NextMapping Future of Work Blog

Cheryl Cran

Welcome to the Future of Work blog – this is where you will find posts on all things related to the future of work.

We have guest bloggers that include CIO’s, Behavioral Scientists, CEO’s, Data Scientists including posts by our founder Cheryl Cran.

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How To Be Future Ready – Interview with Amber Mac

July 2, 2019

Cheryl Cran:         I’m really excited today, to have Amber Mac as our guest. Amber please share with our clients your background. 

Amber Mac:         Thank you, I’ve been working for almost 20 years now in the technology industry. I started out getting into the weeds at a couple of tech startups in San Francisco. I have a journalism degree, so I’ve always been interested in reporting on technology. And fortunately I’ve had a great opportunity in broadcast media to be a technology reporter and host of a number of different technology shows. I am the author of two books all about technology, and adapting to technology, innovation, artificial intelligence. 

Cheryl Cran:         Our clients really want to hear your wisdom and your perspective and your expertise on, on the technology. First question, in your opinion, how is digital transformation changing the way companies are able to get work done? For example, robotics, automation, Ai, would love to hear your perspective on that.

Amber Mac:         What’s happening right now with a lot of businesses in terms of adapting to new technologies is that businesses are much more aware than they have ever been before.  They know that they need to be able to adapt, and that the future of work is changing and it’s changing quicker than any of us have ever imagined. In fact, I like to share a quote from Graham Wood where he says that change has never happened this fast before and it will never be this slow again. And it’s just a reminder to all of us that we’re entering into a period over the next five to 10 years where we have to be constantly adapting. So, like I said, the good news is that businesses realize this finally, that they can no longer have their heads in the sand. On the other hand, many of them just aren’t adapting quickly enough.

Cheryl Cran:         Yes, I agree with you completely. I mean our research at NextMapping corroborates that leaders know they must change and yet are struggling with ‘how’ to be future ready. 

                        My next question is a 2 part question. 

What can companies do now to adapt more quickly to the technological reality? 

How are robotics and automation impacting business and for companies that are not on the leading edge of that, what, what’s your thoughts about how they can get there?                      

Amber Mac :        The most important things that businesses can do today in order to adapt to new technology is first to embrace a learning culture. We’ve seen this advice from leaders out there like Satya Nadella from Microsoft. You know that we need to constantly be in a position and mindset where we’re learning about new things that are taking place. When we talk about adapting to artificial intelligence and an age of automation, the best advice that I can give is to start using some of these new tools that exist in the world that are driven by artificial intelligence. You may not have even realized that you’re using some of them today, whether it’s a smart speaker, maybe you’re using Google services that are driven by artificial intelligence, but start to understand how those tools work. From that point, you may recognize opportunities to introduce a tool in your business. If you are in the business of customer service, it may be that you want to introduce a Chat Bot and start to develop a chat bot that really understands how to communicate with your customers. So I think it’s about taking baby steps as far as adopting some of this new technology. But I think you have to move pretty quickly in terms of learning about it.

Cheryl Cran:         That’s a good point. I mean, I think, you know, as soon as Cloud and BYOD (bring your own device) became the norm, now leaders need to ask, do we have the right technologies to support the business that we want to create? 

Amber Mac:         I think that’s an issue for a lot of businesses, over the past couple of decades, they’ve been slow to adopt new technologies. Many company leaders are scared of the changes and the costs of keeping up to changing technologies. But I think what clear is that the businesses that can adapt can really thrive over the next few years. And unfortunately, the businesses that don’t, it’s not going to be as though they continue can to exist. I worry a lot about the fate of many of those businesses, especially over the next five years.

Cheryl Cran:         I agree with you completely we cite a statistic by Singularity University that 40% of the current fortune 500 ‘s won’t exist in the next 10 years. It’s a real concern that the phrase change or die has never been more relevant than today. Which is a lot of what your work is, it is helping organizations be aware of the technology tools to stay ahead of the curve and, and to stay competitive,

 67% of companies are struggling with digital transformation. Can you give us an opinion as to why you think this is the case? 

Amber Mac:         Businesses are struggling with digital transformation and it’s because there is a leadership and culture issue. We see at a lot of businesses, you know, this is particularly true with technology businesses, that they’re in some ways is a culture of arrogance at the top. And what ends up happening is that they just assume that what they’re doing is the best thing they can be doing at the time. And that their technology or their services or their products, are superior. But what they don’t realize is that there could be a startup in a corner of the world that you’re not familiar with that, uh, doesn’t have a lot of money but has some pretty eager and a bright individuals working there who are ready to disrupt the industry. And what we’re seeing now because of the pace of technological change and the ability to be able to develop so quickly is that you don’t know where your next threat is coming from. And in that case, I think from a leadership and culture standpoint, you need to understand that you can’t assume that you know it all, but you can appreciate, embrace that you can learn at all.

