Why Ai policies and governance will save the world...literally!
Those who know me know that I am not one to exaggerate and I always see the positive side of everything, so lets back it up a little before we go all “Independence Day” (again, millennials apologies if you don’t know what that is just google it!), "Singularity theory" on this, and lets first try to quantify how important Ai is as a capability first. Then we can try and tackle the importance of policies and why a lack of it probably may mean dooms day eventually.
The Era of Ai is as significant as the original Industrial Revolution
To be more precise, the era of Ai is being coined as “The 4th Industrial Revolution” (you can do some research into what the other 3 were). One thing that is important here is that Ai can be tracked back to the 70’s and 80’s, its nothing new. What has enabled Ai to become significant is “Machine Learning” and “Big Data” and the availability and capability to process lots and lots of it (if you check the statistics on how many phones, computers and smart devices are available now and will be by 2020, its no wonder why we will be on average generating nearly 2 megabites of data every single second!). Ai is in every smart phone, in every company in some shape or form and in almost every home in more economically developed nations.
With the ever increasing mass adoption of Ai now in companies (9 out of 10 companies will have an Automation program by the end of 2020 in Europe (ISG Research), and the surge of governments to streamline and improve the performance of public services (e.g. Dubai has a Minister of Ai and it is ever present in every government service center). All-in-all Ai is really here to stay and it is completely dominating how we do things better (or worse).
So now we have recapped on it being the reason behind a major industrial revolution here is why governing it is going to be so crucially important...
Why is governance and policies in this space so important?
Again this is just a short article and by no means the below reasons are all encumbrancing, but they are some important reasons why governance and policies are needed:
Algorithms are only as good as the code that governs them and the data used to teach them. Each can carry the watermark of our own preconceptions. Facial recognition software can misclassify black faces or fail to identify women, criminal profiling algorithms have ranked non-whites as higher risk and recruitment tools have scored women lower than men.
But with these challenges, there has been mounting pressure on technology giants to fix them. What is unclear today is who's "watermark" is right? Who should determine if an algorithm is biased? This is a tricky one to police that many are working on today. In the end, for this particular issue, I don't personally believe that it will ever get "fixed" as we humans ourselves have heavy bias built into us given our upbringing, culture, experiences in life...etc (you can't expect a damaged source of input to create an undamaged outcome).
2. Unassisted Ai
In the world of Ai there are various ways to build models, 2 of them are Assisted and Unassisted learning. The unassisted portion to put it very simple allows the "bot" (program) to reach its own conclusions given the data set it has been provided (or found). If that "bot" (program) is then given the power to action on those conclusions then it could have some very dangerous repercussions.
Given the volumes of data the internet and companies have about your biggest fears, your major purchases, what you eat, where you go...etc autonomous-powered algorithms is very effective at target marketing nowadays. If unassisted models are allowed to work away, it can very quickly turn governments by making elections biased, or even feed online users with brain re-wiring material to cause them to behave in a different way. Again, dangerous stuff. What is important is the policing of what companies are using unassisted models and why and their policy and governance model/framework around how to manage it (with some clear penalties in the lack of the implementation of such frameworks in practice).
3. The blurry lines of Human personal interactions with machines (especially children)
As perfectly stated on the World Economic Forum website "Ai is increasingly embedded in children’s toys, tools, and classrooms, creating sophisticated new approached to education and child development tailored to the specific needs of each user. However, special precautions must be taken to protect society’s most vulnerable demographic. Germany has banned AI-enabled children’s toys because they are considered to be spying upon the child, while regulators around the world are just starting to grapple with who should own the child’s data, how long it can be stored, whether it should be monitized.". People such as Kay Firth-Butterfield are doing tremendous work in this space by bringing awareness to this subject. End of the day our children are the next generation that will run the earth, if they are controlled by Ai then who knows what the outcome could look like.
It is good to see so many governments recognising the dangerous in this space but a lot more can be done (in terms of action, the knowledge is already there) by governments globally and the policies they put in place for toys and companies making apparatus that could be used by younger generation.
4. Fake news just got a new upgrade
Have you ever heard of DeepFake? Well you should definitely learn more about it. In 2018 China released its first Ai news anchor that works 24hours a day around the clock to deliver news it realistically reads out on its news channel. In May a video was created by a Belgian political party, Socialistische Partij Anders of Donald Trump offering advice to the people of Belgium on the issue of climate change - the list goes on and on.
