Thoughts on leading the way

the-rules-keep-changingThis year we’ve used Lead The Way as our theme at J. Boye. At our 200+ J. Boye group meetings this year and in both our Philadelphia and Aarhus conferences, we’ve used this as our theme and heard from speakers and digital leaders that are genuinely changing the game in their industries and workplace.

In September, I saw this poster outside Zurich Airport as an advert for a financial services firm with a similar message that the rules are changing. Clearly Lead The Way fits across sectors and countries and to me it is all about both a hunger for learning and navigating constant change.

To most J. Boye members, simply trying to keep up can be extremely challenging. How are we supposed to be leading the way with anything, when most of the time we are struggling to not fall further behind?

In this posting, I share some of my personal reflections on the theme as well as the slides used for my conference opening of the J. Boye Aarhus 16 conference on Wednesday, November 1.

A conference theme that fit on multiple levels

As some might remember, Making It Work was our 2015 theme. Internally at J. Boye, the year 2015 was very much about making it work after a difficult 2014. We implemented many important changes, focused on step-by-step improvements and finished with a year of record member growth.

Industry analyst Tim Walters and co-founder of Digital Clarity Group, connected the dots with this external view on Making It Work: Does anyone really understand customer experience management?

When we decided for the 2016 conference theme, it was a mixture of curiosity and need for change, that made us settle on Lead The Way. Curiosity as we wanted to explore those that have successfully navigated through digital transformation and hear their insights. Need for change as we realised that digital leaders no longer considered websites as their main frontier and instead took a much broader look – beyond channels at bigger goals and impact.

Making it work was not enough, both internally and externally as expectations keep going up.

The song remains the same

Change is difficult and it is tempting to keep things as they are. Why don’t we just delay this project until next year and keep playing the same song in the meantime?

There is something extremely valuable to learn from the perspective of a child, which one of my favourite cartoons sums up pretty well. As a part of my conference opening, I showed this 1-minute video from the kids film The Croods:

The story of how a girl in prehistoric times is curious to understand more of the world, but her father is trying to hold her back. He continuously tells a story of how a small curious girl just like her climbed to the top of a tree to look out at the world – and then fell down and died.

Leading the way is about understanding the dangers of climbing to the top of the tree, still doing it, surviving and turning the new knowledge into advantage.

Learning from the best

One of my personal highlights of what has been a busy 2016, was in the early summer, when I had the pleasure of a 3-day tour to some of the German J. Boye groups with information management expert Martin White. This brought new perspectives to our progress and the thinking on leading the way as he talked about:

  • Taking a strategic perspective, which clearly has to be more ambitious than simply making it work
  • Information quality and information disaster, with a few examples of how things can go really wrong
  • The term wicked problems, which is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise. Sounds familiar to your everyday work?

Here’s a few tangible examples of how our theme made us change things at the Aarhus conference earlier this month – our 12th since the start in 2005:

  • Instead of yet another year with an intranet conference track, we focused on employee engagement and tomorrow’s workplace. We still talked intranet, but in a wider frame and also looking more at the challenges of 2017 and beyond
  • New conference tracks focusing on agile business, business development, customer experience and making marketing technology work. Again with an important focus on looking beyond the day-to-day office challenges.

My conference opening slides

In a few bullets:

  • Starting with examples of #RoadToAarhus. Thanks Jake DiMare for initiating this
  • The Croods on always doing as your parents says
  • Towards 2017 with new emerging themes
  • The game is changing
  • Pokemon Go
  • Referencing Tim Walters highly-rated 2015 keynote (read: Enough with the mumbo jumbo)

Learn more about leading the way

While this post is mostly on my own personal reflections on an ambitious theme, my recent posting on 10 learnings from digital leaders in 2016 captures trends and best practices from throughout the year.

And finally: A personal recommendation to follow fellow writer John Stepper of Working Out Loud fame.  With his goal of helping people experiencing a better career and life how he practices leading the way has been an inspiration to me.

PS: I have a few thought on what our 2017 theme might be, but that’s for another time.

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