from TED this year, some intentional and some probably not.
One of the unintentional messages was that presented by a number of the science speakers. These people surrounded themselves with bright, young things which helped to fuel their research engines and provide innovation and new perspectives. We had a great experience last year when we hired a young turk to support a project we were doing. She was just outstanding, and had a natural curiousity which shone through in her work. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep her – she is now in Australia doing her Phd. But it was a useful experience for us in helping us to appreciate the perspective and value that smart new minds can add.
Jim Stengel, who was previously a Senior VP at Proctor and Gamble, talked about bringing our whole selves to work. Much of the message was vaguely familiar but it was still a challenging talk when we turned it in on ourselves. I’m not convinced that we articulate our ideal as strongly as we could nor that it has the inspiring resonance that we want to it to have. Part of this, previously, has been the impact of working in a distributed team. I think we have big opportunities this year to strengthen the clarity and impact of our ideal especially as we seem to be forming a central core in Wellington that ‘out of towners’ can move in and out of. The other piece of food for thought was Jim’s assertion that when times are tough everyone will be judging your behaviour. How true! So, I think it’s important to hang on to habits and connections that during the good times may seem less necessary but by making them part of who I am in the bad times they will hopefully be there to draw upon.
I was looking forward to Atul Gawande’s talk having read and enjoyed his New Yorker piece recently. He was talking about the world of medicine but much of the content has relevance for a technical business like ours.
Gawande stated that the best medicine is that which is less expensive, has fewer complications and gives the best results. When he looked at the various different procedures, it was the ones that looked the most like systems that were the most successful. However, this is a challenge for professions and organisations that rely on smart minds. In medicine the culture of autonomy and daring is a disaster and what is needed instead is a pitcrew! This is especially true because the complexity we are dealing with today (in our business as well as medicine) requires group success. We all need to be part of the pit crew now.
So, what makes a successful system? Three things:
- Ability to recognise success and recognise failure
- Devise solutions – checklists – which have: (1) pause points to help catch problems (2) killer items…the key things that get forgotten (3) a mixture of obvious stuff and interesting stuff
- Ability to implement
So this really got me thinking. We know we have good reference sites and strong advocates for our work. But how good are we really? Are we able to recognise when we have success and when we don’t? One of the difficulties of running a business is that as things get busier it simply seems to be harder to get close to our clients and implementations. Yet I think this is really important. In a previous year we invited to clients to come in and talk to us about how they thought we were doing. This year I think we need to go out and visit them. This is particularly the case for our successes. We tend to leave them alone because they are doing well with the consultants they are working with. It would be great though to get some insights on how and why they are successful and whether there are ways to really build on this for greater success.
Technology / Social Media
Reid Hoffman talked about how the career escalator – get a good job, get a promotion, swap escalators, get another promotion etc. etc. – is no longer true. He suggests that the fast moving interconnected world has replaced the career ladder. I’m not sure that I agree with that fully. I’m a pretty erratic user of tools like Facebook and LinkedIn and have certainly never really bothered to leverage them to make career related connections. Maybe this is because we are in New Zealand and everyone kinda knows everyone anyway … or they are only a couple of steps removed.
However, the discussion of network identity – who you know shapes who you are – was fascinating as were the insights about how information flows within a network.
Sherry Turkle provided a contra view that was somewhat less positive about the role of technology and social media in our lives. She said that technology supports 3 of our deepest fantasies:
- We can put our attention wherever we want
- We are heard
- We never had to be alone
With technology we move from “I feel xyz, so I’m going to connect with this person or people” to “I want to have a feeling so I’ll log in” Freaky!
So, the takeway for me is that self-reflection and solitude remains important and that fiddling around on-line is not a substitute for these.
TED Live overall
Following two years of attending TED Active (Aspen then Palm Springs) we didn’t attend TED last year… a little something like an earthquake got in the way. But as soon as the first morning was over it was clear the value that TED gives us. Through different perspectives on a wide range of topics both related and unrelated to what we do, we make the space to think about issues and opprtunities beyond ourselves. The way that TED extends our thinking also helps us to think about ourselves and the work that we do with fresh eyes and we have had some of the best conversations so far this year as a result of our TED immersion.