DeepFake is the art of superimposing a human face onto anyone else's and using audio transposition in order to almost perfectly replicate someone's mannerisms and voice to say almost whatever you wish them to say. You can only imagine the (negative and dangerous) power this can have on society. Policing this is rather difficult but it should be especially as software and algorithms in this space are evolving rapidly to bring even more realism to this new trend. A first step towards this would be for internet providers and Google Play, Apple Store...etc to ban these apps from being mass available as unethical.
5. Autonomous weapons are too tempting
In history when you look back at great inventions (e.g. Dynamite) the intention was usually good, but quickly its utility for destructive purposes was found. It is no different with Ai. Nuclear weapons still remain the greatest weapon type threat in the world but as Russia’s president Vladimir Putin said: “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with enormous opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
To cut it short, the simple policy on this is that Ai just cannot and should not be used for any military applications and those that do should be heavily penalised by global agreements and treaties.
It is no wonder that people like Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk (and many others) are (and were) talking about the dangers of Ai at every opportunity. Ai really is prevalent and powerful given some considerations as mentioned above. Trying to bring some order to it all really is in everyone's best interest so that the truly amazing potential of Ai is (only) put to good use. Those of you who know someone in this space, do bring up this topic and question what the leaders in this space are doing about this - it could mean the world to you some day very soon! Truly amazing companies such as OpenAi have been setup for this very purpose (setup by Elon Musk!).
The flip coin is that innovation in this field is vitally important too. It is important that policies and governance frameworks (and the involvement of leadership) does not stiffle the tremendous benefits Ai brings too - it is this balancing act that further complicates the matter.
For those who think they are powerless in this struggle to help bring about sensible policies in Ai, you are wrong. You can start looking at this on a local level in the companies and communities directly related to you. Definitely something to ponder on over the weekend.
Automation: to DIY or not to DIY, that is the question...
Automation: to DIY or not to DIY, that is the question...When starting off an Automation program (RPA or Ai) most are faced with the difficult decision of either using a vendor or doing it yourself. In 2019, 9 out of 10 firms will be faced with this decision (ISG research). Equally as important, when you have already embarked on an Automation journey, how should your program evolve and go to the next level? Here is how to make that difficult choice easier.
Times have changed
3 years ago the answer to this question would have been hugely different and completely open to debate (mainly because lack of education that causes confusion and misinformation). The reasons being (to name a few):
1. Vendors were not ready yet with fully tried and tested platforms (despite all the wonderful marketing they did claiming otherwise)
2. Most people didn’t truly understand what RPA and Ai is and would use these terms to generate hype (surprisingly still many don’t understand what each of these technologies are and what they do)
3. In the past there was an increasing conflict of interest between advisory firms and vendors (on many dynamics)
4. Prices of vendor solutions were exuberant, almost forcing companies to try it out on their own
5. Conflicts of interest between those against Automation and those supplying the IP was even worse than it is today (again due to lack of education and understanding)
6. Budget constraints – years ago many leaders didn’t believe in RPA/Ai and thus didn’t release enough funds or make it a central enough recipe to ensure its future success
***still the above exists today but to a lesser extent
The best path to take depends where you are on your journey today
Companies that chose to go DIY (do it yourself) years ago are either at a point today where their program got canned because it didn’t live up to the hyper (if you are in this situation don’t be too harsh on yourself, years ago when you tried to be an innovator many odds were stacked against you), OR, they are at a point where some benefit was provided but they are now looking at integrating their RPA teams under one umbrella or federation (where most likely 1-2 vendor platforms will get chosen to provide a unified foundation from which to build upon).
Companies that never initiated the Automation journey are probably splurging (or are going to splurge) serious dollars on advisory, which if impartial would most likely suggest they go with a vendor off the shelf solution, especially as now most of the larger vendors have tried and tested platforms, which are far more affordable (making the ROI business case a far easier sell). It is likely that a company looking to embark on an Automation program will also end up choosing to outsource the platform it needs because RPA/Ai developers are unlike most other typical developers in the market today (so most likely they wont be able to use their existing technical teams).
