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Start-ups, grown-ups and taking a LEAD

A key element of the current business journey is learning to speak machine. How can you set a higher standard for digital transformation?

Start-ups, grown-ups and taking a LEAD

What's the definition of an 'established' company?
It’s a business that succeeded at starting up and making it to become a break-even business. And it continued to grow and become more reputable over a time period, often of a few decades. It made the journey from beginning as a start-up to becoming an ‘end-up’.

Every company’s journey begins as a start-up, and it hopes to end up successful one day. But being called an ‘end-up’ can sound a bit soul-crushing to a company that has stood the test of time, especially when you compare the two against each other as in the figure ‘Start-ups versus End-ups’, below.

Let's hear it for the grown-up companies
Don’t forget that for all the bravado of the hoodie-wearing startup crowd, the majority of them wouldn’t hesitate to be acquired by an end-up. It’s easy to forget that an end-up is a company that has earned its reputation for being a reliable source of value. When you’re a teenager, it’s all too easy to dismiss a company that’s as old as a mum or dad. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that being a ‘grown-up’ company is not a bad thing at all. After all, who wants to go back to when they were teenagers?

But grown-up companies today are having a hard time adapting to the impact of the cloud, drones, AI/ML, blockchain and a variety of tech buzzwords that have entered the vernacular of business from the Silicon Valley world. Standing up a platform play like Airbnb, or creating a data-science capability like Netflix, or building a new payments technology like Facebook – all can sound exciting to a grown-up company. Yet there’s the often crushing needs of the daily business activities that got their organisation established in the first place. How can grown-up businesses compete in the now, and work like start-up businesses in the next, at the same time?

The experience is the brand
When there are many choices available for how to get something done with technology and it all costs roughly the same, how the technology works and makes you feel becomes just as important as what it actually does. Over the past decade, we’ve seen how mobile devices have raised the bar for what we all expect from what an interaction with ‘IT’ needs to feel like. We’re no longer satisfied typing in a cryptic sequence of keys or clicking through a maze of confusing buttons, because we’ve come to expect all technologies to feel as fluid as when we use Google or Instagram. Whenever a technology becomes commoditised, the quality of design becomes the key differentiating factor.

The field of design has been disrupted by the onslaught of new information technologies with the arrival of ‘computational’ design. Computational design is primarily concerned with digitalisation’s impact on the creative process all the way through delivery of customer-facing outcomes. Expertise in computational design is what has enabled the unusual success of companies like Apple, Alibaba, Airbnb, and Amazon to create individualised experiences for millions of users that are reliable, impactful and desirable in ways that are never static. They’re always dynamic. How? They leverage the power of computation.

Computation and LEAD-ing experiences
What’s computation? The best way to get the gist of it is to watch the short BBC interview of David Bowie in 1999 where he explains how the internet is essentially an "alien life-form" – which can seem outlandish, but is appropriate. Computation is the invisible universe we access through our devices where machines never get tired, can span infinity while zeroing in on infinitesimally tiny details, and their ability to behave like living beings, having absorbed many of our idiosyncrasies, is only improving. Technology companies are fluent in their ability to ‘speak machine’, which enables them to tap into a kind of power that delivers outsize advantages with greater computational fluency.

At Publicis Sapient we’re reigniting our passion for combining technology with experience that’s grounded in our expertise in computation and our love of creativity. We’ve developed an unusually powerful method for reliably creating outcomes-based computational experiences for our clients called ‘LEAD’ – which stands for Light, Ethical, Accessible, Dataful. We use LEAD as our compass for computational design.

We like to refer to LEAD as ‘outcomes-based’ in contrast to the tendency for digital experiences to be ‘outputs-based’ – because just making something digital doesn’t do anything for the bottom line of your business.

Let’s be honest, the crisis of digital business transformation preoccupying so many in the C-suite isn’t really the risk of not being digital; it’s the risk of spending too much and doing too little with digital. It’s the risk of being a digital mediocrity – unleashing poor experiences, wasting money, eroding customer value, and missing the opportunity.

LEAD-ing experiences are anything but mediocre. They satisfy customers through their lightness and speed; they engender brand loyalty by being transparent and ethical; they broaden their market by being inclusive and accessible; and they generate new business value through a sophisticated use of data.

So here’s a personal question: is your company making a lot of digital stuff these days? You’ve probably built a large technology team. You’re churning out websites and mobile apps. Maybe you’ve done some design thinking bootcamps. You’re all in on agile. Great. That’s a start. But it doesn’t mean you’re speaking machine – not yet.

To really speak machine, challenge your teams to go beyond growth hacks and ‘wow’ moments. Set a higher standard for your digital transformation. And lean into LEAD.

John Maeda is author of the new book ‘How to Speak Machine’ and the best-selling ‘Laws of Simplicity’.

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