Feb. 1, 2021

Why Technology Won't Solve Your Problems

Why Technology Won't Solve Your Problems

Adapting through crisis, why hierarchies can be useful, and empowering leadership

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Ryan shares an insightful conversation on digital transformation and leadership with Mike Stopforth, founder and director of Beyond Binary.

Meet Our Guest
Mike Stopforth is the founder and director of business and leadership transformation specialist Beyond Binary. He
is an entrepreneur, start-up investor, author and global speaker. He is recognised for his provoking insights into
disruption-driven change, its impact on people, business and markets, and, notably, building the new leadership
skills and strategies essential to navigate uncharted territory. Mike is a successful digital pioneer. Before Beyond
Binary, he founded leading African social media agency Cerebra. It was acquired by global advertising giant WPP in
2013. In 2007, he co-founded Afrigator.com, an African content aggregator which was bought by Naspers. In
addition to his Beyond Binary role, Mike serves as a disruption and innovation advisor on a number of corporate
boards. He has been recognised as an influencer by Mail & Guardian, GQ and Destiny Man.

Show Links
Click here to join the Slack Workspace
Click here for the episode transcript

Follow us on Twitter: @thedwwpodcast
Connect with Mike: LinkedIn, Twitter, https://mikestopforth.com/
Books mentioned: The Lean Startup, The Goal

Email us: podcast@digitalworkspace.works 

Visit us: www.digitalworkspace.works 

Subscribe to the podcast: click here
YouTube channel: click here


Ryan Purvis  0:00  
Hello, and welcome to the digital workspace works podcast. I'm Ryan Purvis, your host supported by producer Heather Bicknell. In this series, you'll hear stories and opinions from experts in the field story from the frontlines, the problems they face and how they solve them. The years they're focused on from technology, people and processes to the approaches they took that will help you to get to the scripts for the digital workspace inner workings.

This is very fancy.

Mike Stopforth  0:33  
Cool. Yeah. Good to go.

Ryan Purvis  0:34  
Yeah, good. Yeah. Good. I mean, I'm, I'm just thinking about doing this in a studio for the first time and I sit at home with with Heather in the US. And it's all those extra team calls. You know, there's, we have a very basic setup.

Mike Stopforth  0:48  
Well, I mean, that is the essence of what you do. Right. So you're suggesting you can, I like it. Like I said, for one reason, one reason only it takes away the work. Yeah. I'm the guy that like, Is there a blockage in the drain call a guy like, myself, which

Ryan Purvis  1:01  
is? What was the name of that guy's book? Man, if you don't manage it, what's his name? Paul Drucker,

Mike Stopforth  1:08  
Peter Drucker,

Ryan Purvis  1:08  
you're at this the most efficient executive. I'm not read that. Oh, that's worth reading. Okay. Um, there's a very there's a party, which says you got to work out your your cost. Yes. And if it's cheaper for someone else to do it, yes. To do it. Yeah. You focus on what your, your potential or whatever it is.

Mike Stopforth  1:25  
So I know that to be true, theoretically, but I'll make up the time by like sitting on the couch watching a movie or you got you got a cash in the car? Yeah. You're gonna cash in the cost. Yeah.

Ryan Purvis  1:40  
That's the trick. Yeah. Because you say that time and then you go to a new series of discovery on Yes, yes. pump that out and say, Oh, no, it's it's

Mike Stopforth  1:48  
probably not the best use of their time. Yeah, exactly. Well,

Ryan Purvis  1:52  
welcome to the digital workspace works podcast, you want to give us a quick introduction to yourself. So we've got it for our our episode.

Mike Stopforth  1:57  
Yeah. Geez, Ryan, thanks for the opportunity to be on the show. And I used to run an agency called Cerebro, which focused on helping big corporate brands navigate the waters then the emerging world of social media, both from an engagement and marketing perspective, and then also from an internal communication and collaboration perspective. And I sold their business in 2013, to WP. And I x to Cerebro. In 2018, went back to business school, did a program around social business and social entrepreneurship, actually, at the London School of Economics. And then was planning on launching a new business in kind of around leadership and digital transformation at the beginning of this year. And then obviously, COVID happened. And so I think a lot of ideas had the brakes put on and yeah, had been doing quite a lot of work during the year around research and developing new ideas and models, but decided to take a little bit of a breather, while while we waited out and saw exactly what happened. And yeah, launched the podcast during the year. So yeah, got a

Ryan Purvis  3:00  
little bit busy, at least, you know, we have enjoyed your podcasts or during some of your guests as well, because they are so different. Because I mean, that sounds stupid. But the topics you talk about cover so many varying things and things that I think about a lot, but I haven't found a source that it feeds me that information. So I've quite enjoyed your guests, and especially on your most recent one, the CEO. internship, I think it was something like like that he had like a school for weed or educating people or CEOs to

Mike Stopforth  3:25  
Yes, yes, absolutely. Yeah. So that was Rowan. Yeah. So yeah, I mean, I, my problem, actually, which I think you're complimenting is I'll take it. The problem is that I have too broad a range of interests. So that the the podcast is an excuse, I guess, to speak to a whole bunch of people. I'm very jealous of you, though, because you seem to know exactly what you want to talk about. And in a very deliberate about it. So I need to learn from your, your approach. I think we all fake it very well. Indeed. Indeed. Isn't that the world of podcasts?

Ryan Purvis  3:57  
I guess we can just say cheese. How do you get these people to talk to us? Well, it's very easy. You just ask them.

Mike Stopforth  4:01  
Yeah. And you can send a lengthy detailed email. Yes, yes. Oh, yeah. And then they

Ryan Purvis  4:05  
either say no, yeah. Or they start ignoring you. Or they say yes. And then you end up with a guest.

