We need to start helping adults to think in an agile way
We need to start helping adults to think in an agile way
A view from Jon Davie

Coding: the kids are alright, but what about the grown-ups?

When it comes to creating a future workforce of agile minds, we are on the right track in kids, but we need to address the problem with the adults of our world, says Jon Davie, UK CEO of digital agency Zone.

The responsibility for creating the right culture sits with the grown-ups – and it’s still OK for them to not engage with this stuff.

Our Bristol office is even noisier than usual this week, as we’re hosting a team of youngsters who are taking part in the 2015 Festival of Code.  We have five young people, aged between nine and 13, who will be working with our team before joining more than 1,000 other kids for a weekend of workshops, presentations and networking – what’s dubbed the World’s Largest Hackathon.

I hope we can all agree that Festival of Code is a brilliant project.  The children learn new skills, make new friends, and are exposed to new experiences.  The mentors from our team love being involved - in today’s market for digital talent, stuff like this makes a difference.  And obviously it’s important for the long-term development of our economy – creating future employees with the skills to thrive in a world where digital isn’t a department, it’s a fact of life.

Teaching kids to code is half the problem

It’s vital that we equip our young people with the skills they will need for the workplace of tomorrow.  But teaching kids to code only addresses half of the problem.  The other issue is subtler, but just as important.  It’s not our youngsters that we should be worried about – our challenge is with the grown-ups.

The best tech talent in the world will only ever be as good as the environment in which they operate.  The responsibility for creating the right culture sits with the grown-ups – and it’s still OK for them to not engage with this stuff.

Digital is a mindset

Digital is a mindset as much as a skillset.  It’s about being able to adapt to a rapidly changing world, where barriers to entry are low and speed to market is paramount.  It’s about embracing the principles of agile development – small, multi-disciplinary teams, releasing products into the real world, where they can be improved, honed and optimized based on real-time feedback from real users.

It’s about being able to adapt to a rapidly changing world, where barriers to entry are low and speed to market is paramount

It’s about being comfortable with failure.  If a tech giant with all Google’s resources can admit defeat – see the admission that that Google+ is being quietly put out of its misery – then surely the rest of us can admit that not every digital project will deliver against the KPIs we so carefully wrote on a PowerPoint slide back when we wrote the brief?

Product development vs product discovery

Silicon Valley start-ups use the idea of product discovery, as opposed to product development.   The idea of product development is that we will come up with the right answer – given enough time, money and effort.  But product discovery is based on the idea that we don’t necessarily know what the answer is – our job is to prototype, iterate, evolve and react, until the audience helps us shape the product that the market actually wants.

That culture is shaped by the world of software development, but it’s not just about tech projects.  The same principle can be applied to the way that we build brands in a digital world, where it can be hard to distinguish between brand, product and service – look at Uber, Airbnb or Amazon.

This isn’t intended to be a rant about cautious clients or risk-averse corporations.  All this is just as true for agency heads as it is for CMOs.  If we’re all going to succeed in the brave new digital world, maybe it’s us that should be heading off to code school, not our children.