This week, I spoke at The Drum conference 4 Minute Warning on how the modern workplace is changing. Here’s the transcript of my talk and the slides are below.
I did sociology and then social policy back when I was a student so the habit of observing people everywhere is sort of ingrained in me, in a sense. I was on the tube the other day and I saw a banker wearing these plastic shoe–protectors so his leather shoes wouldn’t get spoilt in the rain. And this headline just said so much about our obsession with celebrity!
But as much as we need to keep your eyes open, or at least as much as I like to think I keep mine open, as humans we have a tendency to miss a lot of stuff that is right under our eyes. I highly recommend reading Jan Chipchase’s Hidden in Plain Sight for an anthropological narrative of how this happens across the world.
We live in a state of constant beta, as Bruce Nussbaum, the design thinker & author said back in 2009.
A state of beta (and for any nuclear physics experts in the room, please forgive me) that is not dissimilar to nuclear transmutation, when the process of atomic decay transmutes one chemical element into another if both a proton and a neutron are part of the atom.
Similarly, even as we struggle to understand one element of technology, Microsoft Kinect’s IllumiRoom, for example, it will morph into something else, like the Oculus Rift. In fact at the conference earlier in the day someone demoed a £20 version of the Rift’s £250-ish device! A state of constant beta.
So, in this scenario, I think there’s a lot to learn from the way startups work. From tools like the business model canvas, which forces even the most confident entrepreneur or businessman to understand what their core business problems are that they’re trying to solve.
These are some of the companies that actually use the business model canvas – and you can see some pretty big names there.
What else do we need to know about the workplace? Well for one, people are unhappy. Upto 87% of people are disengaged with their work, according to research done by Gallup recently. So we need to find ways of making people feel happier at work, which is where they spend a lot of their time. Now a lot of game designers have done research into how introducing elements of gamification into work can help. PHD has its own planning system that takes this into account, called Source. We are working with game designer and author Jane McGonigal to refine our new it such that it not only encourages people to work as part of a global team, but gives them opportunities to feel the sentiment of flow that games bring – and anyone who’s won a game knows that feeling.
Source, our planning OS, also allows to ensure that underpinning our campaigns is a creative tool that takes things like channel planning and allows people to customise it to their client’s needs. And it allows people to see how they are part of a system that is larger than just their team.
Going back to the startup world, where we hear about the million and billion dollar exits all the time, it feels like, the wisest startups out there are those who are very clear about wanting to solve a problem – and that’s something every single company today should aim to do with their products and their marketing by default.
This is Oren Netzioni, a 6-time entrepreneur and the head of a non-profit research institute in Seattle. He recently said in the New York Times that money isn’t what motivates him.
And the smartest CEOs are thinking this way too. This is what Paul Polman, Unilever’s CEO, said in January this year at their shareholder’s meeting.
All that’s great, but a lot of us here probably work in medium-sized and big companies that have clear processes and structures in place, systems that have existed for decades. Most of them work fairly well – if you’ve worked at a Nike or Unilever then you understand the plethora of things that have to work for a product to get to market successfully and on time. I’ve had the privilege of working at Nike and I have immense respect for that process.
But increasingly, even within businesses like these, we’re seeing the rise of the intrapreneur – someone who is explicitly charged with taking the business to the next level even as the business’ top management focus on the day-to-day, people who have the spirit of an entrepreneur – but not as much of the liability. They might not be explicitly called an intrapreneur, in fact they may be a regular part of the marketing team, but they have a remit that goes above and beyond the traditional marketing job description.
Maggie de Pree is the co-founder of The League of Intrapreneurs, an organisation that was formed to provide a sense of identity and community to intrapreneurs – she and a few others noticed their growing tribe and strongly felt that knowing about other people’s stories is what it takes to make them be better at their jobs. I had a long conversation with her about why intrapreneurs are growing and how they can change business and society.
The idea of working ‘from’ an institution instead of ‘for’ an institution makes for a subtle but marked change in approach. When you work ‘from’ an institution the institution itself becomes secondary and you’re working towards a goal that is bigger than a single product – the institution itself merely becomes the location. This ties back to what I said at the beginning, about companies having a purpose.
So when it comes to intrapreneurs, what drives them is the desire to make an impact. They want to be able to tell compelling stories through the companies they work for. The positive thing about intrapreneurs is that many of them stay within a big business because they believe that it can be a massive lever of change. It is a way of being: you see a problem and you want to change it. Because technology makes it much easier to do this, there are more and more people who will strongly feel that they want to create change.
And it doesn’t have to be a massive change that takes 8 months to get approved and another 6 to go live. It’s a lot like agile software development that I mentioned earlier but also has shades of the Indian philosophy of ‘jugaad’, a ‘frugal, flexible, and inclusive approach to problem solving and innovation’. Jugaad is, in effect, the culture that underpins agile thinking.
I love this quote from the book:
“The formalization and industrialization of R&D created a split between technologists and marketers. But if jugaad tells us anything, it is the centrality of understanding consumer needs and then working back – even if that’s as simple as deciding the price that people can afford. The consumer is front and center here, and marketers are central to driving the jugaad innovation process in the organization.”
Professor David Grayson does research on intrapreneurs and recently said this as well:
“Unlike social entrepreneurs, social Intrapreneurs, by definition, are working in and through large corporations. Like any entrepreneur, they can be disruptive and threatening to some people, and sometimes hard to manage. Yet the companies that can channel the energy and the drive and creativity of their “entrepreneurs within” will be tapping a vital, extra seam of ideas for new business opportunities. The best organisations already understand that not all their innovation is going to come from R&D centres and specialist New Business Development Units. They want every employee to be a virtual member of their R&D and Business Development teams!”
Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor made the distinction between three different kinds of innovation recently – and I mention this because one of them is the kind of innovation intrapreneurs embody, but most companies miss this: The first are “empowering” innovations. These transform complicated, costly products that previously had been available only to a few people, into simpler, cheaper products available to many. The second type are “sustaining” innovations. These replace old products with new. Electric cars for example, which are good for the environment but they replace petrol and diesel cars. The third type are “efficiency” innovations that bring down costs. These are process innovations – anything that displaces manual labour with machines, for example.
Now intrapreneurs, in case it isn’t obvious, focus on empowering innovations – but they take 5 or more years to pay off where efficiency innovations might take only 1. So people focus on the latter kind – but if you really want to change your business, and you have the resources, then focus on creating the change and culture that empowering innovations and people with the mindset of intrapreneurs can bring.
From GE to Vodafone to British logistics company ByBox, intrapreneurs are a tribe on the rise. The solutions they will bring about are not going to be quick fixes but long-term ones that could drive considerable business growth. The world of work, I hope I’ve convinced you, is changing – in a good way. The good news is that for those who really want to make an impact, there’s never been a better time.