Blog: Minter Dial & Caleb Storkey

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A Business Breakfast with Minter Dial and Caleb Storkey.

Political and economic disruptions have been zipping our way with increasing frequency, so it was no surprise that a healthy crowd turned up for the March Like Minds business breakfast to listen to Minter Dial and Caleb Storkey discuss their latest book – Futureproof – and share some insights from its creation.

Pearson published Futureproof in September last year. The book’s subtitle – and implicit raison d’être – is ‘How to get your business ready for the next disruption’. The book was on the shortlist for the Business Book Awards 2018 in the ‘Embracing Change’ category – and on March 16th it won!

Dial and Storkey picked a dozen major forces that they believe are shaping the business world – and beyond. How businesses confront or embrace these forces may very well be the difference between thriving and closing. A successful strategy for the future depends on understanding the predominant forces both in tech and in mindset. The book examines each of these forces and explains:

  • Why the force is disruptive;
  • What additional information is needed;
  • What changes to make in the face of this force.

The team at the 12 Hay Hill Private Business Club laid on their usual excellent breakfast buffet to support the nutritional requirements of networking. The audience then settled in the library for the talk.

And then it was over to the speakers.

Minter introduced himself first. (For many Like Minds regulars, of course, Minter is already well known but his story is always worth hearing.) Born in Belgium, educated in the UK and France, and with long periods spent in the US, Minter is well-placed to understand some of the most potent forces shaping business today.

Caleb, although rooted in a single country – the UK – works with international brands and corporations. Together, Minter’s expertise with digital strategy and Caleb’s focus on the sweet spot where human potential meets technological possibility, gives them the insights that drive their latest book.

It’s been a bit of a business cliché for a generation now that disruption is often the downfall of the large corporation – the disrupted — and an opportunity to be taken for the upcoming and more agile company – the disrupter. In reality, things are more complicated and what’s key for business success in the years to come is to adopt a mindset that is able to manage disruption. This mindset can be found within large corporations as much as in the thrusting entrepreneur of (recent) legend.

Caleb and Minter’s book addresses a dozen forces they identify as challenges and opportunities around disruption. These are split into two sections; three ‘mindsets’ and twelve ‘forces’. In many ways, it is the adoption of a successful mindset that will determine the ability to cope with the potential disruption of specific forces. If you were to read only one section of Futureproof, I recommend the Introduction: Getting ready for disruption, where they define a subtler notion of disruption than that usually given and then outline how the need for mindset changes relate directly to this. (Read that far and the challenge will then be to stop reading.)

Back to the talk.

Minter explained the format they had devised. After thinking about the sorts of questions the Like Minds audience might have, they had decided that Minter would ask Caleb a question and then Caleb would return the compliment. Part of the fun would be that the person asking the question wouldn’t know the answer.

Minter kicked off by asking Caleb whether the book was still valid – “on track” – six months on from its September 2017 publication.

Caleb told us how the decision to limit the book to a dozen technologies had almost led to a bout of fisticuffs. He suggested that, were they to write the book now, he would have tried to find room for augmented reality. But, on the whole, coverage in media such as the New York Times and Wired and general technology news seems to back up the choices they made.

Within the first five pages of any major newspaper, for instance, you’re likely to find stories relating to one of the major technologies: self-driving cars, for instance. What’s becoming more obvious are the responsibilities and ethics growing around technical choices. The Cambridge Analytica debacle is not, after all, a surprise. There is a growing discontent about the amount of personal data the tech companies hold.

As an example, Caleb suggested visiting and luxuriating in the shock of just how much data Google has on us.

Minter suggested that, although we sometimes think we ‘get’ mobile or social because we’ve been using them for a while now, we’re now using them differently and so need to remain vigilant from both the security and the ethical viewpoint. He recommends visiting Facebooks settings weekly, for example, because each software upgrade can change the whole way things are stored and the company’s policies around this.

Caleb asked Minter why, when 84% of digital transformation projects fail, do companies still try it?

