A truly innovative agenda and prepping for jobs that do not yet exist

I had a great discussion over lunch with a colleague recently who shared with me about a particular Malaysian conglomerate’s expansive innovation agenda. The conglomerate in question maintained businesses in several large, complex industries. Traditionally, conglomerates like this are not always seen as the most innovative – as they are normally regarded as lumbering business stalwarts whose main business agenda is to keep things going as they were to maximize profit.

With this conglomerate, however, their Chief Innovation Officer recently shared some of the ideas that they had already started exploring. They are already exploring the applications of cutting edge technology in what we’d consider very traditional industries. For example, the use of remote-control drones in agriculture; smart home technologies in real estate development; wearables in healthcare; and the implications of driverless cars for automotive manufacturing.

Our discussion led me to several thoughts, namely:

Jobs that are in demand today did not exist as recently as a few years ago.

Think about it: today, some companies like the conglomerate I referenced, has a Chief Innovation Officer. It’s not exactly the Chief Technology Officer or the more traditional “Chief IT Officer” – but someone specifically mandated by the company to help them move towards adapting and adopting tomorrow’s innovations today (or at least, as soon as possible). It’s a role that is both strategic and tactical, combining the skillsets of a “mad scientist” and an “entrepreneur”, and blending together both business and technical insight (or even foresight!).

This position didn’t always exist. It is a C-level, leadership position that – in a large conglomerate – would typically require at least 8-10 years of experience. The problem is that 8-10 years ago – there wasn’t exactly a career path towards becoming a “Chief Innovation Officer”. What courses 8-10 years ago would you have taken to reach this career path? IT? Business studies? Computer science?

This fact was further brought home when we talked about the kind of jobs the conglomerate said they were hiring for at the moment: Data Scientists, startup incubators, developers, and such. 3-5 years ago (i.e. when you started college), how many places did you know provided the basic training to pursue these opportunities as careers?

Prepare for tomorrow’s opportunities today – even, or especially, if they don’t exist yet.

In light of my first point, how do you build a “track record” for jobs that are in demand today but which did not exist previously? How do you “future-proof” your career path and avoid obsolescence? One of the best examples about career obsolescence comes from Danny Devito’s monologue towards the end of the movie “Other People’s Money”, redactions and emphases mine:

This company is dead.

I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me.

It was dead when I got here. […]

You know why?

Fiber optics. New technologies. Obsolescence.

We’re dead, all right. We’re just not broke.

And do you know the surest way to go broke?

Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.

You know, at one time there must have been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw.

The key takeaway lesson for me as I think about this has been truly inspired by Tom Peter’s seminal, “The Brand Called You.” You are your own brand and company – be mindful of the PESTs around you so that you can prepare and pivot accordingly to avoid obsolescence. (In fact, this is part of the reason why I’ve made the career choices I did – but more about that on another day).

Innovation is one of today’s most sought after transferable skills.

Innovation isn’t just doing something in a new way. It’s about creating impact in a way that leads to sustainable results. In a way, it’s the “proper” answer to definition of insanity, popularly attributed to Einstein: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

So, how do you become more innovative? Well, I’ve come across two quotes about creativity – one from the illustrious Steve Jobs and another by Colin Gottlieb, EMEA CEO of Omnicom Media Group – which I think applies to innovation as well. Both quotes highlight the fact that creativity is ultimately about making connections between two things that you wouldn’t ordinarily associate. Think about the conglomerate’s example I mentioned: remote-control drones in agriculture.

Besides building on your “innovation” as a skill, one also needs to demonstrate it as a “track record” along with the impact achieved. Be mindful of the opportunities you pursue within your current positions, find out more about what it means to be an “intrapreneur“, and always look at how you can quantify your innovation impact in a way that demonstrates value to the business.

All these thoughts, to me, are most starkly depicted in this video, Shift Happens which I first discovered in 2009, which has since been updated for 2014. Much of what it posits are turning out to be true.

 

What I Learned From Getting Suckered Into Completing The ALSA.org #ICeBucketChallenge

A couple of days ago, I mentioned on Twitter that I had been called out by a tech journalist, friend and quintessential Twitter troll, Andrew Yew, to do the ALS #IceBucketChallenge, along with another tech journalist, Vernon Chan.

ALS_1_edited

 (Photo credit: Vernon Chan)

For the uninitiated, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge basically involves dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research. (Now, as with all things there will be those who have a different opinion, which I fully respect. In our case, we felt that this message from a family coping with ALS helped us decide to move forward in our support for this initiative)

The three of us decided to take up the challenge – but, inspired by the genius that is Charlie Sheen, we added a twist. We asked for donation pledges a minimum of RM100 per bucket, hoping to raise at least RM1,000 for ALSA.