Cheryl Cran:         I love that you said part of the challenge is, executive arrogance. I think that, in our experience that the change has to happen at an executive level and that they see the importance of making changes rather than staying with the status quo. In regard to competitive advantage change needs to happen in order to remain relevant. There’s a direct link between technology innovation and recruiting millennials, Gen Z’s. They are looking for companies that have the latest technological tools so that they can do a better job. Recruiting and retaining talent is linked to companies with high technology solutions along with dynamic leadership willing to lead change. 

Amber Mac:         Last year I hosted a series on artificial intelligence called the AI effect. And we did individual episodes on different industries. And what really struck me as we were creating that show and talking to individuals is that if you take an industry like agriculture, this could be an industry where people who work in that space, you know, they’ve worked in that space for generations, you know, families passing on farms. And I found it really interesting in terms of one of the companies we interviewed, One of the companies we interviewed were developing technology that uses artificial intelligence to improve the quality of milk. These individuals, they do not have experience in agriculture, but they love data. They call themselves data nerds and they love to solve problems. And there’s a perfect example of not understanding this threat to your business or to your industry because of the potential and access is available for anyone to actually make a difference.

Cheryl Cran:         That’s a great example of solutions coming from outside an industry. Millennia and Gen Z’s want to create solutions and could easily disrupt any industry based on their desire to leverage data.  It used to be that competition was only within your industry. Now the threats include new technology and somebody coming up with technology that blows everything else out of the water. 

A lot of our research shows that leaders and teams want to leverage technology but lack the time. Any thoughts on this?

Amber Mac:         I, I do think that one of the big issues that we are going to have in our future is that- we are all time deficient and I think that’s what really is happening today and speaks volumes about the companies that are successful. If you think about the, hottest companies in the world today, they’re like the Uber’s of everything. Solutions that are saving individuals time. And so it’s really about those individuals and organizations understanding time management and how to make the most of their time. And it’s not necessarily about working longer, but it is in fact about working smarter. And that’s what individuals can do.  I think start to appreciate is that spending time on the things that are actually going to make a difference in your business instead of focusing on other factors and things that are happening outside your business and focusing on your competition, but really understanding how to move your business. The focus needs to be on strategic alignment. Matching technology to strategic objectives. 

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay attention to your competition or the potential threats. Leaders should be mindful of what’s going on, but I don’t think you should be chasing the competition. You should be able to carve out your own path and figure out the direction that you’re going. Right. It’s those, those individuals and businesses that I think that are going to be the most successful in the future. Yeah. And you know, a lot of times looking outside your industry is much more innovative than looking within.

Cheryl Cran:         I think what you’re saying is right on. You and I run the same event a while back and you talked about social media and how businesses and leaders need to leverage it,. 

Are companies better at social media now? 

Amber Mac:         Even if you have the best products, even if you have the best services, when someone goes to find you online, and this is especially true for the next generation, if they see that your website or your social media channels are out of date and not up to date with the latest information and you don’t appear to be a thought leader in that space, chances are they may look away and all of a sudden, you’ve lost this relevancy piece that is so critical to success today. A great, so from a business standpoint a lot of traditional businesses are like, they’d call, they’d gotten on this cause I used to be regulations, right? And restrictions. So we can’t use social media, but that’s changed. So a lot of organizations are really jumping on. I think the key point that you said is effectively communicate because I think there’s a lot of noise, but, but it’s that effectively aligning your brand with the messaging is what I think you communicate really well when you speak about it.

Cheryl Cran:         Yeah. I think that that’s something that businesses need to understand is that you have to learn how to communicate effectively and learn which platforms are the most important for you. LinkedIn as a platform is a huge opportunity on LinkedIn to be creating content, whether it’s video content or writing articles to be able to position yourself in a way that you are relevant and communicating effectively. And yet so many businesses just haven’t invested the time or the money into actually leveraging technology to be om the leading edge of change including websites and social media. 

Amber Mac:         Yeah, I agree with you completely. And I think the key there is knowing your target audience. I think that one of the things that people do with social media today is they try to be on all platforms versus really zeroing in on what’s the most effective return on investment for their specific business. 

Cheryl Cran:         What are some of the new technologies that are coming out that are going to impact the way we work? For example, I saw on your blog the item of foldable phones. 

Amber Mac:         I think it’s really interesting if you look at some of the trends in the near future from a hardware standpoint as well as software standpoint, there really hasn’t been a lot of innovation over the past few years. You know, phones really haven’t evolved too much until 2019 when there’s all this talk about foldable phones. Foldable mobile phones sound like a very bizarre thing and you imagine that it’s kind of flexible and bends, but you have to think about it more like a phone that can be turned into to a kind of tablet. More of a multi-use mobile device because people don’t want to carry a smartphone and a tablet. 

