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There used to be a time, which I hope many of you have forgotten about, that the Rolodex ruled the desk of every manager around the world. Being in someone’s Rolodex and having important contacts in it, was a sign of accomplishment in the business world.

Since then, this analog way of storing contact information has moved into the museum as digital alternatives have completely taken over. The process of how the Rolodex was digitalized, provides important lessons we can put into practice today when digitalizing our business processes.

What first came to mind…

The first version of a digital version of a Rolodex I used was Outlook 95. It allowed to save contacts, along with the same information that people would put on their contact cards such as their address and telephone number. And of course their e-mail address, although almost no-one had an e-mail address back then.

At the time, I thought it was brilliant. Searching for contacts digitally was much easier than physically.

Looking back, being honest, it really wasn’t an improvement. I had to type over all the information on every card I got, instead of just sticking the card in the Rolodex. That lead to typos, which meant I had to call the company the person worked at to get the correct information.

Also, this process took way more time than simply adding a card to a Rolodex. And while we’re being honest … searching digitally was cool, but back then not really much faster than the Rolodex…

Digitalizing analog processes

The problem with digitalizing a process in a straigh-forward way, like the example of the contacts in Outlook versus the Rolodex, usually leads to less efficient processes. There are inherent differences between analog processes and digital processes. These differences can either be good or bad, depending on how you utilize them.

AnalogDigital
Paper is hard to copyDigital data is easy to copy
Easy to secureHard to secure
Hard to access dataEasy to access data
Hard to scale upEasy to scale up
Easy to change processHard to change process
Hard to ensure complianceEasy to ensure compliance

Let’s take a quick look at some of the aspects and how they can be used in a good way and a bad way. For example, paper is hard to copy. This can be an obvious weakness when we are trying to provide information on a contract to a different location of the company for example. Digital information can easily be copied, for example simply by mailing the document to a person that works at the other location.

But you can also leverage this aspect of a paper process. Things being hard to copy, means they are harder to steal or leak for example. A signed physical document is much harder to falsify than its digital equivalent. Similar arguments can be made for accessibility and security.

Even compliance being hard can be a positive. Paper processes are notoriously hard to comply with simply because there is not a real restriction on executing the process. No matter how specific your paper form is, someone can scribble something extra on the paper or fill out a field completely incorrectly.

For digital processes, these steps can be made in such a way that only the exactly correct information can be entered. In many cases this is a positive, but there are cases where this leads to edge cases not being possible. When the process is very strict, it is easy to comply with, but it loses flexibility.

What today’s digitalized Rolodex looks like

Today’s version of the Rolodex completely leverages the advantages that can be achieved by going digital. However, it also has some weaknesses that come along with going digital. Weighing the pros and cons though, I would say that LinkedIn is a huge improvement over the analog Rolodex. But it works in a completely different way.

LinkedIn leverages the fact that digital information can easily be accessed and copied. Instead of relying on every person to maintain their own copy of someone’s data, LinkedIn simply allows you to link to the data of a person.

This means that when the person’s phone number or address changes, it is effectively copied into your contact list. Much easier than the digital Rolodex example I gave earlier.

Because LinkedIn is digital, it is very easily accessible. This means I can access my digital Rolodex from home, work, while on the road, and via any device that I am using at that particular moment.

Accessibility is one of the most powerful aspects of digital processes. But it becomes even more powerful when combined with the ease of copying data, as the LinkedIn example shows us.

A big downside of digital, is that it can be hacked. People can steal your password, or they can hack into the system (after all, it’s easily accessible), and get your personal data out of it. This is a big downside, admittedly. That is why we are always stressing security so much when considering digitalizing processes. And security is hard for businesses, as witnessed by the many data leaks we are confronted with every week.

Digital is better

All things considered though, I wouldn’t want to go back to my old Rolodex. LinkedIn has many benefits added to my old Rolodex that were simply impossible in the analog age. Perhaps you found this article through LinkedIn because I or someone else shared it. Or you found a new employer, business partner or customer through your 2nd line or 3rd line connections.

These are all advantages that were impossible before the Rolodex went digital in the right way. So when it comes to digital processes, always remember to leverage the correct aspects of digital to make sure your new process blows the old one out of the water!

