The Stories that Matter: 2015 Technology Trends that Most Impact Our Species

Bigstock
Bigstock

It’s January, and that means by now most pundits have shared their predictions around the biggest technology trends that will emerge this year. A few months ago, Gartner shared its list of the most transformative technologies of 2015, along with the ones that should command the most budget among B2B buyers. Prognostications abound around consumer digital trends, and many others have shared what they think 2015 holds for digital marketing.

If we look at some of the biggest tensions, opportunities and dynamics going on where all these technology trends intersect—and if we look at where many of the largest marketing war chests are already being spent—it isn’t all that difficult to see where some of the most compelling narratives are going to emerge around technology in 2015. Here are a few of the overarching technology storylines that will unfold this year—and that will give technology companies of all sizes an opportunity to ride along with these rhetorical trade winds.

The Changing Face of Privacy: Whose Data Is It, Anyway?

The merging of digital and physical worlds, along with the intersection of analytics, mobility, pervasive computing, ubiquitous applications and the proliferation of everything-as-a-service, means our information is everywhere. That means there are no more secrets. Somebody is always watching everything we do, and after events like Target, Sony and last week’s hack of the US Central Command’s Twitter feed, everybody now knows that there’s no such thing as complete security anymore. It’s not a question of if, but when, we’re going to get hacked. And while security analytics companies profit from the shifting game of security—moving from preventing attacks to recovering from them quickly—the new question that will emerge is, what about privacy? Security is a technology. Privacy is a policy. More accurately, privacy is an agreement—who gets my information? Do I have a right to know who’s watching? How much should I care? There is a potent, latent tension between the benefits of all-automated world and the yet undiscovered human impact of a world without secrets—and that’s a storyline that will play out as hackers continue to do what they do, and as social networks and digital marketers continue to do what they do—trade on our information.

Guidance: Focus on the human decisions, policy considerations and attitudinal shifts as much as the security systems and technologies that play out in this story. Engage in viral questions that challenge people to re-examine their attitudes about privacy, and spur discussion that reveals what value remains in personal data and where the responsibilities lie to protect what little privacy yet remains.

Humans vs. Machines: The Race to Learn

Last year, Stephen Hawking, arguably the smartest man on the planet, said AI “could spell the end of the human race.” Machine learning, AI and all of its various manifestations, including the Internet of Things, wearables, and self-driving cars, are outpacing the ability to learn. Machine connectivity, social networks and communication technologies are, in some cases, beginning to degrade rather than enhance authentic human connection. And it’s ironic that we now begin to talk about the glories of “connectivity” when in fact clinically diagnosable addictions to devices, applications and virtual experiences are threatening to stunt the personal and social development of an entire generation. But what’s most at stake is the ability to learn and adapt to constantly shifting environments. This is the new Darwinian race afoot: how quickly can humans learn and thrive in shifting environments on the one hand, and how much faster can machines do the same on the other. It’s progressed far beyond the cost savings and profit-boosting of industrial automation. It’s about who’s on top—people or things?

Guidance: Focus on promoting technologies that are in service of rather than in place of human learning, human collaboration and human development. Position them as the ones to watch in 2015, and raise the stakes beyond financial ROI or consumer experience. This is the context for narratives around human-first technologies such as digitally enhanced education platforms, data visualization, unified communication 2.0 and collaboration platforms, and many others.

The End of Consumerism

Looking at some of the technologies that have dominated our attention at the past few CES shows, it’s easy to shift in our attitudes about technology. It’s no longer about merely consuming things like content via amazing screens or music via amazing audio equipment. It’s about our ability to produce things and create our own experiences. 3D Printing, self-publishing online, citizen journalism, virtual world-building, application development by the masses, and even digital enhancements to everyday tools all give us the ability to build things, make the most of existing resources, and share them with each other. Even the rise of what many last year called the “sharing economy” is a function of this shift away from thinking of ourselves as consumers toward thinking of ourselves as producers.

Guidance: As technology storytellers, focus more on what your audience can create and do with your product or service. Focus on what they need to invent and build. And if necessity is the mother of invention, begin your story with their necessities, and offer them a new way of looking at their challenge—one in which they become the hero of their own story. And position yourselves as the ally who equips the hero to meet their own need. Most importantly, challenge the myth of scarcity in your storytelling. We have enough fear and greed in the world. The time has come for marketers everywhere to shift from using the stick to using the carrot to motivate behavioral change. It’s time for our desire to create to trump our fear of not having enough to consume.

