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VIDEO: A Network Runs Through It: Conversations on the Future of Business

In her latest book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, MIT professor Sherry Turkle laments what she perceives as the lost art of conversation. I’m not sure I’d blame electronic connectivity solely for any diminution in our conversational skills. All too often in our professional lives we sit in silos that can constrain our field of vision, our network of connections, and our ability to explore cross-silo issues. It’s clear to me that as the world spins at an ever-faster pace, we need to take more time to discuss the big issues that are animating business and challenging our worlds.

We created a new initiative, Conversations on the Future of Business, as a platform for engaging in discussion and exploration of these issues.  Most recently, we caught up with leaders in business and academia to explore the universal conversation topics of customer centricity, insight-driven innovation, unlocking human potential, optimizing resources, and the Networked Economy. You can view video excerpts here:

Hosted by Larry Dignan, editor in chief of ZDNet, the conversations ranged widely. But as in any lively discussion, themes emerged. In particular, I was struck by how interrelated these topics are. You can’t talk about innovation without mentioning mobility, say, or describe supply chains without also discussing social media.

The other aspect I couldn’t help but notice is that networks run through everything we do. From serving customers to managing our workforce, from improving innovation to enhancing our supply chains, we rely on connectivity. We’re truly entering, if not already fully vested in, the Networked Economy.

The Mobile Customer Experience: Ashley Sheetz, CMO of video-game retailer GameStop, described her company’s efforts to deliver a superlative customer experience. In that context she talked about the growing importance of mobile technology:

“Are we selling products through mobile devices? Absolutely. But even more so than that, people are coming through mobile devices to do research….So mobile is important for us as we think about the customer journey before they come in the store, while they’re in the store, and as they leave the store. It’s important for us not to just have a mobile strategy, but to have an omni-channel strategy that plugs mobile into it. We don’t want to think about mobile as a silo, because our customers don’t think about mobile as a silo.”

Innovate More: Beth Jacob, CIO of retail giant Target, described how innovation must pervade every aspect of business and offered advice on making innovation everyone’s job:

“Some of the places we’ve innovated, as you know, when you shop Target, you can swipe your card before the transaction is complete. It’s a small but important innovation that we patented … that allows our checkout experience to be really easy and really fast….Make sure that you engage your organization broadly in innovation…. We have something called The Next Big Idea contest, and it’s a really fun contest. We’ve done it a couple of years in a row, and the last time there were over 700
ideas from our team members.”

Unlocking Human Potential: Mike Perlis, CEO of Forbes Media, spoke about the place of both technology and culture in unlocking human potential:

“Younger workers have lived in a world where technology has been in their lives all along. But we’re finding that it’s an attitude, it’s a sensibility, it’s a willingness to learn how to do new things. So it’s less generational than it is about aptitude and people’s willingness and capacity to work with new technology…. But as that happens, there are also fundamental management tools that we need to use, and especially from the top down, that are as salient today as they were in the past….Culture is what drives performance and actually lives above all these metrics that we’ve been talking about. So when our managers are hiring, when we collaborate on bringing somebody into the organization, along with all the hard numbers about how that person has succeeded in the past, we also look for a great cultural fit.”

Trust in Your Supply Network: Zachary Tumin, senior researcher at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, explored how both digital and human connections can improve supply chains:

“We’re seeing firms who are combining, recombining suppliers to address demand as they see it. We’re seeing social platforms emerge as a way for disparate partners in a supply chain to understand where their shipments are, the status of a good moving through a manufacturing process…. When there’s tremendous damage from either a natural or man-made disaster, then collaboration across a supply chain, those relationships built on digital frameworks but operating on the basis of trust … really deliver advantage.”

The Social Graph: Tumin is also co-author of the seminal book on networking, Collaborate or Perish. He talked about the need for businesses to create a “social graph” to map their interconnections:

“The power of the social graph, I think, is to accelerate and accentuate and amplify the effects of relatively small moves, so that they then rapidly proliferate….It’s to create a visualization of the business in ways you’ve never been able to before. Be able to see who the influencers are and move in that direction. Understand the structure of the networks. Who are the brokers in the middle? Who are the connectors? How can you move networks together by touching one part here and then activating passion over here, values over here? What would be the consequence of that?”

Have your own ideas on the future of business? Join the conversation featuring some of today’s most provocative thought leaders at a live event in a city near you this spring!

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