Everyone a trend watcher: a call for some more individual alertness

We all know Charles Darwin’s observation: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Yet I see a lot of inactivity around me; except in you would consider complaining, whining, finger-pointing, blaming others, … also activities.

In this short reflection, I want to make a case for a “sense and respond” attitude. With a little more pro-activity and in many cases a sequence of small steps one can realize bigger changes than one would expect.

Too often people react to change from a defensive point of view: before we were protected by …, shielded of …. , we had automatically the right to … Put another way; they consider themselves a victim of change caused by the organization, society or economics, or whatever. They fell asleep in a comfort zone not able to leave it before it’s (almost) too late.  There is the illustrative anecdote of the boiled frog. Placing a frog in boiling water, it will jump out immediately. If you place him in cold water, he perceives the environment as enjoyable and when you than slowly heat the water, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

In our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, things do not get necessarily easier but when the “going gets tough, the tough gets going” as Billy Ocean once sang. Within the boundaries of a range of limitations or difficulties, the creatives get even more creative.

In our uncertain, complex and continuous changing environment, we need to be alert and aware of the changes around us. One needs to be open and alert to detect changes before one can become aware of the changes and to understand their potential impact. Only then one can act. It’s a process of ceaselessly sensing and responding. However, there is a reactive and a proactive way of responding. In the reactive variant, one experiences the change and then react accordingly. In the pro-active approach, one is trying to detect the changes ahead and pro-actively act on them. This is what trend watching is all about, capturing in our environment faint signals and patterns and act upon before they become strong. These can be applied for any political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental signals or changes.

Some consider trend watching sexy, other consider it a waste of time chasing some new hypes, hypes which will be soon be replaced by other ones. Still other thinks is a meaningless attempt of foretelling, which it is clearly not.  Consider trend watching a basic skill everyone needs to have or to develop. In our VUCA world it is an essential part of our survival kit: sensing our environment in order to respond/react/anticipate/whatever/… in time to changes in our environment, be it changes in our relationship, our work place, our business, our society, or the world. For the time being, we can leave out the universe ;-).

In music you see many musicians complaining how the music business industry changed for worse (e.g. Spotify, illegal downloading of music, etc.) while others see and use the new possibilities to their full potential to get their thing done. Top of my mind is for instance Janek Gwizdala (janekgwizdala.com), an English jazz bassist living in Los Angeles producing Internet online bass courses, vlogging, and organizing himself a solo world tour. Or Bob Reynolds (bobreynoldsmusic.com), a Grammy Award-winning jazz tenor saxophonist currently touring with Snarky Puppy but also vlogging and organizing online music teaching. Two examples of entrepreneurship, brilliant online marketing and creating communities of like-minded people to support them.

In HR we see for instance managers raising their eyebrows when the topic of the new expectations of generation Y/Z is put on the table. Other try to understand their expectations and act on it.

Everyone is talking about the need for agile organizations and business processes. However, in many cases it’s no more than just a lip-service. Let’s take the responsibility to start with ourselves and be in the first place alert and agile on an individual level.

When the going gets tough
The tough get going, tough, tough, huh, huh, huh
When the going gets tough, the tough get ready

From a song by Billy Ocean


Voor een verhaal is men bereid (veel) te betalen.

De introductie van de Fender Precision Bass in 1952 als eerste in serie geproduceerde elektrische basgitaar mag gerust een succesvolle innovatieve doorbraak genoemd worden. Leo Fender ontwikkelde de Precision Bass ”to free the bassplayer from his doghouse” zoals hijzelf de contrabas pleegde te noemen. Weg met intonatieproblemen (vandaar de naam ‘Precision’), beperkt geluidsvolume en gedaan met het ‘gesleur’.

De daaropvolgende decennia werd het concept van de elektrische bas door verschillende grotere en kleinere instrumentenbouwers verder verbeterd. Sommige wijzigingen waren eerder evolutionair van aard (materiaalkeuze, constructie, vorm, …), andere meer revolutionair (toevoegen van actieve elektronica, 5 & 6 strings (“or any number you like for that matter”). Tegelijkertijd zochten sommige vooruitstrevende bassisten naar nieuwe speelwijzen (2 tot 5 rechterhandvingers, slapping, tapping, …).

De meeste bassisten volgden gretig de evoluties en lieten zich vaak verleiden om het allernieuwste te bespelen. Tot de jaren 2000 zagen de meeste bassen op de podia er dan ook ‘nieuw’ uit. De uitzonderingen lieten zich verklaren. Tegen gitarist Rory Gallagher’s agressieve zweet bleek bijvoorbeeld geen enkele gitaarlakverf bestand; zijn zweet was dermate zuur dat het als een soort ‘verfafbijt’ fungeerde. Om dezelfde reden speelt bassist Etienne Mbappé met zwarte zijden handschoenen.

