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The Near and Distant Future of IBM Connect 2016

Opportunity from OGS
Over the past few weeks I’ve been reflecting on my experience from IBM Connect 2016, working to synthesize what I saw, what I think about what IBM presented and how I believe it impacts our future. The conference on the whole was well done, with some changes from years past, a new venue, a new format for some of the sessions and of course some new themes for this new era. While the origins of Connect were based in the ideology of Social Business and attached to the annual Lotusphere conference (i.e. collaboration centric), this theme today is part of a broader one around digital transformation, with more of an emphasis on how technology is enabling businesses to do things differently. In some ways new and in some ways more efficiently and in some ways just better.

My original definition of Social Business was bringing a holistic approach to unifying our thinking about internal and external operations, thinking about the interplay between collaboration and marketing. To this extent there was an emphasis on creating and enabling ‘moments’ – something we have been working on for a while in the Customer Experience Design world and which my friend Brian Solis wrote about deeply in his exceptional new book, X. While I saw these sessions listed in the program, I unfortunately did not make it to any of them so I can’t comment much on that here.  For a bit of fun I did go to a session offered by the IBM Design team which was a workshop on design thinking. Even that session was focused on employees rather than customers. They also had a great design and innovation lab setup where I got to speak directly to the product managers and designers behind the new products being showcased this year and yet to be announces products that may come in the future.

For those of you who know me and my work, you may recall my post on Social Business is Dead, or perhaps the one from my last Connect conference two years ago, Social Business isn’t Dead, It’s just _______ (hint, it’s largely Marketing though the concept is much deeper and more meaningful for those in the know). Regardless of the label or the meme you place on this era, the bottom line is that the pace of change in the market and the world is not only fast, it’s accelerating. As Darwin long ago said, it’s not just survival of the fittest, but about who is the quickest to adapt to a changing environment. This is the truth facing our world, our market and your company’s competitive position in it. Unfortunately, most larger organizations are not endowed with the sort of agility they need to thrive or perhaps even survive under these market conditions. But all hope is not lost here, in fact, it is in my view an even greater opportunity today then at the birth of the internet era for forward thinking organizations with courageous leadership to become market leaders.

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This tone was set early in the opening general session with Jason Silva touting the wonders of science and the potential we have to solve some of the most perplexing problems the world faces today. It was rounded out perfectly in the closing session with Erik Wahl igniting the crowd’s sense of possibility and the inherent power they each have to create, to be beautiful, to be courageous and to make a difference. I’m not using this hyerpbole lightly here. It was truly a great kickoff and close to wrap up a very solid conference. One I hope that IBM continues to host separately from its other conferences and expands upon in new ways.

While some may feel righteous in criticizing the conference for not showing enough of a vision of the future, it is important to remember that this is first and foremost a sales and educational conference, not a peek into a far flung future where every organization is self managing, relying heavily on independent contractors and surrounded with augmented reality. The main focus of IBM Connect this year was backing up Ginny Rometty’s push forward into Cognitive Computing and demonstrating what that concept means in more tangible terms. In this regards, as someone who helped lead strategy on the global deployment of a large Enterprise Social Network, I was very encouraged by what I saw from their Project Toscana.

IBMConnect-Toscana

I wouldn’t quite call Project Toscana a dashboard view of your work, but that is the closest metaphor we have today. In my view it is more of a smart command center that integrates all forms of communications, updates and insights into a more efficiently actionable context. While we were only shown early demos and I didn’t see actual product, I’ve been told by my close friends at IBM that they are indeed using early alpha versions of these products and even have mobile versions in their hands. From what I understand about software development from my own entrepreneurial life, nothing in what they have provided is beyond the realm of possibility so I trust this will be more widely deployed and available in the not too distant future.

What is exponentially more valuable about their approach to collaboration is the deep empathy of the design thinking that is at the core of the new offering. What do I mean by this? Well, not only is the information displayed in contextual clusters of relevant information and urgency of actions required, but Watson is parsing through the information deluge to simplify what I think of as administrative/computing minutiae in dozens of ways which cumulatively add up multiple work weeks of regained productivity for every employee. This is in many ways closely associated with some of the things I have been working on with my Alynd software, though I didn’t quite see what I have been trying to build yet, so I am still optimistic about my chances, though they are getting closer.

