Resisting the Rush to Technology for Solutions

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Is anyone else getting tired of the talk –  and it is mainly talk – of digital transformation?

The endless rounds of conferences, clubs and lists of so-called digital leaders – all promising a tech utopia.

At a recent event I observed an audience listlessly staring at their iPhones as a speaker described how digital was changing the world.  It certainly has  – no-one was paying him the slightest bit of attention.

The problem I have with digital cheerleading is two fold:

A) The implication that all our problems are ‘solvable’ 

B) The subsequent rush towards technology – as if digital is the only solution.

Organisations are too often focussing on form rather than function , digitising the prosaic and easily achievable (customer portals anyone?) rather than having a fundamental rethink of why they exist. 

As I’ve argued before, transformation is not about the illusion of radical change  – but a reshaping of purpose.

All the work we have been doing at Bromford over the past five years has convinced us of three things:

  1. There are problems in communities but there are even more opportunities. We have learned that our customers and communities have many skills. That even if  they do need ‘help’ they are just as likely to find what they need from a friend or a neighbour as they are from a ‘professional’.
  2. That many of our most challenging issues fall into the category of Wicked Problems like social isolation, health and income inequality. These aren’t amenable to a single organisation, top down instinct to define, analyse, dissect and process.
  3. The challenge is connecting the various players and closing the gaps. Who is connecting the connectors? 

Over the next few months we will be launching a completely re-engineered way of providing our service – an evolution of the Bromford Deal.  

It’s less about Bromford as a single purpose organisation and more of organisation as a platform. Organisation as a super connector.

It’s the result of all the testing , piloting and exploring we’ve been doing over the past few years. The learning from all these pilots has brought us to an overriding conclusion: we can have the most impact with our communities when we truly get to know them and are freed from the shackles of how we used to do things.

Those shackles include silo working, restrictive policies, a reliance on contact centres and customer relationship ‘management’ software. As if customers are there to be ‘managed’ anyway.

Are we just Luddites?  I’d argue not – the principles will be supported by mobile working, collaborative tools and digital networks. However we are resisting putting burdensome technology in the way of relationships.

Digital evangelists too often presume that it will solve all our problems. By doing this we embark on the worst kind of technological solutionism – that risks ignoring the skills, assets and sheer talent that exists in our communities.

Who is connecting the connectors?

Starting now:

We are. 


 

Note: We are recruiting to support this! 

You can see a video of the new approach (perfectly narrated by Lab Manager – Vicky Green). 

Here’s a link to example job profiles of the Head of Locality and Neighbourhood Coach (these are available in different geographical areas – go to main Bromford  recruitment site)

If you’d like any more information or a quick chat, just message me here or via Twitter DM and I’ll connect you to the right people!

Can Working Out Loud Inspire Creativity and Inclusion?


Collaboration – for all the rhetoric – is much harder , and for many of us less preferable, than working in isolation.

Today we’ve woken up to find the  UK has made a historic choice. A choice that could be interpreted as a desire to go it alone rather than working with others. To seize ‘control’ rather than work within a large and complex network.

The biggest innovation challenge we have today and in the years ahead – is that we simply stop talking to ourselves. That we value inclusion and collaboration above all.

The opportunity afforded to us by digital networks was meant to open up a new era where organisations committed to improving people’s lives (that’s most of us, right?) commit to open learning, sharing and collaboration.

It won’t happen without a lot of hard work. Most organisations and sectors thrive on insularity. It’s the way we’ve been raised. Working with others is messier, less predictable and more complex.

The issue is , right around the world , people are working on solving exactly the same problems. Huge amounts of talent seeking to address, income and health inequality, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, ageing, digital exclusion and loneliness.

Yesterday I spoke at a conference led by Suzanne Rastrick. It was organised by the NHS – the single biggest employer across Europe. It filled me with a lot of hope for the future. I like the way that Suzanne and her colleagues are reaching out to other sectors to get their ideas. Reaching out to communities to provide a less paternalistic and more human health and wellbeing service.

Most of our challenging business issues, fall into the category of Wicked Problems. These aren’t amenable to the single organisation, top down instinct to define, analyse, dissect and process.

These issues are incapable of being explored through hierarchical corporate machinery, a single sector or even a single state. They need an open network of rebels and pragmatists, doers and doubters, idealists and investors. Only through truly open innovation will we tackle them successfully.

