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Adrian’s Silicon Valley Insights

“The world’s first voice activated hotel room, the consumerization of everything and the advent of the brain machine interface” These were just a few of the trends/themes emerging from the fascinating discussions I held last week as I planned next year’s Wavelength USA programme with key thought leaders in the heart of Silicon Valley.”

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In this update I’d like to share with you some of the questions I believe our Wavelength clients should be asking themselves as organisations seek to take advantage of the opportunities and trends that are coming out of the world’s tech innovation capital.

“How can we create a personalised brand experience?”

We all know that consumer expectations of a brand experience these days are high. Advances in Artificial Intelligence means that the ability to learn consumer behaviours has resulted in an unprecedented personalisation of brand experience.

A Tesla driver can now park their car overnight and expect to jump into it the next day knowing that it’s software will have been updated, it’s performance and features improved and settings personalised according to an analysis of the driver’s preferences. And whilst the Tesla is parked up, the driver is inside asking Alexa to order groceries, stream music and dim the lights.

We are living in a world where an intelligent software update can automatically enhance and personalise a brand experience tailoring it to the consumer’s needs and usage patterns. Organisations now need to be asking themselves how they too can replicate this personalised brand experience?

Consumers are becoming more impatient and demanding instant gratification. With benchmarks being pushed higher and higher from companies like Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon, consumers now have limited patience for waiting times and delays. They want their product/service/answer now, at a time and a place that suits them.

Imagine using Siri to turn up the Aircon when it gets too hot in your hotel room or to turn on the lights before getting out of bed? This, and much more, is now possible in Aloft Hotels. Aloft, part of the Starwood brand, invested in its top secret Project Jetson team to come up with the ultimate automated hotel room offering an experience which guests can tailor to meet their precise needs. As Brian McGuiness, Global Brand Leader at Aloft Hotels stated when the new rooms were launched “Today’s early adopter, hyper-connected global traveller wants a level of personalisation unlike ever before, and that means being able to control their hotel experience with the sound of their voice”.

 “How do we ensure our organisation remains relevant?”

To remain agile, organisations need to be asking themselves “What’s our relevance in this instant gratification economy?” and “What are we doing about it?” With this in mind I had an opportunity to spend some time with Ray Davis, Executive Chairman of Umpqua Bankthe audaciously positioned “World’s Greatest Bank”.

Ray discussed how the bank has dealt with the question “How do you deliver customer service from what is traditionally a high touch environment in an increasingly high tech environment?”

The answer was to launch Pivotus Ventures.

The brand objective is reflected in the name “Pivot Us” turning the business around to fully offer a tailored and personalised experience, as they say “building banking for humans”.

Pivotus has developed the concept of Best Financial Friends or BFFs (think Tinder for banks and you won’t be far off), these are Universal Associates trained in any aspect of banking you want. Consumers select a Universal Associate whose profile best matches their requirements (even down to shared interests) and then chooses how they want to interact with them whether it be via video, chat, text or email . It’s all about taking the brick and mortar experience into a personalised, relevant, digital offering.

My challenge to you, having seen what Umpqua are doing, is “What are you doing to make yourself relevant in this world?”

 “Who are you working with to ensure you stay ahead of the game?”

There are some unlikely but highly logical marriages and meeting of minds happening on the west coast as traditional firms are partnering with newer, younger brands to enhance their offering.

The awesome logic behind Ikea’s acquisition of Task Rabbit begs the question why was it not thought of before?

Levi’s partnership with Google for the development of a smart jacket aimed at bikers is an example of the lateral, out of the box thinking that is taking place at the moment as brands think about how they can remain relevant and fulfil the increasing demands of their consumers.

As you think about new possibilities for your organisation who are the partners who could potentially help you revitalise and fulfil your brand promise?

“What’s the Future of Work/Talent Management?”

As brands need to be continually agile to respond to consumer demand we also need to think about how we manage our own organisational talent and how our people reinforce our brand values.

I spent some time with Steve Cadigan, former Head of Talent at Linkedin, he is regarded as Silicon Valley’s leading thought leader on the future of work and the war for talent that organisations are now facing.

We all know that the model for what constitutes a career has been turned on its head. Millennials have unprecedented options to earn money. Any asset, physical or intellectual I own can now be monetized through models such as AirBnB, Uber, Hermes, Deliveroo, Etsy or any number of gig economy brands. Why would millennials work for you, when it’s increasingly easy for them to work for themselves?

