When we see the word noise, we think of something unpleasant, something that drowns out quiet. Quiet is the word that more professionals say is the state we should be attempting to reach as businesspeople if we want to reach a higher level of personal satisfaction and realize greater amounts of business productivity. There are all kinds of sources of noise in our world of business but when I think of tech, a few things jump out at me, and I like to refer to them as beliefs and truths. The fact that there’s a difference is why some noise exists. Let’s look at why.
|A few widely held beliefs||Truths and emerging truths|
|All technology is an improvement on what it is meant to replace||Not always: Slack versus Email as Exhibit A, planes versus trains as Exhibit B, television versus radio as Exhibit C ()|
|Company valuation is directly correlated with customer value||Not so fast – Look no further than the VC and Silicon Valley Bank-induced mass brainwashing event over the last few years. Conversely, look too at the NPS, churn, and retention numbers of a few of the biggest long-term vendors. Not so worthy of applause either. Equating valuation with customer value is for people who are unwilling or unable to dig deeper. ()|
|Newcomers always disrupt established companies and eventually force their spiraling down into obsolescence||That’s a nice David and Goliath story but the staying power of Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, IBM, and now even Google and Meta make it appear more like a fantasy. Companies and people that spout this cliché should turn their attention outwards and practice a little humility. They should recognize that all companies are moving at varying speeds and are rarely completely static. It might be possible in the long run for a newcomer to accomplish that level of disruption but at that point, they’d no longer be a newcomer. ()|
|All digital transformations are really just stories about emerging or disruptive technologies||That is likely where the story starts but then why do longstanding network and database technologies, traditional office tools, and standard business practices still drive most transformations? Tech is not the complete story. ()|
|Ending ARR is a metric all executives around the table should speak to||Not according to this scathing article from Dave Kellogg (the guy has the chops to say stuff like this so you’d be advised to give what he says some thought)|
|All innovation comes from startups||Innovation comes from people with ideas for solving identifiable and measurable business problems, not from any particular segment of the business community. VC money might fund innovation once it’s unleashed but it doesn’t spark it. People anywhere and at any level have the ability to strike that match. Innovation doesn’t have to be about new technology. The dark matter of innovation is, in part, all the unsung work being performed by people in a million companies large and small who are working to overall processes and introduce greater efficiencies and larger returns on investment along with driving stronger downstream customer value. Innovation happens at the design level, at the coding level, and at the conversation level. ()|
|Incumbent or well-established companies are the most likely to launch successful digital transformation projects||MIT research proves the opposite. Later stage startups and founders that have experience with tough, lean operating environments in their early years gives them a resilience that guides them through later challenges or reforms.()|
|The only way to forecast the future is by looking at the past||The Marketing organization begs to differ – Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) and Marketing Resource Management (MRM) are methods that prove otherwise|
|Base your product direction on the feedback of a few trusted customers||Customer behavioral signals, captured at scale, offer ample, more well-rounded opportunities, for validating and/or challenging one’s own ideas, assumptions, and biases. The great Scott Brinker just wrote a smart piece that challenges this widely held belief. It’s about placing too much trust in the Oracles of Eden Prairie. ()|
|Successful companies must operate in alignment around clear, conventional roles and organizational definitions||Artificial Intelligence is on the cusp of challenging this type of social construct across the business landscape, including the rules around who or what entity is responsible for value creation and execution. This will drive more democratization of responsibilities and (finally) lower long-standing organizational barriers. Here’s a simple example. Why should companies employ multiple operations teams in different organizations, each engineering ChatGPT prompts for the organization they are attached to and that are responsible for what a company considers discrete customer lifecycle phases? In the spirit of today’s universal drive for efficiency (that thing that’s keeping CFOs up at night), why not have one central team build and test the output of prompts for the entire journey?()|
|The best customer-outcome-generating relationships are the direct human-to-human type||The evidence of superior customer experience produced by ride-sharing apps, Amazon e-commerce, Apple, Disney+, and other online TV and gaming streaming services, works against this argument. The indisputable success of digital engagement, and scaled Customer Success and communities in the world of CS, is increasingly discrediting this widely held opinion. ()|