How does it enable people to regain so much ‘wasted’ time? How often do you receive a request for the latest version of some document and not quite recall where it is stored? Not only does the software recognize it as a document request, now, using Watson, Project Toscana auto suggests several documents you may wish to include in your reply. This alone would save me, as someone who is not the most organized with my numerous digital files across multiple projects, at least a couple hours per week. Another example is auto suggest replies and auto suggest actions, like approving a request for time off, or for a budget increase.  IBM calls this cognitive collaboration where my friend and colleague Alan Lepofsky refers to this as assisted collaboration (read his excellent recap post on Connect here). Whatever you call it, it is IMHO, finally delivering on the original promises of IT to deliver exponential productivity gains. More importantly, it enables your smartest employees to focus on contributing their real value to the company and not spending their time searching around their computers or reading through poorly worded overly long emails.

Perhaps even one day it will take a long post like this one I just wrote and boil it down to a more concise version enabling you to get a personalized version that emphasize the things you are most interested in learning instead of having to read it all the way through!

While IBM Connect did a great job of demonstrating the art of the possible over the next year, I would love it if IBM would invest in painting a picture of a more mid term future, of what collaboration and marketing will look like in 5-10 years with new organizational structures and the extensions of current trends. If you could see what I’ve been shown, you would be seriously impressed with the great work going on in their research labs being developed by great engineers that never get the benefit of a business focused narrative beyond explaining their functions and features. To this extent I want to propose to my friends at IBM that we invest in producing a video series on the future of work more in the spirit of Corning’s A Day Made of Glass videos. I know the futurists who really have a vision for a #NewWayToWork who would make the perfect team to produce it…

After returning home I joined fellow IBM Futurists Brian Moran and Dion Hinchcliffe for a recap show on Blab which I’ve been slowly working to edit down into component pieces. It’s truly a terrific conversation covering the conference itself, cognitive collaboration, privacy and so much more. If you have any questions about what I saw at the conference, or would like to share your thoughts, please do so in the comments below.

I’ve really been searching for some criticism or constructive feedback to provide, but I have to stretch. I’m not an unadulterated fan boy by any means, but I sincerely believe their long term approach to restructuring their products and their teams, especially now with the placement of Inhi Cho Shu as General Manager of Collaboration Solutions, looks like it is starting to pay off. Of course this hasn’t shown itself well in the financials yet, and I am not a market analyst per se, but I believe it will. They are hiring the right people (like friends Neville Hobson, Julio Fernandez, Alex de Carvalho, Andy Jankowski and others), bringing the right approach with their all star Design team and listening to the market (and people like me). That said, it is still hard to navigate the company to get things done and they still haven’t shaken off the perception of pitching vaporware and lacking details on product announcements, but they are making progress.

My bottom line is that I have found IBM to be full of smart people who care passionately about what they do and are striving to do the right things despite having the weight of a large company structure and an organizational culture that inhibits expedient progress in an increasingly fast moving market. For now, I’m happy to continue my relationship with them and hold onto the hope that my insights will positively influence their direction and the better outcomes we need in the market to advance society towards the #betterworld I have long envisioned.

Want to talk more? Come talk to me next week in Las Vegas while I am there for IBM Interconnect.

Disclosure: I am an IBM Futurist. One of the few who are participants in both their #NewWayToWork and #NewWayToEngage programs. They don’t pay me for this, but they do pay for my travel, take me out to nice dinners and feature me as an expert/futurist in their online media in exchange for my honest unfettered opinions and insights. They did pay to sponsor my Customer Experience podcast series, CXDNow. I also formerly represented Deloitte Consulting on the IBM Social Business Council. This has provided me a level of access to what they are dong today and what they are developing in their research labs.

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A Week of Progress, Hope and Friendship in DC

Washington DC
What an awesome week in DC. As an IBM Futurist (influencer, amplifier, thinker, whatever), they often invite me to attend various conferences and events to learn, to ‘report’ via social media and to help stimulate conversations with the participants who are usually IBMers, customers and potential customers. This trip was part of the #NewWayToWork tour they are producing, so they pay for the travel expenses and I get to just be myself and speak my mind. They ask for some pics and tweets, which I would do anyway, and they promote my work in support of the broader social media amplification of the brand and their forward thinking positions. More on the event this week in a little bit, as I want to recap what made it so awesome for me and my projects personally.

The New Way to Work event was just one of several highlights as I made the most of the travel opportunity to talk to more people about my community collaboration software, Will Someone. I was also working to line up some strategic consulting gigs, to fuel more development of the software, to host a kickoff BrainJam for We Are the Solution and spent time catching up with old friends and making new ones.

I started the week off by diving into the great community that Nicole Patrice has formed over the years, including her colleague Ross Buntrock, who was gracious enough to let me stay on his couch for the one night not covered by IBM. They are working on something that is simply stellar, but nothing to share about it just yet. I got to catch up with Cyrus Radfar who was in town from SF, out on the road like me meeting people to help grow his company, Kapuno. Then we had this sumptuous fall meal that Nicole prepared and great conversation for hours over some great wine with a bunch of folks in town for a Nature Conservancy event, many of whom are an integral part of the Summit community.

