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In technology we trust. Or do we?



By Spela Majcen Marusic, Communications Manager

“Almost every generation feels that younger generations are less honest”, explains Prof. Jeff Hancock, Founding Director of Stanford Social Media Lab, during the latest lecture of the Aleph Executive Speaker Series. And while many generations throughout history have felt this way, could they all be wrong?

Changing the way we trust

People heavily rely on trust to mitigate risk uncertainty. We move through an imperfect world, and many times we are unsure of exactly what the consequences of our actions will be, and how these will affect our surroundings. We have limited cues to understand how others around us will behave and literally zero way of telling if somebody is lying on the spot.

So we have learned to trust. First, to trust in the people we know, then, as communities grew bigger, we started to trust networks we were secondarily connected to. Most recently, we have put our trust into institutions, such as the government, courts, financial corporations and banks.

While trust levels vary immensely by culture, they all rely on the premise of a promise, and the question of whether or not it will be delivered.

We could claim that the latest major shift in the way we trust was brought on by the rapid development of technology. Through the simplicity it offers for sharing information, digitizing data and managing it with support of artificial intelligence (AI) it has undoubtedly contributed to the rise of trust in our networks and a decline in trust in our institutions.

So, how does all this manifest?

Digital literacy to combat fake news

One of the most evident, as well as dangerous phenomena is fake news. Limited to selected tabloids and gossip papers in the past, fake news nowadays can spread like wildfire on social media.

Today, we see fake news being used for various reasons, including political. However, clever and targeted actions could help get the spread of fake news under control in the future.

In fact, researchers found that during the 2016 US Presidential election campaigns, the large majority of fake news was shared by people in the 60-70 age bracket. This was due to its targeting settings, but also in a large part because their digital literacy levels generally rank much lower than that of younger generations.

“Our latest research showed that with just a little bit of digital literacy, we were able to improve how older people detected fake news.”

Prof. Jeff Hancock

However, a much larger societal movement is required to curb the spread of fake news online. The return to normalcy would only occur when lying online (as well as offline) becomes socially unacceptable to the point where political leaders utilising fake news to fight what they refer to as “political wars” receive the ultimate punishment by the people and are voted out of office.

Embedded trust is a winning formula for tech companies

On social media the “known” and “stranger” networks begin to overlap. And sometimes it’s difficult to quickly assess how to deal with strangers online. In fact, for many older adults, it is hard to distinguish between known and unknown people. While we know very well how to react to abusive behaviour from a stranger on the street, many times we feel more confused when encountering somebody similar on the internet.

“If StarBoy36249 says something angry I should be able to very easily ignore it in the same way that we can turn our bodies and ignore somebody that we have nothing to do with offline.”

Prof. Jeff Hancock

As trusting people online is less intuitive than what we’ve evolved to do throughout history in face to face interactions, we look for authorities such as academics, journalists or financial industry experts for reassurance.

In fact, a modern technology based company can thrive immensely by building on network trust, driven by social media, big data, AI, and embedding a strong institutional trust aspect into their services. As such, companies like Airbnb base themselves on their network through reviews and comments, while ensuring that legal support is available, cooperation with government institutions is maintained, insurance is taken care of, and transactions are completed in a secure way.

Psychology beats technology

It takes time to build trust, but once it’s violated, trust erodes extremely quickly. In fact, when we are assessing whether or not to trust a person, what we’re actually thinking about is whether they are ready to deceive us.

While many of us might intuitively doubt technology and characterize it as the ultimate tool of deception, research has shown that when it comes to known networks, technology can actually reduce the amount of deception. People tend to lie most when talking on the phone, followed by face to face interactions, and only then by e-mail communications.

Studies have also demonstrated that most people do not lie on social media, and that their personality can be assessed based on their Facebook profile as easily as it would have been done in person. In fact, people do not even lie about their attributes on online dating platforms any more so than they would have in an offline setting.

“It’s not the technology that is driving deception, especially when it comes to known networks. Instead it’s our psychological situation that would lead us to need deception to accomplish some psychological goal.”

Prof. Jeff Hancock

This is just as well, because people typically seem to be very bad at detecting lies. Timothy Levine’s research showed that we are only 54% accurate when it comes to identifying deception. Mainly because we have a truth bias. Our default state is to believe that what we are being told is true, as there are no actual reliable cues for deception. And so instead of wondering how to tell if somebody is lying, we instead need to understand when to stop trusting a certain person. When we sense a deceptive motive, witness a dishonest display, lack of coherence or get a warning from a third party, that’s when we should switch to the “Suspicion state”.

Authenticity trumps channel

Contrary to the lack of reliable deception cues, we do know what signals trustworthiness. And while we struggle with a 50/50 chance of catching out a liar, we can quickly and accurately identify a person of whom we should trust.

Humans are driven to evaluate others based on competence (can they do what they say they can?), honesty (can they do what they promised to do?), and reliability (will they do it?).

As an extension, companies can leverage the same attributes to drive corporate trust and success. However, organizations should not forget the importance of authenticity. Understanding core values and consistently communicating them across multiple channels is the key to laying a strong foundation of trust in any organization.

