A pragmatic approach to futurism (notes from a recent speech)

BradHowarth-025As a researcher, speaker and writer I spend a lot of time considering the future and the changes that might impact our lives. It is a fascinating pastime, and something I encourage all people to think about in my presentations on managing for change.

But there is one problem that emerges when you talk tabout the future. It’s a little like talking about a foreign country – a fascinating place perhaps, but one where people have no relatives or business ties. It might be interesting to them, and possibly somewhere they might like to visit someday, but it is not a topic that is relevant to the problems they face on a day-to-day basis.

With luck they will have learned something new and interesting, but how can they use that information? How will it help them when it comes to dealing with the problems they face today?

Thankfully, there are ways to harness the future to help in the present, although it took a science fiction author’s words to make me realise it.

The American writer William Gibson was the first to coin the term cyberspace, but he also once uttered one of the most powerful quotes I’ve heard when it comes to understanding the state of the world today: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”.

Put plainly, there is so much already happening in the world that we are not aware of, because it is not visible within our immediate experience. While it is vital that we think about the possibilities that the future might hold, it is equally vital that we ensure we are taking advantage of all the tools and processes that are actually already here.

In my presentations to community and industry groups I strive to ensure that each audience member takes away at least one concept or idea they can put into practice that very day. Whether it is using the plethora of web-based tools that can help us run businesses more efficiently, or tapping into the online global labour market for skills and services, or any of the thousands of ways new technologies and processes can pull cost out of our businesses and extend our reach … there are simply so many options available to us that can impact our lives today, long before we need to embrace any of the amazing ideas that the future holds.

And the beauty of many of these tools and processes is that the dividend they yield is the one commodity that most business owners find so precious – time. Many of these tools are free to try, and designed to be used with the minimum of training. And if they can shave an hour or two from the working week – particularly in administrative tasks that add no value to the business – they easily pay for themselves.

The future might be dazzling and bright, but you don’t need to wait for the trends of the future to create a positive impact for you and your business today.

For more information check out my profile page at Saxton Speakers Bureau.

Why CMOs should be paying more attention to cybersecurity – CMO

Cyber SecurityThat cyber attacks can have a strong impact on brand value is indisputable, with the damage to the brand potentially outstripping the value of lost intellectual property or other damages. The extent of brand damage from a cyber attack can also be directly proportional to the quality of the brand’s response.

Data security is not just an issue for the IT or cyber security team. The damage from a cyber attack can affect the entire operation, and especially its brand reputation, and as such it is a topic that a broader set of executives are taking an interest in.

CMOs in particular are coming to realise that the era of data-driven marketing brings with it new responsibilities in terms of how their organisations manage and protect the customer data they are using. and that this data can be highly valuable to malicious actors.

So it is not surprising to hear that a growing cadre, led not surprisingly by marketers in the tech sector itself, are equipping themselves to better understand how their data is protected, and how best to limit the damage when an attack does take place.

You can read more about what they are doing and the links between cyber security and marketing in this article for CMO.com.au.


CMO – Why this marketing and creative chief switched from global brands to local startup

Photo by DAMIAN SHAW.com

Photo by DAMIAN SHAW.com

Startups are renowned for being able to build brands off a shoestring budget – a talent that at times has left established competitors scratching their heads about how they can rise to prominence with such small budgets.

Craig Davis is now learning those lessons first hand. The former chief creative officer of Publicis Mojo is now heading up marketing for a small but exciting Australian startup, the parcel delivery service Sendle.

He describes the experience so far as being like an MBA in the new ways of brand building. Given how successful many startups have been in stealing attention (and revenue) from big-spending established competitors, it may be an experience that more up-and-coming marketers might want to see featured on their resume.

You can read more about Craig and the lessons he is learning in this article for CMO.com.au.

CMO – Getting the lowdown on people-based marketing

people_1All marketing is about people – surely? As with all things related to digital marketing, the term ‘people-based marketing’ means much more than what it seems. While much of the marketing world works on probabilities – buying ads in a certain program at a certain time will ‘probably’ reach a certain audience, people-based marketing aims to be very specific – reaching actual (although usually ‘anonymised’) individuals whose attributes have been pre-determined through some form of opt-in system. To learn more, take a look at this article I wrote recently for CMO.com.au.

CMO – Why Tourism Victoria decided to go agile


Its easy to forget that all the tools and methodologies that make startups successful are equally available to existing organisations – if they choose to use and master them. So it was great to see an example of a government agency adopting the agile development methodology in conjunction with its digital agency when it came to revamping its core website.

You can read more about the agile partnership between Tourism Victoria and its agency IE Digital in this story for CMO.com.au. For Tourism Victoria, embracing a new way of working together delivered greater transparency into the development process, and ensured that it knew exactly what it would be getting for its money.


CMO – Adelaide City: Using location data analytics to improve destination marketing

adelaideI’ve been watching the ‘smart cities’ movement for a while now, as town planners have grappled with the question of how to use technology to make our cities better places to live. Often the discussion has taken a very technical turn, and got caught up in discussions around the deployments of Wi-Fi networks and sensors.