Either way I would say that the best option, for a new Automation initiative, would be to go with a vendor solution for various reasons (to name a few):
1. It provides you with 1 set of acronyms, code, approach, methodology, which under the ever confusing/evolving world of Automation this can be a great confusion buster, especially for your internal stakeholders
2. Learning from a vendor’s experience from other industries can be a great accelerator for a new Automation initiative.
Biggest trends for Automation in 2019/2020
These are based on my own predictions, what I have learned from consultants, tradeshows and other leaders in the field of Automation. Just the headlines and a brief explanation since this is only a brief article:
1. Merging/Consolidation of technologies will become easier and a general goal. IoT, Blockchain, ERP, and Big Data will start to integrate exponentially harnessing more accurate and reliable usage of technology.
2. RPA will finally get fully integrated with Ai: where RPA will be utilised for simpler and more appropriate use cases and Ai will be utilised for the harder, multi scenario cognitive related tasks. This will give exponential opportunities and accuracy to NLP and OCR capabilities.
3. Senior leadership of most significant corporates will centralise the success of Automation as part of their company’s core strategic objectives.
4. Consolidation in the vendor/solutions market: as the RPA/Ai vendor market saturates and its competitors fight for optimal market positioning there will undoubtedly be direct overlaps. The key here is that most of the larger RPA/Ai vendors have managed to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in seed funds, while will allow them to have the choice of creating their own new/improved capabilities (to adjust their market positions) or consolidate with another competitor. 2019/2020/2021 I believe will be a year of M&A activity in this space (backed by PE and Funds given it’s a market that is growing at over 50% CAGR YoY).
For the more advanced Automation Programs the answer is: Bespoke Model
First of all let me explain what I mean by “a more advanced automation program”. To me at least, a an advanced Automation program is one that has been in existence for a number of year, who have a real developed roadmap for their existing RPA opportunities and have delved into the world of Artificial Intelligence for a number of business cases. A more advanced Automation program is one that has also made numerous mistakes (in handling their stakeholders, in not choosing their automation use case carefully…etc), it is also one that realises the fundamental differences between RPA and Ai (of which there are many). Last but not least, a more advanced Automation program is one that has started to become integral to their business’s cost saving initiatives and thus, in their company’s competitive advantage agenda (they may or not be the only Automation program but are definitely the CoE within their org).
Now that definition is clear, for an advanced Automation program there is no vendor today that provides a platform that covers their end to end needs (A single coding library and a full capability spectrum catering for: RPA, OCR, NLP, ML, DL, Ai). What instead needs to happen is, for the more advanced programs to choose one of the following bespoke models:
Bespoke Model “Best of all worlds”: Use a vendor for pure RPA, and integrate solutions from other vendors for OCR, NLP, and then develop their own Ai space (which is most likely going to be a case by case scenario anyway).
Picking the best vendor for every technology/use can be a powerful combination if you have a strong in house technical team that is well co-ordinated
For a larger company with multiple automation teams/programs this is likely to cause a spaghetti of endless mess when the firm looks to integrate and harmonise (and reduce the cost of) its various choices of vendors
It can take years for a company to correctly identify which vendor is the best at what (and to get past the marketing spiel), often resulting in various proof’s of concepts (POC’s)/and or real life pilots (RLP’s).Given the various licenses needed it would most probably cost more overall
Co-ordinating the various upgrades to each platform, translating existing robots to new versions, while harmoniously synchronising the integration of all vendors/platforms and technologies is most probably an unrealistic dream (to do cost effectively).
Bespoke Model “Unify and Grow”: Utilise a single vendor for their RPA to Ai journey, and work with their vendor to co-develop/expand/improve what is most likely going to be an incomplete platform. Choosing a vendor that is well resourced (in people and finance) could make for an interesting combination if your company is influential in its market space.
Simpler, only 1 vendor and platform to manage (easier to upgrade, easier to back-test and ensure harmony amongst your internal systems that are also constantly moving and changing)
Easier to sell a consistent story and train your internal stakeholders, who are likely already trying to find ways of not working with you
Having all your eggs in 1 basket can expose your firm to key dependency risk – which can make it hard to sleep at night if you have a highly successful and lucrative automation team, or if you are starting a new one (with big ambitions).If you are co-developing your vendor’s system for your particular needs, there may be issues with IP/Royalties…etc – important to set the ground rules early on in the relationship.
Making an agreement to work together with a vendor today is risky business (especially as 1 of the 5 trends for 2019/2020 is IP/Vendor consolidation – what if 2 large vendors merge? Will their priorities and model change?