“Trust and safety on platforms is not a destination but a journey.”

Dave Byrne, Global Head of Brand Safety and Industry relations, TikTok

Authenticity trumps technology in all aspects, including requirements of different communication channels. At the end of the day, an attempt to showcase your company as a serious business player on LinkedIn and a fun boho influencer on Instagram would erode trust and create identity issues for your brand.

No high-tech crystal ball

No amount of technology and foresight can help us speculate on how technology will continue to influence trust in the near and far future. In one corner we have the rapid development of AI, mediated communication through smart replies, automatic summaries and chatbots, and in the other we see the challenges of building a solid corporate culture in the hybrid workplace of the future. We are definitely entering uncharted waters in how and when people will continue to trust each other.

Just like Diogenes back in Ancient Greece, we might grab a virtual lamp and go on a mission of finding that one honest person on the internet. However, considering we are not all cynics, we might as well realise that the majority of people out there are indeed telling the truth most of the time with or without the technology filter.

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Workplace trends for the future: Technology, ageing and the role of women



By Spela Majcen Marusic, Communications Manager

Gone are the times of futuristic robotic films making audiences feel slightly uncomfortable, as gradually we have started to understand that technology is not a threat, rather an extremely powerful tool to leverage in all aspects of life. “Automation is going strong, but people have realised that the robot apocalypse is not upon us” comments Dr. Paul Oyer from Stanford Graduate School of Business during the latest lecture for the Aleph Executive Speaker Series.

Replaced by a robot

Changes in automation have been happening for centuries. In fact, workers throughout history have been constantly forced to adapt. Some of the most prominent examples include the industrial revolution, automation in mining and agriculture, and most recently also automation within the manufacturing industry.

While the scale of the manufacturing industry in the USA has been continually growing for the past 100 years, peaking in 2019, an inverse trend can be observed when we look at employment in this sector as shown by the data of the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. This shows that more is being manufactured in the USA than ever before, and with higher value, but utilizing fewer people. Simple tasks are entrusted to robots, while many manual or more complicated duties have been outsourced to markets with a cheaper labour force. Developed economies continue to engage in manufacturing almost exclusively for cutting edge products that cannot be produced elsewhere.

Automation, robotics and AI are thus not novel phenomena, and the ever changing nature of the workplace is a constant through time. The cost of standardized processing tasks has dropped precipitously over the last several decades because of the development of new IT technologies. So it would be irresponsible to dismiss the observation that the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence will impact many routine jobs, and could lead to their disappearance in a mere decade.

Devising new professions and seeking your added value

In this near new reality, where even some of the highest status jobs, such as doctors (radiologists) and lawyers (discovery), are at risk of replacement by artificial intelligence, massive unemployment nevertheless remains an unlikely possibility. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 15% of jobs will be displaced because of technological advancements in the next 10 years. But it’s predicted that new and different jobs will be created to remedy this. Green energy, healthcare and elderly care, and data analytics are predicted to be among the top sectors where new jobs are expected to start popping up like mushrooms.

“The best investment most governments in the world can make to address the challenges of the future of work, is in basic education.”

Dr. Paul Oyer

As individual approaches to successful reskilling seem to fail when managed at scale, a situation is expected to arise where each person at the job market will have to be innovative and flexible enough to understand their personal added value, which others will be ready to pay for. Be it the organization of high end golf tournaments or any other skills that build on the basis set by technology, it’s crucial for individuals to understand the value they bring to the workplace.

In classic economic terms, a new balance will start being created between labor ROI (return on investment) and robot/computer ROI. While technology and automation will undoubtedly become a large part of the workforce, engaged and highly skilled employees will remain an important part of the success for any future organization.

Strong social skills, such as teamwork, the ability to seek consensus and to build and nurture relationships, will become those key attributes of a desired worker in the future.

Engaging all parts of the workforce

Automation is however not the only trend to watch for if you aspire to become a Minister of labour within the next 10-20 years. A particularly worrying aspect in developed economies is the ageing of their population. While there were only a few people over the age of 50 in the 1960’s in the USA, we are now headed towards a situation where, according to the US National Population Projections (2017), by 2060 almost half of the population will be older than 45, and a large fraction will be 65 and older. And this is when people tend to become far less productive.

Demographic shift is a business opportunity in itself, as we will see more rich people as a consequence. But the million Dollar question remains, what measures can be taken to soften the effect of the ageing trend on western economies? Governments around the world have been devising a number of measures to combat this, from raising the retirement age and increasing taxes to support social policies, to leveraging technology or turning to immigration.

“Automation is really important but aging is even more important, and the evolving place of women in the labor market will continue to change the workforce in dramatic ways.”

Dr. Paul Oyer

The key to success seems to lie in basic schooling and access to college education, as well as in making sure that all parts of the workforce are involved in the economy, including women. Involving half of your population into the workforce can be an important token for success. From a purely economic perspective it can be argued that women have made great strides towards equality in the labour force in most of the Western countries. However, this is still not the case in many places around the world.