Mike Stopforth  4:10  
Yeah. What does that what does that sitcom How I Met Your Mother? Yep. Remember that naked man strategy that the dude had to say? No. Okay. So I hope this is not like not safe work. But the dude's strategy was like, he's like, I'm not a particularly good looking guy. I'm not very successful. So my strategy is when dating somebody, I go back to their place. I just take off my cousin sit on the couch. He says, The worst thing that happens is you get a note. But every now and again, you get it. Yes. naked man strategy.

Ryan Purvis  4:37  
So you say you're gonna go into digital transformation. But would that be more from a social media angle? Or what we angling on there?

Mike Stopforth  4:42  
Yes, actually, not at all. From a social media perspective. I think what happened in the latter part of my journey in cerebrus, I started hearing this phrase digital transformation being used more and more and prolifically, and very broadly. And I think similarly to when social media gained prominence, there was a sense That it was, it was kind of a substitute for everything that felt new. If it was new, or emergent or interesting or progressive, we just slap the label digital transformation on it. And one of the dangers of doing that is that it begins to mean nothing. And I started thinking about well, what does it actually mean? What What do we mean when we say digital transformation? And I guess the most logical way to figure that out is to strip it down into its constituent parts. And there's been actually quite a surprising amount of time doing that, and matching that against what are the prominent or predominant definitions in play at the moment. And what I've realized is that, I think what we really mean by digital transformation is the ability to adapt perpetually, as an organization, in the face of largely complex and unpredictable circumstances. And, and, and more so complex and unpredictable. I think that that's what we're realizing is that there's an accelerating rate of unpredictability and complexity that we need to operate in and around and through. And, and our ability to adapt to that it's got a lot to do with the culture that we create, the leadership style that we have, the tools that we select, and all of that I think is embodied in this idea of digital transformation. But that, by implication means that there's a very specific style of leadership and culture that lends itself towards that strategy. And if you don't have that, if you're not lucky enough to be in a business that's like that, does that mean you're doomed? And that's what I spend time thinking about? The answer is no, of course, there are many organizations that don't necessarily have the privilege of their kind of leadership culture, but have adapted in different ways. And so the exploration has been what are those called? Then? What are those things? And how can we develop a way of thinking about them all. So that regardless of what level of maturity or adaptability, our organization is subject to right now, we have a way forward, you have a way to survive.

Ryan Purvis  6:55  
Yeah, it's interesting, you say that the leadership, the culture and the tools is that there's a technology term for that, which is people process and technology, people present technology. And I remember reading, when we, when we first went into lockdown in the UK, that somewhere saying that 30 to 40% of all businesses were shut down. For Good, thanks, US pandemic. But no one really extrapolated to why. And I think the why there is because most of those businesses wouldn't get up to do the switch or the pivot to using tools, think not the technology tools to be able to do their business, and they weren't able to transform the patterns, their business processes from being in the office of prison space to being virtual. So you know, you obviously see a lot of people that were doing using, like my mother in law teachers school with kids with disabilities and learn difficult etc. You know, she had to close the school down and ship camera zoom teacher. Now she's spending 10 to 12 hours a day teaching classes that the old the old way, but as soon as they have that whole thing being referred to become a more digital mechanism where kids are doing the assignments or an app or something like that, yes, she was going the old way. So it was almost a brute force way of doing it. Yeah, is that the kind of problem you want to solve almost helped the brick and mortar become digital.

Mike Stopforth  8:11  
So I think that's one component of it. And one component of it is taking what we already do, and digitizing it, but I'm more inclined to refer to that as digitization or digitalization. The problem with that strategy, which is a very much outside in putting digital layers on existing business processes or existing strategies or operations, the way we do things just made digital. And, you know, the most superficial examples are a biometric sensor at your reception desk instead of a sign in book. The problem there is that it doesn't speak to the underlying layer, or philosophy or approach to change that your business has. And if you have a business that's already got broken processes already got endemic issues that are deeper than just deeper than just operational, right. slapping digital layers on top of that isn't going to fix them. And I think sometimes vendors have an understandably so have made clients believe that their tools are these magical, fix all panaceas you know, just if you just buy the right eirp, if you just get the right CRM system, if you just have the right website, provider, if you just launch an e commerce store, if you just get yourself on social media, it'll solve your problems. And it actually does. In many instances, quite the opposite. It exacerbates existing issues, it almost amplifies it. So I think we talk about the businesses that that were. And this is what's quite interesting. I mean, not not wanting to in any way, shape or form minimize the human tragedy of the pandemic, they it is an experiment of sorts in how businesses adapt because you're applying the same variable, almost every organization around the world and then measuring how they responses. Work accordingly. And what's interesting to me is that obviously, there's a set of businesses that no matter how good or bad or progressive or archaic or people oriented or or technology oriented, they were, they were just going to struggle. You know, if you're an airline or a travel business and a pandemic hits, it doesn't matter who you are, you're in trouble. So there's, there's, there's a sort of components of the market that I don't think could have done anything to change the effect as such. But then there's two other very interesting groups, there's organizations that we're, we're expected to adapt well, ahead, all the tools in place to adapt well had, should have by rights, being able to take advantage of changing customer behavior, or a changing circumstance or a digitization of engagement or whatever, and struggled really badly. And then there was another group who should have done badly. But they did really well. And almost inevitably, when you look at the common denominators between those two, what what what is common between organizations that were well positioned and did badly, and organizations that were poorly positioned and did really well, the common denominator seems to be leadership oriented. It's it's about the attitude that the most influential and most powerful people in that organization head towards the changing circumstance. And that's what I'm really interested in, I'm trying to that for me is not a feeling. It's not a specific type of personal person. There's something very real that's happening there. Very practical and very deliberate. That I think it's worth us understanding, because it takes the conversation a little bit away from the technology and the tools and into those things are enablers. But if you don't have the right circumstance to deploy them, they're almost always going to fail.