Over the past years working with the amazing team at Triggre, I have learned a few valuable lessons on how to foster creativity in a team. Just because your team consists of the best people, doesn’t mean that they will be creative. And while it is absolutely true that some are more creative than others, stimulating creativity will nevertheless make a huge difference.

Define a clear goal

One of the most important things to do when increasing a team’s creative output, is to define a very clear goal. A clear goal doesn’t mean something that is defined in detail. Rather, it provides a guideline for the team to decide what to do. This means that a complete design document with all kinds of technical specifications is not a clear goal in the sense that I am talking about. “Making the world’s most efficient solar panel”, however is.

So a clear goal is a little bit further into the future, allowing for more ways to achieve it and doesn’t define details. Let me give you an example. Our product, Triggre, allows users to make software without technical knowledge. Our goal is to make our Designer as easy as it can be for those users, while still being able to make complex business applications.

This high-level goal has led our R&D team to come up with some fantastic solutions, including ways to prevent users making infinite loops in processes and a fantastically simple way of showing the user where something is wrong in his design.

Stupid ideas are good

The more stupid ideas, the better. This may sound counter-intuitive, but this is absolutely vital. As a team, when you’re trying to find a different way to do something, you need as many ideas you can come up with. Even if it is a blatantly obvious stupid idea, it needs to be shared.

While designing a new concept for our Triggre Designer, we would often brainstorm on some of the challenges. These brainstorms were often full of ideas that we knew wouldn’t work because they directly contradicted some part of our design philosophy. Still we shared those ideas and we would laugh at the funniest of them, all together. So how did that help us?

Well, the nice thing about ideas is that, even though they might not completely satisfy all the aspects you want in a solution. They usually embody a new way of solving the problem, if you have a clearly defined goal. Even if the idea doesn’t solve the problem, having a new perspective, no matter how silly, will trigger other ideas that may very well be the breakthrough you are looking for. So whatever you do, embrace stupid ideas. They’re worth way more than you might think.

Trust is absolutely vital

It takes a lot of guts for someone to share an idea, let alone one that is guaranteed not to be the solution. Especially if they’re not the one who’s in charge. On the one hand, saying you have a silly idea helps, but what’s more important is that someone actually gets to the point where they feel they are allowed to come up with ideas that won’t work in the first place. This requires a very high level of trust.

One of the best books I have ever read on creating a team, is The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams by Patrick Lencioni. It is a must-read for everyone who works in a team, leads a team or aspires to work in or lead a team. Yes, basically everyone, except hermits.

The trust needed ultimately comes back to the goal. Everyone on the team must understand that whatever idea is presented, it is done with the intention of reaching the goal. And that presenting an idea will never place them in a position of ridicule, but instead, the idea is highly valued no matter how wrong it may seem. This is perhaps the most important aspect of getting people to share.

As a leader, this means you never make fun of people’s ideas, never raise your voice because you think an idea is stupid, and definitely never take a shared idea as a personal attack. Because if you do, that sets an example for the rest of the team and trust will fade faster than an ice cream on a hot sunny day.

Kill your own ideas

If you are a team-leader, you will have to set an example. Not only by refraining from the negative, but also by showing the positive. One very good way to do this, is to go first with presenting an idea that won’t completely solve the problem, but gets people thinking. And then killing it, saying “Okay, that will never work. Can anyone else come up with another solution?”.

Do this frequently. Make sure you show your team that it is good to offer any idea, and that any idea can be dismissed, no matter who it came from. Keep doing this until you hit that one idea that simply nails it. You’ll know, because everyone agrees it’s the best way to do it.

Creativity is a process

Any solution is always just a step towards a goal. In one of my first blog posts, A guide from complexity to simplicity, I discuss exactly this attitude. It doesn’t matter if a decision you make turns out to be a step in the wrong direction. Just trace back your steps, and take a different approach.

If you want creativity to succeed, you will have to be open to the process of iterative improvement. That means sometimes you’ll find out something doesn’t work (anymore). Don’t get discouraged. A team that’s built on trust, is creative, and is willing to view everything as a prototype, will ultimately come up with a solution that is far superior to anything you can otherwise come up with.

