Michael Jackson: Being an agent for change

Published:  16 June, 2017

Michael Jackson, an internationally-renowned speaker with over 30 years of marketing and communications experience, talked to delegates at the BMF Conference about the importance of being proactive and changing with global business trends.

The old adage ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ is one that Michael Jackson fundamentally disagrees with. While this may have been true several generations ago, he believes that the world we live in is now changing so rapidly that businesses have to react or risk being left behind.

He used the classic analogy of the frog sitting in a pot of water. If the water is already boiling when the frog is put into it, then frog recognises the danger and immediately jumps out. But if the frog is put into a pot of cold water, which is then slowly raised in temperature until it is boiling, the frog doesn’t realise the danger until it is too late to escape.

According to Michael: “We are boiling right now. The world is changing around us, and changing in a fundamental way. It’s a change of era, not an era of change.”

Michael outlined a number of key ways in which the world has changed over the past few decades:

  • Computing
  • Communication
  • Connectivity
  • Collaboration
  • Convergence.

All we have to do is look at the world of computer technology, and the rapid impact that has had in every part of our lives, to see examples of what Michael means.

In 1969 when Apollo 11 put man on the moon, the moon landing craft had just 64kb of computer power into it, while NASA in the same year had the world’s most powerful computer installed – with a whopping 6mb of computing power. Compare that to now, less than 50 years later, when a toaster in your kitchen has more computer power than the whole of NASA’s Mission Control had to put a man on the moon.

By the 1980s, the communication era had begun, and the proliferation of mobile phones began, making it easier than ever for people to stay in touch with each other. Back then a mobile phone weighed 4kg, and required 20 hours of charge time in order to make a 30-minute phone call.

Today, mobile phones are vastly more powerful, with 5 million new handsets purchased every single day around the world. And you can do more to stay in touch with people using a phone than you could back in the 1980s, with more people using smartphones to connect via social media, email or internet than by actually making a phone call.

The internet itself is becoming an ever more important tool for people in both their business and personal lives. Some 3.2 billion people around the world now have access to the world wide web in some capacity – 51% of the global population, and a figure that is rising rapidly. This, Michael said, makes it incredibly important that businesses take a serious look at how their business is represented online.

Social media has also played a huge role in changing the way people collaborate with each other. It’s made it easier for people to exchange views and information, and it has also become the first point of contact for most people – with 2.1 billion now using social media as their primary form of communication.

So, Michael asked the gathered audience: how do we make our businesses work with these changes?

Firstly, he urged people not to make the mistake of teaching their children the same things they were taught by their parents, as he said the world is so vastly different now.

Instead, people need a successful formula for deciphering what lies ahead and how your business should grow.

Whereas in the past, business schools such as Harvard taught on their MBA courses that ‘if you understand the past and present, you’ll know the future’, Michael said nowadays the only thing that matters is your point of difference.

“Your business is just one of 150 million businesses registered across the world. Where does your uniqueness come from?” he asked.

“Innovation that used to take a generation now happens in a matter of weeks, or months, and we have to respond to that and focus our business on our destination. Work out what’s around the next bend – don’t just be looking in the rear view mirror.”

Michael urged businesses to simplify their goals and strategies, so as to be able to implement them faster and make their points of difference clearer to customers and partners.

As an example of how a lean business philosophy can breed success, he used Mary Barra, chief executive officer of General Motors. She took General Motors’ corporate dress code, which took up 18 pages of the staff handbook, and reduced it down to two words: “Dress appropriately”.

This was part of a culture change that made the company leaner and more focused, and helped increase overall sales.

This trend of simplifying business strategy to focus on the important things is one that Michael encouraged the assembled delegates to do, and is something that is common in Chinese culture. Michael described the growth of the Chinese economy as “the biggest single economic change event in our lifetimes”.

Chinese philosopher Confucius taught that “life is simple. Humans complicate life”, and this is a philosophy that Michael said businesses should adopt.

“Identify what’s important to you. Eliminate everything else. If you can’t do it on your own, automate it, delegate it or ask for help,” he said.

Michael said it’s important for businesses to differentiate between what’s important and what’s urgent, and to focus on the very important, and very urgent, and not to get caught up with the things that don’t matter.

Conscious competence

Michael used the phrase ‘conscious competence’ as the goal that everyone listening should strive for in their work. He used the analogy of someone learning to drive; at first, when you’ve never been behind the wheel, you are in a state of “unconscious incompetence”, he said, in that you don’t know anything about how to drive.

The next level you reach, once you’ve first started learning, is one of “conscious incompetence” – you still don’t know how to drive, but you are at least aware of what you don’t know.

The moment you pass your test, however, you reach the stage of “conscious competence” – you’re the best driver in the world. You know the speed limits, you know the stopping distances, you indicate when you make a turn, and you remember to ‘mirror, signal manoeuvre’.

This state of being is a brief one, however, according to Michael, as it’s not long before you enter a state of ‘unconscious competence’, where because you know how to drive, you stop fully paying attention.

“You have to aim for ‘conscious competence’ if you want to change,” Michael urged. “When you’re conscious of what you’re doing you see things that you’d otherwise miss, and can react to them while your competition is still asleep at the wheel.”

Michael urged delegates to adopt a strategy of learning and self-development within themselves and their businesses, making the following key points:

  • Respond to change
  • Minimise bureaucracy
  • Add team value
  • Fight competitively
  • Grow your customers
  • Avoid routine
  • Accept nothing
  • Force yourself to change.

“We hold ourselves back from creating new opportunities,” he concluded. “Rediscover the passion and purpose you felt on the first day of your new job, or the day you started your new business. The opportunities are everywhere, but you have to seize them.”

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