What model you should choose is hugely dependent on what vendor you have teamed up with.
Choosing to DIY it or use a vendor really depends on a number of factors such as:
Where you are in your Automation program journey
Your market positioning and ambitious/willingness to work with a vendor
Your budget and level of support from senior management
Your needs for Automation (simple, semi complex or highly complex needs)Availability of experienced automation leadership and technical team
To simplify it all, if you are new to Automation go with a vendor (which one you choose will depend on your needs and budget). If you are an advanced Automation program, then you need to tailor your approach to a bespoke model (2 of the options described above are some of the possibilities).
Keeping in mind the top 5 trends that I predict will take shape in 2019/2020, this makes for a very exciting and fast moving time in corporate history. The companies that hedge their bets right will have significant competitive advantage over its rivals. For those of you who just started your Automation journey – no pressure 😊 and good luck!
"A brief look into why Automation is different to any other efficiency initiative and what impacts this will have on organisations..."
Some brief history of Economics/Markets
Prior to when computers became mainstream in the 1980’s - what Byte Magazine at the time called the "trinity of 1977", (the Apple II, the TRS-80 Model I, and the Commodore PET), the workplace typically used typewriters, copy scanners, and good old fashioned hand written notes on paper and boards (Note to millennials or Generation Z: don’t worry if you have no idea what that even means – keep reading!).
Whether you work/worked in the 19th/20th/21st century, when you cut it down to brass taxes, businesses ultimately all have and need (some more than others) repetitive standardised tasks done day in, day out. As the economy and company size grows with it (hopefully), those tasks increase in volume and importance (generally). All of that was well and good without much need for efficiently until the market started to present itself with “competition”. Public companies became generally privatised as democracy started to take over, the market started getting saturated for low hanging fruit (non competitive markets) opportunities and so, the only other option was to try and do what your competitor did, only better and with some unique USP’s in order to beat them/gain market share – this is when the race for tools and processes improvement really started to become exponential as it was quite rightly seen as a key differentiator/competitive advantage (at different times in history for different industries).
Why is it different this time?
Again to simplify things (this is a short article, not a thesis), when computers came along we were able to do more in less time. As computers grew in processing power in the 90’s, we were able to do more further still. Computer programs got better, cheaper – further productivity still. All the while Japanese and American concepts of process improvements started to become the “norm” such as JIT, Kaizen, Kanban, Lean, Six Sigma…etc – again, further productivity was possible. But now what….? We have all the process re-engineering and improvement knowledge we could ever want, the computational power and storage we could ever need (especially with “Quantum computing” and “Cloud” progressing rapidly) – the next natural step is to evolve RPA/Automation as the utopian ultimate combination of the 2 worlds.
BUT this is fundamentally different to anything we have ever seen before, why? Because for the first time instead of us utilising a tool to just augment our human capabilities, we are now entering into the art of creating a self-sufficient worker, capable of running with little to no input from humans once it has been setup properly. This changes everything because it creates a new type of workforce...
Right? – Erm, not quite! Yes, some of us who have awoken from the fairy dust magic lala land dream that RPR/Automation/Artificial Intelligence is easy. But difficult does not mean impossible, it just means that it will take time. As solutions between RPA and Ai gain synergies, algorithms and adoptability/adaptability improves with time the capabilities of the future artificial workforce we are creating will only get stronger with time. This is why the workforce dynamics will change slowly over time too instead of a drastic paradigm shift overnight that some believe will happen.
Source: McKinsey – Skill Shift Automation and Future of the Workforce – May 2018 Edition
Misconceptions, at least for now…
No we are not going to have bots walking around the office smiling (awkwardly) at us and telling us “knock, knock, who’s there” jokes anytime soon. Our typical office bots will be computer programs at least for the next 3-5 years. Yes maybe janitor and secretarial roles might start getting done by physical bots in that time frame too (they are already replacing a significant number of manufacturing jobs – and creating new ones too).
No the “Singularity” concept of bots taking over the world is not going to happen any time soon either (sorry Elon Musk…!). For ML/Ai to become truly unassisted its going to take significant advances in how data is structured/organised as well as the algorithms needed to analyse and make executive functional decisions over the same. No promises but we are definitely safe for the next 10-15 years before “Singularity” might become a real concern (other experts agree too).
