Author Archives: disruptdigital

The challenge of our time: Getting collaboration experts to collaborate!

by Cai Kjaer

It seems that everyone is talking about collaboration these days. Recently I spoke with Natalie Slessor who heads up the workplace strategy team at Lendlease. She told me that increased collaboration was one of the primary drivers for organisations moving into new buildings or those refurbishing old ones. Physical space is important to enable collaboration.

Another good friend of mine, Allan Ryan, runs the Hargraves Institute. Hargraves is a membership-based organisation that focuses on innovation and uses collaboration between members to accelerate this, and US Professor Andrew Hargadon says “Entrepreneurs and inventors are no smarter, no more courageous, tenacious, or rebellious than the rest of us—they are simply better connected”. Innovation and collaboration are linked.

What about organisational performance? Isn’t that what collaboration is about? That is also true. According to a recent report from Deloitte Access Economics called ‘The Collaborative Economy’, the return on collaboration is staggering. It is saying that those companies who are great at collaborating are twice as likely to be profitable and twice as likely to outperform the competition.

Using the analogy of a peloton (the main pack of bike riders in a bike race) collaboration makes a lot of sense. Riders in the peloton save up to 40% in energy by collaborating and staying together as opposed to riding alone. Not surprisingly many organisational initiatives these days are about enabling cross-organisational teams to collaborate.

But why is collaboration such a hot topic right now? In my view it is because we have realised that we’ve come as far as we can through optimising, automating or outsourcing business processes (while we wait and see what the future of robots will entail), and now we’re faced with the most stubborn of problems – actually getting people to work together.

Achieving great business outcomes depends on people actually collaborating, but the ingredients for collaboration are multifaceted. It’s about culture, technology, practice and physical space. I think all of these individually have progressed tremendously in the last 10 years. Increased bandwidth has enabled us to work together in ways we never been able to before. Workplaces are transforming into collaboration hubs where we can get together physically and innovate. In my own experience I am also seeing a much higher level of awareness of the cultural aspects. Many of our clients have embarked on collaboration initiatives and they make a conscious effort to include culture and practice aspects in these initiatives.

What seems to be missing is a tight integration of these various facets. I think the real problem is that those who are working on improving collaboration aren’t collaborating. Too often I see examples where the IT team is introducing new wonderful technologies, the property team is arranging new state-of-the-art activity-based fit-outs, the LD function is training in ‘Agile Project Management’ etc. All of these are excellent in their own right; however, only rarely do they incorporate each other.

Agustin Chevez and I are doing our bit to change this. We have been working in separate fields for most of our lives. Gus is an architect, lecturer, workplace strategist and internationally recognised researcher. I specialise in the mapping of organisational social networks and have built both a consulting practice and a product business based on knowing how to translate social network analytics into business outcomes. But we’ve realised that our fields must work together, and we now collaborate in the intersection of workplace and social analytics (wouldn’t it be nice if we could demonstrate that a new physical workspace leads to better collaboration?). Applying a more integrated perspective on workplace and social analytics have led to new partnerships working with architect firms such as dwp|suters and HASSELL as well as industry giant Lendlease.

Let that be my challenge for you if you are working in one of the many spheres of collaboration: Start collaborating with those in other fields. It is amazing what it can lead to.

Gus and I hope to see you at our workshop at DISRUPT.SYDNEY 2015 where we’ll share more interesting and fascinating insights about collaboration.

Sketch-noting the Disruption


We’re delighted to announce that will be joined by Blair Rorani who will be creating sketch notes throughout the day to capture moments that will extend the ideas in ways that photos of slides and tweets just can’t quite represent.

Blair will be using his iPad to create these visual notes and will be available throughout the day to share his approach and demonstrate how to develop your own visual notes.

Visit to learn more.

The Force of Work

by Kristine Dery

Travelling through Mazentunnel[1] airport last week was one of life’s challenges. And not in a good way! The elaborate technicalities of corridors, escalators, rooms within rooms, and doorways means that the traveller is constantly being spatially tested and often found wanting. Seemingly to resolve this complex maze and prevent too many passengers being found at the end of the day still wandering aimlessly in the terminal, Mazentunnel have placed people at strategic points to direct the people traffic. For example there is a very stern looking person at the bottom of the escalator routinely pointing upward, just in case you were of the mistaken belief that the moving stairs, angled toward the ceiling, might go in another direction.

