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As the PreCommerce Summit in London concluded, the final panel discussed global trends for digital engagement.  Discussion opened around a question proposed by Gary Grates, Principal W2O Group, which summed up the key debate posed at the event: as an unintended effect of our adoption of digital, have we created a society in which it is more difficult to relate?  Are we losing our humanity?

  • IMG_8243Cynthia Storer, former CIA analyst, answered from a security standpoint that the trend she sees is laziness in interaction and interrogation of information.  We now oversimplify information and situations.  We eliminate nuance.  In our hurry to find answers and synthesize the dearth of information available to us from an ever growing number of channels, we use cognitive short cuts and tend to look for classifications that can be summed up in a short-hand, 140-character sentence of dichotomy: good or bad.  Humans have never been this simple and it is lazy for us to assume this would change based on digital tools we use to express our humanity.  Humans are humans.
  • Pradipta Bagchi, VP & Global Head of Corporate Communications at Tata Consultancy Services, built on Cynthia’s points to highlight the need for online and offline interactions to be integrated.  From his perspective,  we are having more interaction, but it is less meaningful.  For example, in India, a telecom giant had bots answering customer service calls.  Someone figured this out and called stating their issue was a desire to marry the CEO’s daughter.  The bot responded: thank you for your comments, we will get back to you shortly with a solution.  In the end, machine to human interactions fall flat.
  • Bob Pearson, President and Chief Innovation Officer at W2O Group, took an anthropologic view.  He discussed how humans are programmed to learn via play to enable survival.  For example children learn to walk so they can travel.  There is a purpose to why we have this innate sense of curiosity, desire to interact and drive to discover.  In the case of Millennials, they are comfortable with digital tools because they grew up playing with them and now they are part of their survival mechanism – how they communicate.  Older generations are uncomfortable with this because we didn’t have these digital tools, so the adaptation process is different – though usage patterns have shown that digital tools continue to be rapidly adopted across all age groups.  So digital isn’t really the culprit here, it is human nature to play with these tools and human nature to use them as a part of how we evolve our communications.
  • Gary closed this topic citing his approach to teaching at the university where he is a professor emeritus.  When he walks into a classroom, no one is talking to each other, they are all bent over their phones.  So the first thing he does is force them to introduce themselves.  And the students respond with surprise and wonder at how connected some of them are offline (ie, this guy is actually my neighbor!).  Digital should not supplant, but complement and facilitate face to face interaction.  On the other hand, our dedication to digital will likely result in a boom for another industry: interest in chiropractic services after so much time bent over our devices!

A question from the audience probed how we can factor multiple online personas into our understanding of people.

  • Pradipta responded first highlighting how platforms naturally push us to segment our personalities.  For example, Facebook is a visual and personal channel and Linked in is more professional.  The persona you have on each isn’t different so much as the weighting to your specific qualities related to your professional life or personal life shift.
  • Bob chimed in using issues management as an example.  If you are managing an issue, the first step is to separate out the noise from the reality.  We see this in particular with protests and the emergence of “slactivism”.  Initially, a digital platform will lead us to believe the magnitude of an issue is quite high based on a perception that 200,000 people are retweeting and liking things.  However, if you look at a different channel for cross over, or look at how many people are contributing to the conversation versus observing it, the numbers rapidly decrease.  The question for me is around how we get people to become more passionate about a topic so they are true activists versus just amplifiers.  Retweeting doesn’t fund a cause.
  • Gary added another anecdote about BP.  Several years ago, there was a group of angry environmental protestors outside the gas station in his town; however, the station lowered its gas prices, and the next day that group of protestors was replaced by lines of cars waiting to fill up.  The price change ferreted out the false positive of passion for the environmental cause, and leverage sensitivity to cost.
  • Cynthia mirrored this interest in human nature.  For the security industry, the spider web of personas is very important.  Cross-referencing those caricatures of a person exposes the base values that a person holds true.  Humans are humans and we rely on basic truths to define ourselves which means that across personas we can often find that thread and stitch together a valuable profile.

Another audience member took this question further to ask about how these personas help predict human behavior.

  • Cynthia elaborated that humans use routines to frame the way we make sense of and interact with the world.  These routines make us feel comfortable and safe.  You don’t have to think about how you are presenting yourself because it is true to your routine self-perception.  These routines make it easier for us to predict or forecast human behavior.  For example, we knew Bin Laden always lived with multiple wives and children so wherever he was hiding would need to be family appropriate.  We also knew he didn’t approve of blowing up school buses so we could discredit any claims to terror acts of that nature.  We do this all the time offline.  We say so-and-so is going to be late or so-and-so will take the public transport because we have learned how to predict their behavior on past actions and their values (lack of punctuality and cost-sensitivity).
  • Bob took this question in a different direction by talking about the recent election in Britain.  Polling didn’t predict the outcome of the election.  Bob believes this is because polling relies on short-term memory which means people can only recall 3 – 7 things and not even accurately, just their interpretation of those things.  So if you marry what people say in polls with their online behavior – which is subconscious or, at least, doesn’t require recall – you start to see more predictive patterns.  And this can get even more insightful using geolocation to look at specific voting districts.
  • Pradipta supported Bob’s points with an anecdote from his company’s app, Elect UK.  The app measured social sentiment, noise and activities of the parties and politicians.  In the end, the app was more accurate than polls as it showed the demise of the Lib Dems.
  • An audience member concluded the session by making a point around the value of the right question.  The audience member shared that there was a poll just before the voting booths opened that asked not who people would vote for, but who they thought would win.  The result favored Cameron.

