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.

Consumption 2.0 and Mobile Society


I’ve just read an article by Hugo Garcia of Futures Lab in Portugal in the latest issue of The Futurist. He was outlining how younger people today are more mobile, more focussed on consuming goods, services and experiences, rather than being attached to things and places. One area that he was strong on was the fact that people are now so mobile and keen to explore the world and their environments.

Location becomes far more important because you are continuing moving around as opposed to tied to a fixed location in the world. He said that one example is the trend towards not owning a home, perhaps ever. I always hear talk about how hard it is to get into property, I don’t think it has ever been easy. When we bought our first home (to give ourselves and our children some long term security) we bought in a cheap neighbourhood and at one stage were paying in excess on 20% interest. For a couple of years in the beginning, we went without pretty much anything, just to pay the interest. Today many don’t want to restrict their lifestyle, making it a choice, their choice is to live for today.

The ‘office’ is for many people today, especially knowledge workers, not somewhere we need to be a lot of the time and the cost of maintaining an office, commuting, car parking (you could almost rent a room for the cost of my Auckland City car park). We go to the office when we need to, for meetings, teamwork etc, but otherwise I can be much more productive from my home office.

White BikesHugo talks about shared mobility. This is not a new concept, but certainly one that is coming back with a vengeance. Back in the 1960′s the Provos introduced white bikes that anyone could use. The idea was that you grabbed a bike, rode it to where you wanted to go and left it there for the next person to use. Their concept, same as today was to reduce pollution and traffic congestion and promote community engagement. They were certainly engaged as very quickly the bikes were stolen and repainted, but the idea was very good.

Today carpooling continues to grow, Zipcars, recently purchased by Avis, which is currently being debated as to whether it was an anticompetitive manoeuvre, is an example of car sharing, which in principle makes a lot of sense. People share ownership in boats, holiday homes and other items and many people are travelling around the world using the services of portals like Airbnb. There are loads of companies sprouting up like Whipcar, which lets you rent out your own vehicle when you don’t need it.

Globalisation is also an area that is changing rapidly. I remember reading history books about the great depression and how people moved from town to town looking for work. Mobility today is something far more international and international borders are being crossed continually by people in search of work, whether it is because they can’t find it at home, want a better life, or simply enjoy the itinerant lifestyle. Over a million Kiwis are working and living overseas, while British and other nationalities are moving to New Zealand to work on projects such as the reconstruction of  Christchurch.

Hugo points out there are pro’s and cons. “Unfortunately, some areas may become abandoned because they lack competitive advantages. The war for talent between countries will increase, but regions that offer good living conditions may gain an advantage.

I note again that knowledge workers, one of the biggest industry segments today can often work from anywhere and travel when required. I know many journalists and developers that live in small towns for the lifestyle, but can still perform on a global stage.

This mobile society opens up huge scope for innovation and disruption, particularly with location based services, applications for mobile use, which can support the new mobile lifestyle. Kiwi developers can and are developing applications used globally, despite those that say you can’t be successful unless you are in Silicon Valley, things are changing. The money may be there, but they don’t have a monopoly of good ideas.

If anyone knows about a mobile lifestyle its Kiwis, anywhere is a long way from New Zealand. We know how to travel, we absorb and learn and we love new technology. Where we need help is harnessing our smarts, to help our innovators and entrepreneurs to learn how to scale and think big. That’s a tough ask and I don’t think our Government is doing anywhere near enough to ensure that smart people are able to grow from small concepts to large global enterprises.

I was just asking myself how I suddenly got on my soap box, but then I’m not sure I ever get off it:)

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.

Whitcoulls and Borders


I was thrilled to learn that the remaining Whitcoulls and Borders have been sold to Anne and David Norman. Now they have some hope. They will now live in the Pascoes Group and of course this group are known as having revived the ailing Farmers chain and given them new life.

Once the essential housekeeping details are sorted, such as property leases and staff contracts, there is every reason to hope that they will breathe new life into Borders and Whitcoulls.