Ryan Purvis  12:01  
Yeah, yeah, you're spot on. I mean, I've sat on the technology side for a long time trying to bring it into business to solve problems. And I mean, as you're talking, I was thinking of examples of my career, my failures, as I like to call them, where we've brought in technology to solve a problem, but we actually we've done it, make them fail faster. Yeah, and more expensively. Yeah. You know, thinking about marketing processes that we automated, totally actually wasn't the wrong. It was we took the process, but no one actually said, Is this process actually the right process? Yeah, you know, if you look at an if you ever read the book, the goal, it's all my favorite ones, always, I can sort of throw people to read. Yeah. He gave an example in the book, and it's a nonfiction fictional book. So he's written a story about a plant manager running a factory. Gotcha. And this guy is running a factory, he's got three months to keep it going. Otherwise, the big corporates gonna shut it down. And he meets his sort of old school teacher, whatever, who helps him out. And one of the examples he gives him is that sometimes the sequence of the problem sequence the process is the problem. And he's taking his kid away on a on a on a scout trip. And he realizes while they walk it up this long Hill, that the problem is they got the fat guy at the back, because he's the slowest. And the fast guy at the front. He can't keep everyone together, keep them all together, what's the fat guy in front? Yes. Now, if we get into software development, or something like that, you've got to find the things that are creating your biggest dependencies, and the most common and need the most focused and put those solve for

Mike Stopforth  13:23  
that first,

Ryan Purvis  13:24  
solve them with everything trailing behind that, because that'll give you a sort of momentum. Because often what happens is everyone leaves something to the end, which will usually be something like testing or integration work, or whatever it is, because those are the hardest things to do. Yes. And I think that's if we look at the pandemic, in some senses is almost the problem in the leadership there, someone's made the decision to sort of stick to the Easy, easy path or the way they've done things before where they're comfortable, and not relook at, well, the games will change. Now, we've got to make some tough decisions, and maybe, maybe, you know, throws throw some things away. I mean, that in the nicest way it could, because there's probably people in order to pivot the business to keep the business going, get the business going, then we keep it available for when things get better to bring those people back or, or scale the business appropriately in a new channel. And I think that's your people that were gonna fail that turned it around in America made a bigger business. I think those are the kind of mentalities that feel that.

Mike Stopforth  14:25  
Yeah, certainly. Um, but I think the part of that thinking that we don't talk about enough, and I think you've alluded to it there, but I've had a lot of fun articulating this and then testing it with with different audiences is I think it's got a lot to do with that leader, he or she, they timeframe for value creation. So what I mean by that is, if all you're interested in is maximizing value in the next year, the decisions that you make are going to be hugely biased towards the short term and towards your own, or whoever it is that you're trying to make that money for create that value for in the short term that gain right? If your timeframe for value creation is 10 years, obviously, your problems become immeasurably more difficult to solve because of the unpredictable variables in that mix. But this this paradox of there's not a you know, there's not a well meaning sensible corporate leader out there that would admit that they're only interested in value creation in the next six or three months, they'll all talk about wanting to sustain their organizations forever and create value for communities and wanting to be as you know, inclusive and and, you know, customer and human centric as possible. These are all the words that we use. But in truth, if we're honest, there's quite a big gap between what we say we want to be in terms of an organization and how we measure our ability to do that. And that there I think, is, is the essence of the problem when it comes from when we talk about transformation of any type. And I'm not this is not just about digital transformation. I think any if you merging two cultures together, if you are talking about economic transformation in in a context like South Africa, there your ability to execute on that effectively and meaningfully and to create the kind of organization as you rightly point out that could later on maybe expand its its value. Network.

Ryan Purvis  16:39  
Yeah. You

Mike Stopforth  16:40  
have to take a long view.

Ryan Purvis  16:42  
Yeah. Have you ever done any research on the Japanese businesses?

Mike Stopforth  16:45  
I haven't.

Ryan Purvis  16:46  
So and something I heard this week, there are a lot of businesses that have been around for their multi generational business. Yes. And and their approach is never to be short term. Yes, they're always thinking long term. And I haven't done any research on some either something I put in my notes to read to read up on. But that seems to be the cultural difference to say westernized business westernized businesses going to see you in four to three, maybe five years, depending on how good they are? Yes, they tend to cycle them out pretty quickly. And most of those CEOs are really driven by the quarterly reviews, yes, the stock price doing and what's the well, that kind of stuff. But the Japanese business and being very generalized, tends to be family businesses do multi generational, and they're hiring people in but they're keeping this long, long, long term view on it. Yes. And that's why they 1000 year old businesses.

Mike Stopforth  17:32  
Yeah, I've got a good two case studies that I look at that I need to maybe look deeper into to understand what cultural drivers are. So the one is Fuji. And look at it from a digital innovation perspective, the creation of the diversification of product lines, creating beauty products, as an example in their digital imaging business is a really interesting way to use their existing skill sets influence supplier relationships to create value in a new frontier. Yeah, man, I use that as a case study of one of the ways of sustaining beyond your existing business model, especially if it's under immediate threat. And the second one is recruit Japan, which I think is a really interesting digital transformation case study. But there are a couple of common denominators. I think, too, as you mentioned, these they are, for lack of a better phrase, Empire style businesses in their scale, in their diversity. And that's in the best possible use of that word, not in a in a derogatory sense. And I think there's a there's a lot of fascinating lessons to learn about what you're actually trying to create, because I think we get stuck in thinking about what type of business are you? And what type of business are you is a lot to do with what sector you're in? Yeah. And there, I don't get the sense that they're thinking about being a technology business even been a manufacturing or retail fmcg business, it's more about what type of organization are you? And the product or the offering is on a secondary or even tertiary to that.