That means working out loud – something we’ve begun to do at Bromford but needs far more development.

  • It means opening up your organisational borders to fresh thinking , new partnerships and ideas.
  • It means moving away from intranets – the death of corporate innovation – where all your knowledge is locked away from those outside your organisation. (And often from many within it too).
  • It means stopping wasting money on conferences where sectors congregate to talk to themselves. Instead we need strategies aimed at purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation.
  • It means generously sharing your knowledge , successes and failures through blogs , accessible dashboards and other digital tools.

However it feels right now, we are much better connected. Digital technology means we can share and learn in ways unimaginable even 10 years ago.

We still have the opportunity before us to connect communities, businesses and sectors – boosting our capacity and capability for innovation and change.

We still have the opportunity to connect with others across real and imagined borders and form movements and partnerships that change things for the better.

In that respect – today I’m just as hopeful as I was yesterday.

To Boost Innovation We Need To Make Ourselves Obsolete

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If you’re of a certain age you’ll sometimes find yourself reminiscing about an age where things were built to last.

My own mother swears her first washing machine lasted for over 20 years. Today,  Apple expects the lifecycle for an average iPhone to be just three.

Firstly – this is almost certainly a rose tinted view of the past.  I remember several breakdowns and days of hand washing in our house. Statistics back me up – In 1971 Which? found that 50% of washing machines broke down in their first year. Today the chances of a breakdown in six years is just 12%.

Secondly – the relative cost of technology has fallen dramatically. In 1970, the cost of a washing machine was extortionate – equal to about 8% of average annual earnings. Today it’s barely 1.5%. 

In truth – today’s goods are far cheaper and far more reliable than they ever were before.

The price we pay for this innovation is a much shortened lifecycle. And it’s known as planned obsolescence.

This is a strategy in which the process of becoming obsolete— unfashionable or no longer usable – is planned and built into it from conception.

Many see planned obsolescence as a driver for innovation.  Philip Kotler has described it as

the working of the competitive and technological forces in a free society—forces that lead to ever-improving goods and services.

Others regard is an exploitation of customers – driving them through a never ending cycle of wasteful upgrade or repurchase.

However – I propose that it has a place. And that includes a role in how we design our organisations and how we design our public services.

One of the questions I often hear asked is why aren’t our organisations embracing change, new technology, social innovation, more quickly.

The answer is pretty simple I think:

Getting rid of the old is harder than embracing the new.

All the talk and excitement of sexy new tech and ways of working runs out of steam when faced with legacy systems, established practices and policies. All formed in a very different age and stuck in place like a limpet on a rock.

Whilst organisations are generally very good at coming up with new ideas and practices they are generally not so skilled at decommissioning older ones.

  • So what if we designed all new services and products with the life cycle of an iPhone?
  • What if our customers and colleagues knew at the launch of a service that the infrastructure was in place for just four years , after which a newer , more powerful upgrade was to be launched?
  • What if rather than plan on our services being around forever , we designed for the very conditions in which they would cease to exist?

Wouldn’t that be a better future than yet more failed attempts by services to fix society? 

Over the next few months Bromford will be launching a completely re-engineered way of providing our core service. In fact it’s less a service and more a relationship. A relationship less about housing and more about people.

It’s the result of all the testing , piloting and exploring we’ve been doing over the past few years. The learning from all these pilots has brought us to an overriding conclusion: we can have the most impact with our customers when we truly get to know them and are freed from the shackles of how we used to do things. 

This redesign will be accompanied by a process of decommissioning.  And we’ll have dates by which we will know whether objectives have been achieved. Dates when we can begin again or decide we are no longer needed in the same way. Or even at all.

If we all planned for obsolescence we’d perhaps see a very different social sector. A sector where innovation wasn’t endlessly lauded so much as endlessly practiced.

A sector where things maybe didn’t last so long , but where services had more impact, were cheaper, and rarely broke down like they used to.

 

Stepping Behind The Rhetoric of Digital Transformation

Fundamentally the challenge for current leaders and public sector organisations is the legacy thinking and a business model which is rooted in serving a de facto purpose which is disconnected from the people and places the organisation or leaders serve – Carl Haggerty

 

Yesterday I chaired an event where the CEO of HACT , Matt Leach, gave us a wicked provocation.

