Making Elephants Dance

In my last post I expressed the belief that finding your purpose is not about getting somewhere, it is all about the realization you have to start your journey. It is all about what you do and hardly ever about what you know, because good intentions without actions remain exactly that: intentions — but I don’t want you to just have good intentions, I want you to get going.

You have to get going. Do not worry about where to.
Have you started your journey yet? What are you searching for? And what have you found? Is there anything you like? Something you don’t? And are you willing to share? I’d love to learn.

The world around me

For me the journey begins with discovering the world around me; from where I stand and based on observations and experiences I have made and am making still, leveraging a ream of things smarter people have said, written or drawn, taken into my own context because the context determines everything we discover, we develop, how we act and how we adjust. Context is the conduit through which we learn.

Before we dive in, please remember: the views I’m sharing are mine. They are only a snapshot, describing a part of the world I am living in, running digital strategy & innovation at GE. I fully understand your world is most likely very different, but I would love for you to share your views in the comments. Can we jointly embark on this journey, augmenting our views, becoming more intelligent along the way? Let’s find out.

The Age of Volatility — and Tech

Look at the following chart. What do you think the graph describes? And what are the conclusions you’re drawing from it?

A graph

The chart is showing the price of oil per barrel from 1970 to round about now. The highlighted areas are times of recession and economic turmoil. It visualizes that from 2005 onwards we entered a decade of exceptional volatility and change. The oil price alone is of course not a complete indicator for the state of the economy and there have been volatile times before, but in layman’s terms it is an interesting factor to look at.

At the same time there is a second factor that is unique and endemic to the same decade: the mass adoption of connected technology. To understand the magnitude of this change let’s use another picture to exemplify just how much human behavior changed based on the access to technology around the same time, from 2005 to 2013:

(c) Image Business Insider, originally posted here

These pictures, taken at the Vatican, have been around for a while. They are a great way to show that connected technology is in the hands of more people now than it has ever been before. (If you are interested in more substantial statistics and detail on that I recommend reading Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends, a report published annually by Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers and offering amazing detail on just how much things changed in the last couple of years.)

Digital as an enabler

In summary times are volatile, technology is everywhere and connectivity is ubiquitous. This has led to something called “Digital Transformation”. Most people talking about this phenomenon are being drawn towards the technology, the software and apps that seem to come with it but there is a much simpler way of looking at it.

We never lived in a world “as is”
This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Here’s an interpretation of what this means: Access democratized people’s ability to leverage previously scarce and restricted resources, whether that is information, markets or services: everything is available to everyone now. Speed has never been the same, whether that is the speed we’re seeing in innovation, change or the disruption that certain industries are experiencing at the moment.

Catalyzed by technology this creates a human cognitive surplus: people are now able to focus their intelligence on solving complex problems while they outsource repetitive, simple and non-value added but essential work to machines. Machines that are incredibly fast, efficient and never get tired but still have one critical flaw: they are not intelligent.

Intelligence is reserved to humans. Mankind is the real winner of what we call “digital transformation”.

The last step in this cycle is all about scale. Once people have figured out the solution to a substantial problem the technology kicks in again. The ecosystems in place allow these concepts and solutions to scale at an unprecedented rate: everything has instant global reach.

Disruptive Times

This transformation created an interesting new playing field for those that understood it early. It spawned a whole new class of companies along the way: organizations, capable of disrupting industries that have been around for hundreds of years.

This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Partially validated by Aaron Dignan’s blog post “The Operating System that is Eating the World” there are four basic principles these companies apply:

This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

All currently exponentially successful companies apply those principles: they are incredibly focused on creating value and outcomes that are relevant to their customer base. They are looking for ways to achieve that with breakneck speed. Their entire organization is focusing on mainly one objective: learning. They have no heritage, which means they have almost nothing that weighs them down: no brand, no heavy balance sheets and hence no fear, they are transacting on the belief that if they find what the customer wants and they are able to create that they will be viable, too.

These organizations are referred to as startups, something steve blank would describe as “a temporary organization in search of a scalable, repeatable, profitable business model”. And then there is the corporate world, which of course is totally different. Or is it? Does it have to be? What would happen if it was? And what if it wasn’t? And why?

Those observations and questions made me think: what is it, that startups have that corporate lacks? I believe it’s something that comes free of charge, yet is almost impossible to get: a totally different mindset. One that loses its limits and fear of risk while keeping its strength — and I started to wonder: what would happen if I was able to contribute to the creation of that, a totally different mindset?

Making Elephants Dance

Elephants are not known to dance. They lack the grace, the agility and the lightness required to dance. But what if they didn’t know. What if no one ever told them? What if someone would help them to forget? Would you be able to make an elephant dance? I honestly believe you could — so I set out to help teach a corporate elephant how to dance.

Of course that wasn’t my idea to start with: in an organization like GE it is the person at the helm setting the tone — and the tone set by Jeff Immelt resonated with me, focused on changing the culture within:

Part of a larger interview conducted by McKinsey, the full version available here

What Jeff immelt is talking about is the culture of simplification:

  • Adapting Silicon Valley tools
  • Taking a different approach on how to take risk
  • Democratizing information through contemporary, mobile IT tools

All of this is being driven on a much more continuous feedback basis with a 360° view across the organisation: with fewer layers, fewer processes and fewer decision points — all in all a mindset and culture which is not unlike the way startups are driven today.

Energy & Healthcare are at the core of changing the world

I firmly believe there are three critical elements that will eventually change the world. If we were able to make some improvements to how the world is being educated, powered and cured we would also make an impact, much larger than the sum of its parts. This is why I decided my purpose is to help teaching this elephant how to dance; to finally start making an impact.

I want this company to become more agile, flexible and focused in what ever it does — and I believe I have something to add. My influence is definitely small, but I enjoy providing just that and if you want something to change you have to start small. I actually started with myself, something I will talk about in a future post, just like I will share what I am really doing to help eventually, too — but for the time being that should be enough: I want you to get active again.

Start your journey. Now.

As mentioned above, this is not about where you’re going, but starting your journey, so think about what your world is like and what you care about most.

What is the change you would like to see ? What have you done, to make it happen? Are you willing to share? If not in the comments send me a note or find a way, but please make sure you share, because the deal remains the same.
We’re companions on this journey. Together we learn.
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