Ryan Purvis  19:06  
Yeah. Could you make me think of Kodak?

Unknown Speaker  19:08  
Yes, exactly.

Ryan Purvis  19:09  
I mean, Kodak was, and they were it was Kodak a Fuji. Those are the two guys who went 100%. Yeah. And codecs needed to be seen.

Mike Stopforth  19:16  
Up until very recently, because I think they've they've enjoyed a sudden surge in share price because their involvement in some of the vaccination projects. Okay. Yes. Yeah, I think they want to contract and yeah, but exactly that. The fact that they're still around the fact that they're still doing something and are able to pivot into health, while healthcare is is remarkable.

Ryan Purvis  19:41  
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Because I mean, what you're sort of talking about something that I've never really got my head around either To be honest, is is that and I've looked at in the corporate that I've worked in, I've worked sort of corporate I've worked in small businesses, etc. And you can almost see it when you when you join a team or join a group. You Got that I won't say visually, because that sounds really wrong. But you've got someone who's got a drive could have got a feel for where things need to go and almost conducting orchestra. And they can pull in the instruments they need. But they've also almost taken the growth mindset to another level where they're not, they don't feel like they're hamstrung by the bureaucracy of an organization. Because I think some of these organizations, once you get past a certain number, let's say, the 1000 people, a lot of people that are hired, they're asked to manage the organization, not to actually drive the value of the business. And it's almost trying to you trying to bring it down underneath that level. So you get more flexibility, more of a startup mentality, but within the corporate budgets and background. I don't know if that's what you've seen as well, or something similar?

Mike Stopforth  20:42  
Yeah, you again, you've picked up on two really interesting topics that I think we could do an entire show around, because I think they are, are that big and that important? I think the first one is around this. This narrative, especially in western corporations around size, and scale, and bigger is almost always better. And we define the success of our organizations by the number of square meters that we lease and the number of people that are in those buildings. We used to do this in the advertising industry all the time. Yeah. How big is your business? We employ 280 people. And this has nothing to do with the success or the sustainability of that business, you should be talking about, you know, compound annual growth rates and margin. And those are those are the metrics that really matter. I'd rather have a business with 10 people that that makes a decent amount of money. And it's kind of, although, if we take a more complex view of things, it's nice to nice to focus on job creation. And it's important to do that as well. So Yep. Okay. I'm going on all sorts of tangents. The second thing is what I just did that earlier point is that I think there's a little bit of work to be done around. What is the optimal size of a business unit? And I think the military does this very well, they, you know, they, they compartmentalize operational units in a very efficient and effective way to to get the best results out of the the chain of command, and I don't, I think over the last couple of years, hierarchies have started to get a really bad rap. I think it's a pity because I think we are, we're naturally predisposed towards hierarchies, I think we most human beings quite enjoy being in a structure and in a, but the mistake we made in businesses that returned hierarchies into into a power dynamic. If your hierarchy is all about accountability, then it's then it's quite a useful thing. If the person up on the top of the power is the person willing to take the most responsibility for the decisions that the organization is making, or the direction that it's going in, and sure they're getting perks for that, but that directly proportional to the amount of value they're creating, then I'm all for hyper hierarchies, the effect? Yeah, let's, let's take advantage of it. So I think the first thing is around the optimal size of you know, and I don't know if you've read any of Robin Dunbar's work, but he's done work around network effects and the optimal size of a community to get the best results out of the relationships and the interplay between the relationships. I think there's a number that I do know of is 150 people. 100%. Yeah, so there's Dunbar's number. And yeah, so I'm interested in exploring that. And there's an organization that I'm connected to called Thomson Harrison in the UK, a boutique leadership development, offering, they're doing exceptional work in the space around organizational design. And they there's been quite a lot of time working with Robin Dunbar to test this. To test this number in practicality, and it just keeps coming up is interesting that I think the average number of friends on Facebook, for Facebook, use an active Facebook users very close to that number 162. Okay, and that could be completely coincidental. But I think there's something to be said around the optimal size of a social network, and especially in an organizational effectiveness. context. The second point, I think, that you brought up that I'd like to pick up on is the difference between a a growth minded motivational leader, and a growth minded motivational culture. So I think, you know, you and I have worked in organizations that are extremely complex, multifaceted, sometimes even internally competitive, and a matter of your competitive, that's a more appropriate word. But you get a sense that there are these pods within there that just get stuff done. And sometimes it feels like 17% of the business is responsible for, you know, 93% of the business's success. And, and it's almost always got to do with a, you know, kind of how information flows in there. pide people's ability to make decisions, accountability, those things that we're talking about already. And that's got to do with that kind of end. And this is, this is the thing that I think we don't talk about enough when it comes to to leadership in the corporate context, it's not necessarily about being an extraordinary figurehead. It will look at somebody like a good good example here.

What is our friend from Discovery's name? Adrian go Adrian Cole kept thinking Andrew Golding from Pam Golding mind it's holiday brain. Yeah. I didn't go i think is an exceptional figurehead but he's also done a very good job of in in inculcating a culture of shared value

Ryan Purvis  25:33  
and you get to play in inculcating?

Mike Stopforth  25:36  
Yeah, it's it's, it's, it's embodying or productizing some of what makes him him. Yeah. And having it exist in the room. Without him being there. being adopted by other people. It's it's the best version of a cult. It's what makes religion so bad.

Ryan Purvis  25:56  
Yeah, it's the Steve Jobs of sorts on field that sort of Yeah,

Mike Stopforth  25:58  
yeah. 100%. And, and I think a leaders ability to codify that, and to, you know, for lack of a better word, productize it and have people adopt it willingly. That is the definition of transformational leadership for me, because then you are you are affecting the type of work that the organization is doing, you're creating change, you're creating value, even when you're not there. Yeah. It's one thing, being a great leader, when you're in the room, it's another thing being a great leader when you're not.

