While that statement might seem far-fetched, after all it wasn’t that long ago that we were getting used to the idea of a digital native as a person familiar with computers and the Internet from a very young age, it isn’t too early to plan for a future defined by virtual reality. Children born over the next two decades will grow up with it. Not only will these children grapple with developing their own imaginations, they’ll be discerning what is really real from what is virtually real. Might the 2 year-old of 2030 have a virtual imagination?
It’s time to get ready. Parents, care givers, educators and children’s museums will be shaped by this new reality.
You read it here first. Virtual native – a person familiar with virtual reality from a very young age.
What happened to me? When did my conversation style stray into a revolving game of 20 Questions (a 1940s era TV show)? I’m a big believer in the power of questions but too much is too much. There, I’ve said it.
I suspect working with a bunch of wicked smart and curious researchers is part of the problem. I’m surrounding by people intent on determining the right questions to ask. And they like to think of questions by posing questions.
What happens when a question becomes the default? Have I lost my ability to speak in statements? To declare what I believe or think or know?
When something becomes an unintentional habit – a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up – it’s time to establish new patterns.
And thus I’ve commenced the somewhat clunky experience of rephrasing questions into statements. If you experience me fumbling about with words a bit more than normal, you’ll know I’m in the midst of behavior change.
Hey, I wonder if anyone has done any research on this?
There we were cresting a pass along Highway 40 in route to Steamboat Springs. I found myself scanning the beautiful terrain while engrossed in a conversation about one of my favorite research topics – naturally occurring data. Call it research purist meets strategist for the knockout round.
As a consultant who leads data-driven strategy processes I’ve learned that not all data is created equal. I’ve also learned to value experience and intuition just as I value data derived from research. After all, aren’t the most powerful insights those that derive from a combination of data, intuition and experience?
Several years ago, I noticed a pattern. If I didn’t say the thing I believed to be true based on my experience and insights, I often regretted it later. I found myself wondering why I wasn’t valuing my own experience more.
And that same realization bopped me on the head again this year after returning home from Steamboat.
Why wasn’t I valuing my own experience as much as my intuition? Perhaps I’d given my intuition center-stage to honor it when I’m amidst folks who value facts and numbers.
But what about 20 years of experience? I’m not saying experience that is 20 years old. I’m talking about an accumulation of naturally occurring data over 20 years.
The thing I love about naturally occurring data is that it can be as powerful and valuable as data derived from surveys, focus groups, and other constructed research environments. (Thank you, market research profession, for honoring what I knew to be true.) That data exists all around us – and if we can stay attuned to it – we can gather that data up into trends, patterns and insights.
I always remind my clients that the world doesn’t stop when you are engaged in strategic planning. Day-to-day operations go on while we contemplate bold aspirations for the future. And the naturally occurring data we gather along the way can serve either the day-to-day, or the strategic, or both.
Experience has taught me that all forms of data are powerful – and together they can be synergistic.
We all know that anxiety and stress can bring out the worst in people. They go to extremes in behavior as they attempt to navigate unknowns and exacerbating risks. An inability to cope leads to three behaviors.
The flame thrower – this person may initially show up as the conversation dominator who simply must have the last word. What if this person is in fact a bully, or maybe worse? The flame thrower is the person who torches people and ideas they perceive as threatening to their preferred role and view of the world. They make incendiary comments, attempting to belittle, berate or anger those in roles of positional power. Rather than view the strengths and talents in others they prefer puffery and falling on the sword.
The feral cat – in the blink of an eye this person will lash out with claws and fangs. You never even saw the paw sweep through the air towards you. They appear like an average cat, perhaps with a bit of a different manner, but wowza, who would have thought they could pounce like that? After they harm they tend to slink away.
The poser – hey, let’s go along to get along. Why take a risk – and share an opinion or recommendation – that may rankle someone, especially if there are flame throwers and feral cats in the room. This person is a survivor. They appear to be a team player but you can’t assume true buy-in or cooperation.
What do all three of these people have in common? Self-preservation. Regrettably these behaviors and habits run counter to creativity, collaboration, and change. It’s difficult to have a meaningful design session when group members are committed to a scorched earth policy.
