• Aarron Spinley

Space and time in a fast-moving digital world

An unintended consequence of our fast-paced digital world is how “time poor” we have all become. The constant battle for quiet in our personal lives, staving off the many distractions of social media is one frontier. Another resides inside our places of work. Within our institutions, business leaders face an ever-changing world. Digital Darwinism requires that strategic decisions are made fast, tactical decisions faster.

There is not nearly enough time to make them in a considered way.

As has always been the case that the more we rush, the less we get right. But as has not always been the case, that if we don’t make haste irrelevance can swamp us in an instant. That’s how quickly it is moving now.

We’ve all heard of Kodak and the many more cast into oblivion. Between 2000 and 2015, 52% of the S&P 500 from were gone, their status obliterated by the economic tidal waves of change tumbling along on the ever more demanding markets; humans thirsting for experiences - never content with the way things were.

Yet off-target digital initiatives can backfire, and poorly conceived market-messaging can culminate in a PR disaster, or worse. Yet the threats of external disruption are always knocking on the door, driving that inevitable sense of urgency. 

How do we reconcile those two worlds? 

Today, leaders are finding that the idea of mindfulness is no longer a far off concept, but one that offers much value in quieting the noise, and finding focus. A new irony has also emerged. While the relentless pace of technology and societal change has created much of this quagmire, the advances in tech are also starting to deliver new parts of the solution. 

The rise of platform technologies is not new. Cloud computing was mainstream by 2012, yet it has taken some time to support decision making based on the vagaries of human behaviour.  It is one thing to crunch vast amounts of financial data, quite another to aggregate the “feelings” of a market segment. 

Yet we have now entered that domain, and for company directors in boardrooms all over the world, it promises to help deliver back to us that greatest of all commodities: time.

Freeze frame

The greatest superpower of harnessing market insight, is the ability to create time and space for leaders. Time to make the right decisions. Time to place the right bets. Time to embrace and manage change. Time to get stuff done right with those that pay the bills: our customers.

But these superpowers are not easy to come by. Many businesses struggle to gather and harness the required customer and market experience data quickly. They battle fragmented sets of tools or conduct customer insight research solely through agencies, analysts, and statisticians; resulting in access delays that can render the data obsolete. 

Recently, analyst firm Forrester quantified the benefits of how the new breed of experience management platform improves the efficiency and effectiveness of brand decisions. If you know my work for SAP, you’ll know I’m referencing their newest addition to the stable, SAP Qualtrics. 

The thing I liked about this study was that it sought to get behind the top level numbers. Instead of cliche CX pillars, they looked at the baked-in business expenses like reduced cost of staffing hours, reduced cost of customer support, and the wider issue of costs associated with failed product launches. 

In my own work I found that whenever an organisation finds room for the voice of its customers within its ‘business as usual’ model, there is an indirect yet profound value point: Culture.

What do I mean? 

Well, when the day to day operating model is consistent with the rhetoric of ‘customer first’, and exhibits the requisite transparency, this tends to breed accountability - and better yet - a sense of shared mission. So perhaps this is a close runner-up when truly systemising a voice of the customer program across an organisation (e.g. - not in a silo!).

Yet to my mind anyway, there can be no doubt that it is the boardroom that benefits the most. 

Directors are beginning to place bets on an informed basis, avoiding the knee jerk dynamics that have inflicted so many.  It allows them to rush in only when the data tells it to, or to hold the position - irrespective of populist trends - or to target specific iterations or projects only. They can now begin to make timely decisions, simply because the information is timely. 

Another observation from my work is that experience data enables many boards to maintain a conservative leaning (so common in the post GFC era) whilst still being able to take considered risks in the fast-moving digital world around them. Overall that sense of surety underpinning decision making is key.

Even more exciting, the next frontier promises to advance this again as we see the further rise of fields like sentiment analysis and the marriage of AI with behavioural economics. 

In the experience economy, the margin for error can sometimes be infinitesimal, the consequences brutal, and the pace at which we must navigate it all, breakneck. 

Can there be any greater gift to the boardroom today, than time and space?

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