The largest workplace experiment in history

And if automation and the ageing population have not been enough of a disruption for Millennials, who will soon represent half of the workforce in the USA, the past year and a half topped any experiment that labour economists around the world could ever dream up. The COVID-19 pandemic, subsequent lockdowns and shift to remote working changed how we think about the world in general, and the workplace in particular.

Many organizations, including TripAdvisor, took the opportunity to reflect on how they use automation, what operational leverage they possess and how they could run their business in better and more efficient ways. As such, they focused on the self-serve aspects of processes externally and internally, taking advantage of technology as key priority during the time when planes were grounded and travel was banned.

Personalising travellers’ online experience through the use of cutting edge technology became another focus for companies like TripAdvisor. Aiming to better understand their audiences and acknowledge that there’s a new traveller out there, prioritising health and safety as their top concern, became one of key projects for this travel company throughout lockdown restrictions.

“There’s a new traveler out there that is thinking about destinations in places that they never were before. Because their life has changed dramatically.”

Christine Maguire, GM/VP Global Media Business, TripAdvisor

And just like the new traveller, there’s also the new employee, trying to navigate their new normal. Unsure of what kind of hybrid work model the future will bring, the new employee strives to combine the best of both worlds. Making the most of remote meetings, while dreaming of a future where water cooler conversations will again become a part of daily life, and establishing and keeping relationships will be done with ease, face to face.

The future belongs to those who can develop flexible thinking capabilities needed to continuously adapt and survive in an ever changing work environment. The winning formula will comprise cutting edge technologies and highly skilled people complimenting automatized routines with soft and social skills. Raging with, rather than against the machine seems to be the mantra for the world of tomorrow.

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How do you assess a pandemic (and what you can learn from it)?



By Spela Majcen Marusic, Communications Manager

Each generation believes they live in the most turbulent of times, but history is “one damned disaster after another” explains Dr. Niall Ferguson, Milbank Family Senior Fellow at Hoover Institution. And whether it’s about the eruption of a volcano, a political crisis or a fully fledged war, disaster happens mainly as a consequence of human decision.

The pandemic that we are currently living through is just one of the many public health disasters that has happened throughout history. And while dramatisation forces us to speculate as to how this will all play out, history can teach us from experience. If only we are clever enough to learn its lessons.

Not among the top 10 deadliest pandemics

Since the start of the pandemic in spring 2020, over 3 million people have died as a result of COVID-19, and we’ve seen around 150 million positive test results worldwide, as reported by Johns Hopkins Dashboard.

Unlike past influenza pandemics, COVID-19 is remarkably ageist. Most pandemics of the past killed across the entire population. In fact, the 1918 influenza killed disproportionately more young people and the almost forgotten 1957 pandemic brought death to huge numbers of teenagers. Dr. Ferguson comments that “if we had experienced the last 16 months with as much worry about our kids as about our parents and grandparents, this would have been a far more traumatic experience.” 

“The media is trying to convince you that you’re living through one of the great calamities of history, but your grandparents have lived through much worse.”

Dr. Naill Ferguson

But, when compared with past pandemics, COVID-19 only makes it into the Top 20 deadliest public health disasters, considering the death rate in proportion to total global population. The largest pandemic in recorded history, the Black Death, wiped out a third of the European population, and the 1918 Spanish flu saw 40 times higher casualty rates compared with COVID-19. In fact, AIDS killed 10 times more people, even if over an extended period of time, as shown in this study.

But with a potential damage for the economy

While the disastrous effects of COVID-19 are not as harsh historically when it comes to taking lives, they are expected to surface through the radical disruption of the economy.

According to Cutler and Summers, the total cost of the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of this year in the USA alone is estimated at around 16 trillion Dollars. This is something close to 90% of this year’s gross domestic product of the country. It is also twice the total monetary outlay for all wars the US has fought since 9/11, and approximately the estimated cost of 50 years worth of climate change damage.

In some ways, COVID-19 has the economic impact of a war, especially looking at its fiscal and monetary impacts. The internet enabled us to ask a large proportion of the population to work from home, and enforce drastic lockdown measures at scales unseen before, shutting down significant parts of the global economy. Countries were seen trying to offset the shock by supporting citizens with additional income through government schemes. These are the kind of moves you would expect present in a world war.

“For the first time in history, we used lockdowns to combat contagion. Because we could.”

Dr. Naill Ferguson

An Oxford Study showed that stringency levels of lockdown have been proven to have no correlation with the success of individual countries to combat contagion. But, they do correlate with the level of economic shock in their markets.

Creating a multiple tier global economy

Effective vaccination and additional fiscal stimuli could help the economy recover rapidly, once everything reopens. But an important question remains, will the economy overheat and what consequences would this bring for the world?

The USA along with most European countries are expected to reach a reasonable level of vaccinations by the summer, which could trigger their markets to react similarly to a post-financial crisis, focussing on overproduction. Such a scenario could eventually lead to the overheating of the economy. However, for other parts of the world it’s a very different story. India and Brazil are still struggling with the largest waves of contagion, and their path back to globalisation will be inevitably slower. Similarly, some countries who have already repressed the virus but have not yet vaccinated a sufficient amount of the population, will remain closed for travel, and business.

