The Changing Way of Work

In my last blog, I spoke about disruption and the example of the boat crossing the Atlantic with the option to touch the steering wheel once or once every day. I think we can all agree that if pretty much everybody would prefer the second option over the first one.
I have to admit I didn’t come up with this example myself. Actually, I read it somewhere on the Internet when I was digging into all things scrum and agile, two other buzz words that have been going round in the IT industry for a while now. Instead of spending hours on a functional design, including pages of scope, limitations and cost breakdowns, only to get a signature for a heap of hours, allowing us to develop something that we can only show the customer once it is, finally, ready, we are now challenged to actually sit down with the customer, work on a feature together or in a small team while having to cope with changing requirements and shorter release cycles, with sponsors demanding us to show results every single week, or at least bi-weekly. Scrum and agile have been hot and some influencers may already say that they have had their momentum. They key element behind them though remains the same. Flexibility. Remember that boat crossing the ocean?
Today’s business environment requires agility. Remember I spoke about AirBnB in my last blog? Just 24 hours after I posted that blog, word got out that forbid AirBnB in certain cities and countries. Will that be the beginning of the end for the company that was only created eight years ago and has a market cap of $30 billion? Or is it just the end of the beginning? Time to transform?
Just like the boat and just like AirBnB, we are challenged to be agile. Because only if we are agile, we may still exist in five or ten years time. So how can we make sure we add value for our customers? How do we need to structure teams and companies? Here are a few things that I see.

Power to the people 

No matter how much we automate and outsource to systems and robots, we still live in a world that is populated and run by people. As are business and business processes. People working with people, no matter if they are supported by all kinds of digital innovations. Faced with changing circumstances day by day, it makes sense to wind down on long-term strategies and empower people instead. Not B2B or B2C but Human to Human.

Leverage networks

Decades ago, the Dutch society was described as a pillarized society. Back in the sixties, the Netherlands became ‘depillarized’. Gone were the old institutes. People no longer wanted to be part of the ‘pillars’ that their parents belonged to, including preferred radio and television stations, political parties and religious tones. Freedom and own responsibility were the new old. And they still are, looking at the invidualistic setup of society nowadays. You, you alone, are responsible for your actions. Personally, I am a strong believer of team and group efforts over the power and reach of individuals. Also, I believe that we are much more pillarized than we were ever before. But we may need to replace pillars by networks.

Nothing to hide

Back in 1984, Apple released its advert against IBM, rebranding them as ‘Big Brother’. A number of year ago, there used to be a television program on Dutch television that was called Big Brother. If we look back on those, we could quite easily say that they hadn’t seen nothing yet. Everything that we do nowadays is being tracked. Everything. And if you are not already tracking everything within your market, you better start doing so because your competitors have already been doing it for a while. Big data, and the translation of data into information, is and will be critical to your survival in the years to come. 

Creativity is key 

Over the past years, we have seen a big increase in the use of algorithms to predict all kind of things and we have become quite good at it. We have digitized lots of things and robotization is estimated to be one of the biggest threats to a major part of the global workforce. Nowadays, we have even developed algorithms that allow for spontaneous changes. But how spontaneous is a programmed occurrence? Although I believe we can go a long way on algorithms and automating all kinds of repetitive work, I am confident that capturing creativity is much harder to do.

New ways of working 

So as a CEO today, you should empower your people to leverage their networks, looking to spark creativity, driven by big data to answer new problems that have only come up very recently. To a certain degree, this is a new way of working, that you will need to accommodate.

Leading by doing 

One big management trend that has taken the Netherlands (and likely the bigger world) by storm some time ago was the trend of self-managing organizations. Very short, this methodology aims to eliminate overhead and middle management to the max by putting all decision power at the lowest levels within the organisation. And this would suggest a new type of management, or leadership. I am quite a fan of this methodology although I believe that self-managed teams still need to be pointed in a certain directions. Within various organizations that I have seen, the operations teams are too often only considering the upcoming issues of the next two to four weeks. I am therefore convinced that self-managed teams and organizations can only survive if they have leaders among them, or a small group of leaders or visionaries next to them.

Apps

Believe it or not, but apps are an essential part of the new way of work. Too many times, I have heard people say: you can’t run your company on an app. And I fully agree. You run your company using the paragraphs above and not by and app. However, apps will play a substantial role in supporting you to run your business. The multitude of app is used on purpose. We will get our information from multiple apps, make decisions using other apps and will communicate what we have decided using different apps, all independent of the platform you work with.

