James Bond sits in the National Gallery London, his gaze fixed upon JM Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire of 1839. He is joined on the bench by a young man at least 15 years younger. When the younger man informs secret agent James Bond that he is the new Quartermaster (Q) of MI6, Bond is dismissive because of his youth, but the new Q retorts: “Age is no guarantee of efficiency”.
“And youth is no guarantee of innovation,” replies James Bond.
The exchange is insightful of so many conversations taking place in organisations facing digital disruption today and is reflected in recent Horizon CIO podcasts. Too many discussions about innovation, diversity or change management become similes of the exchange between James Bond and Q in the National Gallery. The truth is far more nuanced than MI6’s blunt instrument could comprehend; and sadly it is too nuanced for too many business leaders.
The digital transformation of our economy by organisations like Facebook, Netflix and Google has created a wonderful and highly needed momentum of young organisations staffed by young technologists and entrepreneurs unbridled by the constraints of careers in corporations. Spend some time a WeWork and you’ll see a wealth of creative ideas.
However, as Bond says, “youth is no guarantee of innovation”; a stones throw from a WeWork in Manchester, Leeds or London or perhaps on a former farm or above a corner shop in a market town you will find technologists and entrepreneurs with the same burning passion and creativity as the youngsters in a WeWork. The residents of these workplaces carry the scars of an enterprise career, but those scars can also be defined as experience. Much as Q is right that age is no guarantee of efficiency, for many creative thinking experienced entrepreneur that experience is the creator of efficiency because they have seen just how sluggish, poorly led and inefficient many enterprises are and they know they can do better.
Icon Business Media, publishers of the Horizon CIO Podcast has a unit on a farm in a market town on the North Downs. Take a walk around the farm and you won’t find many under-40s about. But these little units house organisations in civil engineering, financial services, marketing, advertising, sport and hospitality. Each and everyone is providing a service of high value, using that experience to offer an efficient service at a margin point that is fair to both the buyer and the seller.
As Addison Lee CIO Ian Cohen has described to the Horizon CIO podcast, it more important for organisations to excel at what they do, whether that is financial services, media, transportation or retail. As Cohen said to peers at this podcasts annual Summit for CIOs, being responsive and putting the customer at the centre of your thinking process will enable the organisation to excel at what it is; whether that is digital or physical.
The truth of work, the truth of business is that both are communities. To deliver what your customer demands an organisation will require a blend of youthful creativity and free thinking as well as the right experience. In my varied travels across the CIO community the business leaders really driving change and success are those that understand, respect and successfully value all levels of skill and experience.
As Claire Priestley points out in our latest CIO podcast, if you are fighting cybercrime you need young peers to those looking to undermine your organisation. If you are negotiating a major merger you want a set of experienced hands at the tiller. For many of us, both of these scenarios can arrive on the same day.
Just as Bond needs Q to create a false digital footprint for him in Skyfall, Bond’s experience is valuable in thwarting the enemy too.