The panel closed with a final audience member asking: what digital tool has had the greatest impact on their personal lives?

  • Cynthia – Smartphone, it is how she checked in for her flight.
  • Pradipta – Social platforms which have replaced traditional news sources.
  • Bob – It isn’t invented yet, but SnapChat for business.
  • Gary – FitBit as now his wife calls him at work to tell him to move as she can monitor his movement online.

Annalise_Coady_CMYKThis is a full manuscript of the opening keynote at our 2nd Annual PreCommerce Summit in London, 2015.

Thank you all very much for coming. I hope that on the way in, you had a chance to look at the art we have up, which owes a great debt to the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, who blew minds back in the 1920s with a painting of a pipe and the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”: this is not a pipe.

Magritte was making a statement about art and about reality, and how the two shouldn’t be confused. A painting of a pipe is not a pipe. It’s a representation. It’s only shorthand for something real.

It’s fun to imagine what Magritte might have thought if he was born a century later and was coming of age during the digital revolution we’re living through. I like to think he would have come up with concepts like the ones we have on display.

summit_artwork_02

We’re one step further into the surreal. The art of photography used to require hours in the darkroom, film and artist both marinating in noxious chemicals to modify an image to bring out this color or that detail. Now, we tap our phone to capture an image, tap again to add a filter, tap again to send it to the gallery that is Instagram. Is that art? I’d like to know what Magritte thinks.

And what of love? Does old-fashioned courtship have an analogue in swiping right on Tinder? Clearly there is an overlap between love in the Jane Austen sense and love in the Tinder sense, but app-based hookups? Ceci n’est pas l’amour.

The list goes on and on. AirBnB isn’t a quite a hotel company. Uber isn’t quite a cab company. Buzzfeed isn’t quite a news company. N’est pas. N’est pas. N’est pas.

Many of you who are younger never knew how perilous the telephone was. Back when communication was carried by wires, talking, especially with those in other countries was exorbitantly expensive and difficult to arrange. I spent time abroad with my family as a child, and the telephone calls back to the UK had to be booked a week in advance, and still might not necessarily go through. Connectivity was a luxury and precious.

Flash forward to my life as a young professional, when I was living abroad. But rather than paying pounds-per-minute, I was talking using Skype, broadcasting not only my voice but my image across thousands of miles. For free. Is Skype a 21st century telephone? Almost, but not quite. N’est pas.

The point of all of this is that we’re limited in how we think about digital because we don’t have the language yet to describe the new world. Like Magritte, the best we can come up with is shorthand, using old words and concepts that almost, but not quite, describe reality. Shorthand for something real.

This can be a liability, because it hides complexity and often hides the darker side of technology. Those who took the easy route and assumed Uber is just a next-generation taxi company probably failed to see the lawsuits coming. There is now, particularly in the United States, mounting pressure to define the status of Uber drivers as something other than free agents with cars. What, exactly, is their labour status? It’s a question worth billions.

What’s clear is that the digital tide is not receding and will not recede. There are more active mobile connections now than there are people in the world. The average consumer engages with 18.2 pieces of online content before making a decision, which is both amazing and potentially paralyzing.

And HR Zone says three quarters of employees have seen their role or career change as a result of technology in the last 12 months. Let me repeat that: three out of every four people have had their job changed by technology IN THE LAST YEAR. It is a wonder we feel off balance with reality constantly shifting.

Please do not misunderstand me. The digital revolution has made us smarter and more productive, and it has connected us in ways that are nothing short of extraordinary. But handling, profiting and thriving in this environment requires careful thought and precise language, so we can tell the pipes from the paintings of the pipes, so to speak.

And that’s part of the reason that I’m so excited to have such an incredible range of presenters today. All are individuals who are grappling not only with change, but ways to ensure that we understand technology so we can minimize risks and maximize gains.

Our afternoon is split into 3 sections, and we’re going to start with the good news and look at how digital has influenced the wellbeing of society from a handful of different angles, including the ways we can use new tools to improve human health and accelerate aid efforts to the world’s most vulnerable. To help us wrap our heads around that, we’ll invite to the stage:

  • Dina Rey – Head of Digital Group at Roche,
  • Anna Gruebler – Data Scientist and Software Engineer at Altviz,
  • Jessica Federer, Chief Digital Officer at Bayer
  • Anita Yuen, Global Head of Digital Fundraising at UNICEF.

