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Part 2: The Re-Imagining Phase (Changing Mindsets)

(Originally posted on LinkedIn)

I believe we all have a responsibility to really think about the social impact of our work.

To ask better questions about what we are designing, building, funding and consider the outcomes from all perspectives — whether it is an app, a press release or a technology company.

However, in our busy lives, I also wonder how many of us actually get the opportunity to do this?

In 2014, I left the global marketing tech and strategy consultancy world and spent the next 18 months immersing myself in the Future of

Work communities, co-working and living spaces in Australia.

Away from the always-on, agency life of London, I had the head-space to reflect on my work in the digital era of the mad men world, but this time as a citizen.

And it un-nerved me.

My body had already felt the negative health impact of the workaholic culture when I first graduated and I still suffered from it. But this time around, it was the ethics of the ad-tech industry that came screaming at me and once I looked I couldn’t stop seeing it.

I came to the conclusion that Marketing’s model for digital transformation (better, cheaper, faster) was damaging our employees, citizens and society.

Technology was creating job opportunities and destroying trust simultaneously

Data was being used at the level of a counter-terrorism surveillance campaign

Marketing was loosing its creativity and authenticity by automating everything

Brands had become a victim of the platforms by delivering quantity over quality

Freelancers were becoming scapegoats and rarely getting paid on time to pay their bills

Leaders were chasing shiny new things for short-term profit at the expense of employees

At the same time, there was talk about digital transformation as an internal business concept needing ‘change management’. The idea that this was only one function’s job role in an organisation seemed bizarre to me.

Surely innovation is a survival skill that every employee needs to learn and own?

The following year, with my growing network of Futurists, Strategists, Community Leaders and Academics, I launched and curated a global online community and hosted a series of collaborative conversations and workshops to explore the future using different social lenses (e.g. Future of Work, Money, Policy, Living, Ageing).

Through capturing a new form of social data intelligence, I was able to model the new behaviours, capabilities, values and needs of early adopters and develop a new strategic foresight model that could be applied to any organisation and sector.

At the core of this was a new set of mindsets that leaders need to move towards to design the Future of Work:

Mindset 1: Change is no longer ‘manageable’

Tech is eroding every system, process, policy and experience inside and outside business and it is affecting every single employee’s makeup of his or her work.

This is not just about how employees need to learn new tools, but how their work will change and adapt constantly.

The first wave of tech was about helping us to manage our work and lives cheaper and faster (e.g. how to streamline communication — which turned our work into a daily task of managing our inboxes)

But the second wave of tech that is arriving is savvier.

Through AI, we are starting to be able to cut-out the monotonous tasks so we human workers, can focus on the softer, social skills of problem solving and learning.

Employees will need to be able to un-learn everything they thought they knew yesterday and they will need to mentally prepare for a world outside their corporate safety net, before it hits them.

Mindset 2: We are all knowledge creators now

For the agencies and consultancies whose job it has traditionally been to be labeled the ‘creatives’, they will now have competition coming from internal employees that want to have a say in future decision making. Employees are becoming better supported by corporate systems that are designed to create a culture of greater transparency, experimentation and innovation, and unlock new thinking and IP from internal sources.

Meanwhile, HR is starting to prioritise the ongoing emotional support of employees and leaders, as they embark on transforming operations, both short-term, long-term and ongoing.

Without this care and human due diligence around our emotional needs, employees and organisations will fast become stuck in fight or flight mode.

This new normal will mean that workers will be functioning on dangerously high levels of adrenalin, un-healthy stress and coffee for survival.

That is…until the body/ system can’t cope with it anymore and it shuts down.

Mindset 3: Digital-first is a mental health tsunami

I believe my own experience of what happens at this stage is an early warning signal.

10 years ago, I had graduated into the cutting-edge of an emerging digital strategy and consulting world, in the advertising industry.

A last-min secondment to Paris left me living alone in a country where I didn’t speak the language, whilst figuring out how to ‘do’ digital for the first time for my luxury, global beauty client. I worked a year in 5.5 months, doing three people’s job roles (UX, accounts, planner) in an environment where managers rarely went home.

When the onset of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ ME started, for the first 6 months I was physically labeled disabled as I wasn’t able to walk up the stairs without a week in bed to recover. This was followed by a 2 year ‘sleep coma’ on/ off that meant I could only manage limited

Freelance working for survival, but also meant I was soon re-writing my job description every 6 months.

During this time, my creative brain went into overdrive.

I now believe that this was my body’s way of protecting me from any more harm, in a system that wasn’t working. My purpose became changing the status quo.

(No matter how impossible this would have been at that time, without the conversations and awareness that there is today).

Mindset 4: People-first requires a new funding model

Introducing technology to the market without fully understanding the social impact has never made any sense to me, and yet there are so many of examples of this all around us.

But it is also inevitable, if investors are pushing to see a ready product before the Founder is able to consider the social purpose of the company that they are also building.

In contrast, my research and experience of managing a global community shows how networks are increasingly coming together and spending time and energy collaborating and co-creating new products and services together to solve their shared needs, values and interests.

This form of self-organising is the start of ‘citizen-led innovation’ and it is happening inside and outside organisations.

However, many of these new ideas require new business models that don’t exist yet and are therefore un-fundable.

This means that many disruptive, diverse ideas that challenge traditional thinking (and where technology is not always the starting point), are being self-funded or lost.

Just like Corporate innovation labs need time, money and resources to experiment freely, modern workers now need money to build their external networks, communities and collaborative systems to design solutions that create better futures.

Re-Imagineers is a self-consultancy platform to help business leaders navigate the complexity of innovation, through the eyes of their employees and communities.

The technology is powered by a unique creative social science system that models strategic foresight data into new talent gaps and opportunities and future signals, to find, attract and retain entrepreneurial talent. Through AI, it then connects likeminded employees across the business to structure new innovation projects and measure the impact.

We are now seeking collaborative, value-aligned partners and investors to work with us on our MVP and to test our hypothesis that 5% of employees have the existing capabilities right now, to create game-changing new business models and market innovation ideas for a smarter, faster and fairer future.

If you would like to learn more about how we can partner, visit the website or contact me at: cat@re-imagineers.co.

Further reading:

< Part 1: Journey of a Purpose-Led Startup