Maar het laatste decennia zien we op de podia en in de studio’s een omgekeerde trend: hoe ouder en afgeleefder de bas eruit ziet, des te beter.

Vanwaar die kentering?

Uiteraard kent de oude basklank een revival. De vintage-trend is nu zeker ook aanwezig in de elektrische instrumentenwereld (wat al lang het geval was voor klassiekere instrumenten).

Maar naast het auditieve element is vaak het visuele aspect minstens even belangrijk. Een afgeleefd instrument heeft een verhaal te vertellen. Het is veel en intensief bespeeld geweest, heeft veel podia doorstaan en heeft misschien veel ‘lovers’ gehad (lees ‘bespelers’). M.a.w. zo’n aftandse bas is lekker rock’n roll, ongeacht welke muziekstijl je speelt en het verhoogt op zijn minst one’s credibility .

Door de grote vraag naar oude instrumenten swingen de tweehandprijzen voor de oudere, goede bassen de pan uit. Fabrikanten spelen hier op in door op nieuwe bassen ‘forced aging’ in verschillende gradaties toe te passen. Tot en met verroeste hardware als je dat wenst. Het zal je niet verwonderen dat de prijs van een ‘forced aged’ instrument meestal een pak hoger is dan die van het oorspronkelijke instrument.

Bij gitaren gaat men nog een stap verder. Men maakt ‘replicas’ tot in de kleinste details van gitaren van bekende gitaristen. Elke kras, schade, verfslijtage, stikkers en andere customisaties. Twee voorbeelden die me zijn bijgebleven: Joe Strummer’s Telecaster en Andy Summer’s Telecatster. Je bent de trotse eigenaar voor een prijs tussen $10.000 …$15,000 (elk afzonderlijk) of zo een factor 10 tot 20 maal (inderdaad factor 20) van de prijs van een goede doorsnee Telecaster.

Uiteraard kruipt er heel wat gespecialiseerde handenarbeid in die instrumenten, maar op het einde van de rit betaalt men toch maar voor het verhaal, een verhaal dat het instrument zelf niet eens heeft meegemaakt. Het blijft een replica, nietwaar?

How’s that for paying for a story?

Lees in die context ook nog even: Tiger Woods and bass heroes; or what do sports and music equipment have in common?

Tiger Woods and bass heroes; or what do sports and music equipment have in common?

Not that I’m a golfer (I’m a bass player ;-))  but I read with interest the article “You’ll Golf Better If You Think Tiger Has Used Your Clubs” in the Harvard Business Review edition of July-August 2012.  To be more precisely; as part of the Idea Watch series it’s an interview with the research scientist Sally Linkenauger of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany. The research finding states that people who believed that a professional golfer had used their club putted more accurately than other people who played the same club. The belief of playing with a professional’s club gave them confidence and increased their self-efficacy. They thought they would perform better, so they did.

Not astonishing to me.

However; I was astonished by the explanation the researcher gave: it is caused by positive contagion, a concept from social psychology referring to the belief that when someone touches an object, they left behind the essence of themselves on it. Of course superstition can have an influence on one’s performance (the famous example of “always wearing the same socks playing soccer”); but in this golf club experiment I don’t believe it’s a case of superstition or positive contagion.

In most sports as well as in music making your performance is influenced in lesser or greater extent by the equipment you use. A runner’s performance is negatively influenced by bad shoes; a swimmer’s time is positively influenced (however small) by high-tech sports textile. I myself have difficulties playing a fast turnaround on a double bass with a high string action, everything seems to fit perfectly well when my e-bass sounds great on stage, slapping on dead strings sounds like hell and doesn’t work, and so on. This to say that the quality of the equipment (or its suitability to the circumstances) always has an influence on the performance, how small it sometimes may be.

To make my point: if I a play the same instrument like one of my bass heroes, I’m convinced that at least the equipment will not hinder me in my performance. If it’s good for one of my bass heroes, it will also be good for me. I know this is subjective and often the bass heroes’ instrument comes from the custom shop and not from the factory, but it’s at least a usable reference. The same is true for the golf club. If Tiger played with it, than it will be a good club not hindering me in my performance. So it’s the (subjective) belief that you are using good equipment and not a case of positive contagion.

For others, the feeling of belonging to the ‘happy few’ can also play a role.