|Vendors drive the relationship with partners, and they wish partners would align better around the vendor’s strategy and execution and do more to drive vendor revenue||This is true but we often don’t hear the other side’s opinion. Partners are independent companies with their own stakeholders and investors, and they often juggle relationships with a multitude of other vendor partners besides the one that thinks of itself as being at the center of everyone’s universe. Being independent, too, means partners have their own revenue goals and their own business agendas that may or may not always align with the vendors’. Partners have wishes too that are worth hearing and considering. ()|
Controlling the noise should be a personal goal
The information onslaught will never abate so we each have to develop personal coping strategies for cutting through and finding the truths. Perhaps it’s the ever escalating need to be on the cutting edge of the confluence of business and science and to be seen by association as “making it” and being a personal success. Or perhaps it’s the burning desire to be exceptional through the process of being part of a team that creates new ways of delivering value through applications to people willing to pay for them (and therefore unwittingly becoming your indirect benefactors). Perhaps it’s the personal gratification that comes from seeing the success of others. Or perhaps it’s the simple knowledge that, relative to others, tech offers the opportunity to participate in highly compensated careers. Whatever it is, having a career in the high-pressure environment of tech comes with it a never-ending and almost daily, or at least weekly, flow of news you should know and news you must know. If you feel simmering stress for needing to keep up, it is not an illusion. The world of tech is noisy and chaotic, unrelenting, and growing.
The stress reflex doesn’t have to be automatic
I sometimes envy the people in my life who aren’t in tech. Having conversations with them can shorten the distance between noise and quiet. They seem to have busy lives but aren’t as subjected to as robust a diet of tech information that calls into question everything that’s been done before and that offers promises of each new development heralding a change (good or bad) for civilization and that everything we were raised to believe to be true and possible is now not worth even the simple act of remembering. What I call the collective amnesia of our industry fits into the classic characteristics of a bubble on the one hand and of a sometimes-well-deserved reputation for blinding arrogance on the other. It’s a rarified and urgent atmosphere that we breathe in this world of tech and to inhabit it can feel like we live in a zone of noise.
Some suggestions for handling being in the zone of noise
- Question what you read and hear. It’s not to suggest that everything is full of deceit. Mostly, it’s not. But often there are deeper and more complicated answers and truths behind the widely held beliefs. They deserve to be heard and understood.
- Keep in mind that for all of human existence “the good old days” are usually those days one is living in at this very moment. There’s a calmness in being in the moment. You have one life. Don’t try to live one that’s a hundred years in the future or fifty years in the past.
- Remember that it’s your choice to be involved in such a highly charged and relevant field of work as tech is at this point in the evolution of business and society. Revisit that choice regularly.
- Take a breath when reading news of new developments and don’t take the first opinion you read (especially about such globally interesting and important topics like AI) as being one that’s fully informed, fully baked, or even one that will escape revision in short order. Read more to gain more balance.
- Read a book. Sure, a business book if you must (I read a dozen every year) but I recommend if you want to get out of your own head for a bit, read a book of fiction. Take a look at this one I’m in the middle of…The Tinkers, which is partly about a man’s craft for fixing clocks, and partly about how his violent epileptic seizures affected the family around him. If fiction isn’t your thing, how about non-fiction and non-business? Then go crazy and read Einstein’s Greatest Mistake. You won’t regret submerging yourself in the world of math and astrophysics. For a business book, I can recommend the latest one I read… Power and Prediction: The Disruptive Economics of Artificial Intelligence. It’s a follow-up to the three authors first collaboration, Prediction Machines. If you want to understand how AI will affect our economies, you should read these books.
I call it the zone of noise only because it is if we let it be. I choose to inhabit it. I subject myself to its pressure. I am a willful participant because I am attracted to its urgency and its relevance to my intellectual pursuits and, to what I see are a host of challenges to be addressed in our world. For me, therefore, the zone of noise doesn’t often exist. But it might exist for you. If so, I recommend taking a few thoughtful steps to calm it down and even get out of it.