Nikolas Badminton on the Future of Powerful Data-based Insights
What happens when someone gets their first computer at 10, starts building out programs and database solutions, and then graduates college with a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Psychology and Computing? They’re bound to end up strategizing about the future. That’s been Nikolas Badminton’s path to where he is now.
Out of college, he went to work for Matra Marconi Espace in Toulouse on satellite programs and then onto a number of high-profile technology providers and management consultancies where he built new teams and led strategic programs delivering large-scale data analytics and CRM practices.
As a futurist, Nikolas Badminton’s worked with CEOs and their executive teams to change how they see the world and provide impactful strategic advice. He’s taken strategy a step further. Nikolas will be a keynote speaker at TBM Conference 2019.
Being a futurist arguably means carrying a lot of responsibility. How do you describe your role as it will apply to the TBM Conference 2019 that you're going to be speaking at?
My role is to reframe where we've come from in terms of data, where we are today, and where we're headed in the future. The big task that we have on our plate today is in terms of generating data, collecting it, storing it, using it to derive insights, and then applying that. And then really understanding what the next five, 10, 20 years is going to be like, where data is a fundamental part of our businesses and our lives as a whole. My role is to be the guy who paints the picture and to provide the reference point of where we've come from, where we are, and where we're headed.
Please tell me what role data plays in defining the insights that you're talking about. I mean, these insights are very powerful, correct?
Data's been occurring since the dawn of time. It's just that we didn't call it data. We just considered it living our lives, and walking 100 miles, or burning wood, or catching animals to eat and then consume them, or whatever. We've always measured how wealthy someone is. It might be by the number of goats they have, and today it's about the number of dollars they have in the bank. And then some people measure their wealth in terms of spiritual wealth, and what they do and don't do in their lives.
It's that thing that defines all of us. It's helped us understand how the world works. It's helped us define science, and then how to create progress. A lot of people say that data is the new oil. Already, it's the abundant currency in the world, that if you can master it, if you can derive insights, and you can apply them in new ways, you're well on your way to building companies that are worth hundreds of billions. And then today, there are companies like Microsoft and Amazon that are worth well over a trillion dollars. What do they do? They capture, and they broker data. We're part of that solution as well, as humans, because we're the ones that generate it.
Your website says that people are scared about what the future holds. Why do you think that is?
I don't necessarily agree with that. I think what you've got is science fiction that's played a huge role in our lives, to paint pictures that are stories, and those stories are for entertainment. A lot of people are thinking, "Oh, artificial intelligence is going to end 300 million jobs." Or you know, "AI's coming to kill us, the Terminator or whatever." These are stories. These aren't true. We have to realize that we, as humans, have systems, processes, and data. We apply it in ways that we want to work for us. Fundamentally saying that we're scared is that you're scared of humans applying it in ways that they're not supposed to.
I'm an optimist. I think that most of the people in the world are very optimistic about how the world's going to operate. I think that there's a lot of bar-room chats that do describe this, like, "Oh, you know, what if? And what if that?" Ultimately, if we're responsible, we have a responsibility to be good in the world, then nothing's going to be bad.
How do you recommend leaders begin the process of shaping their company's future?
It's very difficult for many companies, especially public companies, to see beyond the end of their nose. They go quarter by quarter, year by year, trying to deliver shareholder value. Right? So if they start looking out too far, and they start making too many amazing claims, look at people like Elon Musk, you find that the people just don't believe in them. If you don't have this trust and faith in what a leader of a company is saying, then ultimately, the value of that company can dip down.
We saw that with SpaceX and Tesla and SolarCity today as well. People aren't believing that it can actually change the world in terms of solar, but people said the same things about Tesla, SpaceX, and Microsoft. These are companies that can now bravely say, "Oh, here are our plans. This is where we're headed."
We have to work out the CEO of the future; the E doesn't stand for executive. It stands for empathy, and execution, and experimentation. Being able to look forward five, 10, 20 years is going to be part of an internal function of a company. I work with a number of companies to help them do that internally, versus something that may be external facing. For example, in an earnings call, you might not have a futurist onboard to paint a picture of the world in 20 years because it seems false; it seems like it's just made up. Whereas, internally, these stories and these fictions, that we can define might actually get people to break out of their box of thinking, the way that the company thinks today, into a new mode. That new mode might result in innovation that could be worth potentially hundreds of billions of dollars.
Are there any exercises that you suggest or advise that leaders of companies employ to encourage out-of-the-box thinking?
So there's a couple of exercises. One of the exercises that I've done recently is I've actually taken a conference of 280 plus people, and I've asked them to think about the disruptive technologies that are going to come and affect their business. To have them think about artificial intelligence, data analytics. Think about renewable energy versus fossil fuels. It might be autonomous vehicles, quantum computing, blockchain. Then I put them into groups of 10 to 20 people to brainstorm. Then they perform a very simple exercise where they write a headline for their company that they could see being on the front-page of world-class newspapers in 2030.