Talk of a digital transformation in housing (he could also have been talking about care, health etc) is rubbish.

It hasn’t happened.

All the talk , all the conferences , all the clubs , the tweets,  all the lists of digital leaders – it’s all rhetoric.

Nothing has changed.

We are delivering the same services as we did in 1965. Just with shiny websites and customer portals.  

It’s a point that Carl Haggerty also refers to in his must read post. Too many people are claiming that there is digital transformation happening – when really it is just automating legacy processes.

It’s improvement for sure. Less time for customers , less money for providers – but it’s not ‘transformation’, a word possibly even more abused than innovation.

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Here’s what transformation could be:

  • Rebuilding your organisation as platform – enabling people to select the suppliers and services they themselves want – rather than the ones that made it through your procurement framework.
  • Rewiring your organisation for the network era – stripping out hierarchy and management and making the,  often painful, transition to decentralised decision making.
  • Automating everything that can be automated. But not before stripping out legacy protocols and systems.  Decommissioning old world services as you launch new ones, reserving your people for worthwhile jobs that add value to their lives and those of others.

Transformation is not about the illusion of radical change (better, faster services , less crap than they used to be) but rather a fundamental rethink of why you exist – and a reshaping of the ways you deliver upon it.

That said, a few events I’ve been to over the past week have reminded me that many of us are a long way from this.

For a lot of people closer to the frontline some minor changes could be truly transformative.

Over the past days I’ve heard the , sometimes sad,  reality of people trying to change things whilst their organisation seems to fight against it.

  • Of organisations where social media is still banned, or at least actively discouraged
  • Of organisations where IT departments tell people resources like Yammer and Slack cost £35,000
  • Of people stuck using digital tools that were last updated when Gordon Brown was in Number 10.

(As an aside I was told great stories of young people entering the workplace not knowing what Outlook is. Not even realising that Microsoft made anything other than Xbox!)

For all the talk of transformation we are in an era of digital haves and have nots. And Matt rightly questioned how seriously this agenda is taken strategically.

  • How many social sector organisations have true digital leaders on their boards?
  • How many Chief Information Officers (or their equivalent) are part of the executive function?

At the end of the conference I collected up some of the evaluation sheets.

The first one had scored my slot , presented in the slides above, 5 out of 10.

My talk of robots, 3D printing and self management was a world away from what they needed. They just wanted tips on how they could convince their organisation that social media had a business benefit.

Transformation, like innovation, is all relative. We need to support whatever makes a difference to people. 

How Organisations May Stifle Community Creativity

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One of the many challenges for the public sector is that it must start believing in people and communities again.

We know that many organisations are out of sync with technology , but there’s an argument that they are increasingly distant from an economy where sharing and collaboration trump paternalism and top down protocols.

One of the most interesting comments on my post How To Kill Creativity was from John Wade. In it he wondered whether the organisations that limit the creativity of their employees also inadvertently stifle citizen and community strengths.

I think the answer is almost certainly yes.

It’s well established that meetings, emails and design by committee suck the creativity out of a business , so surely this would trickle down to the end user?

If you have a risk averse culture surely you also contribute to risk aversion in communities?

One of the more damaging ways we can stifle creativity is just by not listening. Of leaving the thinking to the ‘experts’.  If it was an idea worth having, the experts would already have thought about it. They have all kinds of qualifications and can write reports and they tend to use very long words. When there’s a problem they really can’t solve they will often bring in a consultant or make an appointment to their board.

We can also – without meaning to – make communities defer to authority. Everyone is a manager or an officer. This indicates that someone is in charge and is important. The people in charge must know what they are doing, or they wouldn’t hold the positions that they do. They don’t need any ideas on how the service could be run differently.

These behaviours are out of kilter with networked communities and the way we share information and resources.

If we approach public service purely as a one to one consumer transaction we’ll view the world through the lens of efficiency, reduced contact, metrics and performance indicators.

In an economy moving towards sharing rather than just transacting we need to build a new set of behaviours based on trust, fondness, habit and traditions.

Huge parts of the public sector have designed services around what people can’t do for themselves rather than nurturing what they can.

At Bromford we are in the process of reshaping our organisation around the latter.  A move away from managing to coaching and connecting.

Every individual and community has assets, talents, skills and abilities. Better to focus on helping to develop and release these, rather than treating people as a series of ‘problems’ that need to be solved.