That’s why endorsement of individual athletes and musicians is such a powerful marketing tool, although it extends even further to other aspects like style and image building; community enabling, etc.

And it fits prodigiously well in the new trend of the professionalization of man’s hobbies. A cycling tourist does not only buy a (semi-)professional bike, most of the time also his cycling gear (clothing), his sports watch, etc. are high tech.

From IT to BT

On the recent itSMF conference in Belgium I presented “IT’s crisis of faith: is there life after ITSM?” (see https://jandillis.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/its-crisis-of-faith/& http://www.itsmf.be/page/289/ )

One of my messages was that the changing business environment demanding a high agility of IT requires the CIO to shift his focus not only from the Technology towards the Information dimension, but even more towards a Business Technology dimension. IT being just one of the problem solving tools, not everything needs to be solved with IT. In other words; the CIO should become a BTO (Business Technology Officer).

His challenging task is to take care of the business needs with a broad scope ranging from legacy systems up to ad hoc needs, business “experiments” and short term projects expecting solutions today; not tomorrow.  In order to support the emerging strategy deployment process; the BTO should in the first place be able to provide the agility the business is asking for …

To do so, the BTO must embrace uncertainty and must be able to work with different IT/BT application context environments. He must be able to capture the changing business and user needs and articulate how technology can contribute to the business strategy. He must become a change champion (not a change manager) and his major Key Performance Indicator should be the ‘change agility’ of his services and solutions.

To repeat, the BTO should in the first place provide the agility the business is asking for …

The ROI of Social Media is Your Business Will Still Exist in 5 years

In “Consumerization of the B2B world” I wrote on the significant impact of social media on business.  Shortly after I encountered a McKinsey Quarterly article “The consumer decision journey – Consumers are moving outside the purchasing funnel (*)”, an article which shoots holes in the outdated sales funnel. And whilst the article focuses primarily on B2C buyer behavior, some observers are now using this article to state that many of the principles are equally relevant to the process of B2B buying; which I believe is true.

This has impact in all dimensions of the organization. From a marketing point of view I would translate this into the following steps:

  1. Create awareness
  2. Build a value proposition (create a targeted perception) with content marketing
  3. Create an ongoing conversation (or should we say relation) with you customer
  4. Do pro-active reputation management

B2B buyers will rely more and more on a company’s on-line presence to make judgments as to whether they will do business with the company or not. It is this presence which helps to overcome typical vendor skepticism, convey credibility and gain trust. And although the personal relationship with the business partner remains of utmost importance, the impact of the virtual presence may not be underestimated.

This brings me to  “The ROI of Social Media is Your Business Will Still Exist in 5 years”, which is a quote from a nice 2.5 minute video of Socialnomics. Even if you consider this as strong language, the video illustrates nicely the impact of online presence.

Perhaps you don’t like the new media, but you cannot ignore it! It’s happening out there …

Please don’t forget to enjoy the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SuNx0UrnEo&feature=player_embedded


(*) : The consumer decision journey – Consumers are moving outside the purchasing funnel—changing the way they research and buy your products. If your marketing hasn’t changed in response, it should. -JUNE 2009 ; David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder, and Ole Jørgen Vetvik

2012: the year of micro-entrepreneurship

If you are presenting on innovation you should develop a personal vision on the future as well. At least, that’s my opinion. And so I do. My actual vision is synthesized around the adverb MORE.  But with 2012 coming underway it’s time to re-evaluate.

At least one new insight is that for some trends it’s not MORE but MICRO. The nuance is that despite large in numbers, the power lies mainly in the small size of its constructive elements. It’s fast, agile, swift and often under the radar.

The trend started already some time ago with the concept of microloans to those in poverty and designed to spur entrepreneurship. And we had already micro-blogging, micro-angels, micro-shareholders, micro-journalism, micro-work (take a look at for instance http://www.samasource.org).  But we will see that 2012 will be the year that micro-entrepreneurship takes up in the develop countries. The rebellious consumer of the past years is evolving to a consumer/citizen taking positive initiatives on small scale. This can on be on economic, social or leisure themes. With the current available platforms like for instance Payvment (www.payvment.com) and the recently launched Kicktable (www.kicktable.com) people can make a swift start. They can choose for local or global reach. Perhaps some of their initiatives may have a big impact. We can expect more micro-enabling platforms to come.

If you add many MICRO’s you have MORE, isn’t it?

P.S.: As a CIO, please don’t forget the impact of Apps as well. This is micro too.


IT’s Crisis of Faith

Hearing lately a lot of messages like “Business feels constrained by IT, not enabled”, “IT misuses its power”,  “IT delays innovation” or  “TCO and ROI metrics of IT are always questioned, the added value is questioned by business” made me think on what could have went wrong.

