The Future of Work is a Rorschach Test - What Do You See?

Look into the future. Stare at it. Let your mind wander. Tell me, what do you see?

Do you see possibility, opportunity, a blank canvas on which you can create your masterpiece? Do you see unchartered lands, full of new riches and new victories? Do you see adventure, excitement, fun? Do you see challenges to test you and be overcome? Do you see a vacuum that you can fill? Do you think tomorrow will be better than today? Better than yesterday?

Or, do you see danger? Risk? Do you see atrophy and decline? Do you worry that you’ll have trouble hanging onto the good things you have now? Do you see tougher times ahead? Do you see a world that’s changing in ways you don’t quite understand and in ways that don’t feel quite right? Do you secretly think that perhaps today is as good as it’s going to be and tomorrow is sure to be worse?

Do you think that self-driving cars will reduce death and destruction and grief and pain? Or will they destroy livelihoods and force more people into despair and the grip of opioids?

Will Artificial Intelligence open new frontiers in commerce, science, medicine, and exploration? Or will it decimate the middle classes and leave them as modern day Tom Joads?

Are cell phones incredible tools bringing the riches of the world into our kids’ lives? Or are they ruining a generation? Poaching them in ugliness and the very worst aspects of mankind?

Do you see Amazon as David? Or Goliath? Is AWS democratizing access to talent (who needs to hire a data scientist at $1m per year when you can get a machine learning API for 0.35 cents a CPU cycle) or cutting the legs out from all of the kids rushing to Stanford to get qualified (at huge cost) to take those $1m a year jobs?

Is Uber cool? Or a new overlord in waiting?

Is the rise of design thinking long overdue? Or a new hurdle that you’ll never be able to overcome?

Is making America great again great? Or terrible?

Are the rise of microservices a huge new latent market to exploit? Or another nail in the coffin?

Will the Internet of Things open up unthought-of ways of creating value and generating wealth? Or take us another step closer to 1984?

Will you be happier, more fulfilled, more energized, and better paid in the next few years? Or more anxious; more defensive? Hanging on for dear life to make it the finish line?

On my travels over the last 18 months or so the majority of people I’ve talked, worked, and interacted with see a very dark future ahead.

As they look at the ink-blot of the future they see loss, decline, hard yards. They see terrorism, disintegration, fanaticism. They see a world changing faster than ever with leaders ill equipped to grapple with root causes and generate meaningful solutions.

They see the next waves of technology as disturbing and unsettling. Increasingly a curse not a blessing. They see the ever increasing pressures of capitalism as a tightening noose. They see the future of work as work.

If JFK’s New Frontier was the height of western optimism we may be approaching a new low in western pessimism.

Most business leaders see digital disruption as a threat.

Most political leaders see globalization as a threat.

Most cultural leaders see nothing beyond the short term needs of the lowest common denominator.

As Professor Nicholas Drain Lowe of Brentford University puts it, “Where are the strong, and who are the trusted, and where is the harmony?”

In a Rorschach Test there are no right answers. The test simply tries to tease out how you see and think about the world. (For more background on Hermann Rorschach and his work, see this new book ).

In the Future of Work Rorschach Test there are no right answers. And of course the real answer to most of the question posed above is “both”.

But what my travels tell me is that – at the point when we are building the future that writers, and academics, and scientists, and movie makers have been dreaming of – fewer and fewer people have the courage, the optimism, and strength to still believe in the future and make it come true.

The future that we have sketched out in What to Do When Machines Do Everything is a future in which healthcare is better, education is better, government services are better, and wealth is more evenly distributed. We believe that in another generation we will look back at 2017 and laugh (or cry) at how bad many things were and how much we put up with. The “great digital build out” that is accelerating – powered by AI and next generation smart “things” – is going to see us build a future that is, by any objective standard, better than the world of today. In doing this, the work that we do – and yes, there will still be plenty of work for us to do – will be better, more enjoyable, and more lucrative than work has ever been.

It’s been said that science fiction doesn’t tell you much about the future but that it tells you an awful lot about the present. Perhaps what’s most unevenly distributed right now is optimism about the future.

In a world of 24/7, 365 infotainment , we are all swirling in an ocean of bad news, buffeted about by the needs of the industrial media complex. If it bleeds, it leads. Fiat by Twitter and On Demand Outrage are the (dis)order of the day.

Maybe it’s not a surprise then that future’s never seemed bleaker. For many the future will have to wait. Today is enough to deal with.

When you look at the future of work what do you see? Take ten minutes and jot down your thoughts. If you have a moment, share them with me/us. As I said, there are no right answers. Except that there are. Here’s a hint – it’s hard to build a future that works when you’re a pessimist.

Your Future of Work Rorschach test starts now ...