Many schools use student information systems, and have been for a long time. They store grades and other information digitally. And that is a good thing, as it makes access to these data much easier. However, as I discussed before, such technology also has a downside.

Easy access

While easy access to data can be great, the question is: access for who? In the case of student information systems, this question was never asked. It was simply assumed that access was a good thing.

Since the introduction of the first student information systems, smart phones have made their introduction. Nowadays almost everyone has a smart phone – including parents.

So logical step for student information system suppliers were mobile apps. With these apps parents have easy access to the student information about their children, such as grades and attendance.

By law parents are allowed to see such information, but only until their children reach the age of 16. After that, children need to give consent to their parents to access this information. After the age of 18, parents are not allowed to see this information at all.

Student information system suppliers however, provide information to parents without any consent ever given by students themselves.

Joyless

And while this is strictly a legal issue, there is a more important factor to consider. One parent said that such access takes away a particular kind of joy from the student.

Imagine the student getting a really good grade. If the parent immediately knows this grade, because they receive a push notification, the student is robbed of being able to come home and telling their parents about their grade.

Even with bad grades, shouldn’t it be up to the students to decide when to tell their parents? Isn’t that part of growing up? And shouldn’t student information system suppliers know this, and even support this process?

The goal

I believe this is a perfect example of taking digitization too far. While the technology is there, it doesn’t have to be used. If the goal of parents is to raise their children to be responsible adults, using technology to effectively spy on their children teaches the wrong lesson.

This is something that happens too often. Companies do not fully understand the goal at play. They cater to the needs of their customers, while often the true goal lies one step further.

In the case of student information systems, the goal is not the school or the parent, but teaching the student – that’s the real goal.

The world is moving at a faster pace than it used to. Okay, technically the velocity with which the earth revolves around its own axis hasn’t changed much. However, life on that moving spheroid keeps speeding up. It was normal to wait weeks or months before your mail arrived by horse and carriage. Now, we get annoyed if there is a delay of one hour when we expect a package.

Remember how long it used to take to fully download a picture with a dial-up connection? Maybe you know from experience how much longer a journey took after one wrong turn without a navigation system. Or just imagine the hassle of filling out your taxes manually, with pen and paper. Yes, humankind spends a significant amount of time on innovations that make things simpler, faster, and more convenient.

Programming scarcity

This increase in the speed of everyday things is directly reflected in the demand for programmers. We want things automated and this requires software. Nowadays, in the mind of most managers, only programmers are able to create software.

These programmers convert all the manual processes that we want to automate, and the demand is much higher than the supply. Programmers just can’t keep up. To put this in numbers: The demand for custom-made software has increased by 25% each year, in the past five years.

Luckily, there are more programmers in the making. In 2020, it is expected that in the US alone, there will be 400.000 newly graduated software engineers. Quite a number, right? When we look at the expected job openings in the programming field however, this number is quickly put in perspective. Why? Because in 2020 it is expected that the US alone has about 1.4 million job openings for software engineers.

These numbers are daunting. It means that the ever increasing pace of progression that we have become accustomed to, comes to a halt. Simply put: We don’t have enough programmers to further automate our lives.

High velocity coding

We are not the first ones to signal this. To tackle the problem, IT strategists came up with several ways to be more effective. They thought up so-called agile methods like Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum, Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Lean Development, and Feature-Driven Development. But let’s be honest, it was and is just not effective enough to fulfill the demand.

Then came code accelerating platforms. They claim to be the solution for the IT shortage because by using them, you code faster. So now you have a programmer, using a difficult program, to speed up programming.

Same as the iterative and incremental software development methodologies, code accelerating is a drop in the ocean. It will never be sufficient and therefore a complete waste of time.

So what?

What is the harm in needing to wait a bit before a new project is finished? Think of a world where there are plenty of disruptive initiatives. Ones that have already proven themselves to the point of scaling up. Those cool companies will be limited in their growth by the number of programmers they can afford or even find.