For the second part of this afternoon, we’ll look at how technology companies are evolving in this digital age. Or is it a matter of revolutionising. Our speakers will be:

  • Steven Overman – CMO at Eastman Kodak.
  • Kester Ford – Director of Product Marketing at Datasift.
  • Simon Shipley – Marketing and Innovation Manager at Intel.

And post our break:

  • A former CIA Analyst and the star of Channel 4’s show Hunted, Cynthia Storer,
  • VP and Global Head of Corporate Communications at Tata Consultancy services Pradipta Bagchi,
  • And our own President Bob Pearson will summarize how technology is impacting the way we live, work, and create in this digital world.

We’re also thrilled to have here with us Lord Chadlington and Steve Milton, who will participate in the programme along with my colleagues Colin, James and Gary.


I think the conversations have truly shown we are in the middle of the new industrial revolution and we need to remain fluid and open to new ideas and opportunities whilst yet being mindful and aware of the true impact on our lives, organisations and communities that digital technology can bring. We are still human and digital technology will not be the only factor in our future. Human nature prevails. La nature humaine est  prédominante.

Thank you to all our speakers as well as my wonderful colleagues for their fantastic moderation. I want to thank the W2O Team behind the event, you know who you are. And I would like to thank you all here today in London’s living room as well as those who joined us via live stream for your enthusiasm and participation. I am looking forward to connecting with you at the reception or in the digital world. Remember this is not a pipe!

W2O’s London #PreCommerce Summit is on a roll. We are being exposed to the brilliant minds of the world’s leading innovators, digital leaders and thinkers, as well as their thoughts on how we live, work and play in a digital age.

However for me, there is one takeaway that underlies all speakers’ presentations, but which was voiced most prominently by Cynthia Storer, a former CIA analyst and current star of Channel 4’s Hunted:

No matter what your venture or organisation is, you need to have the right people involved in order to extract the insights.

During her talk, Cynthia stressed the sheer amount of data she received to solve the ‘jigsaw puzzle’ of her mission when she was working as a CIA analyst. The organisation was collecting tonnes of data, all through the help of new tools and methods. Yet the question was how to go about figuring out what’s going on. According to Cynthia, the information she was confronted with, resembled a bowl of spaghetti. Not just spaghetti, but potentially unreliable spaghetti. For data science is still in its infancy and we cannot rely on it entirely. It seems to have a mind of its own, and to quote J.K. Rowling: “Never trust anything that can think for itself and you don’t know where it keeps its brain”

Cynthia stressed that an organisation needs a human subject matter expert in every step of the data analysing process an in the end, we DO need all the people, simply all of the people! We need folks who are primary source gatherers and digital data scientist, analysts and more. It is this synergy coming together, and in the case of the CIA, it is this synergy that gets you the bad guy! The work relies on humans and not technology.

Cynthia

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We are living in a time where we are ‘always on’ with multiple devices providing us with information but also distracting us and exhausting our time. Technology has become a natural part of our daily life, where having different multiple online personas for work, life, and play is common. It has also become a source of angst.

With an influx of new information and online digital platforms almost daily, the digital landscape is evolving and consumers are now more empowered than ever. Brands can no longer fully control their narrative and need to find and understand the people who are most relevant to their future determining how they consume and share information as well as how they listen to each other as individuals.

This rapidly changing world can sometimes feel both like a massive headache and an incredible opportunity for marketers and communicators. C-suite leaders must be able to adapt to these changes if their organizations are to survive. Staying nimble and being able to predict how the industry will evolve before it happens is all part of the job. What we see from working with our clients and helping them stay one step ahead of competition is that regardless of which industry you are in or who your audience is, we are all facing similar challenges when it comes to digitalization. Being so imbedded in our client businesses is what allows us to build the community where innovators and leaders can come together and share their best practices and learnings.

Breaking away from your everyday routine and meeting those who are walking in the same shoes as you, is a proven method to generate new ideas or new solutions. Following on the success of last year’s Social Intelligence Summit we are excited to host our second annual thought leadership event – PreCommerce Summit London 2015.

The event, coinciding with London’s Social Media Week, will bring together experts from across industries to discuss how we work, live and create in the digital world. We will be considering the impact and opportunities of the mobile generation and will provide perspectives and host panel discussions with key leaders, such as:

I’m hopeful you are able to attend this important forum. Don’t miss the last chance to register to attend the summit on the 14th of September in London via livestream or in person!

More information on the event and the speakers can be found here www.w2oevents.com.

Navigating the future takes more than just educated guesswork. It combines knowledge, adaptability and a willingness to garner new inputs from new sources.

The W2O Group Pre-Commerce London Summit is your personal GPS to succeeding in the future!