Five things I have learned in 2016

(Photo: New Year, Icelandic Style)

It’s that time of year to get all reflective about what the last twelve months has had to offer. And it’s fair to say that 2016 has had more ups and downs than most.

But rather stick my head in my hands and rock backwards and forwards until it all stops, here are five things that I have learned over the course of a rather tumultuous period.

1. Post fact versus the rise of data

Politically it’s been a heck of a year. For contractual reasons I’m not currently able to share opinions on any of it. The downside of contracting in the public sector, it appears.

However, there is a broader theme that I find curious. At the very same time that we are being told by the world of technology that data is a source of immeasurable (ha! the irony!!) wealth, electorates in the UK and USA appear to have in large numbers ignored “so called facts” and “so called experts”.

Now of course facts are facts in the way that Brexit means Brexit. At some level most stuff is subjective. But I see two fundamental challenges facing the data world: firstly that evidence-based decision making isn’t a natural human trait; we take evidence to support our position (whether fact or fake) suffering as we do from confirmation bias. Secondly, for all that they might be billed as “predictive” technologies, big data, AI and their allies are actually extrapolative technologies. That’s important because they don’t account for Black Swan events. Maybe that goes some way to explain opinion pollster’s failings in recent years.

2. Law is a profession with a challenge

About half of the year was spent helping to define a digital strategy and approach for a law firm, and I’ve been exploring the sector further since.

At core the traditional professions are a matter of closed access to knowledge and the practice of that knowledge. When the former gets blown apart by the internet (and closed knowledge might even become a liability in the era of digital transparency), the focus needs to shift really understanding your practice’s value proposition from a client’s perspective and being able to express that value proposition clearly.

I guess it’s easier for accountants (“We’ll make you richer!”) and to an extent for doctors (“We’ll make you live longer!”) but it’s harder for legal professionals (“We’ll reduce your risk profile…”?). That, combined with a business ownership model in partnerships that often mitigates against long-term investment and a professional psychology that doesn’t sit well with uncertainty, and the legal profession has a tough time ahead.

3. Adopting Cloud still appears to be a question (and as for mobile…)

I’ve worked in a number of industry sectors this year where modernisation of technology within organisations has been framed as moving away from Windows XP or 7 to Windows 10, and maybe (just maybe) using a bit of Office 365.

Now they are good products, but they are a form of computing that is wedded to the last era of computing. I say that as I sit on a train typing this on my smartphone.

Cloud in consumer life is ubiquitous. In business life not nearly so much. Well, in “official” business life – using WhatsApps or Dropbox or a hundred and one other services alongside official channels is 2016’s equivalent of “Sending a copy to Hotmail” which was the equivalent coping strategy in the early 2000s.

In a year when Facebook not only launched it’s enterprise offer Workplace, but also announced opening it up as a platform for other services, I hear little in any sector of the mobile and cloud-first workforce. Yet it’s already happened. IT needs to wake up. Mobile is no longer edge-case computing. The smartphone is the primary device, and big spreadsheets aren’t “proper” computing, but an admission that your underlying systems aren’t fit for purpose.

4. The power of play

I’ve been living a free-range work life for three and a half years now, and it’s only in 2016 that I’ve been able to consolidate the eclecticism of the things that I do into a single concept: Play.

My thesis is simple. Organisations and individuals systematically remove their ability to tinker, to play in a truly childlike manner, as we grow older. In a time of opportunity and change that’s a fatal flaw, and we need to cultivate our playful spirit to come up with great new ideas and adapt ourselves and our organisations to the changing environments in which we operate.

I’m currently in discussion with publishers, and am hoping 2017 will be the year I write the book. (You can read the introduction here).

5. The first rule of collaboration is…

…don’t talk about collaboration. That, in essence, was the main thing I found from the research work I undertook for Leading Edge Forum in 2015 and 2016, and which was published as Who Shares Wins in June. I’m currently thinking about how to extend out the work with further investigations in 2017.

Oh, and a bonus number 6. I rediscovered my love of creating radio programmes after a 23-year hiatus. And Chris and I will be talking about these lessons learned in our last episode of WB-40 for 2017 next week -subscribe on iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/wb-40/id1165103885

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