This means stagnation in innovations and growth of companies or programs like WhatsApp, Facebook or even Angry Birds. And these are just for fun. There are countless initiatives that contribute to a better environment or education that can only grow because creating software is affordable.

So needing to wait is a disaster for progress. Cool and disrupting innovations will stop rapidly succeeding one another. The only companies that can afford qualified programmers, will use this to keep their market share, rather than starting fresh.

Now what?

I stated that we should stop increasing programming speed because it’s a waste of time. This does not mean that we should stop finding new ways to increase the production of software. It just requires a different mindset. When you look at the problem, it’s easy to put one and one together: There are not enough programmers so we need to make these programmers more effective. The thing is that just speeding up coding, will never meet the before-mentioned, enormous, demand.

The answer to this shortage, however, is not within the field of the developers. There is another, better and more sustainable solution: we need to make not only software, but also the creation of software a true commodity. Ensure that programmers are not necessary for every step of every software project. When you allow the business to create their necessary applications themselves, they can innovate fast.

Start with smaller automation projects that save both time and money and quickly prove their value. This way, making applications becomes fun and for everyone. Then, programmers can innovate with more in-depth and time consuming projects.

As with many solutions, while the result might be simple, the road to this solution is difficult, long and in the end, completely worth it.

When I was in high-school, in the nineties, there was a simple expectation that my mom had. I was to get good grades, so I could go to university. Once in university, I would graduate in a respectable time frame. With my university degree I would be ensured a good job.

My mother’s generation, born in the 50s and 60s, all raised their children this way. And that made sense, because the people with the best paying jobs were notaries, doctors and lawyers.

Notaries, doctors, lawyers and pilots are all last-century jobs

The glory days of notaries, doctors, lawyers and other similar jobs are far behind us. Even being a pilot, once the pinnacle of achievements, is long past its golden era. It may not always look like it, so bear with me. There are still people who make a lot of money in those last-century jobs. Usually they have been in the job for a long time.

Take pilots for example. Pilots who are over about 45 years of age, still earn a lot of money. The younger pilots however, have a very rough time. Demands to get a job have increased significantly, such as the amount of hours flown, which has doubled in recent years for the same position. This means that pilots have to accept jobs in other countries, where safety regulations are less, pay is much lower and the hours are crazy. And that is a big problem, because becoming a pilot is very expensive. Most young pilots have between USD 100.000 and 200.000 in debt, which they can hardly pay back with their relatively small wage.

Notaries have a similar hard time. Where the hourly rates used to be very high, now the rates are plummeting. There are simply way too many notaries and the work that they do can very easily be automated. For example, Dutch company HEMA introduced an online notary last year. Most documents you get are standard, with only a small number of possible options. Now, people can get such documents at a very, very low price, online.

Automation is destroying last-century jobs

Last-century jobs are simply not paying as much because there are too many people who do that same job. And even if there isn’t an abundance, last-century jobs are subject to automation. When part of the job is replaced by automation, there is less work for the remaining work force. This means there is more competition. And as we have all learned, if there is more supply than demand in a competitive market, prices will drop. In this case, that means wages and hourly rates. Ultimately, this is what costs people their job.

Automation isn’t a bad thing though. It has been going on as long as mankind has been working. The pyramids were built using huge amounts of manual labor, which is very likely the reason there aren’t that many of them. Today, we use automated muscle to build sky scrapers. That automation has significantly increased the number of buildings we can produce, hence the skylines we see all across the world.

And while automation may have cost us purely physical jobs such as construction work, it has freed up time for other jobs that could not be automated by machinery. Doctors, lawyers, notaries and pilots for example … Those jobs are now facing the same fate as physical jobs before them did. As their jobs are automated more and more, prices and wages will drop.

If you’re a millennial, you wouldn’t think of advising your children to become a lawyer or doctor. The world is different now and what was once a guaranteed high-paying job, is now just another job impending automation.

Coding will be automated as well

If you take any lesson from history, it is that what is now a high-paying job is very likely to be automated. Think about it. If something costs a lot of money, it is worth automating. Especially if there is a lot of need for it. In my previous blog post, I gave some numbers about the shortage of IT specialists. That shortage is quickly giving rise to many automated solutions that will replace coders.