It’s inescapable. Every day I see more and more examples of it. Consumer behavior is at the core of sweeping industry change. Too often we get caught up in thinking about technology as the disruptor and forget that people are at the heart of the transformations all around us. Here are four examples from this past week:
Sears. J.C. Penney. Bebe. Macy’s. Target. Kohl’s. Neiman Marcus. And that’s just for starters. The epic decline of department stores and apparel-focused retail is linked to Amazon’s domination of the online marketplace. At the heart of that change? Consumers who expect something more – and something different. Increasingly, consumers are saying no to the traditional retailer and shopping mall. What do they demand? Convenience, cost and a user-defined experience.
Who would have thought that consumer choice would lead colleges to guarantee that their degree will get you a job – and a job with a decent salary? As college students – and their parents – increasingly question the return on investment given staggering student loan debt, higher ed is having to respond creatively to compete for students. Both educator and student take on the risk – and reap the reward.
Decades of tradition are on the chopping block as movie studios plan to release films to online platforms mere weeks after release to theaters. As reported in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, movie companies have experienced declining home entertainment revenues for 2 years straight and global box-office growth has also been slowing. In a quest to increase revenues they are looking to meet consumers where they are – in the comfort of their home on a tablet, pc or tv.
And lastly. Bruce Springsteen. We are experiencing the beginning of the end of rock and roll as we’ve known it. Boomer rock stars became global corporations in the days when record companies invested in them like R&D. That era is over. The concert business is bifurcating into festivals and small venues as consumers expect more intimate and novel experiences. No longer satisfied with paying high prices for poor sound quality and a miniscule view of the band, consumers are pursuing other entertainment options. Today’s young stars will build careers in an entirely new era. Welcome to Me, Inc. rock and roll style.
Each of these stories has a common denominator – consumers demand the experience on their terms. They define the where, when, how and how much. These changes are sweeping and have only begun. The question now is, who is next?
What will this mean for other industries and sectors?
As a strategist, I’m frequently looking over the horizon to see what’s next. At other times, you’ll see me scanning side-to-side looking for forces that may be coming together in new or unexpected ways.
Sometimes hindsight puts much of it into perspective.
Looking back at 2008 it occurs me that I was well ahead of the curve when I designed Corona’s Synergistic Business Model. At the time I noticed that nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver and companies like New Belgium Brewery – both former Corona clients I may add – had integrated engagement deep into their respective business models. Each realized that fostering loyalty, connection and contribution required a long-lasting approach to relationships.
They were smartly ahead of the curve.
Since then engagement has become top-of-mind for organizations. The old transactional approaches simply don’t hit the mark when people are searching for meaningful relationships and ways to make a difference.
Perhaps engagement isn’t enough.
We need to enmesh relationships into our business models.
How are we using online communication channels to fully engage donors before, during and after a fundraising event? What is the immediate call-to-action waiting for them when they get home? Have we thanked them (enough)?
What will define the patron experience from the first email message to the thank you note?
How will volunteer love for us be returned in 3 months? 5 months? 1 year?
Have we thought about the ways that a board member could entrap that new neighbor or business colleague into adopting our cause as their own?
Maybe it’s time to:
We need to activate our language if we want to activate our relationships.
The strategic planning process that is used by many today was created decades ago during a more predictable time. By nature, the process is based on an underlying assumption, namely that changes and trends in the external environment can be predicted with some certainty.
So, what about changes that can’t be predicted? Or are unprecedented in our lifetime? We only have to look to our smart phones for a glimpse into the near future. As a recent piece by the World Economic Forum noted, we are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and what many refer to as the Digital Revolution.
This one is a game changer my friends.
“There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”
How to set strategy now?
Drop the SWOT – this tool is out of date and too often focuses on naval gazing instead of a true assessment of the strategic environment.
Create a sense of urgency – too many organizations plod rather than sprint. Our decision making processes are too slow or cumbersome. We don’t have agreement on the big issues (mission, vision, values and strategy) and so we can’t (or don’t) really empower people to act. And act we must.
Fast twitch for the win – I don’t see enough evidence of agility either. Develop your fast twitching muscles as you’re going to need them.
Think map app – today’s map app alerts you in real-time to the best route. Your strategic plan should do the same.
Remember, strategy is a choice. It focuses attention, resources and commitment.
