Work-life balance RIP!

roundtable-discussions-jboye17 How do you truly strike the right balance between your work and your life? A constant challenge for most it seems, with many workplaces making employees physically sick. Might we be approaching it from the wrong angle?

We’ve covered this topic extensively during the past decade in our peer groups as well as at our conferences offering a deeper understanding of the topic, identifying problems, connecting it to the changing way of work and offering solutions.

Most recently Maren Christin Hübl from SAP in Germany led a popular roundtable at the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference on the topic. I followed up with her in a recent phone conversation and wanted to share some of my notes on the topic as well as the insights from the conference conversation and the further thinking from Maren.

What does work-life balance really mean and why is it important?

On a personal level, the topic has changed meaning during the past 20 years of working. While in the beginning of my career and pre-family, routines were different and the entire notion of work had a different meaning. The divide between work and life still existed, but it clearly looked different.

A real eye-opener to me was in 2013, when our member Boris Kraft, co-founder of Basel-based software vendor Magnolia shared his personal take on the topic at a peer group meeting in London. His slides were appropriately titled Work life balance? Key learnings from Boris talk, was his point on how you cannot change the fact, that there are 24 hours in a day, but you can shape how you spend the hours and consider which activities renew your energy. He also had a useful message on taking breaks, sleeping and enjoying vacations. Some of his reflections were based on a New York Times opinion piece called Relax! You’ll be more productive.

A popular feature article in Harvard Business Review the following year, titled Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life also helped shape much of my thinking on the topic. It reframed the question and said not to think of it as much as a balance, but rather as two individual facets of life which both need careful managing.

Fast forward to today and the age of always on, fear of missing out, social networks, smartphone notifications and new voice-activated assistants. It clearly takes a different kind of thinking to strike the right balance and that’s why Maren controversially said ‘Work-life balance Rest in Peace’.

Barriers and things that help

A key part of the discussion at the conference roundtable led by Maren was on barriers hindering a better work-life balance as well as on an open sharing of hacks which could help.

According to Maren, the more social interactions and social networks you have, the more complex it gets. Expectations can be implicit towards your role and how you engage and the challenge is to make the expectations explicit. How might you better design the right context for you and those in your near circles?

Similar to the point made by Boris Kraft, the discussion also touched on how to spend your energy. What’s the sufficient amount of energy to solve a task and what gives you energy?

Other keywords included behavioral change, new roles and thinking differently. The point was made, that as a modern leader, you need to step back a let the people find out what’s the most important and how to solve it. By re-thinking leadership as something that is done not only by one person, leaders get to enjoy the work life even more. They can share some of the responsibilities – which sometimes feel more like a burden when expectations are growing in our complex, dynamic world. This is also what the Management 3.0-movement shows us, and servant leaders like David Marquet prove

Learn more about work-life balance and the future of work

The term employee experience is increasingly coming up in our peer group meetings. Netflix is famous for their work on their guide to company culture and other companies, including old, complex and global organisations are redesigning their workplaces. Might this not only be driven by efficiency goals, but also by a sense for the need to stay relevant and invest in the well-being of their employees?

We’ll certainly continue learning and the conversation and I invite you to be a part of it!

Scaling design thinking

The promise of combining new ways of collaboration with design thinking to come up with important innovation sounds almost too good to be true.

This was at the heart of a popular session at the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference where Maren Christin Huebl from German software giant SAP gave a talk on fostering a culture of innovation with design thinking.
 

maren-in-action
photo credit: Steffen Elberg, Jyske Bank (tweet)

 

What’s the mindset of design-minded intrapreneurs?

Maren is one of the community leaders from the Design at Business community which also includes organisations like Daimler, Fidelity and Nestle. They’ve done a great job at bringing people together to collect lessons learned and share experiences towards scaling design thinking, in particular in large, complex and global organisations.

maren-speaking-power-of-design

Photo by Ib Sørensen

 

Company culture was brought up several times in the presentation and Maren kindly shared a booklet on why mindsets matter. The booklet made the point that generic mindsets described in the context of design thinking fall short of what makes successful design-minded intrapreneurs in large businesses. And it came with the missing mindsets that have driven design culture at scale. These include:

  • Shamelessly human-centered
  • Confidently iterative
  • Courageously committed
  • Respectful instigator
  • Business savvy

Read more in the highly recommended mindsets booklet (free, no registration, PDF download)

Learning from SAP’s 14 years journey in Design Thinking

During Maren’s presentation, she also shared from SAP’s vast experience in design thinking. She honestly covered ups and downs including initial frustration that design thinking could not be practiced and later how design thinking by checkbox was not working.