Minter believes the main source of failure is that companies tend to see each technology separately. They then try to do everything and to do it perfectly or else just chase shiny new objects. There is, in other words, no clear strategy. He gave the example of a company he was working with. When he asked for the company mission, he was told it was to have more profits. There was no sense of differentiation to other companies. Was there a strategy to achieve this? Of course: the first thing was to cut costs. This is madness. Successful digital transformation can only come from strategy and strategy must come from purpose.

To effect real change within the corporate environment will require the removal of investment from ethically questionable products and technologies. As long as ethically challenged start-ups receive funding, we’ll be stuck with unethical business.

Minter asked Caleb how he would describe the different challenges around disruption faced by large and small organizations.

Caleb summed it up with the phrase “head, hearts, hands”. He told the story of a conference call at a large company with a new web conferencing facility that nobody in the call knew how to get working. The small company adopts and uses tools it understands and can fiddle with directly. It’s important sometimes to get your hands dirty as well as buy into the hype of new tech.

Another example: working with an air filtration company which found that using 3D printing provides components and flexibility a larger company wouldn’t be able to adopt so quickly. In cases like this it is about deciding on the best tech available that is suitable to the business.

In many cases, the best approach is to use the young to find best ways to use products and tools.

Caleb then asked Minter the best way to reach the mindset that manages disruption.

Minter sees too many company decision makers making decisions without any knowledge of how customers are affected by the marketing. He tries to get company leaders to get their hands dirty, as Caleb suggested. He told the story of the CEO of French retail giant Carrefour, who was pissed off at his teams because they were gaining so little traction on social media. The CEO set up his own account – under a nom de plume – and within six months on Instagram had more followers than the official account. The secret, of course, was that his daughter taught him everything. This knowledge was fed back into the official social media and now the real Carrefour account is kicking ass.

Caleb summed up this strand of the talk by agreeing that the secret to the mindset necessary for success was in getting hands dirty and continuous learning. It’s about leadership and mindset. Habit is more effective than willpower.

The Q&A

Minter and Caleb then took some questions from the floor, an abbreviated sample of which follows below.

Q: Digital transformation is really a misnomer. It’s merely a chimera sold by marketers.

Caleb: All marketers are liars. (And Seth Godin’s book of this name – along with his Permission Marketing – is as valid today as it was when first written.) The phrase digital transformation works only as a description of many different approaches and outcomes.

Minter: Nobody succeeds at change easily, so what happens is that people see something that works for one company and follow it. Of course, the outcome may be very different in a different environment.

Q: Surely digital is redundant as a prefix because everything is digital. As with marketing: social makes things 2-way. Marketers are no longer the story tellers but the liars.

Caleb: You can’t polish a turd. However wonderful the polish, it’s still a turd. There’s a need to get leadership and mindset focused on quality rather than interruption. (See Seth’s Permission Marketing.)

Minter: The notion of brand has changed. The values and purpose of a company is the future of marketing.

Q: CEOs are driven by financial imperative. There is no notion of the customer. Enlightened SMEs, however, have a different approach.

Minter: All companies want profit. The more evolved companies focus on customers. But the focus of the most evolved companies must be on the employees as well. When Bezos leaves Amazon, the shit will really hit the fan and all ‘fun’ will be out the window. (How much fun there is for Amazon warehouse and delivery drivers is another question altogether.) A successful company needs its employees to have higher sense of worth than merely providing profit for shareholders.

Q: Is there a need for business to focus on people and the community? People are not simply an adjunct to tech.

Caleb: This is about getting the mindset in place. The new CRM is Collaboration, Responsibility, and Meaningfulness.

This brought an entertaining and enlightening session to a close. As always, for those who could stay after the event, there was a further opportunity for networking – or even straightforward conversation. There were copies of Futureproof to be bought, too, and the authors were on hand to sign them. Graciously and with a flourish.


The 2018 Ideas Festival.

To hear more from Minter Dial come to the Like Minds Ideas Festival which takes place in Exeter on September 27th & 28th 2018. You can buy tickets here.

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