Interview: Roger Jones – The ‘Power of New’

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The key to unlocking the potential of digital is learning, says strategist Roger Jones – and that requires thinking.

This is one of a series of interviews leading up to Like Minds, Bristol – powered by Barclays  which takes place on September 8th & 9th. You can learn more about the event and book tickets here.

A paradigm is a bit like a rug: if you want to avoid falling over when it is pulled from under your feet, you have to shift your position – radically.

No one understands this better than digital strategist Roger Jones who has made it his business not just to know which direction the rug is being tugged in – but to advise businesses how to stay standing.

His boutique consultancy Actionable Insight has pioneered data driven decision-making to help businesses unleash what he refers to as the “power of new” amid the shift from the “4th estate” of one-to-many communication to the nascent “5th estate” of one-to-one comms – a paradigm shift comparable to the industrial revolution.

“Moving from that 4th to 5th estate requires radical change and although many businesses say they are continually evolving, in actual fact they are not,” explains Jones. “As much as people say they are thinking forward we know the reality of life – that you are operating in the here and now and not a lot of time is spent on this.

“The power of new for me means that whereas we used to do analogue reports looking backwards one month, now we run real-time reporting and predictive forwards –  it is the fact that we are now able to be extremely agile and think and react in almost real time as opposed to a frequency or recency basis.”

Described as the original “geek in a suit”, Jones’ career journey began as an apprentice mechanical engineer, something he values in his current role.

“I had an engineering background and I now use digital engineering to transform businesses by using data-driven decision-making,” he explains.

He moved into digital agency life and five years ago established Actionable Insight, now a Google partner agency. Jones, himself “Google-Certified”, works with UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) as an e-expert and helps SMEs export online as well as larger blue-chip businesses undergo digital transformations.

He is passionate about analytics – “helping people make really smart decisions by looking for data trends and turning them into success.”

“When I am explaining what we do to clients – or even to my mum – I tell them I can help them find the right people and tell the right stories by looking for patterns or trends in their data and turning those patterns into money.”

Jones says that his first question to clients is always: ‘When was your last paradigm shift – the last major change in your business model or systems of working?’”

These changes could be anything: a shift from offline to online selling, from online selling to e-marketplaces, from UK markets to export, or even the migration to a new website.

A second major question then becomes the degree to which businesses allocate “thinking time” to this transformation.

“A business needs to look at itself and work out where it is on that estate model and the shift between one-to-many and one-to-one communications – then they need to think hard about that.

“There aren’t many people who wouldn’t benefit from having an hour of thinking time – being able to take yourself out of the operational and think for just a moment ‘What if?’ or ‘How could this be done better?’ or ‘Are we being smart enough?’”

When it comes to “thinking time” Actionable Insight practises what it preaches, investing heavily in knowledge  – it dedicates one day a week to learning and allocates considerable time to studying markets, trends, emerging best practices, online tools and online platforms.

“The power of digital is profound: the tools are already there to empower businesses, to integrate thinking around their web search, social media content and customer data,” says Jones. “So the ‘power of new’ is there and, in fact, the speed and deployment of digital tools can be really quick.”

But winning hearts and minds can take longer.

“It can take a sensational amount of training – and an awful lot of tea – to change the mentality of a business from project-based into agile, and that’s where the power of the new resides.”

Jones believes that the key to success is enhanced learning, something many businesses neglect – an example of this is a shortage of e-commerce managers – and he is a great fan of video-based learning and, in particular, LinkedIn’s video tutorial platform

“What often happens is that people stop learning – so don’t stop learning, in actual fact dedicate time for yourself and your team to keep learning. My 83-year-old mum does it by watching ‘How to’ videos on YouTube, so it’s all about your mentality.”

Only by thinking and learning, says Jones, will we be able to tap into the vast potential of the digital ‘power of new’.

“We are literally at the very thinnest edge of the wedge when it comes to working out what we are capable of,” he says. “Talk is cheap but conversation is expensive, so this means we can’t use the same business set up or structure one-to-many as we do one-to-one – the whole business set up has to change.”

To hear more on this from our stellar line up of speakers, come and join us at the Like Minds, Bristol, “Innovation & Ideas Festival” – powered by Barclays on September 8th & 9th. Read more and book tickets here.

About the author

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Gavin O'Toole is Consultant, Head of Research at Onyx and a journalist, author and copywriter with a specialism in finance and business.