What’s next 

Over time, I will elaborate more on the trends listed above, although it may be quite likely that they will look different from how they look now by the time I have written about all of them. But hey, nothing is fixed nowadays anyhow. To be honest with you, I first started this blog post in April 2016 so I am not a very speedy writer. But yet, you have taken the time to read all the way to the end of this article. Thanks for that. I hope you liked what you read so far and I do apologize if the next one takes a while. 😉

About Disruption…

There is no place you can go nowadays without hearing the D-word. Disruption. Everything needs to be disruptive. We need disruptive companies, we need disruptive team members, our whole food consumption pattern was disrupted, everything and everybody needs to be disruptive.

The Next Big Thing

Something else you may hear quite often nowadays are discussions about the new way of work. Everybody agrees that the world has changed and that it will never be the same. As such, our working worlds have changed as well, and they as well are not likely to go back to what they were anytime soon. And we all seem to love it right? I mean, aren’t we all looking forward to who will be the next Google or the next Facebook? Will Apple be still as hot in five years time as they were in the final years of Steve Jobs (I am writing this on a brand new Microsoft Surface…, the one that replaced my iPad and Macbook Air). Will it be Elon Musk Inc.?

Everything we ‘predict’ about the next big thing is a prediction. And it should be handled with care as such. Nobody knows what will be next so nobody knows where you should really put your efforts and money in. So how do you prevent from being the laggard time after time after time? You need to be flexible. Or disruptive, whatever you like.

Disruption vs. flexibility

Being flexible allows you to be disruptive. Being flexible means it won’t take you months or years to change plans. And if it doesn’t take you months or years to adapt to new trends, you can actually be disruptive. Because you have the ability to switch gears in the fastest way possible and be ahead of your (new) competitors time after time. I mean, everybody knows the examples of Netflix, Uber and Airbnb. But shouldn’t they be questioning themselves where they will be in five or ten years from now? Sooner or later, Airbnb will become too commercial or too much like a chain. And sooner or later, Uber is going to have to comply with legislation, no matter how strong their legal teams may be. These companies seem very disruptive at first sight but it takes them just a few years to become part of the establishment as well.

I read a quote the other day that triggered me: “If you were to cross the Atlantic by boat and you either had the choice to touch the steering wheel once, or once every day. Which option would you pick?”. Everybody picks the second option as the change of failure is way too big in the first scenario. So what would it take to apply this principle to the world of business? You are a boat, the Atlantic is your market. You tell me how often you want to touch the steering wheel.

It’s The End Of Car Driving As We Know It

While I am still waiting to own my first electric car, the next big hype in the car industry is already upon us: self driving cars. The rumors have been going strong for a few years now and it seems we are just waiting for existing legislation to be modified before they are upon us. Cars that take you from A to B with you only telling your car where you want to go. There is however one other thing that still needs to happen and so far, only Mercedes Benz has shown it.

If you are no longer required to actually drive a car, there is also no need for a steering wheel to be present, nor the specific setup of chairs and backseat. In tegendeel. I would definitely opt for a more living-room-look-alike-setup if I had the choice. And if possible, I would still like the ability to put my chair(s), or sofa(?), in driving mode, to enjoy a few miles on the road.

But imagine how your trip to the office would look like if you have the ability to relax, sit down, check some emails, read a newspaper or well, why not, drink a cup of coffee. And all of that will your car will move you from A to B. No sudden stops, no heavy acceleration or stress as a result of other drivers. Imagine how you would press a button to switch your seats to relax mode or something similar, have them turn towards each other instead the setup you know today and you might well use your car for a meeting, a chat with a friend or for something similar.

I would want to have one!

How I Like To Live After My Retirement

The situation

My retirement is still multiple decades away but there is one thing I am pretty sure about. Social security will be completely different. You don’t have to be a scientist in order to see that amenities provided by the government have been decreasing over the past years and there are no signs that the will improve on the short or long term. I assume that they are to a large extend related to the levels of economic growth, and there are no signs of significant improvement there either. One could debate whether we will ever return to growth rates we know from the past (or recent years, if you have been living in China), but I may do that in another blog. For now, let us just assume it won’t change.

As a result, I think individuals should increase their level of control over their retirement. Making sure you save enough money for your old day is very important of course, but I would like to focus on how I would spent it, instead of where I saved it.

I believe that by the time I will retire, there will be no retirement homes anymore. Instead, parents will live with their children, with or without periodic reimbursements. I doubt whether I want to place such a load on my kids when I am old. Most likely, they will have their own careers, their own kids, friends, hobbies and whatsoever. I don’t want them to also have their own parents to look after. They will always be welcome, but I have no intention of raising a family for that purpose.