Change in Skills and Setup of Organisations Over time
My personal prediction on Organisational setup changes (highly summarised!) from Year 2030 onwards: Automation adoption will not only accelerate skill shifts for individual workers. It will also have profound implications for the workplace and the way companies are organised. Today by a large majority, we have human workers (late adopters of Automation especially), as companies adopt (software and physical) bots the workforce will begin to manage them too. As bots learn their jobs better and get taught different scenarios they will become more reliable and management/daily managers will have improved technical skills in order to manage this new dependable addition to their workforce.
As time passes day-to-day managers will need to know less about their processes and more about how to manage their bots – becoming cross product/process/functional managers rather than SME’s (as time goes on such managers will becoming increasingly spread over different products/processes and functional areas and will also reduce in numbers over time). SME’s will ultimately become contractors and will no longer be needed as full time employees – they will stay on standby as part of business continuity plans (in case bots fail, behave abnormally because they have been hacked). Data scientists, developers and senior management will continue to monitor, test, release algorithms in order to improve efficiency and pickup any abnormal behaviour/outputs and make tweaks.
Workforce dynamics will be ultimately highly "agile" and fluid as few full time employees (who will likely work from home) and contractors dive in and out of the office as needed (less and less over time). As mental health improves (potentially), the vast majority will be concerned with quality of life and thus the environment in order to enhance our life experience.
In general working from home will become the absolute norm with flexible working as a given. Jobs we do will become dominated by the themes of (what bots are unlikely to truly learn by 2030) “Compassion, creativity and strategy” roles such as: wedding planners, beauty consultants, pr/marketing specialists, concierge, social workers, elderly companions, artists, psychologists, environmentalists…etc.
What will happen from now until 2030? (again highly summarised!)
SME’s and Automation teams (and management of course) will continue to work together and be a crucial ingredient in order to make the 2030 prediction happen. Increasingly as businesses harness their skill of automating processes and thus, profitability (because of improved efficiency) this will increase their appetite to reinvest more and more savings back into automation – creating an exponential acceleration and growth of Automation teams.
Between now and 2030 conflicts of interest will arise (or rather continue) amongst SME’s needed and Automation teams (and everything in between and above) as they are needed for Automation initiatives. This will decrease with time as continuous skill learning and shift need of workforces are truly encouraged and supported.
News/Media declaring gloom and doom will also decrease over time as it becomes “old news”. As governments start to receive more corporate tax revenues (as companies will be earning more because they are more efficient), national deficits will decrease (or recover since the financial crisis of 2008) and support in areas of the arts, creativity, human sciences and innovation will increase in accessibility to most in form of grants/scholarships (startups in areas of Innovation will continue to get an increasing amount of support).
Working hours are likely to decrease over time (but not as much as the year 2030 onwards) as mental health awareness becomes mass public knowledge and willingness/open topic of discussion around these subjects will increase over time (which will continue to drive work life balance and working from home/flexible working initiatives).
"A Competent Leader in the Office, a Hopeless Fool at Home"
To all who have families, intimate personal relationships and a professional life, this article could be particularly interesting where you could relate to many of the themes covered. Many of the high end executives I speak to dominate their professional space, but really struggle to do the same in their home and family environments.
For myself being in leadership positions now for many years in some of the world’s largest and most influential companies, I often thought that the skills I learned professionally would allow me to be a good leader at home for my one day to be family, which now exists. Boy was I wrong!!
“A leader in the boardroom, a lost puppy at home”
Often I would see Directors or MD’s or even worse, CEO’s hound and power through their meetings, but when I got the opportunity to see them in a personal home setting I would see a completely different demeanour – a submissive, clumsy, indecisive individual. Before I had my own family I would just laugh whenever I saw this “take control, show some leadership” I would think. Little did I know that very few behavioural habits are transferrable from the professional environment to the one at home with your family.
The Office vs. Home – 2 completely different worlds!!!
“Conflicting needs and objectives”
The main reason why the 2 environments don’t mix well is because they are ultimately about completely different things! At work we are pushed to perform, to lead more objectively, to sell more with less and if you are a stereotypical (bad) leader to use your people as resources. At home imagine using your wife as a resource and telling your children no to a fun activity because it just simply would not a “productive use of time”? How do you think things would turn out? A COMPLETE DISASTER! The two worlds are just completely the opposite, or are they?
Try telling your kids they need to become less of a cost center and wait for their reaction – it wont be good!
