The words and the image were everywhere, and every time I saw them I tried not to roll my eyes.
I was at a conference for HR professionals, and the main graphic across every banner and program guide showed a human hand about to join with that of — wait for it — a robot. The conference was “The Intelligence Revolution,” which struck me as equally hilarious. Were we really so unintelligent up until now, and has it taken the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) to make us smarten up about how we attract, develop and retain what every CEO describes as an organization’s “greatest assets” its people?
This month we’re producing “The Transformation Issue” on B2B News Network, and there’s certainly no end of calls for change. Five years ago it was from service providers eager to coerce as many organizations as possible to move their compute workloads to the cloud, and to move from on-premise to software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. More recently it has been a broad-based push towards digital transformation (DX) in areas such as marketing, sales, service and more. Now there’s blockchain, which will surely prompt similar recommendations from experts to rework the way transactions across entire industries take place.
We’ll be trying to step back and offer a bit of a reality check on some of these waves of transformation — are we on track, and if so, are the results proving worth it? Where are organizations in danger of falling behind — or falling short? And finally, what kind of potential transformations are being overlooked, despite their applicability in terms of furthering corporate objectives?
I actually found one good answer to that final question at the HR conference in a session with Bill Taylor, a co-founder of Fast Company magazine and the author of Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things In Extraordinary Ways.
As a longtime observer of business transformation, Taylor was quick to identify fear as the biggest impediment to change. Though it wasn’t a new observation, I liked the way he described it: The more things change, the more the worries and objections to change stay the same.
“Playing it safe has become the most dangerous course of all,” he said. “People only start to change when they start to feel deep in their bones that trying something new is lower than the cost of desperately clinging to what’s worked in the past.”
Rather than urge attendees to focus their attention on AI, blockchain or any of the other usual suspects, however, Taylor suggested that the companies that pursue the most meaningful changes look extremely carefully at the relationships within their sphere of influence — from customers to employees, partners — and transform the way they do business so they can convey a deeper and more personal sense of humanity.
“I truly believe we have entered an era of business where it’s just as important to be kind as it is to be clever,” he said, challenging the crowd, “How do we make everything we do more memorable to the rest of the world?”
That’s a much taller order than signing a cloud contract, or even learning what blockchain is really all about. But answering that question may provide the connecting thread organizations need to pursue business transformation that lasts. After all, we’re not simply trying to become a world full of fast companies. We should be striving to become a world full of better companies.