Clive Freeman is Director of Strategic Customer Development with Hewlett Packard Enterprise. It's a global role in business development in one of the biggest technology firms on the planet, with revenues exceeding $52 billion in 2015.
Clive is brilliant, playful and mischievous, and this first instalment is about how he sees the business world changing.
The Age of the Idea Economy
How can you have a hotel empire without owning a single hotel?
Airbnb. It's an idea. An idea currently valued at around $30 billion. The original idea was to buy 3 air mattresses to put up visitors as a way of helping pay rent. The bigger idea was to create a technology platform and online marketplace to enable others to do the same. 10 years on and Airbnb is helping over 3,000,000 people ‘pay their rent’.
An Exchange of Resources
Airbnb is doing something beautifully simple. It's creating a market place for the exchange of resources. On the one hand you have people with spaces in places, on the other there's people shopping for spaces in places (about 150 million of them, at last count). Airbnb is resource matching.
I love this simple and elegant way of looking at how business relationships can work: as an exchange of resources.
What’s the exchange going on in your business? What’s really going on? And what about leaders and followers, what’s the exchange going on there?
I’m going to return to this way of looking at things when I blog about Learning & Development (‘Putting the Dust in Industry’).
Clive helps global businesses de-construct their business models. And put them together again in a new and different way. A bit like Lego, but utilizing cutting edge technology.
Clive’s a ‘Re-Imaginer’. He brings incredible intellect, and expertise with technology to helping clients re-conceptualise their business models.
But there’s something else Clive brings to the party. It’s a quality I often glimpse in many of my favourite clients. Clive has the kind of mischievous edge I’m attracted to; a tendency towards disruptive subversion; delighting in not seeing things traditionally, the way you are meant to.
Subversive, Disruptive Mischief
Would a leading hotelier have come up with Airbnb? Would a taxi company have come up with Uber? Would a restaurant chain have come up with Deliveroo?
The geniuses making the big breakthroughs in today’s ‘idea economy’ are almost exclusively outsiders. They are subverting norms; disrupting established ways of doing things; driving their digital versions of a coach and horses through old industries; and, for goodness sake, not doing things properly.
Death to Bankers!
Clive didn't actually say that. But I really enjoyed the example of how technology is changing trust in banking. In banking, in the old days, each bank would have a ledger. And in that ledger would be written all transactions. It's what we trusted in a bank, that our deposits were safe, and it's still used to value lending and currencies. Bitcoin is a digital currency. It's driven by Blockchain technology and what that does is update every Bitcoin transaction on thousands of decentralised, local ledgers simultaneously. It negates the need for a centralized ledger and traditional, institution-based trust. It's a way of democratising money, and delightfully subversive.
Unlearning our Addictions and Habits.
Let's face it, complacency is relentless. Most of us believe tomorrow will be pretty much the same as today. We go to bed believing the sun will come up in the morning; that our friends and family will always be there; we button our blouses in much the same way as people have done for hundreds of years. We take the same old commute to work and probably won't remember much about it as we take our seat at the same old desk. And we'd be probably be prepared to die in the gutter if we found someone else sitting in our chair, or another team setting foot on our turf, so inward-looking and petty-minded we can so easily become.
As brilliant as the brain is, it loves creating habits: turning the conscious things in our awareness into preconscious automation. David Eagleman, one of my favourite neuroscientists, goes as far as suggesting that the world we start to inhabit - what we call reality: the thing we believe we are experiencing and 'seeing' - is only based on 10% input from the eyes. All we are doing in real-time is 'reality-sampling', 90% of our world is what we expect to see. Your reality is a habit, with all the hallmarks of an addiction.
Never underestimate how resourceful and agile an addict can be in pursuit of their next fix or in resisting change.
The Malice of the Status Quo
What's fascinating is how 'the establishment' are reacting to the new kids on the bloc – these innovators taking huge slices of their market. You might think the establishment would start questioning their traditional, 'proper' way of doing things. But that's not necessarily the case. Evidence is they are clinging to their business-models like limpets. Weaponised-limpets ready to take down anything approaching their rock. A bit like Copernicus who we killed for daring to suggest that the earth orbited the sun.
What we are seeing across the globe is political lobbying trying to halt the tide of change. Passing new laws to restrict the length of Airbnb leases, a tightening of regulations around taxi licensing, civil actions arguing for employee status for delivery drivers... Traditional businesses are trying to undermine the new business models and fighting for their addicted lives. But for how long?
Is Resistance Futile?
I will admit to loving the challenge to the established order that the outsiders are creating. In many ways it's a breath of fresh air (industries based on thin air?). But I don't think resistance is futile.
My cousin, Steve, drives a proper London Taxi – a black cab. I thought about him on my way home today. His family has been going on protests about Uber. Your Uber driver will have a car and a sat nav, and wont have spent years ‘Doing the Knowledge’. I don’t doubt it’s safer for passengers getting in Steve’s cab, because of that qualifying apprenticeship.
And when it comes to online shopping and home deliveries, I still tend to plumb for those offering The Royal Mail - I know my 'postman', chat with him, trust him, and The Royal Mail as an employer has half-decent employment practices. I won't do business with online retailers using the new breed of cheaper, online alternatives (like Yodel).
For me, the Idea Economy and the incredible innovations it’s clearly bringing, is asking questions of traditional business models. Useful questions. And, as excited as I am by people not doing things properly, if it was my child getting the cab or going on that city break, I don’t think I’d be suggesting Uber or Airbnb. Ok, you can organise it all on your smart phone, and that might feel empowering, but, just because you can does it mean you should? Are we trading our heroes for ghosts - trading 'better' for 'quicker & cheaper'? Or am I being an addict?
In the second instalment of my conversation with Clive (Are you ready to be Disruptive?) I will focus more on the role of the leader and how to ‘Orbit the Corporate Hairball’ – how even the firms at the cutting edge are struggling to lead work culture, and manage tricky issues like balancing consistency and control with their global growth, and how all this impacts a leader like Clive.
Peter Lodemore is an independent thinker and a disruptive, loving influence. He currently gets paid as a Leadership Consultant, Coach, Facilitator and Keynote Speaker.