(No) Thanks to some very generous friends from my end (who clearly felt that it was money well spent to see me suffer) as well as my neurotic overachieving personality, I (unfortunately) managed to raise RM800 – which meant I had to douse myself with eight buckets of ice water.

Altogether, it was all in good fun. Along with our personal contributions, we successfully completed the challenge raised a combined total up to RM1,800, surpassing our intended goal!

So, for your viewing pleasure, here’s my #IceBucketChallenge video:

What I learned

Now, being the marketing geek that I am, here are several reasons why I think the ALS Ice Bucket Challenged worked the way it did – so much that it even crossed over to having Asian celebrities, politicians, and industry captains participating.

1) It was fun

Whether you were watching the video or participating in the challenge, it was a pretty fun experience (unless you have to pour eight buckets!). Never underestimate the value of simple fun to get that buy in – whether it’s to share a video, participate in the activity or to even be challenged to donate to a good cause. And, by the way, it needs to be genuinely “fun” for the participants – and just for the brand/organization.

2) It was easy

The idea was very simple: Dump a bucket of ice water over your head or donate to Alsa.org, then nominate three others to do the same, all via video. Easy to do, easy to communicate, easy to pass on the challenge. Too much “viral” campaigns have complicated T&Cs (the infamous “terms and conditions apply”) that more time is spent trying to explain the activity and its expected outcome, than actually participating in the initiative itself. Don’t let legalese and marketing-speak crowd out beautiful simplicity.

3) It was involving

The Ice Bucket Challenge worked because it involved people nominating people – which is essentially your good ol’ “Word Of Mouth” marketing at work. The transmission by participation meant that the people involved would be responsible for getting others involved – basically serving as “sneezers” spreading an ideavirus” (to borrow Seth Godin’s parlance). Another thing to note: while the attention to the campaign was greatly accelerated globally when big names got involved, what truly got people participating was the direct challenge from someone they knew. While it mattered that the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were lending their names to this great initiative, it was the “people nominating people” bit that helped the movement gain traction and become that elusive “viral campaign” that many aspire towards.

In the end, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is clearly going to be this year’s marketing, digital and social media case study. Plenty of people are already starting to analyze the campaign and attempt to reverse engineer it.

In fact, Samsung even attempted to capitalize on it…

… and, in board rooms across the world, marketing teams are hoping to dream up the next “Ice Bucket Challenge” for their brands and organizations:

Still, say what you will, though, the campaign worked. The latest update from Alsa.org (as of this writing) shows that the campaign has raised a staggering US$70.2 million.

2nd Annual Digital Marketing & Advertising Asia (DIGMA) 2014 – What’s Next: 5 Capabilities For Marketing & Communications In The Next Digital Decade

DIGMA 2014

I was invited to speak at the 2nd Annual Digital Marketing & Advertising Asia (DIGMA) 2014 today. DIGMA 2014 is a trade show that recognizes the huge potential of digital marketing and advertising opportunities in the Asian region. Digitally based initiatives are expected to make up 20 percent of the global advertising market by 2014, with the Asia Pacific region, in particular, already reaching $27.3 billion in digital advertising spend in 2012 alone. The trade show was officially launched by the Malaysian Deputy Minister of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives & Consumerism Malaysia, YB Senator Dato’ Seri Ahmad Bashah Bin Md Hanipah.

DIGMA 2014

I spoke on “What’s Next: 5 Capabilities For Marketing & Communications In The Next Digital Decade“, touching on what skill sets marketing and communications practitioners need have in a digital future:

  1. Be agile, nimble, 24×7, global
  2. Embrace your community
  3. Be authentic and transparent
  4. Integrate across media
  5. Build owned media platforms

 

I’ve uploaded my slides and embedded them below. Do let me know what you think – I’d love to have a conversation with you.

 

恭 喜 发 财! Gong Xi Fa Cai! Welcome to the Year of the Horse!

Here’s to a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year ahead – filled with blessings of hope, joy and peace in the coming Year of the Horse!

Most importantly, may you also enjoy the blessing of wonderful family reunions and the strengthening of ties with family and loved ones… perhaps, the most important blessing of all.

Here’s my favorite Chinese New Year greeting commercial/TVC of all time (to date, anyway!) – by the beloved, and irreplaceable, Yasmin Ahmad: Malaysia’s darling storyteller.

新 年 快 乐, 万 事 如 意! 恭 喜 发 财!