Cities are inherently human places however, so it is refreshing to see Adelaide City Council put its people at the heart of its smart city strategy. Technology does not usually form a major part of destination marketing (at least beyond the media used for its dissemination), but you can read more about how Adelaide is using technology attract and retain citizens in this story for CMO.com.au.

CMO – Mobile payments: The new future of commerce

mobile-paymentsTaking money is ultimately the most important part of the sales & marketing cycle for for-profit businesses. So with consumer expectations of customer service continuing to rise, its no surprise that many companies are now turning their focus onto smoothing and improving this vital process. Companies like Uber and Airbnb are showing the way in terms of making the transaction process all-but-invisible, and new tools and services are extending that capability to an increasing variety of transactions. You can read more about trends in payments in this article for CMO Australia.

My speech to the Geelong Communities accessing Technology Digital Inclusion Forum

City_of_Greater_Geelong_LogoLast year I signed up to be a Champion for the Infoxchange National Year of Digital Inclusion initiative, which seeks to raise awareness of the one-in-five Australian adults who are not yet online. As such I’ve been seeking out opportunities to discuss this issue, and seek out solutions.

Yesterday’s Communities accessing Technology Forum in Geelong was a great opportunity to so exactly that, as it bought together representatives from across local government and community services along with other interested parties to learn about and discuss digital inclusion. As the MC I was also asked to give a brief opening address, and I’ve pasted in the text below.

Communities accessing Technology Digital Inclusion Forum

The Importance of Digital Inclusion

I’ve been lucky to spend the last two decades studying the impact of technology on business, society and individuals. I’ve seen the pitfalls and the benefits, and I’d have to say the benefits easily outweigh the negatives.

To write about technology is to live somewhat in the future. But to quote the science fiction author William Gibson, the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

I’d like to alter Gibson’s words today in the context of digital inclusion, to say that while the benefits of digital technology are here, those benefits are not evenly distributed.

We’ve long spoken of the concept of a digital divide, where society is classed into two classes of haves and have-nots – the information rich and information poor.

I’d also like to re-categorise that divide along the lines of the ‘access rich’ and the ‘access poor’, as being a participant in the digital age is about more than information. It is about access to services, on a 24/7 basis.

The divide can also be categorised from the perspective of skills. Without the skills necessary to act in a digital world, then the benefits of digital will also remain out of reach.

Today around one in five Australians do not have access to the benefits of digital services – that’s an estimated 1.1 million adults who have never accessed the internet. Throughout Australia there are pockets of society that the digital revolution has not yet touched – especially the age bracket of 65 and over, with 32 per cent not going online. For other groups the barriers are in terms of affordability, or access to infrastructure based on geography.

You’ll hear more stories later today on why this situation emerges, and about the factors that are creating these new classes of the access rich and the access poor. You’ll also be hearing success stories from those who are finding ways to tear down these barriers, and of programs that are designed to build on these successes to build a more digitally-inclusive society?

I’ve devoted a good part of the last few years exploring these issues, as a Champion for the Infoxchange National Year of Digital Inclusion initiative, and as an Ambassador for the Broadband for the Bush Alliance Forum. I’ve appreciated hearing stories firsthand from those who are living on the network’s fringe, such as how their kids’ education suffers when it rains, as the satellite signal can’t get through the rainclouds.

I spent last week in central west Queensland running a digital strategy workshop for the Queensland Government’s Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation, working with small business owners to help them plot their own path forward.

The lesson that emerged for me was the importance of having skills resident in the local community. It struck me that the best solutions to the issues of digital inequality in society are those that are community led.

So I want to emphasise the importance of having community leaders who participate as role models, espousing their beliefs, and also enacting them. For a community to move forward it must be able to see the role models that are leading it forward, otherwise the concepts can be rejected.

But why is this important? Its my view that access to the digital world is becoming one of the key determinants of success in modern life, alongside other basic but essential services such as healthcare and education.

To live in this world without access to digital services is to live a life that is drifting farther and farther from mainstream society. The digital world provides access to a raft of services that are otherwise unattainable, in education, employment opportunities, and the the social fabric of society.

That list is constantly expanding, as more and more services migrate online. The current push by governments to a ‘digital first’ stance will only serve to highlight the disadvantages of not being online.

These changes on the whole will benefit society, but will these benefits be available to the whole of society?

Ultimately, that’s up to us.

9 technology trends to shake up your business – INTHEBLACK

biosensors-featureIt doesn’t seem so long ago that some of products and technologies that are commonplace today were still resident in the realm of science fiction.

The coupling of smaller and more powerful technology with human imagination is likely to have an even more profound impact on our lives in the immediate future, and you can read about nine transformative technologies in this article for CPA Australia’s INTHEBLACK website.

My speech from the ASCA Smart Communities Summit

2014-concept-1-gif_0Last week I gave the opening ‘catalyst’ address for the Australian Smart Communities Association’s inaugural Smart Communities Summit in Caloundra. A Few people have since asked for the speech and the notes it includes on what defines a smart community, so I am Catalyst speech.

The event itself was both well attended and well constructed, with presentations from leading thinkers and practitioners involved in creating smart communities in Australia and around the world.

We have already begun planning for the follow-up event in 2017 – hope to see you there!