In this edition, Cerys explores how employees can feel less on the back foot when it comes to emerging tech.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting at a conference on the paradox of emerging technology, and one of the questions asked at the end of my talk has really stuck with me:

“As a team leader, how can I feel more prepared for discussions and projects involving emerging technology? Should I learn to code? Or take a specialist course? Or find a mentor maybe?”

All teams will feel the impact of emerging technology, not just digital and tech teams. Those without pre-existing broad technical knowledge may feel that they are on the back foot. So I thought I would expand on my answer here…

Being ready 🏃‍♀️🏃‍♀️🏃‍♀️ But for what?

The types of emerging tech and the rate of their appearance means that we cannot possibly all be prepared for each emerging trend, so we have to be smart. Our starting point must be to incorporate horizon scanning into our teams’ competencies. Horizon scanning can be a simple process when starting out:

Choose your topic(s) – the more focused, the better!
Identify good sources of information – Some good starting points are thought-leaders or discussion groups in Twitter or LinkedIn/Xing or Medium, and industry or thought-leadership publications, e-newsletters or blogs.
Set up feeds or search alerts for those platforms, so that the information comes to you.
Check and curate: Browse your feed looking for interesting or helpful links to longer-form articles. When you find these, save or bookmark them somewhere for future reference. This could be as simple as a running a list of links on a note-taking app, bookmarking them in your browser, or you could use an app or platform specifically designed for curating links, such as Pocket or Pinboard (no recommendation or affiliation).
Analyse & gather insights: Find an organisational system that works for you to gather insights and trends as you notice them. Share and discuss them with others in your team.
Find ways to start learning the topic by including diverse views – positive and negative. Personally, I love to first power through a TED Talk playlist before diving into the areas where I feel I could make a valuable contribution. From there, I might build a Twitter list of people and organisations doing interesting work, collect and curate collections of content to share with others, and make time each and every week in my schedule for learning and refining my horizon scanning system.

As a bonus read, this article from Scott Smith deals with the challenges around horizon scanning when all of the insights you uncover seem bleak.

Team readiness for the future 🚀

Any amount of learning or exploration will not make you an expert in any one emerging tech discipline, let alone the sheer breadth of options of the latest Gartner Hype Cycle. So, how can we sensibly spend our precious time? Readiness for the future of our organisations will not come in the form of a specific competency framework or deep specialism, but instead by preparing our teams to work in new, agile ways, evolve our culture and lead in a new way. If your team’s structure is adaptive, its ways of working are agile, and its culture is open and innovative, it will have a head start when implementing anything new.

Once we start working on the team, we can leverage techniques such as Retrospectives and Team Fitness Checks to regularly review how it’s going, what is working, what isn’t, and what we might want to change. Once change has become routine, a shift in culture is also inevitable.

Taking inspiration from the culture of DevOps, constant feedback loops ensure that everyone is empowered to raise ideas, share insights and discuss failures. The attitude of shared accountability and responsibility ensures quality outcomes, while a focus on automation ensures that the team is always streamlining their day-to-day work in favour of more strategic work.

This post by Daniel Stillman has many thought-provoking starting points for conversations to have with your team as you begin a team transformation of this type.

The future of orgs, but the end of jobs 🤖?

The pervasive culture of fear surrounding the impact of emerging tech on our organisations, often in poorly-researched media articles, is unhelpful in our mission to ensure our teams are ready. Whilst there are those who predict that emerging technology will replace many of the jobs we know and do today, we cannot shape the future without being part of that conversation.

Creating strategic alliances and partnerships with the emerging technology sector can help influence the future, and if you and your team are actively engaged in ensuring you are ready, you are setting yourself up for success.

As a final thought, the topic of emerging technology leaves many of us feeling vulnerable and although the future might already be here in small pockets, it certainly isn’t evenly distributed (to paraphrase William Gibson). If you find yourself depressed by the potential of a robot future, remind yourself how hard it is for your printer to talk to your laptop on a regular basis, read this ‘What If’ from XKCD, or download a personal AI onto your phone and learn how unsophisticated its communications skills are… it helps to keep things in perspective!