If we think of our organisations as platforms to enable people – rather than just as service providers – it fundamentally changes how we seek out ideas.

Yesterday we hosted a discussion in Bromford Lab kicking off a 12 week period looking at the problem , or opportunity, of loneliness.

What struck me more than anything was how the conversations we have are completely changed. Very quickly the contributors stopped talking about loneliness and starting talking about community connection. About amazing examples they had seen of people doing things together. Of Bromford leading by stepping back. Of the organisation no longer feeling it has to be omnipresent.

Believing in what people can do means being brave enough to admit that we won’t always be needed.

Many of our public services are actually products of failure. They only exist because things don’t work.

Planning for obsolescence may sound suicidal, but it’s actually the most enlightened creative state your organisation can be in.  

 

People Don’t Believe Our Organisations – Here’s Why

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There’s not a week goes by – and I mean that quite literally – in which we don’t see a sector bemoan its image problem. The launch of some campaign or other to raise awareness of a ‘message’ and get people to see the valuable contribution it makes to society.

This week it’s housing, but I could have selected almost anyone. Charities, the NHS, Financial Services – everyone, everywhere is obsessed with image.

One thing I’m certain of is that all these marketing campaigns and re-branding efforts will fail.

Here’s why: trust in institutions is eroding. And trust can only be rebuilt by actions, not words.

Imagine you’re in a relationship that starts to break down. You don’t seem to understand each other anymore. Here’s what you might do:

  • Go back to the start. Revisit the experiences that attracted you to each other in the first place.
  • Recalibrate the relationship – trying new things together.
  • Wipe the slate clean. Start afresh and reinvent yourself. A new era and new challenge.

Here’s what you absolutely would not do:

  • Start a Twitter campaign to raise awareness of your contribution to the relationship.
  • Get all your mates to agree you’re a brilliant person and tell your loved one that he/she’s mistaken.
  • Launch a new strategy to tell them what you’ll achieve over the next five years.

But time and again we see organisations adopting exactly that approach – just with the public and politicians in mind.

The issue that we face is that trust is in question. Distrust in business and government is the new normal. And you can’t rebuild trust through marketing.

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The latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows that we face a truly global challenge.

In the digital age we are getting ever more astute in spotting spin, marketing and doublespeak.

The most credible sources are not your comms team, but an academic, a technical expert, a regular employee and “a person like myself”. All of these are more trusted than the people we here from the most – CEOs.

A ‘person like yourself’ builds trust – so we need to promote the voices of those engaged in frontline services, not the hierarchy.

Government is ,unsurprisingly, the least trusted institution. However non-profit organisations are also losing trust as they are perceived as ineffectual. 

In the world after Kids Company , and amid a huge decline of trust in charities, it’s no longer good enough to do good. You need to BE good.

If trust is at a tipping-point it’s a time for action not words.

To rebuild trust in our organisations we need to be more like people. Relationships in the digital age require acknowledging and accepting our human flaws. Ironically digital gives us the opportunity to be more human, to interact with people in more nuanced, intimate ways.

For organisations that means adopting behaviours of extreme transparency , honesty and sharing failure.

There are four things we need to do:

  • Default to transparency – publish everything. Even our biggest mistakes.
  • Reinvent services – not rebrand them.
  • Humanise the organisation – push our customers and colleagues to the forefront, not the bosses.
  • Forget trying to change the image of sectors – if we align ourselves with a sector we just become an average of everyone else.

Ultimately – if you really want to transform perceptions of your organisation or sector there’s only one option:

transform.

Anything else is just an expensive waste of time. 

What if Uber did health, housing and social care?

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If you’ve been to a conference in the past 12 months – you’ll almost certainly have seen the slide above, or a version of it.

Mentioning “disruptive innovation” adds a sprinkle of sophistication to otherwise ordinary presentations. It’s a sit up and take notice slide that says: ‘Better listen, or you could be history.”

However – it doesn’t always hit its intended target. A significant portion of the audience at a couple of events I’ve been to recently have looked at each other as if to say ‘that couldn’t happen to us’.

The reason for this seems to be the comfort blanket that can come with extended working in the public and social sectors.

The thinking can go like this.

  • We are different.
  • We deal with people who are highly complex with multiple needs and vulnerabilities.
  • No tech outfit could hope to understand the extent of the personalisation involved in our services.

