How Do You Keep Up With the Massive Changes Affecting Your Business?


How do you keep up with the changing environment you live and work in? Technology is a moving target as are many other elements that shape our environment. There are so many facets to our industries that constantly change while you are trying to keep your business going the best way you know how. 

There are a  number of options. You can join business groups, buy industry magazines, search the Internet, follow social media and talk to others in your industry. So now you are working a 16 hour day and not necessarily making much more progress. Why? Because you are so focussed on doing Business As Usual and your view is based on your insider knowledge, bias and training.

What else can you do? One option is bring someone like me in as a consultant. As a Futurist I scan data using tools I have learned, my own experience in business and a wide focus on STEEP, whilst also having no skin in your business and therefore an objectivity that is hard to find when you have been making decisions that you are financially and emotionally attached to.

What is STEEP? It is about looking at the world and elements within it from the perspective of a wide range of elements and wild cards which make up the world. These key 5 elements are Society, Technology, Environment, Economics and Politics.

Take those 5 elements and apply them to your Business Plan. What is going on in your world right now in relation to STEEP? How might each element impact on your new product launch or sales plan? I would welcome your comments. 

One of the elements of foresight is being able to find connections between seemingly irrelevant  factoids or situations and understand what they mean. Then on top of that sometimes there are wild cards to be considered. What would happen if……..

When you look at information in isolation there are many risks. People form opinions based on snippets of information without seeing the full picture. They assume other people’s opinions, perhaps also based on bias or limited information. People often form opinions or carry them forward based on old data, often not even knowing that it is old data. For example, you may see a RT on Twitter and think it is current information, when in fact it has been retweeted by people for a week. Think about the disinformation that went around in Boston recently. Once it flies around it is very hard to know which information is current and correct.

Unleashing the Road Warrior

Unleashing the Road Warrior

Currency of information is hard to find these days. When a book comes out, by the time it has been printed it is already out of date. When I published Unleashing The Road Warrior, which took me about 6 months to write, it had a currency of about 2 years. After that, all the technology I wrote about was out of date.

We are frequently bombarded with little pieces of information, parts of stories, brief nuggets of 10 ways to be better at something, or 5 ways to become a social media superstar and double your sales. If only it was that easy.

Is there a simple answer? No, there isn’t. However in today’s world, we are connected to many people who are experts in certain areas. There are also people who maintain they are, when they are not. Start by connecting to people who really do know what they are doing. Ask people you know and trust. Check out their credentials. LinkedIn is a good place to start from a business perspective. Are they well connected? Have they been endorsed or recommended? Do you know people that they are connected with that you can talk to?

There are 3 types of people in the world. Those that make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Don’t be in the last group if you want to go forward, but also be careful where you get your counsel from.

As a footnote, if you are in New Zealand, or somewhere else where similar things are happening. Fairfax is said to be closing down in both print and online Computerworld NZ, PC World and Reseller News. So where will you be looking for information on your next technology investment or foray? I welcome your comments.

Census 2013 So What Did You Think?


CensusOur household did it online and I have to say it was a smooth and easy process. The questions we didn’t have to answer were grayed out and we were all done and dusted in no time. Hopefully this means that finally we can hold referendums and vote online in future.

However, to me it was a major missed opportunity to learn more about who Kiwis are, what they do and where. This seemed to be to be simply a modern version of the feudal system where nobility tried to establish how much tax they could claim from their citizens. I love the Census system, always used to use copies of the books the Statistics Department used to put out and have been a keen user of the tables and tool builders on the website over more recent years. This Big Data has a huge impact on where to do business, where to build shops and factories, schools etc and the potential to not require costly double ups of data collection as will remain necessary for many Government organisations.

Here are a few thoughts from me of things that I would have liked to know and would have been easy to include and a few comments on what was included:

Ethnicity. For a country that is so multi-ethnic there were only 8 ethnicities offered and one of them was New Zealand European. That effectively makes it a political question and one that does not allow qualitative or quantitative research. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, most European Caucasians will  select the first option, leaving us with skewed data. How about culture. I know people who will register as Chinese because they look like their ancestors, but were born and raised in New Zealand and in most things they do other than appearance are indistinguishable from any other NZ born person. On the other hand there are people who totally live the culture of their family and do not integrate much with our everyday society.

The question on what languages you can have a conversation in, was easy for people who really don’t speak English, to say they do. This to me is important because we know there are now large numbers of people who will struggle to answer a question like “where is the nearest dairy?” in English.