Fortunately, Mazentunnel Airport Corporation also thought to place a person (also non-smiling) in the bathroom to raise either their left or right arm to indicate which door you should take. Not a service I have ever before considered helpful, but there it was. Too bad, however, if you wanted to know which gate your flight was leaving from and where to find it, or needed to solve a more complex problem that often plagues travellers at international terminals. There were screens, automated kiosks, mobile applications or long lines at the Information Desk for more complex problem solving. Mazentunnel clearly felt the need to populate rather than popularize

Our latest research at MIT CISR suggests that we are essentially making one of three choices when we think about how work is done. We choose to either use (1) internal resources, (2) external providers, or (3) machines. Most work in large corporations is still carried out by people employed internally. While they may be engaged with automated processes, the work still requires significant human interaction. Increasingly, we are looking to external providers to outsource, contract, partner or form other types of associations to better manage the human talent, skills, and time that we need to augment or substitute internal work. The third choice is to replace human workers with digital applications or robotics. We refer to these choices around which mode is used to deliver work as as the “Force of Work”[2]. Allocating the way work is done to each of these modes has significant impact on both customer value and employee engagement in the digital era.

Digital environments are complex. We expect more from companies that we deal with than simply isolated products and services. Instead we are looking for end-to-end solutions to meet our individualized needs. Our on-line interactions are no longer based on one off transactions, but rather we expect a relationship that offers us informed choice, add-on products and services, personalization, and ease of purchase. In addition to all of this we want these capabilities to be delivered in a mobile, interactive, attractively designed format and we anticipate that the companies we deal with will maintain an on-going, pro-active relationship with us using digital capabilities to remember who we are and to recall our transaction history. This in turn raises our expectations around human interactions.

So when it comes to making those critical decisions around how work should be done, it is not only the task itself that we need to consider but also the way in which we deliver human interaction. Robots can often perform tasks better, faster and cheaper than humans can perform them. And robots actually seem to enjoy doing them (as opposed to those at Mazentunnel).

However, this means that when the customer does receive human touch, they expect this to be more skilled, more responsive, and more flexible and nuanced in solving complex problems. Companies that are experiencing higher levels of customer loyalty and satisfaction, are not simply tipping old tasks into new buckets of delivery. Rather they are re-thinking how end-to-end customer service is delivered and re-designing these processes and service around the capabilities in each of the three modes.

To do this they must: (1) amplify the voice of the customer to understand in real-time what they need to deliver, (2) dedicate senior management resources to decide how work will be organized, and then (3) implement a systemic learning process to constantly re-evaluate the best way to deliver quality customer focused solutions.

While companies like Mazentunnel continue to re-shuffle organizational charts to manage their Workforce more effectively, others are re-charting their organisation through the Force of Work.

Blog post written for DDRG by Dr. Kristine Dery, Research Scientist for MIT Centre for Information Systems Research (CISR) and leader of the Digital Workplace project. To follow Kristine and find out more about this research go to @kristinedery on Twitter or

[1] Clearly not the real name of the airport. Pseudonym used in this case but, honestly, could be most airports.

[2] This term was developed by the CIO of one of the companies in our study and has inspired us to examine it in more detail.

Robots, Work and Looking in the Mirror

by Ella Hafermalz

“With flexible rosters, firm boundaries, and the occasional correction of mistakes, the job gets done to my satisfaction.”

A typical scenario of managing casual employees? Not quite. I’m talking about dealing with Roomba, my new robot vacuum cleaner, which is sent off to the nether regions of my house in search of dust and debris. It’s a great addition to the household, but it’s also caused me to reflect. Why is it so easy to compare a robot to an employee?

We are fascinated by robots at the moment. With a flurry of films featuring the jerky movements of lovable, loyal, complex and terrifying androids, it’s evident we are trying to figure out what place these bots will have in our homes, work and society. Will they defend us from criminals, or become the aggressors (Chappie)? Will they care for us when we’re old (Robot & Frank)? Become our intimate partners (Ex Machina)? Or our oppressive masters (Robot Overlords)? Amongst all this hype of what could be, it’s easy to look past the current state of affairs.