“In fact it’s the opposite, the skills you learn at home can make you a better leader professionally”
Over the years we have seen more and more theories about more sympathetic leaders, the ones that make their employees feel safe, valued and loved (as Simon Sinek is famous for publicizing). Research by top institutions has shown us that this increases productivity far more than wiping your employees into submission. A caring and loving home environment does exactly this, it teaches us that its not all about getting top grades, plans go wrong sometimes, and that you need to take into consideration people’s feelings, objectives, wants and needs. I have seen great leaders who were once harsh, unforgiving become caring and understanding people once they have had the chance to build their home and family – the home and personal relationship environment is a steep learning curve with plenty of transferable skills into your professional life.
...In a balanced and loving home with a family or an intimate relationship, you can learn far more about leadership than at Business school...
Can leaders exist on their own? Or do they need a strong team behind them? Lets discuss...
In this article I try to understand this better by looking at some key reasons why leadership may be so important. Or not. Here are some themes to help us.
"Lessons from the animal kingdom"
End of the day, whether you consider humans to be top of the food chain or not, we are ultimately animals or a species of an animal. We live in the animal kingdom, so this may be a first place to look for reasoning or answers behind the saying (title).
Lions, considered to be top of their food chain always have a leader, an alpha Lion. Once another cub grows big enough, he contests to take the leadership place or leaves the pack to setup his own group. Another potential alpha male will never stay and try to co-lead.
Wolves, different species of monkeys - they all follow this basic pattern too. In this not being a coincidence I thought it was rather interesting and thought provoking. We see today various organizations having dual leaderships (dual CEO's and dual heads of departments). Or leaders having been put in their position because they are the subject matter experts instead of good leaders.
"In the old days if the King was killed in battle, the battle was lost"
Great historical "war" leaders would go to battle with his soldiers and get their hands dirty. They would fight, they would lead by example on the battlefield. But something few people consider is that they were highly protected by their "knights" (or bodyguards). Would they have been as grande if they had no support like their peers? This notion of protection/loyal followers who would risk their "lives" will be explored in the next themes.
If you take into account more modern examples of "war", lets say the Second World War, if Churchill or Roosevelt had been killed while Germany was still strong, imagine the panic this would set for the rest of the nations they led. It most probably would not have ended the war in defeat, but it is difficult to imagine another leader to have taken their place to accomplish the mission.
Fast forward to today's recent conflicts. America and its allies concentrated almost solely on killing Osama Bin Laden and eventually (apparently) they did! But did that stop extremists? No, because their leadership was backed up by layers and layers of faithful followers willing to die for the cause they believe in (wrongly in my view of course!).
Does this mean then that leadership in some situations are just figure heads? That their people can carry an idea/theory all by themselves?
"All tall buildings require strong foundations"
I am not an engineer by trait, but I know that for a specific height of a building there are precise calculations on how deep its foundation needs to be in order to give the building sufficient support. This I feel is also an important concept that can be utilised in leadership. How strong, tall and mighty can a leader be without its loyal followers? For how long can a leader succeed or stand, if he or she did not have resourceful subordinates?
"Super star natural born leaders vs. Nurtured leaders"
I have seen this throughout my career and lifetime. Some people just seem to be natural born leaders, they have not taken any particular training classes, or had extensive experience on leading teams but they come across as just really inspiring leaders. Other leaders I have seen are textbook taught, went to business schools, slowly got mentored and brought up the ranks and eventually became good leaders themselves through nurture.
Sometimes nurtured leaders can be as motivational and inspiring as natural born leaders.
In my opinion its quite a deep topic in itself to say which one is the better leader that I will tackle on another separate article. The reason why i am bringing this up is, some leaders are chosen because they stick out from the others. Usually a natural born leader in this case. When someone sticks out from the crowd, like a true leader, its usually because they hold strong traits in being able to lead (thousands of books debate what "the ability to lead" means), for the purpose of this exercise lets keep this open. The point here is it usually takes a leader to lead people (when it is done through democratic, fair election). So naturally (if there is no corruption to this natural system), leaders are elected to lead because they qualify - OR - because as true natural leaders they have clawed their way up to a leadership position.
"The one trick pony leader syndrome"
We have seen in history a leader of particular organisations achieve record breaking achievements, but when they asked to try another industry, or even another player in the same level playing field, they often fail miserably. Why is that?