What is your religion? This to me is very old school. You either belong to a sect or you have no religion. What if you are agnostic, spiritual but don’t belong to a particular church? This would effectively assume that if you have no religion, you do not believe in a higher spirit, God if you will.

I would have liked to know what people’s jobs are. As a futurist, I’m aware that many of today’s roles or job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago and it would be very interesting to be able to identify shifts in trends in employment. Yes, this information is available to IRD, but I want to know these answers and you could argue the same about the table which asks about personal annual income.

The employment questions also didn’t support all options. For example, I am a founder in a couple of start-ups. I am not an employee and I do not draw any money from the companies. I work very long hours in them. But I couldn’t answer the how many hours do you work in your job, because I’m not employed by the companies. These are not family businesses or family farms, although we do have a project creating virtual pets. Because I don’t have a ‘job’ all the options below these questions were grayed out. I was left with the questions of did I apply for a job and if so, how. BTW I also do not get any sort of benefit from the Government.

The only questions on health focused on disabilities that stop you from earning money or require a benefit. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to get more information on conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ADHD, Autism, Cancer etc. where people continue to work or study. Not so much from a single point in time but from a trend perspective. Tie this into geospatial mesh blocks and area units and some very interesting information might have emerged. What about depression and mental health? If we were able to see statistics based on location, what discoveries might that lead to? Perhaps ones that Government doesn’t want to reveal?

They asked how many cars were available to the household, not how old they were, how often they were used, how big the engines were, whether they were NZ new? Yes, again I know this information is collected by other Government agencies, but it is not made available to the public and business in the same way.

Question 32 would have appealed to teachers. In the last 7 days did you work for pay, profit or income for an hour or more. Novopay anyone? How many people worked but haven’t been paid? Many have waited much more than a week, I’ve heard of people who still have pay overdue for months! (No I am not a teacher).

What else would I like to know?

  • Do you have a land-line (that has dial tone)? Because in the event of power outages like earthquakes, they often still work.
  • Do you have a broadband connection? VOIP?
  • How many computers do you have at home that can access the internet?
  • How many mobiles do you have in the household that are connected? How many of those are Smartphones?
  • How many hours a week do you spend: Playing Sport or other outdoor activities? In club or organised activities? Watching TV? Playing computer games? On social media?
  • Do you BYOD to work and use it for work purposes?
  • How often do you buy fast food or eat out?
  • What about savings? What do people do with their money? Are they part of a super scheme like Kiwi Saver? Do they buy stocks (Mighty River Power would like to know)? What was the last big purchase in the last 12 months?
  • How about leisure, do they go away for a holiday? In NZ or overseas? Can they afford one at all? How long for?

There are many more questions that could have been asked like, how easy was it to complete this online? Would you be happy to vote in the next elections online?

So in summing up, its great to finally have a Census again and I’m looking forward to finding out what has changed in New Zealand, particularly as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, but also information like how many NZ born people have left the country permanently, what is the make up of this country today compared to the last Census.

Congratulations on what appeared to be a smooth online operation, but what a missed opportunity to get some more learning. I think there has been so much focus on finally getting the job done, that there was insufficient focus on getting some highly important and valuable new data. The world has changed so much in 5 years. It appears like Novopay, that not much else has when it comes to taking advantage of 21st Century technology.

What do you think?

Will Bitcoin Become the new Cash?


I’ve written a number of times about mCommerce and digital wallets. Now we have loads of companies offering services for electronic payment. These include the Apple Passbook, and many apps using NFC or other means to exchange money. The key thing that joins the hundreds of apps available is that they are legitimately tied to credit cards and banks. As such they provide audit trails and of course tie the world economy together as much as that is possible.

In the future I have postulated that actual paper money will decline and potentially phase out. I could see that happening in New Zealand faster than many other countries. We only have a small number of banks and clearing houses and as such were able to be the first country to mass adopt EFTPOS in the retail environment. Many people no longer carry cash.

However there is of course the grey market and one of the challenges there, is that people who do not want their money transactions audited. There is a global economy like this. People who are paid under the table for their work, people who deal in illegal activities such as drug sales, stolen goods and others. There are also people who just want to opt out of the system or at least flip it the bird. Cash of course can work around the system easily, there is money laundering and people will accept cash for most things as I experienced a few years ago when I watched a guy buying a used Ferrari with folding money he pulled out of his denim jacket pocket.

Much of this money circulates around the system but not through it and this is a challenge if hard cash currency ceased to exist. Or is it.