That can not mean BAU or Business As Usual, because even though they did OK and the biggest problems were in Australia with REDGroup. Nevertheless these stores were not run optimally and they were not run with the times.

I heard people, partly lead by local publishers, saying that if the NZ stores were run from Australia, they would probably signal the demise of the NZ author. Certainly I agree that we would have seen less Kiwi authors in store, but I think ultimately either the publishers would have to become less greedy and insular or the local authors would start to embrace the new eBook media and of course in doing so they can either self publish or join Amazon or other local eBook publishers. Neither are ideal for people who love books.

As I’ve said in many previous blogs about Whitcoulls and Borders, a few of them can be found here, the first thing is to go back to basics. For these stores to be successful they need to operate smarter and provide what the modern shopper wants. There are many good examples overseas.

With the chain expanding, here a some ideas that I would look at.

  • Macy's

    Gift Registry. Chains like Macy’s in the USA have had phenomenal success with their national gift registry programs for decades. They have kiosks in store which are linked nationally. I was so excited the first time I went through one I almost bought a gift for a young man’s Bar Mitsva in Chicago. I was in New York at the time looking for a hat in one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced. It was so well laid out, there were thousands of special events from weddings to anniversaries and being national, you could see from New York, what a person in Madison Wisconsin had their hopes on. Given that the chain owns Farmers and a number of jewellery stores, this would be a great opportunity to combine the lot.

  • I keep harping on about Jeff Jarvis’ book What Would Google Do? It’s funny in a way that in one of his first blogs about the book, he suggests that you could buy it from Borders. The thing was though that I couldn’t buy it from Borders at the time because they didn’t have it, so I bought it from Amazon.
  • So I think that Borders and Whitcoulls need to start saying, what would Amazon do. So many companies are naive and believe their own hype that web retailers (only part of what they are) are no threat, or they consider them such a threat that when things go bad, they become a self fulfilling prophecy.

Hanging a few Kobo’s on the wall is not the answer, that has been a major botch up in my humble opinion. Even on the web, sell the sizzle on the home page! But some things they could do with their ‘loyalty’ programs is monitor what each customer buys and make recommendations based on the buyer habits. I have bought at least a dozen books on Amazon’s recommendations. Amazon is also much cheaper than buying locally, but that’s a different story because it costs a lot to get books to New Zealand, so unless you buy a stack of books, you pay back what you save on freight.

Amazon has many great features that can be just asdestination events

Mobile Marketing easily applied to a bricks and mortar chain, which has the benefit of being able to hold a book, tell you what store it is in and provide you with much quicker gratification.

I don’t want to write a book, but here a some things you may find in this blog in the coming days for Whitcoulls and Borders:

  • Becoming a destination for events such as readings and signings
  • Back to basics and way beyond in inventory management
  • A major web presence with lots of ideas perhaps sparked by What Would Google Do (which should be a mandatory read for all Whitcoulls and Borders management at all levels)
  • A new way for both stores to have lots of stock available, but not necessarily on the spot. A central warehouse with the option of home delivery could cut down inventory sizes without sacrificing range and depth.
  • Embrace proximity based marketing on mobile devices. I would strongly recommend that management from Borders, Whitcoulls, Farmers and in fact all retail chains attend the Mobile Marketing Forum in Auckland this June. This Forum could be called The Retailer Strikes Back. They will learn many new ideas at this event.
  • Understand their regional customer base. There is no point in carrying the same stock range in each store. It simply won’t work and you will have aged stock going on sale. Some of the category managers need to take a long hard look at the books they have been stocking and ask themselves what on earth possessed them to make some of the decisions they made? Or was it the publishers reps that conned them?
  • They should look at products like GeoSmart’s impending Business Intelligence on a MAP. This could produce many aha moments when used to geographically view their business results in combination with consumer demographics.
I could go on but that’s plenty for now. I think with the right motivation and attitude, these two stores can be not only revived, but will rise to new heights. But only if they stop living in the past of this is the way we always did it. They need to embrace and perhaps even lead the future. It’s not hard, its just thinking outside the square and remembering that it is the customers and the books that make your business. Its about the words and the stories and people.

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