There is a theory based in psychoanalysis which argues that scary movies reveal what society is repressing. Film theorist Robin Wood says that “the true subject of the horror genre is all that our civilization represses or oppresses”. Such films let us deal with a fear that is too close to home by disguising the threat as something else. In the 1960s, alien invasion movies related to paranoia about the spread of communism. In the 1980s, the painful transformation in The Fly drew on the fear of AIDS. So what does our fascination with and fear of robots tell us about our current society? In watching robots ready to rise up and give us a hard time, what is it we’re trying not to think about?

Here’s where Roomba comes in. The fact that the way I treat my robot vacuum cleaner sounds familiar to many of us, particularly those who have worked in retail or hospitality, might give us pause for thought. The casualization of the Australian workforce and increase in insecure, fixed-term contracts over the past five years has contributed to many workers being considered replaceable resources. They just need to be programmed for a weekly schedule, shown the rules, and turned around if they tip themselves over. If the stumbles and mishaps occur once too often however, or if productivity slows, just swap them out for a new model.

While casual workers are increasingly staying with the same employer for longer, “they are still used instrumentally and strategically by employers in ways that permanent employees are not”. A newer aspect of this is the new jobs of the sharing economy – where casual staff are on call to tick off your to-do list and pick up your dry cleaning. Maybe the robot films and Artificial Intelligence hype reveal something about our discomfort with this state of affairs.

When workers are treated like things that can be replaced, we de-humanise ourselves. Not only does it make our workforce more susceptible to automation in the future, it means we are treating each other like machines now. If we favour mechanistic management over meaningful relationships and work is reduced to a set of tasks, it’s no wonder the monster-figure of the robot is tapping us on the shoulder.

But the robot isn’t threatening us with lasers and bullets, it’s holding up a mirror.

VR ventures into the world

by Mike Seymour (@mikeseymour)

It is said that you need the ‘right’ tool for the job, but sometimes a tool can find the ‘right’ job.

VR or Virtual Reality is being hailed as a huge break-through for entertainment and games, especially with the up-coming release of the new Oculus Rift (Crescent Bay), Valve’s Vive and the new Sony Morpheus. There are enormous amounts of research funds being thrown at this cutting edge technology, with most of the biggest players in Silicon Valley and the film industry looking to use this new shiny high-tech tool.

At DISRUPT.SYDNEY in September, Skip Rizzo from the University of Southern California will present his team’s work on using VR for helping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), as well as equipping those who are going into war zone with the emotional tools needed to deal with the stress and horror of war. This is proving to be an incredibly effective and powerful use of VR.

This remarkable research from the dedicated team at USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies builds on the ground-breaking and defining work of Marc Bolas and his team in developing VR for the last 20 years at USC. Collectively, this group of people from multiple disciplines has been building the field and creating the future by not so much using the latest tools as inventing them.

It is easy to see why some people think the best use of a new disruptive technology is just the chance to do what we have done before but in a new way. For example, TV was initially seen as a great way to have televised radio plays, in almost the same way, we have seen commentators jump on the simple idea of VR providing ‘immersive movies’.

The USC ICT work shows how completely different ideas and applications can be found once you actually experience the new medium and explore its potential. With men and women returning from both years in Iraq and also Afghanistan, the effort to help these people return to their lives and cope with the realities that they had to experience – via professional high tech therapy – may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one hears about VR, but once you experience it, the application of immersive PTSD therapy seems not only valid, but truly compelling.

This need to both learn from experienced professionals as well as experience something first hand is why, in addition to Skip’s insights, the Digital Disruption Research Group will host a workshop with a range of current VR solutions from Oculus Rift to Gear VR and cheap accessible solutions such as Google Cardboard. The team will also explain in easy to understand terms the actual tech behind the newest Lightfield VR solutions just shown in LA (but still unreleased) from the leading graphics conference SIGGRAPH.


The world of VR encompasses immersive head gear experiences such as Oculus Rift and also extends to augmented reality (AR), which is mostly identified with Magic Leap and Microsoft’s HoloLens. The difference is best illustrated by Google Glass and Magic Leap’s as yet unreleased newer devices. The ‘screen’ of data on the now discontinued Google Glass moves with your head. It is fixed in relation to your eye. The data or overlay of information in the Magic Leap headset will track with the world. This second approach allows for a digital chess board to ‘sit’ on a table in front of you and stay fixed relative to the desk as your head moves – very much unlike the Google Glass display. The idea of mixing computer images on top of your world but locked in sync with real surfaces is expected to be 3 times larger than even the VR explosion. It is easy to see why companies such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook have invested over $3 Billion dollars in this new tech.