Ryan Purvis  26:31  
So I'm thinking of an example and a couple things that you said their decision making. And the other thing was, but, but it's empowerment, if you if you can pay your people to make decisions. And they know what they know, the parameters are the V, they gotta stay within, they'll make those decisions, they get more confident, which means you as a leader have less to worry about, because you don't be sitting there making decisions for everyone. Yeah, be exhausted. But I remember working for a guy that that he actually would send out his, his sort of list once in a while. And one of the things was a 13th item was do not use my name to get this done. And if you can do all the other things, and then that that because if what became a problem is that his name would be used as a way to get something done. Or he said, I must do this. So you need to, you need to pull the process apart, because I need to go permission. Because it does create that sort of problem. Sometimes you got to get a strong leader. Interesting. Yeah. And then he, you know, people adopt it for the wrong the wrong part of it, not the right part of it, which was an interesting thing.

Mike Stopforth  27:28  
So in your experience, what makes an individual empowered, I

Ryan Purvis  27:37  
don't have a quick definition of it. But I would probably say, a comfort level of making mistakes and be able to recover from them. I think that's the biggest thing that I've struggled with other people struggle with, were you running a team? And you know, especially when you and I wrote my journals, and that's when you know, when you first start managing a team, your biggest worry is are you telling people the wrong things to do? Or are you making decisions that are actually going to cost you later on? So there's this fear of failure all the time. But it's actually okay to fail, provided you are realizing that you're failing and that you can actually correct the path. And that's where you need to, you know, be a big person and step back. And actually, you know, I said, we build this thing. Now we actually make a mistake when you stop. Yeah, like,

Mike Stopforth  28:15  
if you're not failing, you're doing your job.

Ryan Purvis  28:17  
What what exactly, but I think that shouldn't be the focus.

Mike Stopforth  28:19  
Yeah, there's a little bit of a worry about glorifying failure.

Ryan Purvis  28:22  
Yeah, that's a problem. And you'll see anybody's blame cultures where, you know, you make a mistake. And I've sat in meetings where I said, Oh, you need to do this. And six weeks later, someone said, Oh, well, you screwed that up as well. No One No one's making decisions. I made one.

Mike Stopforth  28:34  
Yeah. And happy to screwed up.

Ryan Purvis  28:35  
And when we did something, and yes, you might may have cost us, you know, six weeks, but we've learned something out of it. Because now we know not to make a decision by himself. Yeah. You know, whatever the joke is at the time, but but I think that's that. The point is that, you know, sort of as your question, I think that that fear of failure getting past that piece, you know, almost a be an experimenter, which I think we are now you talked about timelines and sort of time to value. I think there's definitely a push now to experiment more experiment faster, get results created experiment again, and I read this recent book called lean startup, he talks about a lot, you know, you could just keep doing that, and measure iteration and all that kind of stuff. And I think that's, that's what I think the leadership that I've seen it strong, are prepared to lay the fall of a pillow to experiment, and are looking for your results. So they don't have to go and explore it, to help them make a decision while they see the bigger picture. Because you don't always get the whole picture. And I think those things together, give me the answer.

Mike Stopforth  29:36  
So I've obsessed over this because I hear a lot of people talking about how do you empower staff? People are empowered enabled, you know, and it's used a lot, especially by vendors as a sales point. Yeah. I think the one thing we don't think about enough is access to the right information. Yeah. So I think the first thing if you want to empower someone, give them access to the right info. I think there's two important words there, neither of them information. The one is access and the other one is correct or useful or right, you know, yeah. Because you and I will know, there is a plethora of information available to almost anyone in in modern organizations, whether it's external or kind of primary first person information or data. And very little of it is actually usable, useful, or insightful, or practical. So they think the first challenge of an empowered organization is how efficiently does information flow through the business? And how useful is it when it arrives at its destination?

Ryan Purvis  30:40  
And there's a level of probably truth to that information? 100%. Yeah. Has it been tainted by an agenda? Exactly,

Mike Stopforth  30:45  
exactly. And it can only be useful if it's authentic and true. And, yeah. And the second thing is, once I have the information, and again, this is obviously material, this is exactly what you're saying, Can I make a decision with it? And I think that's linked to my perceptions about failure in the business, my perceptions around blame and responsibility. I can't make a decision if those are the things I'm worried about, doesn't matter how good my information is. And I'm convinced that if you were able to somehow measure the effectiveness of the flow of information through a business, and the efficacy of the quality of the information when it arrives at its destination, and the decision making quotient of the individual when they get it, you'd be able to predict how disruptive that business is, because I'm convinced that's the thing that makes a business disruptive.

Ryan Purvis  31:40  
So you talked about the military? Yeah. And and the American military is probably the one that most people think of when you talk about the military. Sure, they did something during the Afghanistan conflict, which was quite inspiring. So they have this hierarchy, you have six divisions and seven if you count spaceforce.

