Grabbing Opportunity In A Whole New World
Grabbing Opportunity In A Whole New World
20th May, 2020
A few observers have noted that the COVID-19 shock will force business and people in general to bound forwards on communication technology adoption. We’ll likely see more progress in the uptake and evolution of technologies like Zoom or Teams in 12 months than would have happened in a decade. Caveat, events have accelerated the wave, but the wave would probably have happened anyway.
I grew up on a farm in Ireland, my dad, now 84, is still a full-time farmer. I recently used him as a case study during a conversation about the powers of technology evolution on productivity with a groups of graduates. Back when he was young, before WWII, bringing in the hay (or silage) would have been a four week project for 15 to 20 people, even for what would be considered a small farm today. Scythes, pitchforks and the like. Through the 1940s, tractors with Harry Ferguson’s “3-point-linkage” became more prevalent, while mowers with the “knife-bar” slowly edged in on the manual methods. In 1969, one of my dad’s friends bought the first trailed “double-chop” silage harvester in Northern Ireland and they started a cooperative contracting business. Then self propelled silage harvesters appeared in the 1980s with large contracting firms hoovering up thousands of acres a year. Roll forwards to 2020, round bales of silage are now commonplace after a few more technology leaps. The process is very quick, making it possible to almost guarantee a weather window which ensures a much higher quality and more consistent product. This year, my dad will bring in the bales himself, on the digger, at his own pace, over a couple of afternoons.
The point I was making to the graduates was that productivity gains through adoption of new technology is a fact of life, so it is best to harness it. Their big advantage over experienced engineers is that they don’t have the emotional baggage surrounding how they did their jobs yesterday. Technologists should always be scanning the horizon to see which emerging tools or trends they can leverage on the job, or harness to propel their careers. Or even better, become an automator and tool builder themselves, learn some Python, Ansible, or PowerShell.
As managers and leaders we should never underestimate just how much people can get stuck in their ways. Sam Hillis, my dad’s lifelong friend and neighbour, provided a great example. For the first five or six years after the contractors appeared with the self-propelled harvesters, he would let them put in the first 50 acres of silage, but leave ten which we worked together to harvest a few days later. He was upfront about why, with the contractors it was all too fast and transactional. He missed the old days, the social aspects, the camaraderie, the connection with the community, banding together with neighbours. Those four weeks out in the fields may have been tough work, but they were also deep community or even spiritual experiences. Those days were the essence of who he was as a person, and the happiest days of his life.
The harsh reality of COVID-19 is that the world and our lives may never be quite the same as they were running up to Jan 15th 2020. The other side of that same coin is that change is inevitable and change presents us with the opportunity to shape the new future. The businesses that adapt the quickest and harness new technologies or working practices will thrive relative to competitors stuck doing things the old way.
Our belief is that to be successful we need to manage both sides of the analogy. We need to be energetic experimenters – curious about harnessing and creating new technologies. The engineers at Microsoft or Zoom are already driving technology forwards in leaps and bounds. However, we need to work equally hard to create the new process, social order and sense of belonging to fill the void.
My sense is that COVID-19 will precipitate a wave of evolution in working practices accelerating trends already underway. Let’s face it, some of the big debates had gotten pretty old and probably needed a substantial rework; say on office layout, modular vs open plan, flexible vs fixed hours, dedicated desks vs hot desks, in the office or WFH. I have friends and colleagues in New York and London who regularly endure 2-3 hours a day commuting, their norm for the last 20 years, what a waste of life force and enthusiasm.
There has to be a better way.
– Danny Moore, President & CEO