Yesterday I was on my way to a Microsoft Cloud presentation (which I will blog about on one of my blogs) either SoLoMo Consulting, or Imersia). I was a little early, so I sat in my car and read the latest awesome TNW Magazine on my iPad. Its a great magazine which I recommend you read if this blog is of interest to you, because it is the Money issue. There I learned about Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is “Bitcoin is an experimental new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world. Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority: managing transactions and issuing money are carried out collectively by the network. Bitcoin is also the name of the open source software which enables the use of this currency.”

Effectively here is no bank, no fees, no audit trail. There are all sorts of businesses, even retailers, who will accept payment in Bitcoins just as businesses accept payment in other forms of money, such as Bartercard Dollars. The difference again of course is that Bartercard still connects to the banks, has an audit trail and the Governments continue to collect their taxes.

Ultimately my question is, will Governments allow this sort of  “experimental currency” to continue? Can they stop it? It appears to already have a massive following. You can buy a coffee with it, you can play poker with it. There are sites where you can buy and sell Bitcoins such as Mt. Gox and there ar others too, although I noted that one of those has dissapeared and I noted a story there that Barclays had stopped allowing people to trade with them.

So what happens if the authorities stop Bitcoin? (assuming Google or someone else don’t buy them, but Bitcoin does seem to have an anti-establishment feel to it, but it could be all about the money).  Well there is also Dwolla,  LibertyReserve, and a host of other systems. I suspect that as cheap smartphones gain mass adoption in the blue collar world, there will be more interest and demand for ways to continue to do ‘cash deals’ without cash.

Futurists are talking about the Local-Global Duality with shifting borders and changing geopolitical landscapes. The one thing keeping us together as countries, or pulling us apart is money. Financial institutions and Governments  are struggling to maintain a status quo that will keep countries running. As countries grow deeper in debt after the GFC people rush to take their money out of the banks for fear of losing it altogether, which in turn intensifies the crisis.

Farmville Tractor

ex

I’m not saying I agree with currencies like Bitcoin. I still want my roads and infrastructure, order and safety in my community. I believe that one way or another money from illegal activity still works its way back in, like the guy I watched buying a car for over $30,000 in folding. I do suspect however that we will see a proliferation in ‘currencies’ like this in the future. I also suspect that the criminal elements in our societies could be the ones with the most to gain from them, but also that there will be many scams which will be developed to trick people in giving up real money for virtual currency which they will never be able to repatriate. Silly really, when they can legally create computer games and sell virtual stuff and pay tax on legally earned activity with much less risk.

Coping with stress in Christchurch


Never before have we experienced a situation such as exists in Christchurch today. As was seen on Campbell Live last night people are at breaking point. Even the ambulance officers who were interviews, some of whom  had lost their own homes appeared to be close to losing it, fighting on because they are trained to, because “my uniform says I am there to help”. Men saying they “Cried last week for the first time in 20 years”.

The situation is looking incredibly serious. We have our 2nd largest city full of people suffering from Earthquake Syndrome. Interestingly it is very difficult to find information about the psychological impact from a New Zealand perspective, which I blogged about yesterday it seems as if the authorities are keeping it as quiet as possible, worried that it will get worse if people start talking about it.

In the absence of anything else, I think that is exactly what they should be doing, but more on that in my next blog. Maybe its naive of me, but today as a citizen of NZ with no mandate or authority I emailed Dr Martin Seligman of the Positive Psychology Centre at Penn University. In the US they experience repeated incidents of natural disasters in certain areas and of course with their military forces they also have extensive experience in PTSD. In NZ we really have no skills to understand or deal with repeat natural disasters and their human psychological consequences at a level like this, which in my opinion is why we are doing very little about it. We aren’t coping with the demands of repairing buildings, deciding which suburbs stay or go. We still aren’t dealing with the damage to buildings and the EQC is not paying trades people who are close to losing their businesses for trying to help people keep their homes habitable.

If you haven’t seen the Campbell Live tent recordings where they left people in a tent without any interviewers prompting them, to say how they feel, watch the following video and tell me you are not moved.

Post Traumatic Stress in Christchurch and EQC


I was ashamed and embarrassed a few nights ago. I was lying  alone in bed listening to talk back radio (as my wife was in hospital) and heard a woman from Christchurch talking to host Kerre Woodham about how she had not had any response from EQC or anyone else since the first earthquake.  The bottom of her Kaiapoi house was basically destroyed and she was at her wits end. She was crying and pleaded “I need help”. Kerre handled the situation extremely well, took the woman’s number and said they would do what they could to help her offline.