Mike Stopforth  31:59  
Let's not

Ryan Purvis  31:59  
Yeah. But But they've got the six divisions. Now, they are working the heart harkaway, which obviously means if a piece of a patient comes in, goes all the way up the chain of command, someone makes a decision comes all the way back down. But they were fighting against insurgents and or whatever the, you know, the guerrillas were, who don't work that way. Sure. They work in your traditional while they're just now but a very small virtual team of people that work together. So yeah. And they make decisions on the on the ground. Yeah, networks, networks, and they fire off and they do what they have to do. And the problem is obviously that the US military could not contend with the spirit with the speed and the agility of their enemy. Yeah. So they changed the whole structure. And they now run a totally agile environment. I mean, agile, the sense of, you know, too expensive, like nonsense. Yeah. But but they have a call once a day, for an hour and a half with all people that need to be involved. So all six divisions from the Admiralty or generals down to obviously not private, but they'll have whatever. And they'll talk for an hour about what's going on. And they will spit out whatever topics they need to talk about, to go make a decision and come back to that forum. And they've they've cut their whole decision making process down into Well, from week sometimes down to two hours. Interesting. And that's how they think they got their handle on Afghanistan, because they could now be as responsive to innovate. And while they obviously on this call, you know, something could happen. And they're all the right people to make the decisions. Are there. Yeah. And also the people that if you're on their call, you are considered a decision maker, right? Or you're empowered already. And sometimes we ask the question, how do you empower them? Sometimes you actually have to say someone you are about. Yeah, up to five grand. You make a decision? Yep. 200,000 you can make a decision. Yeah, just do it.

Mike Stopforth  33:40  
Yeah. Don't, don't get bored. And point that you make there is that you have to give them a parameter to work with. Yes. If you're gonna empower people, give them give them the outside lines, you know, color, do whatever you like, inside that space. But But, you know, preferably don't go out that space. Yeah.

Ryan Purvis  33:58  
Yeah. Well, you know, you get you you learn and trust. I mean, you've heard Tim Ferriss four hour workweek. Yeah. So here's one biggest thing about getting out of his business was here, Tim powers, people shop decisions. So you know, if this customer is unhappy up to 250, just give him the product for free or whatever example. But it's the same thing.

Mike Stopforth  34:15  
I think that's what culture is. Yeah. I think culture is the space you create for people to play in. I really do. I think that it's the parameters within which you can do what you need to do to be effective and be creative and create value. But But without those parameters, I looked at the business coach, when they described it almost as a river. It's the banks. Yep. You know, and then the rivers gonna change and, you know, so on and so of rocks and stuff and 100%. But, yeah, but but, but defining the boundaries, defining the parameters is is such a critical function of leadership.

Ryan Purvis  34:54  
So what do you find frustrating than that? So you define the boundaries, and you've got this path. For the past, we know there's going to be variable up and down hills and all that kind of stuff.

Mike Stopforth  35:03  
Well, what I find frustrating is that there's two things, I guess is in my position now is how few leaders see. And I mean, leaders across sectors, not just in the corporate sector, I mean, in the public sector as well, even in the impact space, see their role as doing that. And secondly, how many people think of the river like a dam? And that, you know, they don't they don't think in the long term, I just I think there is an absolute, the real pandemic is an obsession with short term thinking. And that's one of the reasons why the pandemic was such a big thing is because, you know, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, we don't we don't think that long term, we don't think about the puzzle, how can we? How can we be adaptable to almost any sort of change? And I suppose there is a limit to what you can do and how you can think when it comes to that question, because you can become so obsessed with change that you don't actually do the work that you're supposed to do. But I think I think that's the, if you take a 10 year view, genuinely, sincerely, how can you not consider some of those things?

Ryan Purvis  36:16  
Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, if you read any of the books that came out around the same time as the they came out, but they became top of mind, because the pandemic, yeah, all these epidemiology books, and all that kind of stuff. It was predicted in this sort of thing. for 400 years. Yeah. I mean, in fact, we probably had, you know, a virus every

Mike Stopforth  36:33  
year. Yeah, we have had, we haven't had a combined with an inflammation virus at the same time, but it's particularly insidious. But I think if you if you've taken adapting seriously, changing the way that you work, to be in predominantly remote shouldn't be anywhere near as painful as it's been for some organizations. Yeah. And for the individuals in those organs. So that's the key thing. It's not painful, the very few organizations struggle with remote work. Yeah, it's it's the individuals that are suddenly got to adapt to an environment that they're not used to work in into a way of working, that they're not accustomed to, to tools that they haven't been exposed to, or taught, or that those that people that have really struggled

Ryan Purvis  37:14  
with where the business processes that don't work, either, you know, your physical presence to do something, yeah, this process should have been changed

Mike Stopforth  37:21  
to be a virtual versus sudden reminder that maybe you don't need a meeting for all of those things. Yeah.

Ryan Purvis  37:26  
Well, yeah.

Mike Stopforth  37:28  
Not an hour long way

Ryan Purvis  37:29  
to expand on your damn piece. I mean, my frustration is when people think of it as a pond, or a puddle. And then I realized that they are in the middle of rapids, and that they're not willing to push the boundaries of their given, because I think there's also a level of contention you need to have where, and maybe this is where ambition comes in. Yeah, where someone says, Well, you know, you've given me responsibility for this stuff. But if you gave me responsible for that stuff, too, and they come together, I can do more with it. Whereas I think a lot of people are quite happy that they put in a little, little box, yes, in a box, and you need to sort of push the box along with you.