Clearly, the landscape of VR applications is a wide vista of opportunities of how this disruptive technology and these coming innovations will find markets and meet needs beyond just being a new ’tool’ for the movie or games industries. Come and help find the new ‘right’ problems – September 25th at DISRUPT.SYDNEY 2015.


Digital Disruption… How ready are you?

by Scott Ward (@wardsco)

Many years ago I watched a young woman attempt her first bungee jump. The cord was strapped around her ankles and she’d shimmied to the end of the wooden plank and was ready, waiting to jump.

There she stood, staring into the unknown, one hand on the railing as the crew counted down:

“Five… Four… Three… Two… One… Bungee!!!!!”

Her body motioned toward the emptiness yet nothing happened? She remained firmly on the plank!!!

“Fail fast” is the modern mantra, yet most organisations are incapable of doing it.

For most companies failing is a taboo… People are promoted for their successes; remuneration structures recognize our achievements; processes demand business cases; and hierarchies are full of people who, one way or the other, “made it work”.

Yes… Failure is frowned upon within the modern organisation. Yet we live in a landscape where the willingness to fail is the defining component to adapt and survive. The painful truth is that most companies are not set up to fail, which means most are inevitably going to shrink or become extinct.

Like with bungee, jumping into the digital realm requires a leap of faith; faith that the ideas and intuition you hold today will yield value at some point in time… Faith, that if you are sincere enough, set your priorities well and are willing to expose your flaws and can muster grit by leaping into the unknown; your feet will feel that sense of solid ground on the other side of the stream.

There are no consultants that can do this leap for you… it’s a heart-in-mouth experience for all: requiring leadership and courage.

Digital disruption is profound… its not just changing how we connect as individuals, it is altering how we function as organisations; how we spot opportunities; organize our resources; and how we execute on those opportunities.

The emerging business world is connective, intelligent and adaptive.

As one dear friend told me “this shift is the largest realignment of industry since the Second World War”.

So my challenge to you is “what are you doing about it?”

What the woman on the bungee board hadn’t realized is that, despite doing all the preparation she could to ensure a safe bungee, her hand had clenched in fear to the railing and was not letting go for love, nor money.

For a brief moment afterward, she stood, looking around mystified as to why she was still on the board. Her feet were tied, she was on the precipice, they’d counted down and in her mind she’d launched…

The woman in question looked back at the crew, saw her hand and started to laugh. The crew again counted down, and this time she leapt…

So I ask you:

Are you taking the leap? Implementing the structures that will allow failure in the smartest way possible? And then taking action that will enable you to master this disruption?


Are you clenched to the railing, asking for business cases? Having meetings? Spending time in endless workshops?

Yes! there is a need to plan… Yes! there is a need to educate yourself on the shift that is occurring around us… Yes! there is a need to do everything you can to minimize risk and increase your chances of success.

But if you are still standing on the precipice, yet to take action, ask yourself:

Where are you Really up to? How long has it been this way? And at what point do you plan to do something about it?

Join us for DISRUPT.SYDNEY on 25 September 2015 and take the leap!

Why it’s so hard to react to disruption – the VIRUS model

by Kai Riemer

When it comes to Digital Disruption, one of the most vexing and important questions is:

Why do incumbent businesses have such a hard time dealing with digital disruption even when it unfolds right in front of them?

Drawing on my work and experience in this field I have distilled a number of important factors into a framework, which I name the VIRUS model. The acronym emerged conveniently from the process of isolating these factors, but carries a deeper meaning: It captures the ways in which the disruptive product or service is able to emerge slowly, steadily and unrecognised – when symptoms are first noticed by the wider market, it is often too late, and full-blown disease strikes.

VIRUS stands for: Visibility, Information, Risk, Utility, and Speed. Each of the factors are explained below.

VISIBILITY: Can’t fight what you can’t see.
Despite what the name suggests ‘disruption’ doesn’t happen suddenly. The disruptive technology, product or service usually has been around for a while before it unfolds its disruptive potential. Why then do we frequently (dis)miss it? Because the disruption typically doesn’t make sense initially; incumbents literally can’t see the disruptive potential in emerging ideas. This is because disruptive innovation is revolutionary, not just evolutionary, it is path-breaking – it challenges the background on which the industry is currently understood. Therefore it appears as irrelevant, as a niche or fringe product initially. Yet, the disruption happens when it brings about a tectonic shift in understanding of what counts as a valid product, which can catapult the disruptor from the fringe to the core and the incumbents to the margins in a very short period of time.