This could lead to the development of a two or three tier global economy, where western countries struggle to understand why emerging and developing economies are lagging behind.

And an uncertain (geo)political future

History repeatedly tells us that disasters can have big political consequences. And while populist leaders might be receiving most of the blame for badly managed anti-COVID measures, facts show that in reality, it was the failure of public health bureaucracies in many democratic countries, including those governed by liberal politicians, which delayed the efficient management of the pandemic.

But amidst large protests across the world, typical during a pandemic, people look for normalcy. The question remains whether extremist rhetorics that have gained influence during lockdowns, and found space online, will resurface in the future and drive novel catastrophic political agendas.

Nevertheless, no normalcy in the domestic sphere can draw back to the second Cold War that began between the USA and China even before COVID-19 initially hit. During the pandemic, tension continues to mount between these two world powers, and could easily escalate into a showdown demonstrated on a territory like Taiwan.

General paranoia is better than meticulous preparation

There are many threats around the world that need our dire attention, from ensuring access to drinking water, to combating hunger, stopping wars, to mitigating climate change and maybe even preparing for the next pandemic, or a complete internet blackout.

“During the difficult time of the pandemic, people came to services, such as Twitch, not only to talk about gaming, but to be with their community.”

Sarah Iooss, Head of Sales for Americas, Twitch.

But we cannot hope to predict a disaster, and we do live in a reality with much higher uncertainty than we are ready to admit. And so the best way to avoid doom is to build antifragility mechanisms into our system, cultivate general resilience rather than specific preparedness, and leverage the full potential of technologies that exist in combination with full transparency of government policies and actions.

We have to learn from history. If we keep fighting the last war, we will inevitably fail. Understanding the reasons behind events, best practices in combating disasters, and leveraging technologies to keep our families and societies safe, will help us create a beautiful future for our children.

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The power of love (and humour): The art of leadership in a digital era



By Spela Majcen Marusic, Communications Manager

In a world driven by technological transformation, artificial intelligence and automation, trust is at an all time low. Excelling in human interaction has become key to the making of a great leader in a generation accustomed to praising and seeking authenticity. “Humour is the most underappreciated and underleveraged asset in both business, and in life.” explains Dr. Jennifer Aaker, The General Atlantic Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Coulter Family Faculty Fellow at Stanford Graduate School of Business (2020–21).

Walk this way, talk this way

One thing that differentiates the modern leader from what we’ve seen in the past, are their traits for success. Demonstrating authenticity and honesty in regard to their personal history and overcoming challenges, maintaining the ability to ‘speak like regular people’, and presenting themselves in an aspirational manner, all play into this. A Harvard Business Review study found that 58 percent of employees trust a complete stranger more than their own boss.

Leaders thus face unprecedented challenges, as their millennial employees seek to understand them, rather than follow instructions based on seniority and hierarchy. A modern leader needs to be understood, rather than revered, as we’ve seen in the past.

This puts them in a position, where modern leaders need to be bold, open to change, and command a sense of purpose amongst employees. By communicating purpose and continuously explaining the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, allows modern leaders to build a firm foundation of trust, crucial in a contemporary workplace. Research shows that understanding the purpose of the organization positively correlates with productivity, retention, and even physical health. 84% of executives believe that an organization that has shared purpose will be more successful in transformation efforts.

Here’s a story from A to Z

From a very early age we listen to stories, following the adventures of kings and queens, forest animals and mythical creatures. As an adult we may feel life doesn’t allow time for enjoying new stories, however our brain says otherwise.

“The ability to cultivate storytelling is key for CEOs to lead in a more meaningful way.”
Dr. Jennifer Aaker

Listening to a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end, moving through its arcs, drawing breath at cliff hangers and relaxing with a happy ending, connects with us at a personal level. Thus storytelling continues to be one of the most dynamic ways to learn about each other and explore the world around us.

 

Stories are one of the strongest tools that modern leaders can leverage to communicate purpose. When told well, even a short but powerful story will connect the listener to the speaker at a personal level. By throwing in a limited amount of relevant data, the audience’s brain is hooked in both hemispheres, logical and emotional.

Therefore if stories do have the power to build trust and communicate a sense of purpose, the use of storytelling is the ultimate trick up the modern leader’s sleeve.

Let me entertain you

Humour, that mindset that looks for ways to inject levity into situations, diffuse tension or even present the most boring presentations as bearable. Humour can be the weapon of choice in all tactical or tense situations, from diplomacy, to diffusing inappropriate behaviours, and building strong business teams.

According to dr. Aaker, “leaders with a sense of humor are seen as 27% more motivating and admired, their employees are 15% more engaged, and their teams are more than twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge”. And not only this, leveraging the power of humour increases revenue. A silly dad joke at the end of a sales pitch could increase customers’ willingness to pay by 18%.