Marketing + Breaking Through the White Noise

If 2014 was the year marketers everywhere realized that the race was on to become content marketing experts, 2015 is the year we figure how the heck to execute against a vision we’re just beginning to understand. Most brands seem to have figured out that everybody’s a publisher. But if that’s the case, then who does that leave to be the readers? People are now more inundated than ever with content, thought leadership, infographics, and yes, even viral stories. And with most storylines coalescing around a pyramid of analytics, mobility, social technologies, security and IoT, there’s more white noise than ever in the world of tech PR. So the question in 2014 was, what’s my story and what model can I use to create an awesome one that goes viral. But the question has now expanded in 2015 to how to get that awesome storyline to get noticed and rise about the din of similar-sounding stories. (Even story models themselves have proliferated to the point that every agency seems to have their secret sauce. Truth be told, all of us—B&O included—owes all the credit to Joseph Campbell for making the Hero’s Journey accessible to all of us.)

Guidance: Whatever storytelling model you wind up choosing (and naturally, we highly recommend our own Viral Storytelling model as a starting point), make sure you reverse-engineer your story creation process to break through the noise. Start with an analysis of the story arcs, influencers and media cycles that already exist. Sometimes it makes sense to ride a wave. Sometimes it makes sense to invest in creating a new wave. And sometimes the best strategy is simply to question the myths, misperceptions and overabundance of hype generated by your competitors.

These are just a few of the big storylines of 2015. There are several more, and we will continue to explore them together in our XTC column as the year unfolds.

Reversing the Bastardization of Leadership in Tech PR, Part 4: Team Leadership in Tech

Make every team member an X-man (or woman!). Credit: Rob Young / Lego X-Men
Make every team member an X-man (or woman!). Credit: Rob Young / Lego X-Men

In this last installment in our XTC (Examining the Change) series on the bastardization of “leadership” as a concept in technology PR, we look at team leadership. And just like leading marketspublic discussions or innovation curves, leading teams requires that we hold true to the central tenet of leadership: being in service of something greater than yourself.

Sadly, many of us have a knee-jerk skeptical reaction when we hear things like “Don’t we need a vision statement?” And to a degree, that skepticism is warranted. All too often an exercise around creating a vision or values statement is reduced to a group grope in which everybody’s opinion is sandwiched into the world’s longest and least meaningful sentence. In short, it reads like a buzzword wordle coughed up by a corporate life coach. It does everything except what it was meant to do—namely, create focus and purpose.

After all, a strategy is not a strategy until it tells you what you’re not going to do. And being in service of something greater than yourself requires you to know—and articulate—what that is, and what that is not. That’s why the vision statement matters so much: it tells your group of highly talented but likely overworked people what they don’t need to spend their precious time doing. The same goes for the values statement: it tells you and your leaders how you’re not going to behave when faced with difficult choices.

So if you’re leading a fast-moving technology team, or you’re responsible for communicating the leadership attributes of a high-profile tech leader, here are a few practical pointers for how to articulate vision, values and leadership agenda:

–       Start with “why”. As Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Purpose matters. It attracts talent, engenders patience, and gives people a reason to want to see you succeed. Most of all, it calls forth the best in your team. So be clear about why your company does what it does, what win-win scenarios it creates, and what impact you’ll have.

–       Be clear about what you’re notEspecially for early stage companies, it’s hard to close the door on future opportunity if you’re not quite sure with how your market is going to take shape. But unless you’re clear with what opportunities you’re not going to pursue, you’re going to end up with a loose confederacy of distantly related teams and tactics. Close some doors and create some focus.

–       Coach, don’t dictate. This is tricky for those of us trained in client service who think we’re suppose to have all the right answers. But for team leaders, having all the right questions matters more. Choose to believe in your people and their ability to make the right call. See their full potential before they do, and ask the questions that wake them up. In short, coach.  And if you don’t know how to coach, go learn.

–       Remember who works for whom. As a leader you work for your company. The cult of personality is a short-term strategy. True, many people enjoy working for a charismatic visionary who knows exactly what to do and say at all times. But too often that dominating figure casts a long shadow and inhibits talent development. So don’t try to be an Iron Man superhero, where yours is the only opinion that counts. Lead a league of X-Men, each with their own mutant power. See that power within them, nurture it, and remember that you work for them even more than they work for you. That’s the true leadership story to tell.

This concludes our four-part series on saving “leadership” from the b.s. scrapheap in tech PR. So what do you think? We’d love to hear from you.