Some would say its because they are not real leaders, just experts in that particular field they demonstrated in. Others will say there is no such thing as a complete leader that can switch and swap between organisations and situations (we all have our own skillsets). Again, not to complicate this short article, I would say that all leaders, true great leaders, should be able to adjust their style and stance depending on the situation they find themselves in.
...all leaders, true great leaders, should be able to adjust their style and stance depending on the situation they find themselves in...
It may be a daily change or a periodic one, but a great leader should be able to ultimately change and adapt to his or her environment. The other reason why perhaps a great proven track record leader may not always succeed is because he or she does not have his/her lieutenants (the great resourceful followers that used to help them so much). It is no wonder when great leaders move to another company or open a new venture that they often bring with them others that have helped them achieve previous success.
My Personal Conclusions:
1. End of the day a good leader can pick up a demotivated deflated team of people and rejuvenate them. BUT - for a good leader to have vision, planning, knowledge he or she cannot continue his success without having great followers behind him or her.
2. Leaders can't rely on one style or stance, they need to be "Situational leaders", where in different moments and situations they adapt their style and approaches so they can best lead their teams.
3. Leaders can be replaced - many other people are potential leaders with equally interesting styles and things to contribute.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A short term leader might survive on his or her own great ability to lead, BUT a long term great leader is only as great as his or her team.
Why did the World's No.1 Toy Store Fail? Here are 3 good reasons...
Being an 80's baby, I grew up looking forward to the treat days where I would be taken to Toys R' Us. My whole life, in all the countries I have lived, they were the go to store for toys - almost how living is so strongly associated with breathing, Toys R' Us was that strong. So what happened? How could such a dominant player fail so miserably?
1. "Lets outsource our online retail responsibility to Amazon!"
1999, the internet was HOT! Toys R' Us failed to deliver on its first major online retail year - resulting in a $350,000 fine from the US Federal Trade Commission. So what did its management do? Raise USD$60 million from Japanese Bank (SoftBank) and spend it all on a new online retail strategy that they would outsource to no other than Amazon - BIG MISTAKE! As part of the 10 year deal Toys R' Us would give up its online autonomy, with ToysRUs.com redirecting back to Amazon. Toys R Us paid Amazon $50 million a year plus a percentage of its sales through the Amazon site (there goes the Softbank investment). That deal unfortunately ended badly given Amazon's ambitions to become the world's biggest toy platform, they started to sell toys from other companies.
"Amazon had bigger plans...to dominate the toy market"
2. "Lets trust our partners blindly!"
Thankfully when Amazon broke their deal with Toys R' Us, when Toys R' Us sued Amazon, they won. The problem is that during that partnership, Toys R' Us trusted Amazon soley on their online retail innovation and strategy. Whoops! That meant Toys R' Us had an incredible amount of time and innovation to catch up on. Unfortunately for Toys R' Us by the time they got their head around online retail, the internet was eating brick-and-mortar sales for breakfast and Amazon become an unstoppable competitor.
"...the internet was eating brick-and-mortar sales for breakfast..."
3. "Innovation is for Start-ups!"
Toys R' Us management just never took innovation too seriously, it has been widely reported that their senior mentality was that "innovation are for startups", they thought they just didnt need it. Management ignored several large consultant firms who advised them to completely revamp their online retail strategy and to revamp their store experiences too.
"Slime factories, lego national competitions, video game championships...etc - these are just a few of the things Toys R' Us should have been doing"
Toys R' Us should have reduced their mega stores as being just colourful storage warehouses to use them instead for enhancing customer experiences. Slime factories, lego national competitions, video game championships...etc - these are just a few of the things Toys R' Us should have been doing to stay ahead of the game, hyping up market for their online sales to expand. Instead they just kept their stores the same, ever more stocked up to the celing with toys that would get lost into the jungle oblivion - trying to increase their profits per square meter.
Its a shame, Toys R' Us had everything they needed to continue their dominance as a toy retailer. This is just another example of a well established gaint thinking they are too big to fail. In the next 3-5 years more and more examples of Toys R' Us will start to surface.
"What retail giants must realise is, the bigger you are, the harder the fall..."
Hopefully current market leaders who have not fully adopted the internet and taken innovation seriously as being a TOP PRIORITY will look at this case study and learn, if you don't innovate, you die!