In recent years SAP Design has made great progress including enhancing their understanding of innovation culture and specifically redesigned leadership as shown in this slide:

sap-redesigning-leadership

The point of putting experts front and center resonated well with me. Readers of the Edelman Trust Barometer will also remember that experts are among those considered most trustworthy inside an organisation, only surpassed by peers. According to Maren, there seem to be two sides of the same coin of “putting experts front & center”:

  • fostering trust at the customer side (“trusted advisor”)
  • a higher involvement at the employee side, because they (finally) see the impact of their work, and can directly influence it

Scrum and agile methods has also played a key role in developing design thinking further at SAP. Maren highlighted how scrum has helped distribute power in her project team, create a better overview and how it has created a sense of team empowerment.

Putting ideas into action: Focus on empathy

As a final part of her session, Maren did an empathy exercise. She focused on the ideal work environment and had participants work with an empathy map.

EmpathyMap

(click for large version)

This reminded me of the famous Harvard Business Review article titled Connect, Then Lead from 2013, which made the point that warmth trumps strength.

Maren took a slightly different, yet related path, with this key question to kick off the discussion:

How does the ideal work environment look and feel like?

The Design at Business community has a created the Work hard – Play hard: The creative space book (free, no registration, PDF download). The book covers creative spaces inside corporate environments and comes with some great examples, including J. Boye members Philips, Siemens and Swisscom.

To cite from the conclusion of the book – as it relates to how creative workspaces help scale design thinking:

…the creativity that is unleashed not only allows people to build better products
and make customers happier but also to build a better company, leading to a sustainable
cycle of innovation, learning, and growth of incredible potential

Let’s continue the conversation

You can find Maren’s complete slides here:

There are many good resources on design thinking. Whether you are just embarking on the journey inside your organisation or have been a practitioner for several years, feel free to share your story below.

Artificial intelligence: How to capitalise on the huge potential

If you’ve been working with digital for the past years, you have probably heard of mobile-first. When mobile-first was introduced by Google in 2010, it had a tremendous impact on how solutions were developed. Programmers and others started to think about smartphones and tablets before thinking about desktops and this required a huge change in thinking and also led to a fair share of confusion.

Fast-forward to 2017 and Google introduced AI-first. AI-first means to think about artificial intelligence at the beginning of each new initiative. How might AI help improve a solution? How might AI make for a better customer experience?

AI has tremendous potential, but how to capitalise on it? This was the theme of a workshop which was designed by UK-based MMT Digital and I had the pleasure of chairing as a part of the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference.

Below I’ve shared some of my key learnings from the 3 hour session, but first thanks to Samuel Pouyt from the European Respiratory Society for kindly sharing his AI perspective and deep insight.

Learning #1: AI has been around for a while and we’re already using it

As Tracy Green shared in the beginning of the workshop, the term artificial intelligence was coined in 1955 by John McCarthy, a math professor at Dartmouth.

She also talked about general purpose technologies like the steam engine, electricity and quoted a recent Harvard Business review article titled The Business of Artificial Intelligence:

The most important general-purpose technology of our era is artificial intelligence

The article is a worthwhile read and also make a compelling case for how AI is poised to have a transformational impact on business.

I had brought my Amazon Echo Dot to the workshop which is one example of how AI has been made available to the consumers. While Amazon initially released the Amazon Alexa personal assistant in 2014, the Echo Dot became widely available in 2016. Today it sells for less than $50 on amazon.com. Since then Google has released their Home device which is also quickly finding its way into households.

workshop-participants-laugh-at-alexa
Amazon Alexa made people laugh during demo time, but the widespread and quick adoption in households, somewhat similar to the introduction of the iPad, means that expectations go up and AI also becomes expected in work projects.

How are you using AI today?

Learning #2: Voice is quicker and better than typing

For me personally, 2017 became the year, where I started using voice, instead of typing. Saying “Alexa” or “OK Google” has become a normal part of the day, yet this blog post was still typed the good old-fashioned way.

