Cleve Gibbon

content management, content modelling, digital ecosystems, technology evangelist.

Economy Ecosystem

I recently listened to a McKinsey podcast that features Miklos talking about the “economy ecosystem“.  It put into words something that has been bugging me for a while now about articulating the true role technology plays within organizations of the future.  Let me unpack that with a little help from Miklós.

I’ve been in the agency technology business for over two decades now.  There has been a lot of change.  Today, as a chief technology officer I spend a lot of time in group therapy with Fortune 500 senior executives in the customer experience space.  The problem is simple to state, harder to solve.  

The Problem

Traditionally businesses tend to compete within sectors.  Health companies care for patients.  Finance companies manage wealth.  Entertainment businesses entertain. You get the picture.  And with over 80 different sectors, the swimlanes were clear and comforting for organizations to win market share and grow revenue.  

However, technology is breaking down these industry vaults making it easier for companies to move between swimlanes to offer consumers multi-sector services.  Amazon started with books and now has many service lines from finance, to films, to food, to computing just to name a few.  I love the way Miklós likened the multi-sector service approach to the rise of supermarkets; now commonplace and widely adopted. Time poor consumers love one stop marketplaces and prefer that over moving between multiple isolated shopping experiences. Can you remember the last time you shopped in several locations to get meats, medicines, fruit and veg, deli goods, alcohol, stationnery, and hardware in a single day? I used to do that growing up, however now I’m part of a loyalty program for a supermarket chain that owns a part me. I chose to major in the supermarket and minor is specialised brands for luxury items.

The Challenge 

The same thing is happening digitally for the ownership of the consumer on a larger scale.  Technology is the dam buster, breaking down the sector silos that both producers and consumers are no longer imprisoned by.  So the race is on to own (a piece of) the consumer and there is everything to play for.  

Organizations can go deep (within a sector) and broad (across sectors).  How deep or broad is an imprortant business decision?  We know how hard it is to create engaging customer journeys within a sector you already excel at with business experience and expertise. However, tomorrow’s winner are getting out of their sector comfort zones to compete broadly across entire, multi-industry customer journey economy ecosystem.

The Approach

This is not easy.  So if vertical customer journey design processes are complicated, horizontal multi-dimensional interconnected ones are highly complex.  Literally, orders of magnitude are harder.  Although not an intractable problem, good strategy is key here.  

So think big, start small to build your economy ecosystem.   Take on board Amazon’s leadership principles, be humble, and be intentional about your capabilities to win.  We have to move past passive know your customer (KYC) discussions to actively owning them by putting theory into practice. Do this with a healthy dose of valuing progress over perfection.  

Clothes Waste

We waste a lot of clothes. Fast fashion doesn’t help either. New becomes old faster than old becomes new so we end up with too much. That wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it’s environmentally expensive to produce clothes and its waste has a significant negative impact on the planet. Here are three disturbing facts:

  • 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are from clothes waste sitting in landfills
  • It takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt (that blows my mind)
  • 85% of all textiles go to waste due to fast fashion, shipping, poor manufacturing techniques
clothes waste

Sadly, we don’t really connect with the aforementioned ‘big waste stats’ but the numbers are still frightening. So let’s bring this home. On average we only really wear 50% of our wardrobe. It’s true, we wear what we like. And we don’t prune our wardrobe very often. Instead, we keep stuff and then do periodical clearouts where we rush to donate, pass down, give away, or dump the excess. And guess which one is the easiest to do people!

As a result 3 out of 5 pieces of clothing (environmentally expensive) produced end up in landfills within a few years of being made. And that mountain of textiles you see above, well that takes 200+ years to decompose in landfills, emitting harmful gases throughout.

Some good clothes waste ideas

People are looking to the fashion industry to be held accountable for the full end-to-end life cycle of the clothes they produce. Here are a few good ideas:

  • Digital platforms that facilitate the donation of a brand’s dead stock back to new customers.
  • Biodegradable products that consumers can send back to brands to turn into compost
  • A resell tag embedded with clothing where the owners simply scan the QR code and it’s advertised for reselling across major platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

Good solutions for the problems we have created, but at least its progress. We can definitely do more.

Food Waste

I think about food a lot. Then I stumbled across this amazing WSJ podcast featuring the renowned food expert Emily Broad Lieb. She shares some seriously disturbing facts about food waste:

  • 330 billion pounds of food waste hits US landfills every year
  • 10% of greenhouse gas emissions are from food waste rotting in landfills
  • In the US, up to 80% of water is used by agriculture to grow food, and 20% of that is wasted
  • Globally, 35% of the food we produce is wasted 

That’s a lot of waste. I loved the way Emily humanizes these facts. Say tomorrow you go food shopping and fill three bags. As you leave the store you throw one of those shopping bags directly into the trash. It’s going to end up in there anywhere, so why not just cut to the chase. Welcome to the food waste problem.