It’s optimistic thinking – probably the same that was held by some taxi firms pre-Uber and hotels before Airbnb.

It’s going to take radical change a lot closer to home before many managers recognise how profoundly the rules of business have changed in the digital age.

Arguably though , it’s already happening. I’ve made a slide of my own that might be more relevant to the public sector.

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Far from fantasy – we are at the beginning of the end of one size fits all health, housing and social care monopolies.

Some examples:

Mercy is a hospital with no beds, no waiting rooms and no patients.There are nurses but they work virtually, providing care across 33 hospitals. The strategy is quickly expanding beyond hospitals and into the home. By keeping tabs on patients at home, Mercy can help keep people with chronic conditions out of the hospital.

Buurtzorg is a care system without managers, even though it has 9000 employees. To kill bureaucracy and overheads there are no call centres. Nurses take the calls. In self-managing teams of ten they plan patient visits and decide how long they spend there, depending on their judgement of the need.

Honor is home care without direct employees. Like Uber , the care professionals here are self employed and use an app that helps them find and keep track of job offers. Applicants undergo background checks and in-person interviews to screen them, with only 5% allowed onto the platform so far.  More flexible than traditional care – it allows people to book packages in just one hour increments, and aims to foster long-lasting relationships between caregiver and the customer.

What these systems and technologies do is to enable existing infrastructure to be used more efficiently. They are harnessing the power of the connected citizen rather than the analogue organisation. As Alastair Parvin has written – we are no longer stuck with the choice between the public sector and the private sector. The citizen sector now needs to be recognised as a viable, industrial force.

Is it impossible to imagine a local authority as just a digital platform with its services all outsourced?

Paul Blantern, Chief Exec of Northamptonshire County Council is almost there. The Council employed 12,000 people when he took over. Today they employ 6,000 and his vision is to reduce that to just 150. He was asked in this programme “Is there anything you wouldn’t outsource?”. His response – “No – it’s all about the outcome to the end user.” Essentially the ‘Council’ could reduce to zero as long as people feel the services are still good.

Is it impossible to imagine other organisations , housing associations for example, being managed entirely differently? Rather than multiple companies we may see a singular platform where users themselves directly procure the services they need from the cloud. The next generation of housing manager could be an algorithm rather than a person.

It’s not just housing. Any sector that has multiple players performing similar services is ripe for disruption.

There’s no question about whether the Uber , AirBnb, Facebook and Alibaba of the public sector will emerge.

It’s simply a matter of when.

 

[Credit to  Mike Clark and Shirley Ayres for inspiration on the slide! Thanks both]

 

How To Kill Creativity (And How To Rebuild It)

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Many of our organisations , without realising it , act as inhibitors of innovation.

Rules and protocols are put in place — often for very good reasons — that preserve the status quo. Over time, organisations develop a set of social norms — ‘the way we do things around here’ designed to protect the business from failure.

One of the biggest inhibitors of innovation is part of human nature itself — the fear of losing what we’ve got.

What if innovation isn’t about doing more stuff but just removing barriers?

What if we just become more conscious and innovation takes care of itself?

Perhaps by identifying and removing barriers we can accelerate innovation simply by leveraging the capability that’s already there.

Six things we can stop supporting:

Hierarchy

Most corporate structures are uniquely designed to ensure that any decent idea never goes near the top table. Structures that support hierarchical decision making limit opportunities for people to have influence and innovate.

Push power down by giving each employee as much decision-making power as possible within the framework of his or her job.

Restrictive job profiles

Job descriptions are like organisational treacle. They cause inertia because the moment employees are given specific responsibilities they expect them to stand still. They cause people to focus on “just doing the job”, not “thinking outside the box”.

Huge resources lie untapped. The networked organisation of the future will utilise the skills of people regardless of where they sit or what they do.

Over complication

What if we made it the number one objective of management to just get out of the way?

Most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in management and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

Silo Working

It’s hard to innovate when people work in silos. Splitting teams into isolated units limit the ability to identify which areas could be combined to create new products and services.

Lack of resources

Innovation is not about doing more stuff but doing less. We need to have honest conversations about decommissioning non value-added services. Go through your website and find 10 things you could stop doing today.

Reports and approvals

We need less time in meetings and more time conducting dangerous experiments.