Mike Stopforth  38:06  
Look, in a big enough organization, I think you're going to have those types of people. And I think it's important for us to recognize that is that there are some people who want to work that way, who want to work in quite small, defined parameters, and they want to be extremely effective in those parameters. And that's the way they, they they create value. And I think that's going to be alright, I've learned that there are some types of people that are fueled by tenacity and fueled by ambition, and others that find those spaces in other parts of their lives and would rather at work, do the work that they've been paid to do in the time that they've been paid to do it and then go, and that's okay. Especially in big organizations, it's different than a, you know, sort of very competitive startup, Silicon Valley type environment, of course, you're going to have less of those types of characters, and they're not going to survive in that environment. But I think in in the, you know, in the rest of the world, normal business, there are going to be a lot of people who are just like that, and I think it's okay, I think we need to make provision for that. What I think you're saying is that when you've given people permission to do that, and they don't, something else is going on, that's a sure sign that there is something culturally devoid something venomous in the system that is stopping people from taking that step. And I realized, in cerebra, we, I mean, one of our fundamental habits, we call them habits, our values was to take initiative and we were the cannabis that really rewarded it until I realized that I was subconsciously stopping that from happening because I was rewarding only certain types of initiative that suited my agenda and ignoring types of initiatives that were still important, but that I wasn't recognizing as being as important. So I was I was actually the insidious factor there my biases towards certain types of initiative were the problem. And I had to learn how to redefine what we mean by initiative in order to reward all types of tenacity. And yeah, so I mean, if people aren't then being tenacious, and on taking initiative, you did something else in the system that might be broken. But I think you make another point. That will I want to expand on your point, because I think that there's a, you talk about small ponds and small, small, small spaces, I think a lot of leaders have realized through the pandemic, and I mean, leaders of big organizations that they can't think of their, their, their businesses as closed systems, they've got to take a far more systemic view of things. And that means acknowledging that there are many more communities, and individuals, patterns that are impacted by the work that you do, and the decisions that you make. And that, again, makes it immeasurably hard, harder to be a leader. But But I think the type of leadership that gets that is the type of leadership that's creating really valuable organizations.

Ryan Purvis  41:17  
So when you mean that, I mean, in my head, I'm thinking about, you know, Microsoft to insert certain it's a little over, went from being a tower based, you know, company, do micro products and partners do extensions, and were our own thing, to become an interchange company within our integrate with everyone, they're running Linux, on the desktop, and you know, all the things they would never touch ever, you know, under ballman, or under gates. Now, they are part of everything they integrate into everything. And that's the plan. Is that what you mean? Or do you mean something?

Mike Stopforth  41:50  
I certainly think that's part of it, I think. But I think also, it's got to do with I think you make certain types of decisions when you believe that your business lives and or succeeds and fails, depending exclusively at what happens inside its four walls. No. And I don't think you can afford to do that anymore. I think the customers changing so much, I think the political and social political environment changes so much. Culture is a massive factor. If you don't think of your business in terms of the system that it operates in, and and the different levers that are key to then you you're handicapping yourself immediately. So there's a certain amount of literacy that I think modern leaders must have when it comes to those systems and those different dependencies and the world around us. And I mean, can you think about a modern Corporation without thinking about climate change, not from a compliance perspective, but from an actual? This is one of the factors we have to think about when it comes to creating value over the next five to 10 years? I imagine it's something you have to at least have a foundational level of literacy in.

Ryan Purvis  42:58  
Yeah. But I was thinking to the guy who stopped go transcenders has a lady or guy a commodity, what what do you refer to himself as? Who started Sirius? XM, which is the satellite company, and then, and he said, Every business that we take on has got to be carbon neutral. And in fact, he bought some building. It's magnificent. It's huge. is the biggest building that's being carbon neutral versus carbon. It gives back into the environment. Oh, wow. So there's solar panels everywhere and like carbon negative, yeah. Carbon as a part of negative but yeah, exactly. And and that's almost the mentality you need to have for some of these big corporates and some of these corporates are. They've been avoiding the problem for so long. Yeah. And they've been trying to buy it with easier solutions, you know, do they go pay for, you know, trade someone else's credits for their own for their own damage that they're causing, almost like to make it feel better, as opposed to actually solving the problem? It's a great, quote,

Mike Stopforth  43:54  
an Irish poet, whose name I forgotten. David white, were speaking at a leadership conference, actually, whenever he was speaking about conversation, he said, the conversations that we don't want to have land up having us right. You could apply the same sort of thinking to this we go the system, the system change that we don't want to think about, eventually, impacts on us one way or another, you're either prepared for it, or you're not. But there's just so much happening in the world around us that we can't afford really not to think about it. I mean, one of the business projects that I'm involved in at the moment is a social media crisis, reputation business. And it's exists specifically because of this problem of people assuming that this the what's happening outside their four walls can never impact on them, or assuming that, you know, you look around it. It's a little bit like the smoker who's like the cancer will never happened to me, and I bet you you're smoking a lot. Well, I

Ryan Purvis  44:52  
mean, it's the same as Lowe's business that I've worked in where they said, you know, we don't really work from home or you work from home on the extreme occasion, plumbers coming or whatever it is, but they never get the business. Up, yeah, to be a business continuity business. And those are the same businesses now that had been through pandemic with anyone home, they had to go and buy every laptop they could find, regardless of what they could get the house hadn't planned for it. And, you know, the cost of the people not working or habit of, you know, forget furloughs and those kind of stuff. I mean, you know, they did exactly that smoker analogy will never happen to us. We'll never have to worry about this. Yeah. Until you do. Until you do. Yeah. So there's something else that you mentioned, I want to get back to which was around the people and their, their ability to work. I mean, have you looked much into their experience of working and beyond sort of, you know, does the laptop work like and stuff but like, the mental side of it, or, or the change piece? I guess,

Mike Stopforth  45:49  
Ryan, beyond the beyond the discussion around how behaviors or productivity is affected by a focus on outcomes as opposed to inputs? Yeah, I haven't really spent a hell of a lot of time on this. I'm not I'm certainly not an expert in remote work, or how individuals respond to different environments. But I do know that it's very difficult to run an effective and sustainable business and adaptable business today, if you judge people's contribution purely on inputs.