 

The power of humour is chemical by nature, and it is undeniable that creating a moment of levity in business can increase bargaining power, build bonds quicker, enhance problem solving, encourage creativity, and boost resilience by diffusing tension.

The good news is that humour is a teachable skill. By understanding your humour style (take a quiz here) and adding a few new techniques to your repertoire (such as exaggeration, contrast, and the rule of 3), you can develop simple and safe jokes, based on truth, that might be exactly what you’re looking for in a tough situation. Remember, laughter may be universal but jokes aren’t; make sure to consider all cultural, social, and religious aspects before trying to crack a smile in the workplace.

“An artist’s relationship with fans is the new key to success in the music world. Creating contextual content, as hilarious as it could be, and making it go viral on platforms such as TikTok or Instagram, can create the next hit.”

Alfonso Perez, Warner Music Group

Humor teaches you to be present, and appreciate the here and now without taking yourself too seriously. What more could we wish for in our ever changing new reality, burdened by the ongoing pandemic.

All you need is love

One thing we should all wish for more is love. Love, in its broadest sense can be felt in many different ways and is closely connected to having a purpose and feeling valued in any situation. Love is one of the most motivating forces we will ever come across in life.

“People want to be valued members of a winning team on an inspired mission.”

Dr. Jennifer Aaker

Gallup’s research from 2016 showed that employees who derive purpose and feel valued at work are 1.4 times more engaged with the company, have 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and are 3 times as likely to stay longer with their respective companies.

Simply by making employees feel seen and valued, companies increase their potential to reach “limitless” goals.

“Love reminds us what it is to be human, and it reminds us that the role of business is to be more human too.”

Dr. Jennifer Aaker

At the onset of World War II, Winston Churchil worked to “win the hearts and minds” of soldiers fighting for freedom. Today, in a society increasingly driven by algorithms, this almost a century old concept resonates louder than ever. Bold leaders, communicating with authenticity, fueled by humour and mindful of the power of love, are those that through the use of stories can win the hearts and minds of their people, and thus rationalise the world around them.

So, let’s shift our mindset and look for ways to inject lightness into otherwise mundane, serious, stressful situations.

After all, YOLO.

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Create the future, or become a part of history: The power of disruptive innovation



By Špela Majcen Marušič, Communications Manager.

“As long as you believe that success is in predicting the next big thing, you fail. Success comes with experimenting and disruption. It’s about understanding the difference between predicting, and creating the future.” 

This is how Professor Ilya Strebulaev, the David S. Lobel Professor of Private Equity and Finance at Stanford Graduate School of Business, introduced participants of the Aleph Executive Speaker Series to cultural, organizational, and financial mechanisms that foster disruptive innovation throughout companies across all sectors.

In a world of unicorns, disruption is happening faster than ever

Throughout the past decade, innovation occured at an unprecedented pace. Disruptions are now regular phenomena across all business segments and industries, and almost all being introduced at the same time. From Zoom to Uber and Oculus to Nest, products that are now essentials for everyday life, have only been introduced to consumers over the past decade.

In the late 1800’s, radio, a disruptive technology of the era, took 38 years to reach 50 million users worldwide. Some decades later, it took TV 13 years to achieve the same number of viewers, and by the end of the millennium we saw adoption of new technologies and innovative disruption moving with the speed of light. In fact, it was the speed of the Internet, an extremely disruptive technology, which needed only a mere 4 years to gain 50 million users, propelling this change in society. Facebook took 3.5 years to establish a 50 million strong community starting from 2004, and when Instagram was introduced some six years later, it took the platform only 6 months to do the same. Most recently, in 2016, Pokemon GO gained 50 million users in a record 19 days, proving once again the rapid pace and the undeniable power disruption holds.

 

Similarly, the number of unicorn startups in Silicon Valley jumped from 14 in 2011 to 546 in 2021, explains Professor Strebulaev. While many of them would fail, those that succeed are set to become key disruptors in their respective industries, changing consumer behaviour and affecting how businesses are run in the future.

A rapid technological advancement based on Moore’s law, and the power that each new user adds to the network, as explained by Metcalfe’s law, have created a business environment, where new market entrants don’t just need better technology, but also more users. A situation arises, the Power law, where we observe that every industry segment has one extremely large player, whose valuation surpasses the total of all other players in the segment. The second largest player will surpass the size of the rest, and so on. In this situation, we are presented with two large players dominating the market, with the remainder made from small businesses lagging far behind.

Large companies can excel through disruption

Companies that fail to innovate or adapt, are destined to forever remain part of history. Some of the largest global brands like Yahoo, Kodak, and BlackBerry are all long gone, simply because they underestimated the power of disruptive forces within their industries.

Many large companies are succeeding with incremental innovation. This step by step innovation doesn’t change the supply and demand, the business model, the nature of consumers or the nature of competitors. It focuses on product upgrades, projects with a short horizon, clear goals and well designed procedures, directly complementing existing business lines with easy measures to report on successes. These types of innovation target already existing customers and welcome short term cash flow.