For the foreseeable future, coders will still be needed. I think coders will be needed for at least another 50 years. The question is, how many? Right now, we need a lot of them. We’re building the software equivalent of pyramids. In the meantime, we are automating parts of what is now done by coders. The combination of automation (which decreases demand) and the attractiveness of becoming a coder due to very high wages and rates, will soon tip over. My estimation is that within 10 years rates for coders will drop significantly.

In about 20 years coding will be as polarized as other jobs in danger of automation are today. You are either extremely good at your work, or you work for such a low wage that it’s cheaper than automation. It’s not a good position to be in honestly.

Teach your kids creativity and human connection

If you are a millennial, you don’t want to make the same mistake my mom’s generation made. You don’t want to advise your kids to choose a certain job that, if you had known how technology will advance, will be obsolete in a few years. You don’t want them to pursue a career in coding.

Technology is advancing in a direction where we are now automating minds. Computers are now good at doing things doctors were once good in. In some areas, computers are even better than humans. One example is recognizing tumors on mammograms, where computers clearly outperform doctors. Similar advances are seen in other areas, such as self-driving cars. Some may take a long time to become better than humans, but they will definitely be better than humans someday in the near future.

If such jobs, that once were the uncontested domain of humans, are automated, what is the next thing? In my opinion we are still very far away from computers replacing true human connection and creativity. There are plenty of examples of artificial intelligent machines knocking on the door of creativity, such as writing music or making paintings. All such examples are however, based on huge numbers of pre-existing information. Artificial intelligence can use millions of musical compositions to learn what we think is nice music. But it will not invent jazz, grunge or dance music in a world where it doesn’t exist yet. That requires true creativity.

Human connection is another thing that is very hard to replace. Think about it. We don’t even truly know how human connection works. We know a lot about it, but it isn’t an exact science. In a world where everything will be automated, easily accessible and done by machines, human connection will become a very valuable asset.

So if you have to decide what you want your children to be good at, think about this. All kids play with computers, fewer and fewer play with each other. Many kids know how to use things, but fewer and fewer kids know how to create things. Give your kids creative toys such as Lego and teach them to interact with other kids by letting them play together. When they get older, keep feeding their creativity. Let them take up things such as photography, painting, mechanical engineering and coding. The more different experiences, the better. That’s what ultimately leads to creativity. As long as you understand that each thing separately will be automated. It’s the combination of creativity and human connection that are going to be the valuable skills later this century.

Simply put, digitization comprises the processing of analogue actions in a system. It is often confused with automation – which, in fact, takes digitization to a whole different level by performing procedures automatically. Basically, digitization is merely a first step – and only after that, things tend to get really interesting. Therefore, it’s a shame that automation is often overlooked!

From digitization to automation: an example

From rental agreements to phone contracts: a company usually enters all its legal paperwork into one system, eliminating traditional binders and increasing control as well as efficiency. But all that digitally available information is just lying there. How can you make it work to your advantage?

Suppose your company is a cell phone provider. All customer contracts have been entered into the system. Now, automation would allow you to indicate that you’d like to receive a notification of all contracts that will expire in three months. As a result, you will be able to automatically send out periodic renewal offers to customers that may be thinking about switching to your competitor – in due time and without a lot of effort.

Today, companies that utilize automation in such smart ways are the ones that perform best in terms of growth and revenue. Not surprising, as simplifying time-consuming processes is a profitable endeavor.

How about your organization?

Would you like to make automation work for your company, too? There’s no need to bring in all kinds of experts – like consultants and programmers – that drag you through months of preparatory work. Triggre abridges the process, allowing you to automate at your own pace. Just register and carry out your first idea. With Triggre, you can take it step by step.

Say, it’s three months later and automation is working great for you. Now, you’d like to automate a range of tasks – for example, in an online customer portal, leading customers seamlessly through all the steps in a purchasing process, making it a breeze to buy your products. To this end, you can create a flow that can be used to perform all tasks from start to finish without the need for additional explanatory information. Such user-friendly solutions can be realized in no time using Triggre.

So what are you waiting for? Don’t stop after you’ve digitized. Automate. Start today!