I’ve started privately sharing information on the first major project we are working to undertake surrounding We Are The Solution, the non-profit community organization we have recently launched. I was particularly inspired and found great hope in talking to Wayne Price, the original Summit documentarian, who is just an awesome human being, who just happens to live in the East Bay, not too far from my home. Then I got into a great conversation with Margot Machol about her upcoming book where she interviewed something like 60 entrepreneurs and their mothers. Apparently, they all share what I was fortunate to have, a mother who instilled a deep belief that we could do anything. I think she’s going to be doing some cool things hopefully with Blab now that I introduced her to the concept, but still lots to discuss ahead of the book launch.

Before heading off the next morning to a meeting with my old friend, advisor and hopefully soon to be team mate, Thomas Vander Wal, Nicole, Ross and Rick were gracious enough to listen to my vision for Will Someone and the broader ecosystem we are building. Thomas and I reviewed our nextgen plans for Will Someone, caught up on life, other work and our usual reminiscing about what we tried to create in 1999 around conversational intelligence with Conversal. After our conversation, I had a chance to go have lunch with one of my fraternity brothers and finally eat at the new Exchange, our old college bar.

Rushing from there back to the hotel and being stymied by a few administrative snafus, I finally got into my room in time to interview Doug Foulds as part of my new #CXDNow series on Customer Experience Design. This is something they are paying me for, sponsoring the show, so I was a bit anxious before the show and a bit more when we kept hitting some technical challenges during the show, but as usual, it worked out great. 

With only a few moments rest, I took care of some other work and took an Uber into Georgetown for a super high quality entrepreneur networking event. Tons of smart people, quick chat with Nicole to introduce her to someone working on cool related tech, a connection for one of my Wearable World mentorees and a great conversation with several other startup founders. I was hoping to go down to Fatoush to relive the late night mumchie quashing Fatoush Gyro, but apparently, its closed now, so I just ate some Kebobs and headed home to get some work done and get some rest.

New Way to Work DC - Chris Heuer and Mark Babbit in Marketing Track

I woke up refreshed to head to the US Institute of Peace for the IBM New Way to Work Event. At the last minute the day before, they asked myself and Mark Babbit to participate in a fireside chat format event on the marketing track. Really grateful for having a chance to spend more time with him, he’s wise, smart, cool and just a great guy to hang around. Apparently we did a pretty good job, you can see a pic of us and the graphic recording that was made of our discussion below. When people were leaving, they were apparently quite impressed and amazed at how rich the workshop was. That it wasn’t just a typical sales pitch, but instead a real conversation with inspiration, solid strategy and even tactical advice. Several remarked that they were kind of bummed about how tough things had gotten but were feeling energized and inspired to go back to work and create change. #GoalAccomplished

After the event, we had a great lunch with Mark and Adriana Zegarelli where I learned how organizations thrive by going “Beyond Budgeting” from our other lunch mate Steve Player, Steve is a super smart guy who is also a fan of the work of Doug Kirkpatrick and the Self Management Institute. I then headed to a couple of meetings with my friends at the US State Department down the street to catch up and talk digital diplomacy. It turns out that the Gov2Gov event that Lovisa Williams and I hosted in 2009 with Dominick Campbell and our ‘special friends’ in the Canadian Embassy over in London inspired a thing of its own, the Digital Diplomacy Coalition. So cool. I so often think I’ve accomplished nothing in my life so far, but this week I was reminded of all the ways I really have made a contribution to the world which really has me psyched for all the great stuff to come. After catching up with Lovisa, I was able to reconnect again with Archana Poddar who also works at the State Department and get her insights on a few projects I am developing. Awesome people working to make government better.

From here I ran into the evening, first with a stop for happy hour Oysters at the Old Ebbits Grill with Mark Babbitt, then for a quick catchup at The Hamilton with my old boss from the US Mint (wrote a bit about her and my time there recently), and finally to catch up with another one of my fraternity brothers, Andrew Keenan to talk life, politics, beers and social activism. Afterwards, I stopped by my favorite DC restaurant, Zaytinya, shhh don’t tell anyone how great it is. Then off to the hotel to get all the video editing for #CXDNow now and publish the blog post.

With only a few hours sleep, I headed off to Busboys and Poets to host the first BrainJam for We Are The Solution. Almost 10 years ago, we held one of the first BrainJams in DC. We had several people cancel, but with the 5 of us who were there, including Todd Tweedy who was at the first one, it actually worked out quite well, with everyone getting something meaningful. There is amazing power in our focus question – “What are you trying to accomplish? How can I help?” It proved itself in DC, and I can’t wait to see more of them happening in DC, across the country and even around the world.