 

 

And while incremental innovation produces an immediate effect, disruptive innovation is required to survive and thrive. This is innovation with longer horizons, where discontinuous change solves ambiguous problems, creates new business lines, and manufactures opportunities to widen reach. Disruptive innovation also requires short term investment, and is difficult to measure against standard metrics. It’s the Alexa to your Amazon or the Nest to your Alphabet (Google).

“The one advantage that large companies have over Silicon Valley startups are the resources they have to allow for experimentation. Even if the majority of your experiments fail, but a few work, you can win big time.”

Professor Ilya Strebulaev, the David S. Lobel Professor of Private Equity and Finance at Stanford Graduate School of Business

Large companies can become disruptors and winners if they succeed in cleverly organizing their operations. Improving internal innovation can be achieved through capping core and adjacent activities, which in most cases represent 80% of all their actions, with a portfolio of disruptive projects. This move can represent the difference between a future industry giant, and a forgotten brand.

Coupling the luxury of running hundreds of experiments in parallel, with well defined strategic venture capital funds, and spiced up with acquisitions from the outside (M&A strategies), large companies can create and ride new opportunities, all while setting the pace for new industry standards.

“Many leaders have a challenge understanding that disruption comes from something completely unexpected.”

Professor Ilya Strebulaev, the David S. Lobel Professor of Private Equity and Finance at Stanford Graduate School of Business

Developing and managing an innovation culture

Disruptive innovation is not possible without the support from the top, and the right corporate culture. On one hand, executives need to understand best practices from the past and learn from the mistakes of others. On the other hand, they need to engage everybody in the company to share ideas and acquire suggestions that a CEO would never think of themselves.

“One thing to understand is that success of companies like Amazon is not an accident.”

Alexander Dao, Head of Global Sales Partnerships at Snap Inc.

A successful CEO doesn’t have to be an entrepreneur, rather a great manager, who knows how to manage entrepreneurs and understand their disruptive mindsets. Coupled with mechanisms such as Amazon’s Flywheel, the Working Backwards concept and Snap’s lean approach to team setup and proper risk assessment, the flow of innovation is continuous, paving the way for further business development.

Not your obvious innovators

While startups, unicorns and large industry players are tapping into millions of dollars of resources and capital, 40% of the world are still not connected to the internet, 13% don’t have access to drinking water, and 10% don’t have electricity.

Innovators and disruptors in developing countries continue to lead progress by decisively working towards solving the needs and addressing the issues that arise in their communities. From harnessing wind power in Africa, to zero energy cooling systems in Bangladesh, these entrepreneurs work with little resources to create an immense impact in their communities.

“You don’t always need a ton of capital and a huge innovation. People can innovate on their own. What you need is to be purpose driven with a lean resource mentality.”

Alexander Dao, Head of Global Sales Partnerships at Snap Inc.

It is important to look ahead. But it is impossible to know what is going to happen in a world dominated by disruptive innovation. The future belongs to those who have a vision, those who experiment with disruptive ideas and strive to develop improvements, however small, helping to build a better tomorrow.

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Navigating the geopolitical sandstorm in the MENA region



By Špela Majcen Marušič, Communications Manager.

“Anyone who would be so bold as to attempt to make sense of the constantly shifting political sands in the Middle East today must be truly an expert, or something of a fool,” states Professor Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. In the latest of the Aleph Speaker Series, Diamond took participants on a magical carpet ride, offering an overview of the region’s current situation, and demonstrating the importance technology plays in political, societal, and economical development across the Middle East.

The Middle Eastern Dream

A decade after the Arab Spring ignited the wider Middle East and North African (MENA) region, the Arab Barometer shows that 85% of people still believed democracy to be the optimal political system, which contrary to some Western theories, the majority of Arabs perceive as compatible with their religious beliefs. In spite of this, Freedom House reports that MENA countries continue to be the least democratic, with levels of freedom falling well below other regions across the world. Governance of MENA states appears to be even more repressive than that of the pre 2010 era. Following the mostly failed revolutions during the Arab Spring, civil liberties within these countries have severely declined, presenting low levels of transparency and an extremely weak rule of law.

“Arab youth are frustrated, and will remain frustrated,” comments Professor Diamond. With about a third of the MENA population falling within the 15 – 25 age bracket, the significance this statement holds is indisputable. The education level is increasing and through the use of technology, the younger generations are now more interconnected than any before them.

However, this societal change has not been reciprocated in political and economic areas, with the majority of MENA states dependent on the (declining) wealth from oil, related subsidies, and the almost non-existent tourism industry at present. Any form of foreign investments, entrepreneurship, and innovation is curbed by continued corruption and state control (Egypt, Turkey), volatile and complex political environment (Lebanon), unstable regimes (Morocco), authoritarian states (Saudi Arabia) and in the worst cases, even war (Syria, Yemen).

Furthermore with progressively restrictive immigration policies enforced by the member states of the European Union, it is perceived that the Arab youth of today feel trapped. Coupled with growing technologies and the ability to compare lives through the lens of social media, they are witnessing the portrayed contrast between their own reality and that of their Western counterparts.