Measuring the Pace of Change in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Technologies help us deliver on a business strategy.  Without a strategy, there is no rationale for deploying technologies.  In addition, there is no rationale for digital transformation, unless there is a need for business transformation.  If you believe this as we do, then strategy development will be a priority.  Strategies, however, are developed under the guidance of a doctrine.  The purpose of a doctrine is to create a high level understanding of what we we want to achieve with our strategy, and the concepts that must be employed to achieve it. An organization’s doctrine will guide strategy development, and the tactics needed to achieve a goal.

An example of a doctrine is, "We will be a fast follower, and excel at quickly manufacturing and delivering fashions proven to be in demand." With this doctrine, the company can now develop strategies that align with the doctrine.

Many executives consider digital transformation to be mostly an IT issue.  We, however, believe IT serves only one purpose – supporting the needs and strategies of the business.  If the business doesn’t have a strategy that requires digital transformation, then there is no transformation role for IT to play. 

In today's fast changing digital environment, the operational speed and agility of a business can mean the difference between winning and losing.  Speed and agility are not grass roots efforts, but the result of decisive and strong leadership with a clear vision.  Leaders must have an intimate understanding of the goals, doctrines and strategies of the organization, and the resources and levers of power available to achieve them.  They must have both the will and the clout to manuever the organization through the turbulence of change.  Grassroots efforts to transform an organization often takes too much time and the process of consensus building too slow to compete against engaged, focused leaders.  

In order to act fast, leaders must have an intimate understanding of fast changing customer behaviors. Leaders must know how much change is happening, and the technologies that are supporting these changes.  We watched consumers adopt and utilize the internet, mobile devices, search engines, online auctions, mobile retailer apps/websites, online classifieds, online markets and sharing economy platforms.  These changes required new business strategies and new digital strategies to support them.  

Fast changing business environments require us to measure and understand how fast buying habits and shopping behaviors are changing.  We must also understand where in the various steps of the path-to-purchase journey changes are taking place, and then understand how to attract and engage our markets in those new and mobile locations. None of this is easy.  Many new behaviors and trends are outside of traditional measurements. Leaders must measure the pace of market change, and align resources and priorities to ensure their organizations are changing, if not at the same pace, at least at a pace ahead of their competition.

What units of measure will capture the speed of change?  What data sources will provide the data necessary for analysis, and how do we capture the data?  Once we have a methodology in place for measuring the pace of market change, how do we then measure the pace of our own changes inside our organizations and in those of our competitors so we know how we are doing?  

Download my latest report, "How Digital Thinking Separates Retail Leaders from Laggards."

  1. How Digital Thinking Separates Retail Leaders from Laggards
  2. To Bot, or Not to Bot
  3. Oils, Bots, AI and Clogged Arteries
  4. Artificial Intelligence Out of Doors in the Kingdom of Robots
  5. How Digital Leaders are Different
  6. The Three Tsunamis of Digital Transformation - Be Prepared!
  7. Bots, AI and the Next 40 Months
  8. You Only Have 40 Months to Digitally Transform
  9. Digital Technologies and the Greater Good
  10. Video Report: 40 Months of Hyper-Digital Transformation
  11. Report: 40 Months of Hyper-Digital Transformation
  12. Virtual Moves to Real in with Sensors and Digital Transformation
  13. Technology Must Disappear in 2017
  14. Merging Humans with AI and Machine Learning Systems
  15. In Defense of the Human Experience in a Digital World
  16. Profits that Kill in the Age of Digital Transformation
  17. Competing in Future Time and Digital Transformation
  18. Digital Hope and Redemption in the Digital Age
  19. Digital Transformation and the Role of Faster
  20. Digital Transformation and the Law of Thermodynamics
  21. Jettison the Heavy Baggage and Digitally Transform
  22. Digital Transformation - The Dark Side
  23. Business is Not as Usual in Digital Transformation
  24. 15 Rules for Winning in Digital Transformation
  25. The End Goal of Digital Transformation
  26. Digital Transformation and the Ignorance Penalty
  27. Surviving the Three Ages of Digital Transformation
  28. The Advantages of an Advantage in Digital Transformation
  29. From Digital to Hyper-Transformation
  30. Believers, Non-Believers and Digital Transformation
  31. Forces Driving the Digital Transformation Era
  32. Digital Transformation Requires Agility and Energy Measurement
  33. A Doctrine for Digital Transformation is Required
  34. Digital Transformation and Its Role in Mobility and Competition
  35. Digital Transformation - A Revolution in Precision Through IoT, Analytics and Mobility
  36. Competing in Digital Transformation and Mobility
  37. Ambiguity and Digital Transformation
  38. Digital Transformation and Mobility - Macro-Forces and Timing
  39. Mobile and IoT Technologies are Inside the Curve of Human Time

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Five Insights into Artificial Intelligence for Southeast Asia's Financial Services

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is the great story of our time, thanks to the ever-falling cost of computing and the increases in the availability and power of the machines. We are already surrounded by smart machines (from Alexa to Siri, Uber, and Netflix) that run on incredibly powerful and self-learning software platforms. This is just the beginning, as AI is transitioning from being our little daily helper to something much more powerful—not to mention disruptive—that is impacting every facet of our commercial lives. The banking and financial services sector is no exception. To understand how newly founded financial institutions are uniquely positioned to take advantage of AI, earlier this month we hosted an executive lunch briefing at the IDC Asian Financial Services Event in Singapore. Around 40 C-level executives participated in the discussion, in which we deliberated on the theme “Banking on AI.