Living in America’s “it” city in a year of disruptions across the political spectrum nationally and internationally have led me to contemplate evolution in the nonprofit sector. I’m struck by what I’ve observed recently as an emerging trend – the slow decline of the intermediary organization. This may be a heretical statement, I’ll admit, but it is a shift worth watching.
It may be easiest to observe in healthcare as classic intermediary models born in the 1970s and 1980s discover that they cannot withstand disruptive changes in their marketplaces. Healthcare may be the canary in the coalmine of the nonprofit sector given the pace and scale of change. Executives and board members are learning the hard way that forces of this magnitude cannot be overcome by single organizations. They are finding themselves caught off-guard as the strategy they set in 2015 is already obsolete.
Let’s explore an example. The U.S. model of community-based engagement in cancer clinical trials is in the midst of two game-changing trends. One, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain people in clinical trials. Second, healthcare providers are shifting away from collaborative models run by the federal government to in-house options that can adapt more quickly.
Health fairs are another example. Long the staple of communities large and small in states from California to Ohio, these programs were born at a time when people would stand in line to be seen by volunteer health providers after not eating for 12 hours. Today, more people are monitoring their health on a wrist device as technological advances are leapfrogging old screening methods. Add onto that the demographic differences between the oldest Boomers and the oldest Millennials and you’ve realize that OSFA (one-size-fits-all) doesn’t fit most any more.
The emergence of platform-based models such as Uber have changed the competitive landscape for many industries. As entrepreneurs adapt the model to other industries, it’s only a matter of time before platforms are the new normal in the nonprofit sector too. Of course we’ve seen the rise of platforms in fundraising, with crowd-sourced funding and giving days as examples. I’m intrigued by the possibilities of platform-based service delivery.
As described in the April 2016 Harvard Business Review, “a platform provides the infrastructure and rules for a marketplace that brings together producers and consumers.” (Pipelines, Platforms, and the New Rules of Strategy by Marshall W. Van Alstyne, Geoffrey G. Parker, and Sangeet Paul Choudary.)
So, I’m wondering when the definitive nonprofit intermediaries of the 1970s and 1980s – the nonprofit technical assistance provider and trade association – will evolve into the platform model for 2020.
Agility and relevancy are the name of the game. I’ll be watching to see who figures that out the soonest.
I’m often asked, “How can we ensure our strategic plan doesn’t sit on a shelf?” The question typically arises as executives and boards consider how best to approach the planning process – and which consultant can facilitate a successful outcome.
By its very nature, a strategic planning process raises expectations and anxiety. And no plan is worth the investment if it sits on a shelf.
While the question is spot-on, it’s being asked of the wrong person. The next time I find that question directed at me I think I’ll pull the small mirror out of my purse as I say, “What a great question. It’s simple really. Success actually begins with you. You’ll need three things: committed leadership, access to resources and accountability for results. I can help you get there, but you’ve got to keep the dust off the plan.”
Wanna know a secret? Strategic success is as easy as…
Looking for something fun to do this weekend in-between rides on the new A Line to DIA? Check out the arts and cultural activities during Doors Open Denver. Art meets architecture through pop-ups ranging from a nomadic art gallery to poetry, drama, and music performances among the 11 offerings. My favorite? Graffiti art. If you’ve been secretly wanting to learn the art of graffiti painting – and you’re 55 or older – then we’ve got the creative outlet for you. Bust through stereotypes as you create graffiti art inspired by two of Denver’s architectural gems.
April 23rd, 1-3 pm – Saturday’s pop-up will be hosted by Clyfford Still Museum on their front lawn. Clyfford Still Museum will give 4 – 20 minute architectural tours each day at 11:00, 11:30, 2:00 and 2:30.
April 24th, 1-3 pm – Sunday’s pop-up will be hosted by the new Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Library and include 3 tours led by architect Joseph Moltabano of Studiotrope, a Denver-based architecture and design agency. DPL staff will share how the library’s design informs their work. Since Sunday is Día del Niño the artist will be prepared to host a multi-generational event at the library.
Thanks to our collaborative partners: VSA Colorado/Access Gallery, studiotrope design, Denver Public Library, and Clyfford Still Museum. I’d like to give a special shout out to Damon McLeese of Access Gallery; Joseph Montalbano of studiotrope; Ed Kiang, Viviana Casillas and Diane Lapierre of DPL; and Sonia Rae of Clyfford Still Museum.