The Retirement Idea

So here’s the idea that has been on my mind for a few years now. Why don’t we get together with a bunch of people from the same age and buy ourselves a retirement home, including staff. I suggest a max group size of ten, in order to have a reasonable financial power without loosing span of control. Those people should be from the same era, will hopefully share some interests and there is a good chance they will have similar welfare levels. When all the individuals sell their own properties in order to put those funds into one single piece, that may provide sufficient funds for a proper new place to live together, including some funds to remodel the place to live there with multiple families. I did not do the math but it would be interesting to see if there would be funds available staff the place.

Again, my retirement is still decades away but the least I could do is give it a thought.

Are speeding limits somehow related to the speed of life?

I recently spent a few weeks up in the cold in Norway. Flying to Tromsø and driving down over the Vesteralen and the Lofoten islands, I was surprised by the speeding limits they stick to. Seldom was I allowed to drive at more than eighty km’s per hour. More often, it was like sixty or seventy outside towns and thirty or fifty inside towns. More interesting though was that everybody sticked to the speeding limits. My wife and I have been describing Norwegians as careful drivers (or non competent at times) but the fact is that they are not really over speeding. They actually “under speed”. So whenever the max is set at sixty, they will drive fifty five or sixty. Not sixty five, or seventy.

The second thing I noticed was the relaxed attitude among people. There is always time for a chat, nobody worries if you’re a few minutes late as they will just wait for you. Take for example one of the ferry’s we have been on. It was supposed to leave at 14.00 hours. We rushed, as it was 13.52 and we had not found the right dock yet. But when we got there at 13.57, nobody was stressed or in a real hurry. Instead, they patiently greeted us, let us pay for the fare and showed us where to park the car. No stress.

A third point that surprised us was the service level that they maintained all over the country. In the Netherlands, which is a densely populated but very small country where distances are short and roads allow you to get from one end of the country to the other in a few hours, banks and supermarkets in smaller villages are closing due to their lack of profitability. Norway on the other side is a huge country. And people seem to be living everywhere. They apparently do not care whether they are close to a big town (and the facilities connected to it). Instead, they feel perfectly fine somewhere on the countryside, at least 45 minutes driving from the nearest supermarket.

Nienke and I spent some time in Andenes, a small town in the north of Andøya which is famous for its whale safari’s. The village was so quiet and remote that it felt like the end of the world to us. Still, there were three supermarkets (of reasonable size and properly staffed). They also had a bank, two gas stations, an airstrip, a pet-care shop, a few hotels and some other businesses. While I haven’t asked anybody whether their business was profitable, I think the supermarkets are the best example. If I would be supermarket two or three, I would definitely question myself whether this was a feasible business case or not. Rather would I suggest to merge the supermarkets into one bigger that served all, with reduced overhead costs.

The supermarkets in Andenes choose not to. They maintained their service level and Norway is regarded as one of the most wealthy and happy countries in the world. The message of this whole thing? Don’t always just look at the costs, the efficiency and the short-term profitability. Dive in for the long term, try to get to know people and look for the bigger picture. Oh, and don’t overspeed.

Understanding the interface you work with

From time to time, I am designing websites. For fun, for friends, for learning purposes. It was recently that I learned a small but interesting lesson about user interfaces.

I had designed a website that had a slider on its homepage that showed the last three “featured” news articles. The setup was fairly easy. All the users had to do was to flag a checkmark “Featured” and upload an image that was big enough. However, it never took off, with me questioning what was the problem. PEBCAK? (Google that)

After some time, I decided to change the label of the checkmark from “featured” to “slider”. 10 seconds work.

But it worked. Apparently, the users never understood “featured” but did understand “slider”.

So, whenever you design a website for somebody, make sure they understand how the backend works. Speak their language.

Dear US Citizens

Last Thursday, I read the news that another shooting took place in the US. And during breakfast on Friday morning, I listed to president Obama’s statement. I saw his frustration. His anger. And decided I would write this blog post.

I happen to live in the Netherlands. We happen to have gun laws in place. And still, shootings happen. Unfortunately. I am glad to say though that in most cases, shootings in the Netherlands are related to criminals and criminal organizations trying to get ahead of each other.

Is my country a safer place than the US? I don’t necessarily think so. You probably know that we recently had an attempt of a terrorist attack in the Thalys train on its way to Paris. And you’re right. Paris itself was a terrorist attack quite recently. And we still have these criminal shootings that happen every now and then.