More problems

Food donation is not easy. Restarants, food retailers and manufacturers have plenty of excess food (supply) and their are lots of food-insecure Americans (demand). However, we cannot feed hungry Americans. If donation were easy, then there is enough food waste in the US to feed every hungry American. Instead, it’s easier toss the food into the trash, which ends up generating greenhouse gases that damages our planet whilst leaving Americans hungry.

And then there is the best before eat (BBE) label on food. In the early days, BBE was used as an indicator of food quality and freshness. However, over time we have come to use it as a safety date. If these cookies as past their BBE date, will it harm me? That’s was never the intent behind BBE. Instead, BBE signals that these cookies are going to taste a little stale. Fun fact is that very few foods will put us at risk when they pass their BBE date. But we are where we are. Emily is pushing for two food label dates: BBE (quality and freshness) and Safety. That’s smart.

What about you

Back to the statistics. Personally, they are quite hard to read. But guess what, the average person, you, will read them, agree it’s bad, but take zero action to improve them. Why? Because we’re human. Hyperlocal, selfish, financial motivated in our decision making. The decisions we make tend to have a (hopefully) positive immediate and tangible impact on our close family and friends. Seldom are our decisions driving big global agendas.

However, if someone could show consumers that by reducing their food waste it would save them $1,500 per year then that is more likely to lead to a sustainable behavioral change than simply learning that 10% of harmful methane is from food rotting in landfills. And if we went one step further to help them do this, then that would truly be making it real.

Some solutions

There are many innovations to address food waste. Indusry award shows have entries where:

  • A freshness system that educates people on how best to group fruits and vegetables with a similar maturity timeline. This can be used within the home and more importantly by grocery stores to keep food fresher for longer
  • Composting home devices that turn food waster in a soil and/or biodegradable substances that can be recycled
  • Recycling the off cuts from fruits that manufacturers can use to create clothing from, thereby achieving full circularity
  • Labelling system that highlights which items are new vs old within your fridge

So, all great ideas and hopefully something we can integrate into our everyday. But food waste remains a problem. Keep an eye on what you waste. It doesn’t have to be 1 out of 3 bags of shopping.

https://www.wsj.com/podcasts/wsj-the-future-of-everything

Board Service

One of my personal goals this year was to learn more about board service. Corporations are changing. Governments are relying on and regulating companies more and more each day. As such, the role of a director is complex, yet critical for corporate success. It’s a tough gig.

I’ve spent a large part of my career in management. Specifically designing, developing, and deploying technology solutions that deliver better business outcomes. I continue to have a blast at that.

However, you cannot manage in a vacuum. The adoption of technology into the business requires increasing awareness of the economic, market, geopolitical, regulatory, and digital transformative changes corporations are going through. All within the midst of a pandemic, diversity and inclusive needs, and a purpose-driven agenda for a more sustainable planet for everyone. It is literally all change.

So why board service?

Shareholders elect directors to oversee management. Directors are ultimately accountable for steering the ship. I firmly believe that a great board of directors builds great corporations. And corporations are moving faster and more decisively than governments to deliver the environmental and societal outcomes the human race needs to survive. The role of the director is critical in this ever-changing complex business environment. By the same token, bad directors can result in bad companies. The actions of the few can be devastating to the many, both inside and outside.

NACD Accelerate

I’m a curious fellow. A pragmatic academic. So I decided to go back to school and get certified as a director. I’ve been a board member of private companies that I’d owned in the past, and on various board advisories for big tech companies. However, I needed to know the full breadth of what it means to be a director across all types of companies. Specifically, ones where I was not a majority shareholder.

So, I found NACD Online, or the National Association of Certified Directors. NACD raises the bar for board service. It equips you for directorship in ways I didn’t imagine. You learn very quickly the director’s philosophy of ‘nose in, fingers out’ thinking. Moreover, you get an instant community of like-minded people on similar but unique journeys. And finally, you get access to so many useful and useable resources.

Last week I passed the exam. I’m a certified director with NACD. It was challenging but rewarding.

Next Steps

Consolidate what I’ve learned. Share with others. Keep dreaming. Direct more. The search begins…

Washing the dishes

Right now thousands of people are washing dishes.  Both dishwashers and people are using that abundant supply of water to clean their dirty dishes.  However, we all know that water is fast becoming scarce.  It’s not abundant. So does this feel right?