Think of mp3 and CDs, or the iPhone and Blackberry/Nokia – initially dismissed as fringe products they have redefined the very idea of what counts as music media or a mobile phone – a fact that appears self-evident in hindsight but not while unfolding. Neither the first generation of mp3 players, nor the initial iPhone were a great success, yet both have disrupted entire industries, relegating previous incumbents to the fringes. The problem is to know before the fact which of the many (sometimes competing) emerging ideas will have that effect.

INFORMATION: Information rules!
Software is eating the world, according to Marc Andreessen. Digital Disruptors change the nature of competition in many industries from a dominance of physical assets (hardware) to a business dominated by software and digital information and data. Digital Disruptors are ‘Information First’ businesses; they change the rules of competition by becoming very good at working with data, collecting and exploiting information to add value to the industry. They turn physical into digital industries. Because of the very different nature in their business model, these emerging ideas are easily misunderstood or dismissed initially.

Both mp3 and the iPhone are good examples of this, mp3 has turned a formerly physical into a digital product. The iPhone has redefined the mobile space from a hardware to a software dominated one. Further examples are Uber, Airbnb, Yelp or Tripadvisor all of which redefine business not by owning the physical assets in their respective industries, but by redirecting customer allocation and value creation streams by exploiting information and data in innovative ways.

RISK: Risk adversity is the greatest risk.
Incumbent businesses become hamstrung by their own success. In stable markets, asset exploitation, efficiency and compliance through process optimisation and risk management through rigorous budgeting processes all make sense and underpin success. However, when markets are disrupted those traits become the greatest risk. When faced with a disruption those structures make it hard to innovate and change, all the while the existing business acts as a powerful disincentive to necessary self-disruption. First, there is the fear of self-cannibalising what is still a profitable business in favour of a new way of doing business that is not yet proven to work. Second, internal incentive structures are built on the old way of doing business, the risk of which is that people will not be inclined to get involved with something that doesn’t add to their KPIs, leading to the “not involved here” phenomenon. Finally, budget processes are based on rigorous cost-benefit analysis; yet benefits are foundamentally unknowable when it comes to disruptive change (as I have argued previously for the NBN example). Risk adversity becomes an inhibitor of the capacity to innovate internally.

Take Kodak for example: Kodak had all the technology and patents to be a leader in digital photography, but could not pull it off for the above reasons.

UTILITY: Different, not just better!
Clayton Christensen in his work on disruptive innovation has argued that new products or services initially start out as inferior to the incumbent product, which makes them appear harmless in the short term, but that they eat away at and slowly emerge as a powerful and disruptive alternative to incumbent products. So, initially the product’s utility appears inferior, but later it’s not. My point is that the change that happens is not just one of linear improvement, but a subtle, yet radical change in the understanding of what counts as utility in the market in the first place. Disruptors are not delivering an initially inferior, then better solution – in essence, they do something different and thereby, over time, redefine the rules of the market. Once this tectonic shift in what counts as utility happens, their product appears as vastly superior – but only on this new understanding.

Take mp3 again – initially it appeared inferior in terms of sound quality to the CD (it still is by the way!). But our understanding of music consumption has changed fundamentally. When the original iPod was released many people asked “what do I need 1000 songs in my pocket for?”. Today we take mobile music consumption for granted, with streaming of anything anywhere a given reality – this marks a tectonic shift in what counts as the actual product!

SPEED: Late but slow…
This last one is the accumulation or outcome of the previous factors. Once the digital disruption is widely recognised within an industry the disruptor tends to have a strong head start on the incumbent players. And because of the inertia of existing business, the shift in perception of understanding, and the ways in which internal structures tend to hamstring the incumbents, reacting to disruption becomes an uphill battle. Remember: disruptors not only came earlier to what is now a different market environment, they are also quicker in execution…

My thanks goes to all colleagues in the Digital Disruption Research Group, and in particular Ben Gilchriest at Capgemini, all of which have inspired and contributed to these thoughts through joint work and discussions. This article was first published on my Research Blog.