It is safe to say that we had some eye-opening conversations. Below, I would like to share some key takeaways from our talks:

AI is here and now. It is crystal clear that AI is set to cause shockwaves in the banking and financial services industry, with almost every participant agreeing that it will fundamentally change the ways in which they interact with their customers and deliver products and services. In fact, our latest paper, The Work AHEAD in Banking and Financial Services, confirms that 58% of industry executives surveyed feel that the rise of the new machines will have a significant impact on their work, compared with the cross-industry average of 51%. There is no doubt that the future of work is the mirror image of the future of AI.

Chatbots are poised to take off. Southeast Asian banks are in the experimentation phase with Chatbots (many of their representatives mentioned doing POCs). Initial feedback from customers on this personalized ‘assistant’ has been very positive. Although Chatbots are still in their infancy, they will be ubiquitous within a few years and will have a game-changing impact on how customer support is conducted. For instance, a Singapore-based fintech startup,, is in discussions with 20+ banks in the Asia Pacific region to deploy its Chatbot platform and expects at least 10 of these to go live on their platform this year.

Robo Advisors are another segment that is gaining attention from organizations when it comes to redefining wealth management space. Startups like Smartly are in a prime position to target the Southeast Asian millennial market with their robo-advisory platform. My view is that, while we are still in the early days of robo-advisory services in the region, banks must get on board this ship before it sets sail. They should not just be thinking about using robo-advice as just another channel to sell products, but rather as a medium for delivering a consistent experience to customers.

AI localization will be the biggest challenge (and opportunity). The Digital Head of a large Thailand-based bank shared a practical challenge with us. His bank had recently implemented the Chatbot platform with the aim of securing deeper customer engagement. The platform was meant to understand and respond to queries in the English language. When it went live, people started typing Thai language words (in English) to ask questions. The system got confused as it could not understand many of the words. As a result, they had to take the system down within 24 hours of going live. This highlights the need for organizations to consider local and unique challenges when developing their technological capabilities.

The back-office is a wildly overlooked opportunity. Our research shows that banking and financial services companies have yet to unlock the true value of their back offices. Industry executives expect their costs to decrease by an average of 1.8% by 2018 as a result of going digital. We believe that AI-led automation will accelerate the pace of modernization in middle- and back-office operations, thereby truly digitizing the fundamental operational blocks. For instance, Blue Prism is applying bots to risk, fraud, claims processing, and loan management in banking to save millions. In fact, automation will dictate organizations’ subsequent enterprise AI initiatives. Our latest book, What to Do When Machines Do Everything, provides guidance on how leaders should pick their automation targets across their organization.

Regulations, ethics, and security issues are top-line concerns. Security, ethics, and the lack of AI-related regulatory frameworks are the main concerns that could throw a spanner in the works when it comes to the rapid adoption of AI solutions. For example, the regulatory squeamishness around cross-border investment in robo-advisors is something that has yet to be resolved. In addition, what if a bank’s algorithm finds a pattern of loan defaulters for a certain racial community and, based on that, rejects their loan applications? Legal regulations denote that customers cannot be discriminated against based on race. Such an outcome could cause a bank to face a potential legal suit, leading to a loss of reputation and business. Other questions include: how will an algorithm identify and verify the user before providing information or allowing for complex actions such as money transfers? Will over-reliance on AI incur unknown risks? These and many other questions were debated by our executives.

There is no doubt that AI is already among us; it just hasn’t been evenly distributed yet. In the timeline of the AI revolution, we have just fired the opening shot. While all the concerns raised by executives are valid and call for further debate, frankly they will not halt the cross-field uptake of AI-led innovations. Do you remember when the “information highway” opened back in the early 1990s, it caused a wave of fear over the erosion of data privacy and control, intrusion, and hacking? Despite all the concerns about companies tracking our information online, few swore off the Internet entirely. Instead, smartphones and social media have become permanent fixtures in many of our lives. Once AI is assimilated, we will stop focusing on its perceived downside. We are in the ‘fear phase’ right now; the trick is to avoid getting fixated on it.

We are in an era of perpetual change, with AI at the rudder. To put it in simple terms, AI equates to real value. The implications for business decision-makers are almost stratospheric in proportions, and their strategies and investments should reflect this. It’s time to move beyond trifling experiments and take a long hard look at AI and what it means to your business. Process by process, throughout your entire value chain, you should identify ways of applying AI to change how work is done and how customers engage with your business. It’s not an either/or choice, as the impact of AI on the industry could be even bigger than anticipated.