I recently zoomed into a session run by Reckitt.  It’s a huge holding company with three category-focused global business units across hygiene, health, and nutrition.  As consumers, you know Reckitt for its brands such as Finish, Harpic, Nurofen, Durex, Dettol, Strepils, Gaviscon, Mucinex, Schiff, and many more.  With over 43,000 employees, £14 billion in revenues, and 20m products solid daily, Reckitt wears its 200+ years of heritage well.

The numbers: washing the dishes

So I stood up and took notice when they shared how they embraced their sustainability development goals.  More specifically, they shared three facts that shocked me into action.

Water usedDoing what?
100 litresHanding washing dishes
60 litresPrewashing dishes by hand, finishing in the dishwasher
10 litresDishwasher only

Hand washing uses 10x as much water as a dishwasher! Every wash. Every day. Put another way, handwashing is 10x more costly to the planet’s water scarcity challenge than dishwashing (if you have and use a dishwasher of course).

How can this be?  Simple.  Dishwashers are smart.  They re-use and clean the same water multiple times throughout the cycle.  Where, by hand, we wash, rinse, and repeat with the tap in near always-on mode.  

The change: let the dishwasher do its job

I live in Seattle and had a friend over to stay from NYC. She’s so much fun. So after lunch, we got to washing the dishes. That’s when I got chastised for not doing enough to prewash the dishes. During the same visit, I unpacked the entire dishwasher load only to learn that the cycle hadn’t gone around. That’s right, the pre-wash was so good it had fooled me. And then came another round of silly Cleve.

Knowledge is power. How I wish I was armed with what I know now.

So there are better techniques.  Firstly, you can pre-scrap. Secondly, reduce the amount of water you pre-wash dishes with today.  Lastly, invest in better dishwashers if and when you can.  But most importantly, you can share what you now know with others. Please do!

Responsible AI

A lot of people do not trust AI.  Sentient machines will eventually wipe out the human race if left unchecked. We’ve all watched Terminator and the birth of SkyNet.

Today, scientists and technologists disrupt at pace.  This is progress.  It’s great. However, AI requires a bit more thought given the scale and impact it is having on decisions we are asking it to make on behalf of humans.  This is important.  

A Responsibility AI awakening

I recently listened to a podcast from the lead scientist accredited with the first commercial facial recognition system back in 1994.  An amazing technological breakthrough. Now fast forward to 2011 and that very same lead scientist is stepping back to warn us of the impact of what he unleashed within the world.  He warns us of the ethics and responsibilities of AI.  What changed here?

As it turns out, many different yet interrelated things change. Compute power increased. Data became massively accessible to the masses. Back in 1994 social media wasn’t a thing.  So, for facial recognition to be useful, you needed a decent database of digitized faces to look up. That didn’t exist or wasn’t readily accessible.  Today, your average coder can scrap our favorite social platforms and build that semi-decent facial database.  Next download open-source facial software, connect to widely available cameras, and start identifying people in their local neighbourhood, school, workplace, without consent.  Left unchecked, this is a concerning future.

Joseph Atick recognized this and started to lobby for the responsible use of AI four years after his initial breakthrough. We have to get ahead of the technology.  Raise awareness and alert people about the ethical impact of technological breakthroughs.  What do they mean and how could they potentially change societal norms?

Today, facial recognition systems are the primary mechanism for unlocking our phones.  It’s a widely accepted technology gatekeeper to our most personal information.  Standard consumer ware.

Do the ‘extra’ work

I’ve designed, built, and successfully deployed many websites of varying shapes, sizes, and scales.  I’ve also got it wrong many times.  My aha learning moment was that the go-live launch day is urgent, but operational adoption of any web platform is important.  Long-term value creation means you never lose sight of tomorrow’s importance whilst dealing with today’s urgent. 

So for deploying websites, the finish line is at least 90 days past go-live. Success is the operational adoption of technology by its target users. Execution is merely right to left planning from there.  In doing so, we prioritize people and processes ahead of products and platforms.  It is even more important to take a similar approach when deploying emerging AI breakthroughs into the world.  However, the timelines are longer and the stakes are much higher than websites.  

Consider the AI responsibilities that you are accountable for. Give yourself a timeline of at least 9 years after your major technological breakthrough.  What do you anticipate the environmental, societal, and human impacts to be? Then educate us.  Raise alarm bells. Be honest.  Do the extra work.  Don’t just blindly revel in the urgency of the breakthrough.  That’s a short term rush. Play devil’s advocate. Seek to understand what is truly important.

Congratulations on your breakthrough and thank you for owning the responsibility that comes with it. Giving birth is hard, but raising a child, well, that’s a whole other level of responsibility.

Team of Teams

I recently finished the book Team of Teams.  For me, it was one of those books that give sensible names to the things already do, but articulated in a clear, smart, and demonstrable way.  

