2016 trends: “technology becomes more human and visible”

Mark Curtis

El Pais: Mark Curtis (London, 1961) sees a new era. The era of Uber and wearables. The era of the virtual and the empathetic. The era in which machines learn to be human. It is not a future era, it is the one in which we live. RETINA talked exclusively with the Chief Client Officer (CCO) and founder of Fjord about the technological trends for 2016 that the firm reveals today. These are the keys of this era that are transforming the economy and society.

Question: Why is empathy being pointed out as key for the future of business?

Answer: This is a basic matter. I am going to highlights three aspects. First, technology enables us to be more empathetic, because we can better detect what people want and respond to it. Think that Google on tap detects your preferences according to what you look at on the screen. By going on along that path you are establishing a much more familiar relationship with the client. It was something that was impossible in the industrial revolution, with mass production. “Do you want some shoes?” “Here you are. Brown or black?” And there were no other options. But now if I buy a pair of Nike I can have Mark put on one shoe and Curtis on the other, in blue and purple, because those are the colors I like. Personalization changes the salesperson-customer relationship and turns it into much more than a dialogue. Before, it was enough with one size for all. Not now.

The second essential aspect of technology is that interaction is becoming human. The devices that we are using are beginning to imitate the way in which humans talk. A quick example: If you give your mobile a voice order and it does not understand, it would say: “Sorry but I did not understand. Can you repeat that?” It would not say: “Order rejected. Try number two”.

The third concerns business. Being empathetic gives a competitive advantage. The obvious difficulty of the digital is that it is much easier to copy a business model. Then why doesn’t it happen more often? I only know the case of the Samwer brothers, two German businessmen that have become rich by cloning other ideas. However, this almost never happens, and I think that the reason is cultural. There is a culture in companies that prevents them from copying exactly the best business model in the market. This is the key feature in order to succeed, because if you live in a market in which copying is easy, what must you do for your product to stand out above others? The answer is culture. And how is culture expressed? To a large extent by empathy.

Q. But there is a conflict for this more empathetic drift to be consolidated in business. The culture and structure of large companies that are assuming this digital transformation are not built on this approach. Is this the first hurdle to be overcome?

A. The digital transformation means that very complex questions about the culture and internal organization of companies and their processes to achieve the product must be answered. It is the how, the what, and the why. The why is the culture, the what is the process and the how is the structure. The way we work must change, and this also involves changes in the look of the offices, in having more open spaces and forgetting cubicles.

An enormous problem for many companies is that they are constrained in silos, and these silos have a lower management level that is replicated in each cell in the company. This means that changes are very difficult to manage. The root of the problems lies in the back office [all the company’s management tasks – accounting, human resources, administration – outside creating and selling the product].

If you want to undertake any major change in the company, they are slow… We usually think about silos first [in the isolation between departments that blocks information] but we do not usually think so much about the back office, which is a strong curb for digital transformation. It is as if we want to cook a new menu without changing the cooking pots. However good the recipes and the ingredients, they will stick and burn. What we are seeing is that some of these offices are undertaking the change by themselves, the transition to the digital and a more satisfactory employee experience, so there is a glimpse of hope.

Read the full article on El Pais here.

Mark Curtis

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