“The old social contract in the MENA region based on public jobs has been shredded by the fact that government coffers are empty. And a new generation is arising that won’t be happy with just whatever small opportunity.”

Professor Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution.

No modern economy without internet

The World Wide Web with all the applications and innovations that followed, has enabled people to discover broader topics of interest and develop expertise which historically were inaccessible to many on a global scale. Twitter was an instrumental tool in the Arab Spring, playing a crucial role in democratizing voices within authoritarian regimes, whilst extreme attempts to control and curb the liberty of expression online continued.

However, “shutting down social media to curb civil unrest is not a long-term solution,” believes Professor Diamond. The internet is essential for countries to ride the wave of the modern economy, and especially given the acceleration of digitalization due to Covid-19. From healthcare, retail, and government services to travel and tourism, it is difficult to find a sector untouched by this trend, and fortified by the global pandemic.

In 2019 Statista reported a total of 285 million internet users across the MENA region alone, with an internet penetration rate ranging from 91% in the UAE down to 43% in Egypt, and an average of 67,2%. With the majority of users accessing the internet through mobile devices, the mobile internet penetration rate across the region is forecasted to reach around 53% of the population by 2025.

Moreover, in 2019 Twitter was used by 22% of all internet users in MENA, over two thirds of the population (71%) were on Facebook, Instagram posts were popular with 42%, and Snapchat by 24%, reports Mid East Media.

Unable to deny the power of technology, regimes in the Middle East, look for other methods to tone down potential civil unrests and discourage protesters.

The battle of the AIs

In a world of mass exchange of information, and misinformation, the only option is to keep fighting forward through the use of technology. In this respect, we can observe a clash of two concepts: social media control by regimes in authoritarian states and the freedom of expression through social media by the society.

In one corner, governments are doing all they can to control public opinion. No longer able to do so by old fashioned methods such as spying or shutting down print shops, regimes in the MENA region are now increasingly importing cutting edge surveillance technologies and specialists to scale up controls. Facial recognition, smart cities, and other identifiers lie at the heart of surveillance in the 21st century. In addition, regime followers have been known to disable protest leaders on social media platforms, monitoring, censoring, and manipulating information using armies of ‘trolls’ set to enforce the idea that people’s (liberal) opinions are in minority,  thus discouraging them from decisive action.

And in the other corner, citizens, influences, and social media platforms themselves, have recently been seen taking a stand, putting into place proactive measures to curb and fight the disinformation and oppression. Throughout the past year, Twitter has started implementing a series of policies to detect and tackle synthetic media (deepfakes) and has developed prompt-like structures calling users’ attention to potentially misleading content, before they digest or re-share it. In this spirit, Birdwatch, the latest fact-checking program intended to fight misinformation on Twitter is set to add context notes to tweets, explains Sarah Personnette, Vice President of Global Client Solutions at Twitter.

“Internet and technology add scale to innovation, but also require incredible commitment to leadership and ethics in decisioning, in policy making and in management overall.”

Sarah Personnette, Vice President of Global Client Solutions at Twitter

They say “a fool is happy that he knows no more.” In today’s digital age, being a fool comes with a high price as technology gives us a greater capacity to acquire knowledge on a grand scale and greater responsibility to utilize this knowledge for a good cause.

Knowledge has the power to create and to destroy, the ability to empower or to oppress. MENA countries are those where business runs in the DNA of their hospitable people. It is thus our responsibility to become experts, continually aiming to understand and assess the current political and economic situation, see through the many complexities, and begin to leverage opportunities in the region.

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Judged by the content of their character: How organizations can contribute to create an inclusive society



By Špela Majcen Marušič, Communications Manager.

“Good intentions are not enough. We need procedures and systems because we are biased”. One of many powerful statements that Professor Margaret Neale, the Adams Distinguished Professor of Management, Emerita, at Stanford Graduate School of Business, shared with participants of the Aleph Executive Speaker Series, discussing the complex topic of diversity.

Throughout the course of human history, we’ve developed instincts to help us survive. In the past, unknown faces, features, languages, and differences in behaviours were perceived as potential warning signs for tribes. We learnt to identify with those who look and act in similar ways to ourselves, with the ability to make quick and effective decisions together, validate each other’s opinions and forge friendships.

However, the world in which we live today could not be further from the societies that existed thousands of years ago. In a globalised world, where technological solutions are accelerating exchanges and the global economy is moving faster than ever before, diversity ceases to be a threat, now representing an immense opportunity for those who wish to survive and thrive. In a globalised world, creativity and innovation are the winning formula.

More (diverse) brain, more gain.

“Nowadays, we need everybody’s help to succeed. And the more diverse the help, the more diversely we can think about the problems and potential solutions”, explains Professor Neale. In fact, organizations now understand that the ‘easy’ decisions, made by a homogeneous team, are not necessarily the ‘right’ decisions needed to drive the organization in the direction of growth. Researchers have been proving this point for the last couple of decades.