It’s about leadership.  What was complicated before is truly complex now.  A complicated problem can be decomposed into a number of parts with a manageable amount of inter-relationships.  Complex problems are those where the inter-relationships between the parts are much greater and nuanced.  A jigsaw puzzle is complicated, but a virus complex.  

Being complicated is different from being complex
– Team of Teams

You cannot solve complex problems with complicated solutions.   Hierarchical organizational structures with command and control leadership are efficient approaches to solve complicated problems.  However, the effective resolution of complex problems requires a different approach.

Shared Consciousness

So we must build teams where information flows like water.  Be open and transparent.  And develop that operational muscle to make information readily accessible in near real-time between trusted teams.  There are many techniques for doing this (PPP Reports, stand-up meetings, 1-to-1s).  

Empowered Execution

Grow and nurture leaders.  Your job as a leader is to provide oversight.  Proactively get out of the way.  Don’t stand in front of the information firehose throttling access.  Don’t make the decisions upstream and disempower teams downstream.  The flow of information within complex environments is too much for a single leader to make informed and impactful decisions with the speed and accuracy expected of them.  So don’t.

The transition from Command to Command of Teams is a good first step. However, an efficient shared consciousness brings diminishing effectiveness returns in Command of Teams structures as leaders quickly starting drowning in information.

Becoming a gardener

Instead, a great leader is oil in the engine.  They connect the parts.  Feeding the teams.  Providing oversight. Sharing information. And in doing so, tending the complex environment to enable growth. 

So I’ve heard this put two ways: 

  • Nose-In, Fingers-Out
  • Eyes-On, Hands-Off.  

Both work. So go be that gardener and grow great leaders.

Ethics and Compliance

Ethics and Compliance

The oversight of ethics and compliance programs is a core board responsibility.  A single corporate misstep today can result in immediate reductions in business operations and/or long-term reputational brand damage.  

Both are important but in very different ways.  

ethics and compliance

Compliance

A known set of rules, laws, regulations, and/or policies that are applicable to a group of individuals or entities.  

So compliance is binary in nature.  Your behaviors fall into one of two categories: compliant or non-compliant.  That’s because compliance is quantitative, objective, and black/white in its approach.  Being compliant means periodically determining whether you are, as they say, still on the bus.  

Ethics

A shared system of values.

And so ethics are fuzzy.  They require a higher level of judgment to determine whether individuals and/or entities share a common system of values.  Ethics are qualitative, subjective, and grey by definition.  Ethics pits your value system against someone or something else.  Comparing value systems is an important discovery through discourse.  Evaluating assumptions and getting real. Being ethical means continuously determining whether you are, as they say, on the right bus.

Ethics and Compliance

You need both.  However, employees are choosing companies that share their values.  Ethical companies clearly articulate purpose, have a point of view, and proactively go after it.  Where compliance enforces, ethics empowers.  Today, we’re seeing that ethics are multipliers to robust compliance programs. You need both in balance.

Three simple data questions

Information is useful and useable data.  During a typical working day, a business hopes to close with more valuable information than it started with.  The broader goal(s) is to better understand “this” in order to achieve “that” – whatever this and that may be for your business!  

Regardless, digitization creates meaningful and modular data chunks that enable information exchange to take place anytime, anywhere, by anyone. Data literally moves at the speed of light.  That’s how digital business is conducted today.  Always on platform businesses – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Spotify, Uber – never close.

Three important data questions

90% of company assets on the balance sheet today are intangible. Let that sink in – 90%!  Digital businesses place a lot of value on insights, information, intelligence, and IP.  This requires digital businesses to really deeply understand the data they manage.

So start by asking:

  1. What data have you got?
  2. What format is your data in?
  3. What data can you access to augment your data?

Simple questions that have a difficult path to the answers.  However, these answers are critical to your future business success.  The bigger the company, the greater the challenge.  When talking about data management in the broader sense, do you have answers to these three simple questions?  

What is product engagement

If you like something, you’ll use it. A lot. That’s product engagement.

I recently listened to John Straw speaking on a McKinsey podcast. I’m sharing his super simple way of thinking about product engagement. Take a look at these two companies:

Company A: Makes $1, per 100 users, with 1k interactions per day

Company B: Makes $1000, per 100 users, with 1 interaction per day

So which company has better engagement? A or B? Of course it’s A. However, it’s important for Company A not to lose sight of this as it grows the $ part of the equation.

It’s clear that company A has a product that customers want to engage with. Company B has got the marketing right.  Sustainable businesses scale products (the ends) not marketing (the means).  

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About Cleve Gibbon



I'm Cleve Gibbon, CTO at Wunderman Thompson where we are passionate about digital content.

My sort of up-to-date cv tells you my past, linked in shows you my professional network and on twitter you can find out what I'm currently up to.