However, it makes me feel quite safe to know that not everybody in the Netherlands can simply walk into a store and buy himself a gun. I am lucky to have many friends and I am almost sure that none of them has a gun, which to some extent, is equal to the Dutch society. It gives me a safer feeling to walk on the streets without the thoughts that every third person I come across may carry or own a gun or something similar.

Bringing in place gun laws won’t solve the problem but it may reduce the number of shootings over a longer period of time. The US, like the Netherlands has a legal system in place that is meant to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. Fight them that way, not by posting heavily guarded guards in front of every public building or learning your kids how to use a weapon.

Apple Watch thoughts after using it two weeks

Yes, I did it again. A week after its launch in the Netherlands, I bought myself an Apple Watch. So after using the device for little over two weeks, I wanted to jot down my thoughts on the new device.

Battery Life

To start of… Battery life is good. At least, for me. For the past two weeks, I never had to switch to low power mode as there has always been more than 25% of battery life left when I went to bed at night. I still have quite some notifications on but I am not one of those highly social media engaged people. What comes in is basically iMessage, WhatsApp and a few apps. Be aware that I don’t have facebook installed on my iPhone and thus do not get any notifications of likes and comments.

Health

The feature I wanted the watch for most was health. Most of the week, I am seated down in an office and therefore do not move that much. An app that tells me to stand each hour works really well, especially as it also reminds me to do some back exercises. And indeed, you will want to complete those rings each day. It happened on several occasions that I went for a walk at night and my wife would ask me if I completed the rings or if we needed to walk another block. The workout app works well for running. I also tried it for a game of squash, which was okay, I believe. I have to admit though that the workout app crashed a few times, fifteen minutes into my game of squash.
One feature that is missing here is the ability of third party apps to write directly to the activity app. This will be solved with WatchOS 2 though.

Apps

When it comes to apps, I believe the community can do better. I put great trust in version two of the OS that will allow for native apps. In the meantime, apps at at this stage are often just extensions of an iPhone app, or another way of listing the same information on a small display. The screen is too small to work on, so don’t build your app that way. Build it for quick interactions, showing people exactly what they need. Speed is an issue for many of the third-party apps, but again, that is supposed to be solved with WatchOS 2.

Watch

In addition to the above, the watch is also just a really beautiful watch. Most of the times, I have really simple watchface, although I hope that apple will come up with some more traditional ones, as I miss that from time to time. A leather band is currently on its way to replace my white sports band as that isn’t very classy after all but great for sports.

NASA and Alien life

NASA is nice. I mean, they’re like one of the most advanced companies on earth. At least, that’s how I regard them. Last week, the company announced that they expect serious signs of alien life within 10 years and even more over the next 20 to 30 years. That’s what I call faith!

I mean, when Kennedy talked about putting a man on the moon, he, sort of, knew what he was talking about. Everyone could see the moon and science had done the math on the distance from A to B. It was the start of a mission with a clear vision. This however is a bit different. I mean, if it is not on the moon, nor on Mars, it’s gotta be somewhere else in the universe. The question is… Where? We have not at all figured out how big the total universe is. We’re only talking about theoretical figures and assumptions, not even taking into account that the universe is still growing. So again… Where? This is not like looking for a needle in a haystack. This is looking for a fragment of a needle in a haystack the size of, well, one million haystacks. And that be an underestimate.

I’ll call it faith.

“Jesus lives”

Upfront notice: I personally believe that Jesus lives. But that’s not what this post is about.

Some of you know that I am involved in politics. Some of you may know I am a Christian. At leat you know now. In the Netherlands, there is a political party called Jezus Leeft (Jesus Lives). According to their website, they are the party where Jesus’ rules are true and set above all.

I don’t mind people bringing religious arguments to political discussions. After all, that’s why we have free speech over here. However, I am honestly very worried if parties proclaim that their standpoints are Jesus’ standpoints. Like they just got of a Skype call with him where he presented his points, for this party to bring them into this world.

What makes it even stranger are standpoints that truly do not touch any religious areas. For example: Jesus Lives is aiming for “more independent and smaller”, not completely a christian point of view (love your neighbour like you love yourself) if you ask me. And what about leaving the European Union? Can someone please point me to the part of the bible where that is being discussed?

These are some brief examples why I don’t believe this party. I don’t believe them. Despite the fact that they are fellow Christians, I am convinced that this is not the right way to get Jesus’ message across. There are other ways.