Tracy also brought a recent Stanford research project to the workshop which found that speech is 3x faster than typing for English and Mandarin text entry on mobile devices.

This brief video from the Stanford experiment shows speech recognition writes text messages more quickly than thumbs:

The HBR article on The Business of Artificial Intelligence also makes the point that the error rate is now lower for algorithms than humans.

If you are not sure, how widespread the adoption really is, according to eMarketer, forty-five million voice-assisted devices are now in use in the U.S. For more read: Alexa, Say What?! Voice-Enabled Speaker Usage to Grow Nearly 130% This Year

Voice search is one big topic to be further explored and Christian Köhler from byte5 in Frankfurt, shared valuable implementation insights, also from the perspective of search engine optimisation.

Learning #3: Chatbots are here to stay

I owe much of what I know about chatbots to Ditte Wolff-Jacobsen and have previously held a brief talk on chatbots, largely based on her insights.

Chatbots are conversational and Sara Walsh from Capital One has already shared extensively on designing the conversation. Take a look at this open source approach to turn your traditional web forms into conversational forms.

The use cases from chatbots are far ranging from the employee experience towards better customer experience. To mention just one example, the Dutch carrier KLM have come a long way this year to make chatbots a useful part of the travelling experience. Take a look at BB – their Blue Bot.

At the workshop Jake DiMare from Luminos Labs in Los Angeles, also brought 2 examples from the US:

  1. Gwen – Your personal gift concierge which is powered by IBM Watson
  2. Leading Hotels of the World who has been using AI to improve the hotel research and booking processes

Might chatbot be the wrong word for these use cases? IBM seems to call the same thing virtual assistants, which certainly sets a different level of expectation.

Tracy Green brought a local council example from the UK to the discussion. Read more in this article: Could AI chatbots be the new face of local gov? Enfield Council thinks so. The Council is half-way through a project to introduce IPSoft’s Amelia chatbot to act as a front end to digitised front line services.

Finally, Sharon O’Dea from the UK made the point that if you want to start with a chatbot, it might be smarter to explore internal use cases to build experience, instead of launching external ones first, where they might negatively impact the customer experience.

Learning #4: Metadata auto-tagging is one valuable use case

Metadata is vital to store and manage information about your content and with organisations drowning in content, be it text, video or images, there is a huge pain related to search & retrieval as well as sharing information. Manually tagging content with descriptions, copyright details and so on is incredibly time consuming.

Theresa Regli took the lead on this one during the workshop. She is a thought-leader on digital asset management and works as Chief Strategy Officer at KlarisIP. Theresa generously shared insights on the technologies for automatically generating metadata, including visual recognition, context comparison and machine learning.

She also shared key findings from a recent research, which included insights on the maturity of the currently available global API models, the error margin and on the significant time and effort which is required to train the tools.

Learning #5: The future of business is content-driven

Back in 2015, NY Times featured the now legendary quiz: Did a Human or a Computer Write This?

Do try it and you’ll likely be surprised at how well a computer can write.

Last year, content marketing guru Robert Rose held a popular keynote on strategic content at the J. Boye Philadelphia 16 conference, where he opened our eyes towards how far AI has come in terms of writing better content.

From the workshop last week, US-based content strategist Hilary Marsh said something which I agree with:

AI will push companies toward better, more user-focused content

Tobi Stadelmeier who is VP Engineering at German-based CoreMedia brought examples of what’s out there in terms of Natural Language Processing, Text sentiment analysis, video indexer and much more. He also shared the progress CoreMedia has made in terms of using AI to improve both the editorial experience inside the CMS and well as the customer experience.

Learn more about AI for your 2018 projects

There’s so much happening at the moment when it comes to AI. Jake DiMare has already shared some of his take aways in It’s AI-first at J. Boye 17.

In advance of the workshop, Ina Rosen from Copenhagen-based agency Operate not only reviewed my slides, but also shared some of these pointers:

The end of the beginning of a totally new financial system

Volumes have been written about bitcoin, blockchain and cybercurrencies, in particular recently given the hype and immense fluctuations in the value of bitcoin.

Last week, Bebo White held a popular keynote with observations on cybercurrency and blockchain. Bebo is Departmental Associate (Emeritus) at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in San Francisco and was on the team who installed the very first Web server in the US.

