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How to make the future less scary

How to make the future less scary

Insights from a global CIO and a savvy millennial

Panel discussion on 'making the future less scary’  at Beca during Techweek 2019

Panel discussion on 'making the future less scary’ at Beca during Techweek 2019

Clickbait is not always the reality or desirability

Savannah Peterson

Savannah Peterson says she once threw a challenge to her students at  Stanford d.school, where she guest teaches.

“Can you pitch your idea in 140 characters or less,” she asked the students, stressing that, the elevator pitch is too long and a luxury at this point.

One of her students, who appeared not to be paying attention at all, said he had an idea.

“You send pictures to friends and the pictures disappear.”

“Disappearing content sounds ridiculous,” thought Peterson. “I have been creating content for a long time, why would anyone want disappearing content?”

That student was Evan Spiegel, who went on to found the photo-and video-sharing app Snapchat.

The lesson from this?

“Never give up on your dreams,” she says, “even if those dreams are disappearing pics.”

This anecdote jolts an early morning crowd at the recent Techweek, where Peterson was asked to speak at a forum on ‘making the future less scary’.

With the exception of the environment, some things are a whole lot better than what people think

Thomas Hyde, Beca

“We are all predicting. Nobody knows what the future is going to look like,” says Peterson, founder of Savvy Millennial and who was named in the 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 list in consumer technology.

At the forum, she and Thomas Hyde, executive director and CIO at Beca, the global engineering consultancy group with headquarters in Auckland, share steps business leaders and their respective teams can take as they assess emerging technologies.

Peterson says a key problem is that, “we are getting so much information, and often, this information is not given the right context.”

There is a gap between perception and reality, as exemplified by the case of 3D printing, she states.

The first articles on this technology were around the ability to 3d print guns.

“There are plenty more lethal ways to do things,” she says, adding, “If you are printing 3D guns, what is happening to your brain?”

This focus has completely distracted from the potential for 3D printing custom parts, she says. “Not many people know that you can already print multiple [human] organs.

It has taken this five to seven year period to realise what are the practical applications.”

“Don’t always believe the extreme,” she says, on a takeaway from this example. “Clickbait is not always the reality or desirability.”

She points out that there are three factors driving the hype and paranoia around new technologies.

First is that we can do more with technology than ever before.

Second, we share that technology earlier than before.  

Third, “the wrong things go viral.”

“Keep these in mind when you are reading about new technology,” she stresses.

“Look at the headline, dive in, and understand what the practical application is,” she says.

“If you think you see a potential for technology in your business or in your life, you need to investigate and prototype that.”

Summing up, she shares three words to consider when looking at technology.

“Educate, prototype, reframe... These are tools to make the future less scary.”

Warding off tech panic

Thomas Hyde, group director and CIO at Beca, says there is a “convergence of hype”, a phrase he created, around terms like cloud, digital transformation, agile, trival, AI, millennials, and gig economy.

“All these terms can lead to panic,” says Hyde.

According to him, this kind of panic is not new. “Fads or methodologies have been thrown at us over the years.”

He then lists some of the business changes that have been happening over the past decades: the mainframe revolution, total quality management, business process engineering, acquisition and organic growth, and the PC revolution.

Yet, common sense can tell there is nothing new about connecting services to clients, changing the business model, continuously improving business processes, and innovating new services and ways of production, he says.

“Technology has always been enabling new ways of doing and scaling of all of these things.”

He says the basic principle of business remains: somebody has something somebody wants. “There is a product and exchange of value.”

Credit: Yeshi Kangrang

We have never been better off or had the resources at our disposal to create the future the planet needs - we just need to be sensible and avoid the hype

Thomas Hyde, Beca

Hyde declares that what makes people think of it differently is the rapid pace of change.

“What sits under our emotional response is that this technology change is exponential and humans are not wired for this.”

For him, it is about going  back to the fundamentals of how business works. “How do you innovate new services to keep customers happy? There is nothing new around all that.”

“As for cloud, you just outsourced your computer,” he says. “Continuous improvement has been around forever.”

His approach to technology hype? “Get your head around it and work through it.”

The German car industry is an example. Germany is a high-cost labour environment, but most German car manufacturers do their production in Germany.

This sector is highly efficient and has an incredibly smart global supply chain. They own the IP in putting the product together.

“You think that they would have reduced unemployment,” says Hyde. “Yet, the number of employees in card production in Germany as gone up from 2008 to 2018.

“This is something to think about when we worry about losing our jobs due to technology.”

The same is true when the telephones came in. The messengers lost their jobs, but we ended up with telephone operators. “That was not predicted,” he points out.

“It’s about how you deal with the human side of technology. Just because it is there doesn’t mean people will use it.”

He adds that, “In 10 to 20 years, we will still be buying in bricks and mortars. People are making a choice about the experience they want to have.”

But there are lots of negativity and fear mongering, he states.

“With the exception of the environment, some things are a whole lot better than what people think.”

Hyde further cites that, “Extreme poverty is now less than 10 per cent of the global population, level of violent death is lowest in history, life expectancy has gone up.”

“We have never been better off or had the resources at our disposal to create the future the planet needs - we just need to be sensible and avoid the hype,” he says.

“The solution to hype is common sense.”

According to Hyde, this “convergence of exponential technology” is leading us to massive technology at our disposal.

“We are not far away from anything we can envisage we can build. We are only limited by our imagination.”

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Tags privacyemerging technologymillennials3d printingdisruptiondigital disruptionbecaglobal ciocxTechweek 2019TechWeek19Savannah Peterson

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