Moreover, as with IKEA’s purchase of Task Rabbit, the challenge for brands in this gig economy is that quite often the value creators sit outside organisational structure and control. How is the brand experience managed where the value is delivered by people outside your payroll?

I spoke to one organisation that is pushing the frontiers of talent management, looking at the expectations of a new generation of employees and learning lessons from the gig-based economy in order to create a new organisational model.

Barbie Graver, a former HR Exect at Netflix is the Chief Culture officer at emerging tech firm GitLab.

With $20m backing from Google Ventures GitLab is seeking to grow its staff base of 200 to become the first 1000+ staff organisation with no physical offices.

To achieve this requires a massive cultural shift, one based on completely open communication, trust and unparalleled transparency

Every morning staff dial into to a conference call for operational updates, then many stay on the line for the “water cooler” conversations in which people are encouraged to talk about their friends, hobbies, pets – just like they would at the water cooler/café at work that help build relationship. Employees partners are invited to off-sites and are actively encouraged to participate in all conversations. That’s right, significant others, be they a school teacher, business exec or fireman get to participate in every conversation.

All GitLab documents and policies are completely open-source, accessible by all employees and Barbie believes that this allows for unprecedented organisational agility. She told me about how she was recruited into the firm via a completely online interview process and during it feedback on an HR policy, the CEO agreed with her suggestions and they were acted upon then and there “I was literally sent a link during the interview and asked to amend the policy in real-time” she told me.

The business is run with openness and transparency in a completely virtual environment, two months into the role and Barbie is yet to meet face to face with the CEO. Gitlab is undertaking a boundary pushing experiment in People Management which relies on total transparency of information among employees and key people. While it’s an extreme example of a completely virtual office setup, what lessons could we be taking from their lead to apply to our own businesses?

“How do we keep our organisation secure?”

With changing models of organisational management, the question of security inevitably arises.

Vincent Liu is a Partner at White Hat Hacker Firm Bishop Fox. Described by Marketplace as “one of America’s most well-regarded hackers” he was able to demonstrate to me how a determined hacker can take a major financial institution down.

By observing a target in the same way as a bank robber would plan a raid a hacker will profile and watch an organisation observing patterns and setting up programs to monitor the periphery until a weakness in the chain is identified and a gap is opened. The bottom line is for a determined hacker, no organisation is safe the only solution is to be constantly vigilant.

This applies not just to the IT systems to protect security but also to the risk posed by human error. I observed a fascinating and frankly terrifying demonstration by

Masha Sedova, President & Chief Strategy Office at Elevate Security.  She believes that the biggest threat to an company’s security is its own people as hackers play on human emotions to find weak spots into organisational infrastructure. Think your staff are so well trained that they would never allow this to happen?  Hacking using social engineering is essentially hacking without code, playing on human weaknesses to gain access to information.

This video that Masha shared with me shows how scarily easy it is to exploit weaknesses within an organisation to access personal information.

What I learned is that there will always be gaps, no matter how good you think your systems are so how are you going to create a culture in which your people think ‘security first’ and its okay for them to come forward if they make mistakes or fall victim to social engineering?

 And finally…

 “Where are the smart VC dollars being invested?”

 I spoke to some of the top VCs in Menlo Park about what they think the next big technology leap is.

It’s only a decade since the iphone was launched, now we can’t imagine life without it. Yet there was a time when thought leaders talked about technology coming out of Silicon Valley that would put “people, information and entertainment in the palm of your hands” at the time it was the stuff of science fiction yet now smartphone technology and the “killer apps” that drive their use are part of our everyday lives.

The next level is now brain machine interface (BMI) using thoughts to control applications.

Imagine a scenario where you can control a computer game using just the power of thought. The technology is now very much available and happening. There’s some really exciting stuff being developed around BMI which is attracting a lot of VC interest.  I would suggest that the questions you should be asking your organisation are now – What are the potential applications of this new technology for us? Who are going to be the early adopters in this market and at what point will we be a player?

These are just some of the questions that organisations need to be asking themselves in order to remain agile, responsive and relevant. They need to know their consumers, deliver creative models for managing their talent and be able to deliver unprecedented service and solutions securely and effectively in an increasingly disrupted world.

We have just announced details of our June 2018 Wavelength USA programme that will provide 25 leaders with unprecedented access to some of Silicon Valley’s leading brands and thought leaders and is ideal for those seeking the answers to how to keep their brands agile and responsive in a climate of change and disruption.

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