Then a couple of nights ago I watched TV3′s Campbell Live which interviewed loads of Christchurch residents who were in a similar situations and trades people who were going broke providing plumbing and drainage and other services on behalf of EQC, but had not received any payment from them in some cases dating back to last year’s first quake in September. The head of EQC tried to tell him that they were doing everything they could, but tried to say that it was the worst incident in the world since EQC was founded in 1947, then he said the worst in NZ.

I don’t give a damn how bad it was, that is why NZ taxpayers have been paying EQC levies for years. The whole point of having such an organisation is to ensure that when the inevitable disaster occurs, the country is prepared in every way. This includes experts to evaluate damage, the capital and resources to ensure repairs are made as quickly as possible, no excuses. It doesn’t matter that there was more than one quake, this is what we paid for. So where has the money gone that we paid all these years?

It has been well known by Civil Defence, Police, Health Services and others that it is not just about repairing buildings and digging up liquifaction, its about the people and nothing seems to be happening. Behind closed doors there is talk about increased use of drugs and alcohol, increased domestic violence, people freaking out every time there is another after shake. People don’t know what to do. They can’t leave their broken homes because they have mortgages on them and of course no one wants to buy them.

What we have is a quite unique situation in that we have an enemy we can’t see, situations we can’t predict and the Government and Insurance organisations simply are not prepared. We can’t deal with the physical manifestations and I don’t think we know anything about dealing with the human emotions. Even in the military you know who your enemy is and you can pull out. You have at least a feeling that there is someone in control and whilst they haven’t always been great in dealing with PTSD, they recognise it and have systems in place.

Recently I listened to an excellent Harvard Business Review Ideacast podcast with Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the HBR article Building Resilience. He is also the author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. He spoke of a new program that they had been working on with the US military, which had amazing results with their soldiers. It was heartwarming. Unfortunately the full report has yet to be released to the US Government, but the anecdotal reports were amazing. This should be something that the NZ Government needs to be looking into.

I look back to the first news coverage where Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker and Christchurch Cathedral Dean Peter Beck were saying the bricks and mortar can be replaced, but its the people that matter. Well herein lies my problem. We aren’t even dealing effectively with the buildings. We are hardly touching the broken people! They can only be staunch for so long and if we don’t help them very soon, we are going to have a generation of traumatized people.

So I say to the Government, to EQNZ, to the city councillors, to my fellow Kiwis: This isn’t good enough. No more excuses. We have paid our taxes for years, in good faith expecting that the money would provide for resources and expertise when they were needed. We were told the big one would come and we would be ready. If you can’t deal with it, bring in people and resources who can. We aren’t the only country to have disasters, they happen all over the world, many much worse than Christchurch. Have the grace to accept you don’t know how to deal with the situation and find people who can.

If you can’t do that, its election year and you will have to fall on your swords and we will find others who can. The current situation may not be man made, but our response to it is a disgrace. Kia Kaha Christchurch. Thanks to the media for making us more aware of what is and isn’t happening. Maybe now we need to tell the world stage that we are not coping and we need specialist help.

Have a read of the comments left on Campbell Live’s Facebook Page. This tells the story that our Government departments are not addressing or are trying to minimize. The situation is not under control and it is not just a few people who haven’t been seen to yet. This is a crisis. What are you going to do John Key? The Rugby World Cup will not be enough of a distraction.

Creating jobs with FIT for renewable energy


So how about this picture. If the Government gives us interest free loans to install solar panels on roofs, we could reduce the need for expanding coal and oil based electricity, whilst maintaining our geothermal and hydro production.

The Government would set up Feed In Tariffs enabling power companies to purchase spare power units to feed in to the grid to supplement its own resources and those of the community as and when required.

The technology would include smart meters where appliances and power consumption may be monitored by the consumer This is already available in NZ from companies such as SmartNow. This is very important because it educates consumers of all ages  as to the impact of each household appliance.

Smart Meter

You would be able to monitor this on your SmartPhone as well as the touch screen in your home, perhaps even control appliances remotely. Now you will know if you turn your 3 TV’s off instead of having them on stand by, exactly how much energy and cost you are saving.

Many of our household devices are developing sufficient intelligence to be turned on and off remotely. This can apply to anything from your stove or microwave, to your TV Set Top Box, washing machine, heating etc.

Kiwis are very clever. With a little encouragement and support, we could have people coming up with new technologies for smoothing power, sharing and reticulating, designing solar panels that look good and work more efficiently in our environment.

Whole new industries and thousands of jobs would come out of this. Educators, estimators, designers, manufacturers, installers, inspectors, service people, finance companies, new boutique electrical companies, to name a few.

New Zealand is an island and we can be potentially isolated from gas and fossil fuels, especially if the worst happened and a serious war broke out somewhere on the planet.