Looking back, IT entered the organization by automating processes (in a controllable and understandable environment), later on evolved to automating complete workflows, then extending outward the boundaries of the organization (B2C and B2B) with the introduction of for instance e-services (e-economy/e-business/e-government/…).  These days we are entering with social media the era of the e-society populated by digital natives, a very complex (chaotic?) environment with many different actors, 24 on 7 alive and evolving every minute and no longer controllable by the organization.

If we map this evolution on the Cynefin framework (*) it makes clear what went wrong.

This Cynefin framework provides a typology of contexts, problems, situations and systems. The framework sorts the issues into five contexts defined by the nature of the relationship between cause and effect: simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and disorder.

Briefly, the simple and complicated contexts represent an ordered universe, where cause-and-effect relationships are perceptible, and decisions can be determined based on the facts. In other words, more or less controllable.  It is in this kind of context that IT entered the organization and was very successful.

But the environment in which IT was applied became more complex.  IT was introduced in complex and chaotic contexts for which there is no immediately apparent relationship between cause and effect. These environments can hardly be controlled or managed in the traditional way. And probably, this causes current “IT’s crisis of faith”: IT is in these complex and chaotic contexts still managed in the traditional way with a strong urge to control everything. Instead, in these complex and chaotic contexts IT should build agile, virtual and open business processes, enabling its various stakeholders including customers, business partners, suppliers, citizens, etc. to connect, to do business and to converse more seamlessly 24 on 7. But at the same time taking care of issues like privacy and security, reliability and availability, etc.

A real challenge, for sure.


(*) “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making” by David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone explaining the Cynefin model.

Consumerization of the B2B World

B2B may be different from B2C but not that much; after all business people are people too (isn’t it? 😉

As you may have noticed a social transformation is taking place in how people interact and form relationships via social media. This is also changing the way we work and how companies engage with customers (B2C) and with other companies (B2B). And don’t forget, how employees engage with companies (E2C).

In the past,

  • There was a clear split between work and private.
  • There were real & virtual walls around the organization.
  • There was customer relationship MANAGEMENT
  • The IT-department ruled.

At this moment,

  • The border between work and private is blurring.
  • Social media is entering the work space.
  • Employees bring their own device (BYOD) and look for the applications they need (and like), despite the thwarting of the IT-department.
  • B2C marketing methods are used for B2B.
  • Customers are leveraging the “consumerization’ of technology to find new ways to interact and obtain information


  • Yes, what’s next?

We can expect that these changes will see through with for instance

  • More volatile B2B customer relationships, from management to stewardship.
  • Branding becoming even more important in B2B
  • The increasing power of networks, communities, etc.
  • Similar segmentation of the decision takers (and influencers, …) as made for consumers and employees (generation Y, …)
  • Less possibilities for direct control, increasing weight of engagement and trust
  • More openness and more collaboration between companies
  • Instant actions/ reaction expectations
  • Security and privacy issues also on the blurred work/private borderline
  • Social media as a communication magnifier (of both positive and negative messages).

The implications for business are significant. The shift to social media is more than an adoption of new operational models or technologies; it is a philosophical, cultural shift and changing how we will interact with the customer, being the consumer or a business customer.

We are only seeing the beginning …

The Predicted and the Unforeseen

“Everything that can be invented has been invented”, said Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents in 1899. He hoped he would have an easy job …

“There is no reason why anyone would want to have a computer in their home”, told Ken Olsen as CEO of DEC in 1978. In January 1982 the Commodore 64, an 8-bit home computer introduced by Commodore International was an instant success.

In 1981 Bill Gates claimed as CEO of Microsoft that “640k memory in a PC ought to be enough for anybody”. Today it’s a real challenge to make a Microsoft Word documents or PowerPoint presentation that is smaller than 640kBytes 😉

When I started working in a telecommunication company in 1986 “videophony” was for several years the next thing to come. But not so.

In 1997 I attended the ISS (International Switching Symposium) in Toronto, and one of the presentations I remember was on voice calls over an  IP data network. The speaker used a demo to demonstrate how bad the quality of a voIP call over a good performing data network was, and proclaimed it would never be useful in real life situations.  In August 2003, the first public beta version of Skype was released.  Later on “videophony” was integrated. Yesterday it was announced that Microsoft bought Skype for 8,5 billion dollar.

We all know the unexpected fast and huge success of for instance SMS or Facebook.

Trend watchers, please take into account:  the predicted takes longer, the unforeseen happens faster.