Let’s stop writing reports and use the resources to create a space where an idea can take its first few breaths without someone trampling all over it. Let it come to life in a nurturing environment where we can see if it solves the right problems.

Too many organisations are failing to grasp how profoundly the rules of business in the digital era have changed. How we must become more networked, more social and more agile.

Our environment is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and interconnected. We can’t afford to have our organisations stifled by the protocols of a very different age.

(This article is an excerpt from “Can Innovation Labs Save The World” — a talk given to the National Housing Federation — full slides below)

The Big Tech Trends For 2016 (and why you shouldn’t believe them)

 

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In late 2010 my personal assistant Sarah-Jane conducted an experiment on me – without my permission or knowledge.

Unknown to me at the time she took my effusive notes from a couple of “Future Service” conferences and sealed them as a private entry in my diary to be opened in 5 years time.

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I was pretty surprised to see “READ ME. Has it come true?” pop up in outlook.

Sarah-Jane no longer works for me but she was a bit of an oddity (in a nice way). A millennial who had a deep mistrust of creeping technology and the digitisation of our culture. She’d closed her Facebook account and challenged me about my burgeoning cheerleading for tech and social business.

“Do you honestly believe any of this stuff will actually happen?” she said of my conference notes. “You should keep this – and check if any of it does”.

Let’s look at the main predictions and whether they have come true.  (A copy of my report is here. The original was on Microsoft word. We had no work access to Google Docs in 2010)

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Not a very good strike rate overall. In fact this is a great illustration of the fallibility of futurology. It has become known as Amara’s Law , that we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

All these things are available , just not evenly distributed. I can buy a robot assistant from Japan but I still can’t get decent wifi at Manchester Airport.

It seems the futurologists may have been more successful in predicting the changing relationship between organisations and their customers.

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Although the concept of social business is a slow burn in many organisations I think we’ve largely underestimated the way our work behaviours have changed.

Sarah-Jane has made me realise how far the world of work has progressed in five years.

  • I sit next to a 3D printer.
  • Except I don’t sit I stand – as I don’t have a desk.
  • I don’t use a single work owned device – it’s all my own.
  • I don’t use Word anymore. Or Excel. Or Powerpoint. (Yes, I’m still stuck with Outlook)
  • We publish everything we are working on online , accessible for anyone.
  • We have an Xbox and Wii U in the office.
  • We don’t measure what the team do in hours. They work when they want.
  • I work on solving problems with people in different time zones.
  • I chat with customers in real time, unrestricted by office hours.
  • I get fewer emails everyday.
  • I hardly ever go to meetings.
  • Yesterday I took part in a Google Hangout with people from all over the world.

In our rush to celebrate technology as an end in itself we risk forgetting how simple tools are allowing us to reshape relationships and extend our networks. Five years ago Bromford were still some months away from sending their first tweet. I would have been laughed out of the building for suggesting we need an innovation lab. Our collective network today is light years away from where we were.

When I read my secret message I whatsapped Sarah-Jane to tell her I’d read it (we don’t text anymore). She’d forgotten she posted it and agreed more had come true than had not. I told her I read her return message on my Apple Watch. She said “I knew you’d fall for buying one of those. What a geek. Some things never change”.

Perhaps we all need a little more cynicism when it comes to the big tech trends. It’s the small changes that are going on around us unnoticed that can make the biggest difference to people’s lives.

 

Holiday in Cambodia: 13 Innovations in Pictures

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In 1975 Cambodia attempted the most radical reinvention of society and community in history.

This was ‘Year Zero’ – a beginning of a new era where people would return to a mythic past. Self sufficiency and collectivism were promoted, technology and creativity mistrusted. City dwellers, professionals and intellectuals returned to toil the land alongside peasants.

About 1.7 million people , 20% of the population, died in the ensuing madness.

Proof – if it were needed – that not all social innovations are good ones.

Cambodia truly has been to hell and back. Today economic growth is robust, poverty is still high (but falling) and there is a burgeoning startup movement. Siem Reap has been named the top tourist destination in Asia and number 2 in the whole world.

Here’s my pictorial guide to 13 things I found creative, quirky or were simply great experiences.