Deborah Gruenfeld’s Stanford GSB 1995 study, looked at how the US Supreme Court reached a verdict. With an aim to understand whether diversity of opinion among Supreme Justices resulted in decisions less likely to be overturned at a later date, this study paved the way for the future of diversity in the courtroom. They discovered that best legal reasoning occurred when the decision was not taken unanimously. This is one of many examples that details how the presence of a minority voice can provoke the response of the many, improving final decisions, despite the majority ruling.

The value of diversity has not only been shown to spark superior ideologies, leading to an increase in durable decisions, but has also demonstrated that diversity directly translates into money. A study paper from Daniels et al. (2020) showed that stock prices of a public company increased by 0.1% for each 1% increase in the diversity of that company’s employees.

Professor Neale adds “learning, creativity and innovation are difficult tasks,” and it is clear we cannot succeed in these areas without the collaboration of colleagues across various backgrounds and mindsets. “If you don’t include all different people in the pool, you lose the full capacity and potential of your organization.”

Whilst generally we all seem to agree that respecting and harnessing the diversity of today’s globalised world is not only ethical, but also has strong benefits for business, economic, and societal progression. Society still struggles to fully introduce, immerse, and implement all aspects of diversity into our lives.

“If you don’t include all different people in the pool, you lose the full capacity and potential of your organization.”

Professor Margeret Neale, The Adams Distinguished Professor of Management, Emerita, at Stanford Graduate School of Business

Being conscious of our bias

Over the course of centuries, our brains have been trained to identify similarities in the people we socialise and work with, so it is not surprising we have developed a number of unconscious biases; some of which are preventing us from fully diversifying teams in our organizations. Many of these biases are so deeply rooted that we may in fact be oblivious to their existence, such as the pre-conceptions we assign around behaviour and gender. Research by Rudman (1998) displayed that both male and female candidates who actively presented their achievements were perceived as more competent. While this is considered the norm for men, the side-effect for women talking strongly about their past achievements and engaging in self-promotion presented their character as less likeable.

Other times, we fall victim to moral licencing. According to Professor Neale, this happens when “we give ourselves permission to do something bad when we did something good.” Research suggests, just like shamelessly indulging in a brownie after an hour spent in the gym, people are more willing to express prejudice in their attitudes, ideas and behaviours, when their past behaviour has established them as non-prejudiced. Interestingly, research by Castilla and Bernard (2010) has shown that gender bias when determining bonuses becomes more likely in organizations that put a higher emphasis on meritocracy. In most cases this is due to the fact it is assumed decisions are being made in the correct (meritocratic) way, rather than ensuring they truly are. “So we stop looking. And when we stop looking, bias creeps in,” comments Professor Neale.

To determine that we never stop looking, it is essential to create sets of pre-established rules and assessment benchmarks.

Leveling the playing field

Understanding that we are biased and establishing the need to shift the attitudes and ideals of our organizations and societies, are the preconditions for embarking on the road to
change. Professor Neale argues that we each have a personal responsibility to be accountable for decisions based on the values of which we stand for. But also, we have the responsibility to create a mechanism which would allow people of all different backgrounds and opinions to be heard. She draws a clear distinction between proactively acting on something which you assume is aligned with your values, and actively addressing the bias or a preconception while implementing your values in practice.

Moreover, whilst there is a relative level of similarity observed in the behaviour of male and female professionals on LinkedIn when searching for jobs and researching potential employers, differences still exist when it comes to application rates; with women being 16% less likely to apply to a job after viewing it, and 26% less likely to ask for referrals than men. Recruiters also fall prey to unconscious bias, as they are in fact 13% less likely to open a female profile on the network. However, when they do, they discover both genders are of course similarly qualified.

By removing the bias from the system, people end up doing what they do best. And many organizations around the world are already taking decisive steps to combat this.

“Over 10.000 LinkedIn members now hold titles that have the word diversity in the name,” explains Sergio Cisneros from LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, and these roles seem to be growing in leadership. We saw a spike in these numbers especially after the first lockdowns of 2020, which shortly after coincided with the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, where the topic of diversity was spotlighted becoming the number one discussion in the country and beyond.

And while diversity and inclusion, no matter how well intended, could raise resistance and backlash, every action is a step towards a more equal society, inevitably enabling more innovation and creativity.

Diversity drives growth

Diversity is not just about the colour of your skin or the language you speak. No individual is
diverse by themselves, but becomes so when they are part of a group. Thus when discussing diversity, no individual should be left out of the conversation.

Sometimes the question of equality and equal opportunities is not about whether society is ready. Just as The Beatles refused to play in front of a segregated audience in 1964, organizations, individuals and political leaders of today have to understand the importance and value of diversity, and step up to say “this is the type of society we want to live in”.

We are by nature biased and there is no one simple answer to overcome this. However, we do know through defining fair procedures and striving to create a level playing field, that we are taking small but important steps towards a bright future in which these guidelines will no longer be a necessity but become undisputable values and habits amongst society. Only then we will achieve what Martin Luther King dreamt of all those years ago – to be judged solely by the content of one’s character.

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