Ryan Purvis  46:23  
Okay, what do you mean hours? Or do you mean, yeah,

Mike Stopforth  46:25  
the amount of time I spend on my laptop? Yeah. I just think it's a useless metric, especially today. And and I see, I can, you know, I'm aware of a level of hypocrisy in that because I ran an advertising agency that does that, almost on a daily basis and asked people to fill in timesheets that are indicative only of the amount of time that they put in but that's, that's a function of the agency business model, which is certainly not without its critics and problems. And me being one of them. I do think that that the most interesting organizations today are those that have figured out ways to mobilize people in the creation of really interesting outputs. And again, you can't do that unless you have efficient flow of information. And, you know, autonomy and decision making capability, it just keeps coming back to that. If you give you if you can create that kind of environment, that kind of permission, then I think you can create people can work from anywhere. Yeah, I think the other you know, there's other topics around the blending of work and life. And people, I think approaching work quite differently in terms of slightly less focus on spending three decades of your life working your fingers to the bone, and then eventually taking a break when you're too old and too tired to really enjoy it. And I think there's a lot of people that are certainly have the privilege set that have tried to redesign the way they think about work so that it complements their lifestyle. And so they can live with a degree of flexibility and enjoyment while they still can take advantage of it. But beyond that, I'm not much of an expert.

Ryan Purvis  48:12  
Now. That's what I wanted, because it is that I was versus results. mindset,

Mike Stopforth  48:17  
I think it's, I think it's the biggest part of it. I think if you if you are basing your how you value people exclusively on what work they're able to produce, not time they're able to put in, you can design any type of work environment off their basis. Yeah, it becomes very easy to do from there.

Ryan Purvis  48:40  
Yeah, it's almost going to integrate a working concept, which which, you know, you can go and see your kids at school, and you can still do you know, the work you need to put out? I think the challenge, obviously, is if we're working remotely or or flexibly is these calls we have gets, I mean, I don't know if you certain calls, or they would, but a lot of our friends do. And you spend your whole day on the phone. And you actually haven't done any work yet. Because you have meetings, meetings and meetings, again, which is not

Mike Stopforth  49:03  
unlike the typical working day. The problem there is that you're you're placing the value on the amount of people that are in the meeting and the time they spent in that meeting instead of what decisions were made or Yeah, so again, that's that's an organizational challenge. It's a it's a culture challenge. It's an objective challenge. No sensible person participates in that if they know that it's counter counterintuitive to the thing that they're being measured on. But if you've been measured on how much time you spent in meetings and how many emails you answered, then it's easy to do that.

Unknown Speaker  49:36  
So what do you think 22 one's gonna bring for us.

Mike Stopforth  49:38  
I am reluctant to make any predictions about anything ever again. 2020 told me never to do that. I think spurs will hopefully finish in the top six other premier league table. Beyond that, I haven't got a clue. I don't know. I think I think I think it'll bring a lot of changed attitudes towards work, both from the perspective of the employee and the employee. I think it's good, some exciting, fast tracked technology opportunities. I think we've we've, we've jumped ahead three or four years and in our understanding of what's possible with these technologies, and then I think we'll see a nice big movement towards some consolidation in that space, and maybe even a new disruptor in the workplace collaboration space. And but yeah, I'm just I'm excited to get past 2020 and see what what's possible next year, hopefully less pandemics.

Ryan Purvis  50:39  
Yeah, yeah. What I mean, at least down here in the south, it's a bit easier. But up in the UK looks a little bit harder. Yeah.

Mike Stopforth  50:45  
Look, I think it might just be a function of weather. But your numbers are not great, either. So yeah, I don't know. So I think, yeah, I've, I've been fluctuating between thinking that the world will change forever, and the world won't change at all, depending on human nature. But I do think that there are certain things that we will rethink, fundamentally, and a lot of it has got to do with human interaction behavior. Social setups, hygiene, hopefully, yeah, I mean, that's a good one. But yeah, I think it'll be exciting to see. And, and, you know, I'm cautiously optimistic that 2021 will be better. But you know, I've learned to now temper my expectations.

Ryan Purvis  51:26  
But it feels like it's getting better than something else have, indeed. Great. Where can people get hold of you if they want to get in contact? Yeah,

Mike Stopforth  51:34  
I'm pasted all over the internet and easiest places, Microsoft force.com. But I'm also on LinkedIn at Mike stop fourth on twitter at Microsoft, fourth, and most easily contacted through those channels and

Unknown Speaker  51:47  
no longer on Facebook. No longer and Facebook.

Mike Stopforth  51:50  
Story entirely. How's

Ryan Purvis  51:50  
that experiment gone? Free?

Mike Stopforth  51:51  
I haven't felt anything. Good.

Ryan Purvis  51:53  
Yeah, that's exactly what it is. Yeah. Super. Well, thank you very much.

Mike Stopforth  51:57  
Thank you, Ryan. Thanks for the opportunity.

Ryan Purvis  52:00  
Thank you for listening. Today's episode, and the big news app producer, editor. Thank you, Heather. for your hard work for this episode. Please subscribe to this series and rate us on iTunes or the Google Play Store. Follow us on Twitter at the DW w podcast. The show notes and transcripts will be available on the website WWW dot digital workspace that works. Please also visit our website www dot digital workspace that works and subscribe to our newsletter. And lastly, if you found this episode useful, please share with your friends or colleagues.

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Mike Stopforth

D I R E C T O R - B E Y O N D B I N A R Y H O S T - T H E O N E - E Y E D M A N

Mike Stopforth is the founder and director of business and leadership transformation specialist Beyond Binary. He
is an entrepreneur, start-up investor, author and global speaker. He is recognised for his provoking insights into
disruption-driven change, its impact on people, business and markets, and, notably, building the new leadership
skills and strategies essential to navigate uncharted territory. Mike is a successful digital pioneer. Before Beyond
Binary, he founded leading African social media agency Cerebra. It was acquired by global advertising giant WPP in
2013. In 2007, he co-founded Afrigator.com, an African content aggregator which was bought by Naspers. In
addition to his Beyond Binary role, Mike serves as a disruption and innovation advisor on a number of corporate
boards. He has been recognised as an influencer by Mail & Guardian, GQ and Destiny Man.