So you might have someone within a renewable energy company. One of the big headlines that we saw there was, "Harnessing the power of the hurricane to generate more electricity." Another one that I saw there was them being able to provide renewable energy to lunar colonies. These fantastical ideas, sort of very creative pursuits at conferences and in workshop environments, help people break out of their limitations today.
When we think about the future, we can really be fantastical. And do you know what? The people that change the world change it because they don't believe that the status quo is going to remain the same.
Right, I’m wondering, what are some of the common, key challenges that you see in organizations when it comes to driving change?
Yes. It's people thinking that they can’t, that they don't have permission to be creative. It's people thinking that they can't think outside the box, so they can't contribute to a company's overall plan around innovation.
It's all about mindset. When I sit down to speak with CEOs or executive teams, I talk to them about giving people permission to break out of the mindset. Break out of the conditions of internal policy, profits, and procedure, and think, “What if we could change this company entirely? What would that look like?” When you start empowering people to think in ways outside of the box, then you get some really interesting ideas. They won't be fully formed solutions, or they won't be necessarily world-changing sort of ideas to start with. But if you have thousands of employees, all coming up with ideas every day, it's going to lead to a percolation that leads to something that can be a very profitable and interesting future for all.
Would it be an idea may be to have monthly brainstorming meetings? I don't know if that would be the right word for it, but at least to get people thinking outside of the box, and then continue their thought process.
I don't think this is a monthly thing or a quarterly thing. I think this is an everyday thing. It's just a way for you to liberate people daily. What you don't want is for people to suddenly think, “Oh, it's that time of the month. I need to think about the future.” We want people to think about it every day. Those opportunities will pop up, and they'll flourish on a daily basis.
Having the ability in an organization to share ideas on an ongoing basis, yes, you might review them as a whole every month, but that's an internal administrative function. It's just saying to people that every single day, they can be thinking about this. And if they have a great idea, give them somewhere to send it, to post it, to share it, and to socialize it.
You have a computer background, and I have the same, actually. This is interesting because it seems like it's similar to the change from Waterfall to Agile, the continuous integration, continuous development (CI/CD) methodology.
Yes, that's exactly right. You know, it's also from the design circles, the idea of design thinking. Ideas build on top of other ideas. And eventually, you end up in a place where you've actually found something that fits a need that's been identified by humans to sell. It is very agile. I never loved Agile as a process though, mostly because it had to operate in organizations that were used to strict budgets, strict policies, and procedures. That's not how Agile is supposed to work.
If you think truly Agile, it's like this: You talk with candidates, you talk about projects that deliver certain areas of functionality, and that could be a really interesting model to follow for foresight and future thinking, for sure.
How does Technology Business Management (TBM) play into your advice on the financial side of being a futurist?
When you think about foresight, and when you think about those projects, ultimately designing future worlds that don't necessarily have a particular finite shape and size, it's important to say, “Out of this foresight activity comes three different future states, and those future states are going to cost this much to build, and this much to continue to operate.” It doesn't quite work that way.
If you think about the TBM side of things, it’s very much like saying, "Okay, we need to deploy this amount of technology transformation and change in the business. We need these people and this timeline, and this is how it's going to happen. It's going to cost you X hundreds of thousands of dollars." You can apply that in ways for foresight projects. Someone might have a good idea for a new product for a company. You might actually have a design exercise, followed by prototyping exercise. You can cost that out. And then you can have a portfolio of those prototyping activities, and that's your foresight program. And it works in the same way as TBM.
What is the key take-away that you want tech leaders to recognize about their role, and their ability to shape their company's future?
The one thing I say, and this is sort of my mantra, “Change is inevitable. We either change or change is going to happen to us.”
Should we ignore that things are happening outside of our business that we know are going to be disruptive, and think that we're going to be okay? The truth of the matter is, we're not. Those people might only take 1% of market share next year, but in the next two to three years, they might take 15% of market share, and then you are already on the back foot. Then suddenly, you've got these companies taking 50% of market share, and then in 10 years, your company goes bankrupt.
Just look at online travel, look at Thomas Cook. Thomas Cook just went bankrupt. Forever 21 just filed for bankruptcy. Why? Because they were in denial. They were in denial that change was coming to take their business.
What haven't we discussed that you'd like to cover here?
If you can understand where we are today, you can derive insights in the data, you can understand your position, and you can have that imagination about what the future could be like for your company, you can build roadmaps. Hopefully, you can put some plans in place today that will fundamentally create an exponential future for you and your company. You could go from being hundreds of millions of dollars to hundreds of billions of dollars in value if you follow it in the right way.
No one thought 25 years ago that Amazon was going to be who they are today. You know, someone like Jeff Bezos was thinking about that, though. He put the plans in place back then, and he thought about what the future could be. That's really the message that I want to leave behind, is that a company like Amazon always thinks that they can say that any point in time, they continually innovate, they need to continually invest in thinking about the future, thinking about innovation, and changing how the world can work.
Yes, I remember when Amazon first started, it was just a lowly online bookstore.
That's right. No one thought that. I remember when they came out with the Kindle, and everyone was like, "What? Why are they doing hardware now?” And now, everyone has Amazon Alexa. It’s all about forming the vision of the future today.