As someone who was more likely to sing Shang-a Lang than Modern Love, I’ve been surprised at just how David Bowie’s death has impacted not just my generation but people of all ages; causing us to ponder the genius of a man who influenced so much more than music.
“It’s hard to put into words what he gave us in his songs,” said one fan at the bar in New York frequented by the star. “If you don’t feel it, I can’t explain.”
Describing him as a visionary artist, Bruce Springsteen told followers on Twitter. “Always changing and ahead of the curve, he was an artist whose excellence you aspired to.”
According to Bowie himself “My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter. The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects I’ve always chosen to write with are things to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety, all of the high points of one’s life.”
At the surface Bowie seemed restless, changing identities, genres and image more than most. A deeper interpretation however reveals a personality dedicated to the issues he cared about, and with a talent to draw attention to these in a myriad of highly successful ways, without losing focus on the core issues or values. Success for him did not result in complacency but rather as a sign to evolve to the next challenge. He chose not to stick onto the perch of achievement, as so many do, but leave the comfort zone behind with all of the associated risks.
What, if anything, can leaders of organisations learn from this? Bowie's passion to make us think about abandonment and isolation and the variety of channels and personas he engaged to do so; has a resonance with the similar challenge facing any organisation trying to capture its particular audience in an ‘always on’, dynamic and digital world.
Many organisations are trying to reinvent themselves as digital organisations, to emulate the success of newbies who seem to operate nimbly in a device rich, mobile consumer base. This transformation, in and of itself can become the main agenda, risking the diminution of its core purpose in serving its customers' needs (whilst it gets it right).
Perhaps it's useful to ask what ‘Digital’ really means to any organisation in question; one of our banking members expressed it well recently; "We are aiming to deliver banking effectively in a digital world, in contrast to becoming a digital bank". Achieving this requires a new way of thinking about old things, involving everyone from the board to the front line.
A recent blog by Caroline Scott, EVP of organisational design & HR services at Sage (link) highlights the folly of failing to adopt a 'big' view or holistic approach to digital transformation. “Have you noticed how some companies focus all their efforts on making the most of digital technologies for their customers but, when you look inside, they have a patchwork of antiquated software packages, devices, and internal ways of working that are fit for a bygone age?” she comments.
According to Scott, employee engagement suffers: staff struggle with old-fashioned cultures and ways of working, reinforced through dinosaur IT systems and working practices that aren’t as flexible as they could be.
Employer brand is tarnished: talent leaves or never joins as the hiring process reveals internal cracks and that the external brand is not matched internally. Productivity stagnates: employees can’t work how they want or when they want, and ultimately financial benefits are lost. The workforce notices work tasks take more time and are more onerous than they need to be (unlike our home tasks, which are getting easier).
Old economy companies are challenged to change from the inside as well as the outside. Just as customer experience is crucial to success, so the employee experience is at the heart of any transformation.
As the gap between the customer's chosen experience of slick self serve, and the often clunky prescribed reality of interactions thereafter widens, so too must the imperative to reshape offerings to a more consistent fashion.
This agenda is the subject of the Oracle summit, ‘Modern Customer Experience’ in London on 2-3 Feb. I’m delighted to be presenting at the event on the latest outputs from our research on ‘The Future is Digital’ that we conducted at the end of last year.
We look forward to hearing about solutions and experiences from a range of organisations. Critical to success will be an acknowledgment that whilst organisations are unique in purpose, each can reach their customers far more effectively by embracing the opportunities offered by many exciting technologies that we couldn’t imagine only a few years back.
Perhaps the greatest accolade will be when we simply talk about service in a new channel agnostic way; let's face it we don't talk about electric lights, and I suspect that we won't be talking about digital services for too long either.