New, shiny things

"The issue isn’t that we’re not ahead of the curve on new, shiny things, the issue is that we’re not really defining and solving the customer problem." 

The thing about technology is that it never slows down. According to Moore’s Law, the processing speed of computers doubles every 18 months, leading to an exponential growth and massive change in our world. It seems that every few months a new platform, technology or tool is going to revolutionize our industry and our business. Whether it be AI, VR, AR, Blockchain, (insert your favorite tech slang), we are in a world of massive confusion. This exponential growth has completely shifted the way we look at our business. In boardrooms across the world, there are committees and subcommittees created to drive innovation, protect against disruption and build transformation strategies. 

This culture is creating a weird adoption curve of technology at the corporate level that may or may not be a good thing. In a rush to be innovative or the fear of being left behind, it seems that more and more businesses are talking about the technology first versus the problem their trying to solve. As we’ve seen over and over again (I’m looking at you adopters of Second Life), technology for technology’s sake is never a good thing. But I’m a big believer in leveraging the power of digital and technology to transform businesses and relationships with consumers by solving core business problems. 

What’s the Problem?

The problem that I see, is that the majority of businesses are more short-term versus long-term focused. The average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is 4.6 years, which has been dropping since 2000. This means that the average strategic vision of a company is 4.6 years, creating a short-term focus on what a business should be accomplishing. And with short term focus comes more reactionary strategies or strategies that are superficial to make the CEO and management tenure a “success.”

The problem with this is that there is little time to fully understand the core problems a company is trying to solve for it’s consumers, build a vision to solve for those problems, and understand how technology can play a role in solving. It only leaves time to feel the burdens of today, react to those burdens and maybe do a few pilots with new, shiny technologies to check a box for the Board. 

For technology to be successful and for transformation to truly happen, we must understand, at it’s very essence, what problems our company is trying to solve.

What’s missing?

The thing that I see missing in many organizations, is the lack of long-term strategy and patience to truly understand and solve for a problem. With a short-term management cycle, the long-term planning is usually cast aside as not mission-critical. By having a point of view on the future and understanding what that means to your customer and business, you can chart a course that not only wins in the long run but prepares you for the burdens of the short term. 

The fist thing that pops into my head when writing this is the vision, courage and persistence of Elon Musk for both Tesla and SpaceX. Rarely is there a time in business when such audacious goals are set, let alone communicated with the world, but Elon has stuck to his vision of the future and has used his resources, including massive technology implementation (batteries, factories, AI, etc), to succeed. 

How do we fix it? 

We’re not all going to colonize Mars or create a gridless human experience, but we are all here to do our job in this world. So how do we take a page out of Elon’s book?

What is your future? We need to define what our future looks like in the next 10-20 years and how our company will build, support and power that future. The more specific we can get the better. Be sure to take a holistic look through the lens of your consumer, partners, society and your business. 

Build a roadmap & playbook. Not everything will change overnight to realize the long-term vision, but we can make a roadmap to get there. Building an ideal user journey between the customer-business will start to identify what things need to change, start and stop to realize that vision. This is where technology truly comes into play and can begin to play a role in your business, even if it’s not an established technology at the moment.  

Identify the core problems will you need to solve to get there. There will always be problems along the way or perceived impossibilities to overcome. But being proactive about and investing in their solutions before they become a burden is key. And to do that, we need to fully understand what those problems are or might be. Elon knew that the core to Tesla’s success is the creation and manufacturing of it’s battery. So he set out to solve the problem, before it became one.

Understand what that means for the customer. The main focus for any business should be it’s customer. Without customers, there is no business. As you plan out this long term vision and begin to map out the path ahead, be sure to look at it through the eyes of your customer. How does your future make a better future for everyone, including your customer?

What would it mean for your business if you solved them. There are really only two things a business needs to do, solve a customer’s problem and make money to continue to solve the customer’s problem. Understanding what that means for your business outside of mere profitability is a driving force to building a culture that can actually build your vision.

Technology, if used correctly, is a powerful tool to drive incremental and innovative business results. But it can’t be used as a reaction. It must be an integral part of your business strategy to solve real problems and help you achieve your future. Technology can enable an amazing future as long as you take a long term view of your business and truly understand the customer problems you’re trying to solve. 

Paul Miser