He certainly managed to capture my attention when he  opened with these questions:

  • How many of us have actually been around at the beginning of a totally new financial system?
  • How many of us were dubious about the World Wide Web?

In his talk, Bebo compellingly argued how Bitcoin and other cyber currencies can pave the way for truly global and digital financial system.

Digitizing our monetary systems

There is one example of data exchange that is essential to a successful society that has so far evaded digitization – exchange of value in mutually accepted monetary systems. This does not mean convenient digital representations of money or value such as are found in online credit card transactions or stock market trades which serve only as digital proxies for genuine currency or securities.

Instead, it refers to a new financial system designed specifically for the digital age wherein value resides only in digital form especially suited for digital transactions.

The design of a robust digital currency system has long been a major software engineering challenge. Perhaps the greatest incentive for its development comes from the meteoric rise in E-commerce. Global buyers and sellers longed for a payment system that closely resembled the anonymity of cash, did not depend upon existing payment infrastructures such as credit cards or wire transfers, and was not based upon a specific national currency requiring exchange processes and fees.

In short, a new financial system designed specifically for digital storage and transactions and for the network era was the dream.

Bitcoin: realizing the dream of a digitally based financial system

The latest attempt to realize this dream comes in the form of cybercurrencies such as Bitcoin. The very mention of Bitcoin conjures up in people’s minds criminal enterprises such as Silk Road, corruption and theft in the Mt. Gox scandal, criminal money-laundering, or anarchistic attempts to circumvent national currency systems.

While such “bad press” for Bitcoin is true, they also illustrate that it represents a system that can and should be taken seriously. When the famous American bank robber Willie Sutton was asked “why do you rob banks?” his response was “because that’s where the money is.”

Perhaps examples of Bitcoin abuse are indicative of its potential to store and process real value. Bitcoin is outlawed in some countries because it represents a break in the financial control that some governments hold over their citizens. Bitcoin is empowering to a population that for various reasons may not have access to a formal financial institution – all they now need is a mobile telephone. The number of Bitcoin that will ever be in circulation is fixed thereby providing a permanent hedge against inflation – something that no national currency can honestly claim.

The technology underlying Bitcoin and other cyber currencies is robust being based upon the same asymmetric encryption schemes that protect millions of secure transactions and communications every day. The Bitcoin ledger, called the Blockchain, insures the validity of transactions and is an innovative application of crowdsourcing. None of the negative incidents attributed to Bitcoin can be traced to its algorithmic methods.

It is impossible to say whether Bitcoin will become widely accepted and will survive in the future. However, Bitcoin has been successful in starting a discussion about the viability of digital money and the role that it can play in our increasingly digital world. Like music on vinyl records and pictures on photographic film, banknotes and coins may find a deprecated or niche use in the future behind their more powerful and flexible digital form.

The enormous potential implications on society

A significant part of the keynote took a step away from the history and technical details and rather focused on the social implications.

It’s more than just payments as Bebo said.

He shared examples of how blockchain comes with empowerment and transparency which has made organizations such as the UN use it for their refugee work. A recent example is documented by SingularityHub: 5 Reasons the UN Is Jumping on the Blockchain Bandwagon

In another example, he brought up this CNBC article: Cash is useless in Venezuela thanks to hyperinflation — so people are turning to bitcoin

He did not ignore the recent press and controversy around the enormous power consumption required to mine bitcoins.

One of my personal main take aways from the talk, was how blockchain might be the true lasting disruptive legacy of the cybercurrency discussion. Bebo brought this quote on Blockchain to the discussion:

a technology that allows people who don’t know each other to trust a shared record of events
– Bank of England

Shaping the digital future step by step

Bebo has been a frequent and very highly rated speaker at J. Boye conferences in both Denmark and the US.  He first became involved with the emerging WWW technology while at CERN in 1989.

You can find Bebo’s complete keynote slides here:

Deloitte has written a good paper on Six Control Principles for Financial Services Blockchain (PDF, published Oct 17)

In the global J. Boye network, you have the opportunity of experience macro-thinkers and leading industry experts like Bebo or everyday practitioners in fields spanning leadership and strategy, communication, digital workplace, collaboration and many more.

For more details, see Bebo’s slides from the J. Boye Aarhus 14 conference titled: Are You Ready for Bitcoin? (Is the World Ready for Bitcoin?)