Do you think that in the Middle East, Europe or USA, they would be saying, oh don’t forget New Zealand, we must set aside x number of tonnes of crude for our antipodean mates down under? But I digress. We are smart people and I think we could create not only some serious domestic growth, but our inventions spawned from this adventure could also contribute to some huge potential export revenue through the innovations that we would produce.

We also made a commitment to being clean and green. Digging up coal and gas doesn’t exactly honor that commitment, although I agree we need the money. Maybe we can’t do it with solar and wind alone, but if we could produce even half of our requirements from our roofs whilst at the same time reducing power consumption through smarter use and education, wouldn’t that be cool?

We could also lead in international design and R & D, with companies like Fisher & Paykel in the development of new technologies that burn much less power, including heating, consumer electronics and more. We need revival of new companies like Gallagher, Rakon and Taits, which have shown that we can be world leaders in technology. Those number 8 fencing wire companies we are so proud of.

The problem is that all of this needs to start with the politicians and all I seem to hear from them is that the coal, oil and gas is worth a lot of money and we should sell them. OK, if we need to do that because New Zealand is insolvent, then do it, but put the money earned into renewables, try to make ourselves self sufficient and then develop export revenues by exporting the technologies we built and developed locally, exploiting our IP. Kiwis are smart people.

Come on National, Labour and Green Parties, lets take a long term view beyond the next election. Change only happens when you do something different. Make it happen and you can have the credit if that is what drives your ambitions, but lets show our leadership.

I didn’t mention tourism, but I don’t think people really buy into clean green anymore. Lets show them we can be clean and green and beautiful and then generate export revenue out of our new skills and industries.

As a footnote, a quote by Farrell J. January 2011 on the Ontario FIT which started in 2009 from New Rules Project:

Ontario’s clean energy program encourages local ownership and distributed generation, in part to broaden support for renewable energy and in part to capture the increased economic impact generated from local ownership.

The domestic content requirement has already resulted in the promise of 43,000 jobs and dozens of new manufacturing plants to support the 5,000 MW of new clean energy.

As a footnote, imagine if the panel didn’t have to be on your roof, but could be on every one of your windows and you could see through it? That’s what MIT is hoping for. 

What FIT’s could do for NZ


Having teased the concept of Feed in Tariffs over the last few blogs  I’d like to get a bit more detailed. So in NZ the government has provided subsidies for roofing insulation, especially for older houses that were not built as efficiently from an energy perspective.

That is good in that it may reduce the need for heating, which is the biggest consumer of energy. A large percentage of energy sources pollute the atmosphere, damage the ozone layer and produce carbon waste. I’ve explored the fact that solar power is a renewable source that produces very little waste, mainly in manufacturing, packaging and installation, marginal issues.

The ideal scenario for me is interest free loans from the Government to cover the cost of purchase and installation of solar panel systems for both domestic and business. There are some lessons overseas where businesses have exploited the opportunities for subsidies and rebates and in some cases they have benefited from the interest free finance and feed in tariffs more than the public. This needs to be considered, but even where that happens, they are still producing energy in forms preferable to oil and coal and other non renewable or potentially dangerous sources.

So the basic idea is that consumers can get an interest free loan to have solar panels and related equipment installed in their homes. The systems include meters and technology that allows people to understand how electricity is being used in their homes, where is it being wasted. They can use the power they generate for free (keeping in mind they do have a long term loan to repay) and when they have excess power, they can sell it to the power companies for a tariff that is mutually agreeable.

A key point that I have raised through out this discussion is redundancy in the case of emergencies. Every time we have had a major emergency people have been without power. As recently as the aftershocks in Christchurch yesterday 17 April 2011, parts of Christchurch were without power for a couple of hours, but previously it has been days and weeks.

UK has had local FIT’s for a couple of years and other countries have had them for several years. There have been many benefits from this. One of the big ones that people don’t automatically think about is job creation. This happens at all levels. Industries to benefit include finance, manufacturing, installation, inspection, education and more. One of the great things about not being first in the industry, we can get our clever Kiwi inventors coming up with new technologies and inventions which will find a ready export market. Many new industries will spawn from this as new developments are made. Mobile technologies will allow control of what appliances are active from your smart phone. You’ll be able to turn off non essential appliances when you are at work, on holiday etc, whilst still monitoring what is going on and being able to turn the hot water back on while you are on your way home.

For business there is the rent a roof program where people can generate income from their roof, while someone else looks after generating the power and selling it into the grid and to the building occupier. This is extremely scalable. In fact in the UK, many roofs rented by power companies are domestic!

Rented roof