Special thanks to Todd and Audience Machine for sponsoring breakfast. Kathy Chamberlain for letting us know about all the other great things already happening in DC that is similar, including the Social Enterprise DC group. Ricardo Abella for participating and sharing his story. Special thanks to Alexandra Long, who was at the IBM event the day before and gave me inspiration to keep going, to let me know that my stories and insights were making a difference. Even greater still, for her volunteering to help create the Journey Map for We Are The Solution that we are building as one of the practical how to segments of the #CXDNow series.

Towards the end, Nicole Patrice was able to join us and serve as a living breathing human example of the sort of impact we had previously with Social Media Club by inspiring people all over the country to convene their tribes, to embrace our mantra, “If you get it, share it”. Hearing her tell everyone about her experience traveling around the country and connecting with local SMC chapters, was a big part of my realization that while what I hoped to create didn’t fully manifest, what SMC produce was not only meaningful, but a beautiful expression of my original intent.

By the time I had finished sharing a full demo of what we built with Alynd, she had already introduced to me to three of her Summit friends. From Busboys and Poets, I headed over to Teaism for lunch with my dear friend and former coworker Sacha Cohen. After getting back to the hotel, I ended up connecting with one of Nicole’s suggested contact’s, Tyler Kellogg, who traveled across country helping people in a similar spirit of what I have been striving towards, but in human to human contact at a very personal level. You can hear more of his inspiring story here from his TEDx talk in Greenville.

So then it was off to the airport and onto the plane where I wrote up the highlights of this crazy week in DC, the epicenter once again for a massive change in my life. A week where I have truly lived my true purpose for this life, a life that is much more important then my experience of it, but which is also just pretty amazing, filled with amazing friends, crazy big dreams of a better world and the sort of hope that we can be the change we want to see, and ultimately see that change manifest in the world.

The time is now. You too can make a difference. So what’s stopping you?

Over the coming weeks, perhaps you can join us as we host more BrainJams in support of We Are The Solution. Check out these dates and if you can, come help us help you to make the world the best it can be, because while WE face many challenges, we are the solution to it all. If you are interested in helping, simply comment here or head over to the web site and subscribe to our Newsletter and we will invite you into our Slack group.

  • San Francisco – October 22, 2015
  • London, UK – October 30, 2015
  • Dublin, Ireland – November 5, 2015 (during Web Summit)
  • Bilbao, Spain – November 18, 2015 (during EEC)

 

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Preparing for the Future, We Must Understand our Present

Seeing more clearly, our future through the lens of the present...As part of the IBM Futurist programs, #NewWayToWork and #NewWayToEngage, I’ve received great access to some of the brightest folks around IBM. To talk with them, learn from them and become friends with them. Is IBM perfect, no, of course not, no one is. People have bad days, some people have bad attitudes and some are just bad ass! Everyone is different, which is why I appreciate the chance to meet so many different people in my life’s journey.

But truly, one of the best parts of being in both programs, is the access to other futurists, many of whom were already friends, some of which have become my friends.  Next week, I get a chance to get together with them again as part of TED at IBM, as well as with other soon to be friends whom I not only never met, but in some cases never even heard of before this event. People who give me hope, who inspire me, who have ideas that will make mine better and with whom I hope to reciprocate in appreciation of their gift.

In preparation for next week’s event, they asked many of us to answer a bunch of questions about the world today and what’s really important to us. This is important, because to understand the world in which we live (and the organizations in which we work), we must make visible and understand our common and disparate values. What we each hold dear, or even sacrosanct. The answers below, while simple in some cases and maybe obvious in another, also tells a bit about the story of that person. At least if you actually know them it does in a more meaningful way.  See for yourself and scroll past it to see a personal addition, a photo of the only personal item I would take with me on a long term space mission.

 

So what is the one thing I would bring with me? Did you read it in the presentation or just skip? No matter, it is this note my mom left for me one night when I flew home after living away in Philadelphia for a couple years. If you are interested in learning more about my mother, just ask my fraternity brothers about the time she stayed in the frat house and how she touched their lives. Or you can read it from her own words in this book she wrote on her life with Cerebral Palsy.

From across the whole of my life, it’s the most precious thing in, other then my wife Kristie, but she’s a great human, not a great thing 🙂 Anyway, just felt like sharing as I am feeling overwhelmingly grateful at this moment for an amazing week in DC and looking forward to another great week ahead back in San Francisco, with my friends, old and new, as we look to the future together.

My Mom's note I carry with me everywhere.

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