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Making Flights Less Boring: I’m always interested to see how airlines are making the experience of spending 15 hours in a cramped metal tube less traumatic. In flight wifi is gradually rolling out and although far from perfect enables you to squeeze out an occasional instagram shot. I loved the Qatar Airways boxsets collecting themed films. Marvel cinematic universe and free drinks – perfect!!

 

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Tuk Tuk Customer Care: It’s hard to describe the traffic carnage of Phnom Penh. I asked a driver what the road rules were – he just shook his head sadly. But the proliferation of cheap transport encourages all sort of entrepreneurs determined to standout from the crowd.  This driver pulled over and bought us a couple of face masks to protect us from the fumes. Another gave us a couple of bottles of water. It’s like Uber – just without someone in Silicon Valley taking all the cash.

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Connected Travel: This driver has taken his Tuk Tuk to the ultimate bling level and installed free wifi. There are large parts of the UK with poor public transport and no connectivity – is it far fetched to imagine this as a solution? Note: I did see this Tuk Tuk but failed to get a picture. My instabuddy Miss Mel Travel kindly donated her pic – check out her instagram it’s awesome.

 

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The Future of Alternative Protein: Insects should become a staple of people’s diets around the world as an environmentally friendly alternative to meat. That’s not me saying that – but the UK government’s waste agency. Cambodians are a step ahead in that they’ve overcome the yuck factor. Seriously, this is healthy stuff and tastes a lot better than McDonald’s. Insect banks rather than food banks anyone? (I did do a shaky vine of me eating a deep fried tarantula but I wasn’t a fan. That abdomen was a bit mushy and funky)

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Weirdness: I asked a local guy the significance of this statue and he replied “everyone likes big dragon”. You can’t argue with that.

Wifi in the Sea: Our desire for connectivity knows no bounds. Hotels and bars are competing with each other to offer ever better wifi connections. This place on Otres Beach nailed it with connectivity that worked a good 100 metres into the ocean. My first experience of vining, instagramming and downloading music (the new Bowie album) from the water.

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RIP Dave: 48 hours later and Blackstar sounded a very different record. I didn’t get into Bowie until my mid twenties largely due to my good friend Kirsty Nicholls. (I spent most of my teenage years listening to Prince and Public Enemy and generally wishing I was black.) To anyone working in innovation Bowie will always be an inspiration for his constant experimentation – and total fearlessness when it came to failure. I’m not sure what it would look like if he’d designed public services – but they sure as hell wouldn’t be so boring. Salute.

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The Rise of the Selfie: So you get up at 4:30am to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Problem is, so has every other tourist – all looking for the perfect photo. A load of semi-pro photographers stood around with the tripods getting annoyed whilst 14 year old girls with iphones and sticks got in their way. Photography just got democratised. Buyer’s tip: You need to rise above the crowds, size really does matter when it comes to a decent selfie stick…

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Business Doing Good: I visited some amazing non-profits in Cambodia but one thing struck me – they didn’t look like non-profits. I’m generalising terribly here but a lot of the social sector in the UK has an image problem and I think many could look and learn from examples in the developing world. The wonderful Sandan Restaurant  is part of an alliance of training restaurants working with youth in need. The students serve you aided by a teacher, giving them vital skills in the world of work. It’s busy – we had to wait for a table. But people aren’t there to be kind to kids – they are there for the awesome food.

 

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Frugal Innovation: A wallet made from trash and old noodle packets. This is an initiative of M’Lop Tapang a local non profit who help street kids and parents who might be tempted to send them out begging.  The profits go to supporting at risk families and keeping kids in school. Cambodia has a huge trash problem – so this helps in a small way to keep the streets cleaner too.  

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Keep It Simple Stupid: This was brilliant – a hotel that gives you an old Nokia with just three numbers in it. Dial 1 for reception. Dial 2 for your personal driver and if you ever get lost or are a bit drunk Dial 3 and we’ll come and bring you home. No other tech needed. I’ll be devoting a whole post to the radical retake of the traditional hotel concept from De Saraan Villa.

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Street Level Entrepreneurs: Loved this pop up bar. Literally a bar grafted onto the side of a motorbike. The guy drives around to where the crowds are. It would never work in the UK, we’d think of 50 health and safety reasons to prevent him from kickstarting his business.

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Mobile Child Care: OK.. so we do need some some rules…

 

 

A country bouncing back from the brink with fresh thinking , drive and determination. Loved my trip and hope some of the ideas inspire you as much as they did me.

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