 And I think that’s a really interesting trend that is just going to continue to increase. And then on the software side, I think we’re seeing some fascinating things with artificial intelligence. If you look at trends such as natural language processing, and that may be, you know, everything from a smart speaker understanding what you’re saying at two all of a sudden AI being able to read a bunch of research papers and create a report, there are so many applications where all of a sudden machine are starting to really understand language that will change the way that we work.

Cheryl Cran:         At NextMapping we’ve done a lot of research on the impact of robots, automation, AI on workers. Such as what does it mean for the future of the worker? 

In your opinion and in your expertise, do you see robots taking over human jobs? You know, we’ve done a lot of research that says, no, that’s not true. More jobs will be created. What’s your position? What’s your thoughts on this given your experience and expertise?

Amber Mac:         I think it’s safe to say that any person who has done any research into the age of automation and what’s going to happen when it comes to the future of work and robots will agree that robots aren’t necessarily going to take our jobs. In fact, it will be more of a human and machine partnership. Things that used to take us many hours and we humans are not that great at, will be done by a machine and think in many ways that will allow us to be more productive. Humans can focus on being collaborative. 

Machines can’t do that today, but they can do one thing and one thing can be automated in a way that perhaps the human can rely on robots for that. But I really don’t think that we’re going into a world over the next five to 10 years where we’re actually going to see robots who are physically taking jobs. Unless it’s some industries like maybe some service based industry potentially, you know, with autonomous vehicles there will be a significant impact. But at the end of the day, the humans are still in charge and we need to manage this process well.

Cheryl Cran:         That corroborates what we’ve researched as well. I think there is sensationalism or a fear mongering going on around this topic. On a recent radio interview that I did I was asked what automation and robotics mean for the lower income worker. 

And it was a great question. And my response was that there is an opportunity for employers to reskill and upskill workers. 

What are your thoughts on that? 

Speaker 3:             I really think that it’s important. Again, it’s why I keep talking about embracing learning and to your point about learning new skills. And I think what’s happened, and happens to many people is throughout the course of their careers that they assume I don’t have to learn anymore. You know, I’ve already done college done university, I’m done learning. Well guess what? In 2019, that’s not the case. You have to constantly be learning. And it’s the people who embrace that learning who are able to succeed in the future. Because what’s taking places exactly what you said is that yes, there are some tasks that will be automated and you could either sit there at your desk and just accept that, hey, you’re no longer needed anymore. Or you can figure out, you know, how can I compliment this automation? What skills do I have as a human that will allow me to still be useful in this process of business? You know, if you look at the financial services industry, look at auditors is one example. There’s a lot of what they do that could be automated. There’s still a lot of strategic thinking as far as reviewing numbers and reports and talking to other people. That’s still really important. So if you have those human skills, those analytical skills, that stuff, it’s going to take a long time for that to be replaced by machines and not in our lifetime. 

Cheryl Cran:         To that point, working in the accounting industry, a lot of businesses complain that their auditors and their accountants aren’t strategic enough that they’re focused on, the data input. 

So, if you’ve got machines doing the data input, that means the skill set has to up level to a consultative approach, not a task approach. And I think that’s the biggest mindset change for most people is moving from feeling very comfortable, with tasks versus getting out of their comfort zone and going, okay, machines can do that. What can I do better? What skills do I need to build to be relevant and add more value? 

Amber Mac:         I think you’re exactly right. And I think it’s those individuals that understand how to upskill, who understand that they have to be strategic thinkers. You know, not everybody’s going to want to go this direction, but I do think their jobs could potentially be at risk. So you, you have the power right now in 2019 to decide which way you want to go with all this and that. And if you don’t, I think the writing is kind of on the wall. 

Cheryl Cran:         Agreed – any final words of wisdom on future of work , workers, business owners, and CEOs?

Amber Mac:         I think one of the most important things to keep in mind for the future of work is to first understand the workforce that we’re going into that is on the horizon over the next few years. I just met an individual yesterday who’s a well-known business leader who says that he listens to 30 hours of podcast every single week just so we can stay on top of everything from cryptocurrency to what’s happening in artificial intelligence. And I really believe that’s a first step. I mean, there’s no prescription for surviving the future, but what we do know is that actually having knowledge at your fingertips and understanding what’s happening next will empower you to make the changes that you are required to make.

Cheryl Cran:         Thank you so much, Amber. 

Connect with Amber on all social channels and listen to the audio version here on NextMapping.com