Technology July 2, 2019

Rahaf Harfoush: leading through emerging technology

Rahaf Harfoush - leading through emerging technology

Technology changes the way we interact with each other. We often talk about it in an obvious way, looking at workflows and process and pipelines, at policies and data. There is a whole other lens of deeply influential behaviour to look at, however; the way we’re living intersects with technology and is changed by it.

We’ve moved from data scarcity to data abundance. This is one of the most significant societal changes in human history. Data is cheap and plentiful, analysis is automated, and organisations collect data constantly through doing business. Every single person is a data contributor, adding to an ecosystem of information, hundreds of times a day. That data is used to tailor and target everything we encounter online – keeping us in a “filter bubble” of algorithmically curated reports built for us to react to so we stay on a platform. It’s not necessarily used to learn from. 

Acclimatising to this brave new world is what managers and strategists normally call “digital transformation.” Digital anthropologist Rahaf Harfoush wants that term gone, along with the one-time change from unprepared to prepared that it signifies.

Instead, she wants us to embrace “organisational evolution” - a series of continuous changes, adaptations and improvements in response to changes in working conditions. 

How are your employees going to adapt to a world where the best practices in your industry are changing every eighteen months? Before you start asking “what tool should we use for the task?,” ask, “is the company mentally and psychologically prepared to use any of them?”

This is a very different perspective from “digital transformation” strategies, which focus on single actions and high-stakes decisions. Instead, it focuses responsibility on development and learning, and starts with a crucial admission. Rahaf went into more detail at a recent Vistage event...

You don’t need to know everything

Organisational evolution relies on a mindset of informational Zen. Take a deep breath and say “I’m never going to know it all, and that’s OK.” 

CEOs are used to having all the answers – they know where their business is going and whether it’s ready or not. But that’s no longer possible. Everything is too complex and changing too rapidly. No one person is going to have all the answers necessary to navigate the new reality. 

The new state of business is a constant unfinishedness. Your website is never going to be finished; it will have to be updated when a new browsing technology emerges. This shouldn’t be intimidating. In fact, Rahaf suggests it should be liberating. 

Once you’re free of the need to make giant singular high-stakes changes and are making constant small changes and checking in instead, you’re able to be wrong. The point of this is to learn as you go, without damaging your business in the process.

Collaborative culture and co-opetition

In the evolving organisation, it’s not the CEO’s job to be informed - it’s everyone’s. 

This collaborative culture is not about irregularly “getting together” across departments. It’s deliberate. It’s curated, cultivated serendipity in which you introduce people and their ideas to each other, breaking them out of the regional or departmental bubbles. Finance, IT, marketing and operations can’t be kept in their own separate boxes, and neither can the board. People who would never normally interact need to work together, cross-checking their ideas and decisions and expanding their skill sets to deal with the tech-disrupted world. 

Finance, IT, marketing and operations can’t be kept in their own separate boxes, and neither can the board

The collaborative approach goes further, however: it extends into the industry as a whole. Handling the constant disruption to sectors and marketplaces demands that companies and leaders who’d normally compete start to collaborate instead. In the world of “co-opetition,” businesses exchange ideas and best practice to uplift the industry as a whole.

It’s especially important in recruitment, where - putting things bluntly - there simply isn’t enough talent to go around. Within the UK, the Open University’s Business Barometer reports that within the last year, 91% of British businesses have struggled to find the talent they need. Three out of five business leaders have reported trouble finding the right people. Businesses can’t afford to compete for a finite supply of skilled people. Recruitment demands a new approach.

Adaptive talent pools

The whole business of business is being disrupted, right down to recruitment. Talent used to be finite; this set of expertise over that number of years with these certified skill sets and they’ll do that job. 

Now, companies are realising that kind of specificity doesn’t exist in the marketplace. More and more companies are having to train internally, looking for talent fluidity. This means people who can be taught

The ideal employee is no longer someone with a decade-long CV who’s worked at three leading firms in the industry. They’re someone who understands their job may look totally different in eighteen months’ time, meaning they’ll have to learn constantly and embrace the uncertainty of an evolutionary culture.

Developing technical skills in-house means you need learners: people who are self-motivated and capable of adapting and engaging with new information. It also means you need teachers: learning psychologists and andragogues who can drive and guide that learning process. 

We’re all surrounded with advice - content tailored and targeted to us as business leaders, designed to lull us or outrage us into liking, sharing, reacting, and staying on the platform we read it on.

Business leaders need to manage their information diet with intention, rather than relying on algorithms. Decide what you’re going to read, from whom, and what you’re going to engage with, to ensure you know what’s actually going on and can make your decisions accordingly.

Everything is changing. Ask the right questions.

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