Everything Is Broken

IMG_1378“Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on”  – Led Zeppelin

Everything is broken!  But wait…don’t change the dial; this is a tale of hope, not complaint.

This is about exploring the doorway to our shifting context, this is about opportunity, the here and now, this is about being a witness to the end of the industrial revolution and the dawn of the next epoch…..What ever that emerges to be?

This week I have the privilege to join Rawn Shah, Cheryl K Burgess and Michael Weeding at the Amplify Festival. We have been united by the incredible Annalie Killian, the founder and curator of Amplify. Annalie outlined her vision for our Panel discussion circling around the context of ‘change’.

We are not just living in an era of change; we are also living through the change of an era. The convergence of technological disruption, transition of industries from deeply integrated verticals to global horizontal platforms and the widespread aging of populations is upending long-held assumptions that underpin strategy setting, decision-making, and management. Reading these signals is essential to anticipating the future. Now is the time to relinquish outdated mind-sets, be ‘disruption-ready’ and rethink everything.


It got me to thinking…..what is it that makes us change and adapt?
What are the circumstances and environmental factors that leave no option?

What has to happen so that change is not a choice, but the only way forward?

It got me thinking……everything is broken:

Politics, Governments, Economies, Business Models, Housing, Art, Sport, Religion, Environment, Healthcare and Privacy. Take your pick on any of these subjects and you will find growing dissatisfaction, strain, opposition or diminishing returns. All this despite an increasing middle class, life expectancy and everything available on a click. And yet, something doesn’t feel right, despite all that is great in the world the cracks are starting to appear in so many ways.

During the Industrial Revolution advancements in efficiency resulted in other trade-offs; air and water pollution became a major contributing factor to disease and disruption across Society. The technology of the day came at a price.  It wasn’t until the pollution exhaust reached a critical point did the change begin.  London was one of the first cities in the world to build a sewer system and improve the quality of its drinking water supply.  What followed was legislation and leaps in science, this helped stem disease and improved the planning of industrial plants and management of waste.  However the human cost of this period of change was significant.

Fast forward to the Digital Revolution our Information Age, is there an equivalent impact caused by our digital exhaust and current methods of government and business?  Must Society and business also reach a critical point before we are forced to change? Some would argue that the events of the past decade; the global financial crisis, increase in fundamentalism, disruption in the Middle East,  the uneven distribution of wealth, and the digital divide are major contributors to what might be the tipping point of change.

Maybe there are clues in the Renaissance – the amazing cultural movement of innovation that encompassed; language, literature, construction, art, science, diplomacy, politics and the movement of information.

What was bubbling in society leading up to this time? What was broken and gave way to the new? How had Society ceased to function effectively, such that it gave rise to the ideas and beauty that flowed out of this incredible period of creativity and renewal?

Is this where we find Society right now? ‘If it’s not broke, then don’t fix it’ – avoid the change!  How about:

If it is broke, now we have the opportunity together with the largest emerging generation in history, not to just fix it, but to reshape it?

What will be the trigger to humanity, that despite the risks of change, we collectively reach a position where we say enough, no more!  We deconstruct the old to make way for the new.  This is the hope offered by our children; that they demand a different world, and that they force us to change because they want:

#Collaboration not #Heirachy
#Outcomes not #Ownership
#Distributed not #Centralised
#Experiences not #Assets
#And not #Or

What does this new world mean for business models, products, advice and services?

What will be mainstream within five years that hasn’t even been imagined yet, let alone invented?

Anyone that knows me, knows I’m passionate about personal sovereignty; the right for us as individuals to claim our identity and control the access to our personal information. As I travel around the world, I find it interesting the amount of resistance I meet to the idea that business models will need to change, to empower the individual and include them in the value chain. It is worth noting the push back comes from my generation.  The opposite is true when talking with millennials. They may not be flying a privacy flag, but they certainly expect to be consulted.

Change is happening all around us. Being prepared or able to adapt will be central to the survival of brands, enterprise, governments and social structures.

Too soon to introduce #blockchain…..shall I leave that till later?

In preparation for the Amplify Panel, Rawn sent some questions for us to ponder. They actually sent me into a spin.

I’d like people to think about how you each personally deal with change — change in others or the environment around you.  Do you feel loss and go through the psychological stages of loss?  Do you stick to your routine? How do you adapt in response?

Do you change your personal values?

How do I cope, what are my mechanisms?

On a recent flight between London and Sydney I sat next to an investment banker. He was reading the Steve Job’s biography.  I asked him what he though about the book.  He launched into his judgements of Jobs as a person, no mention of his vision, determination or passion for excellence.

The conversation moved to currency….specifically crypto.  He shared a similar view; there was no possibility that any alternative would or could disrupt FIAT currency.  I wonder what Jon Matonis has to say about that, in view of his wonderful quote:

We don’t need kings to coin our money

It seems that The Bank of England might also disagree, considering that #bitcoin and related currencies was worthy of an in-depth study.

Personally, what excites me about blockchain is that it is an entirely new technology that is forcing us to #rethink currency, voting, contracts and identity.  Borrowing context from one of my favourite Rilke poems; blockchain is forcing change because it is the great enemy:

All of your undisturbed cities, Haven’t  you ever longed for the enemy?

When I think of this poem in a personal context I think of the things I resist, my ideas of how things should be. I see the ‘enemy’ as that which forces me to adapt and embrace the new. Deep down I know within the new, there is a link to survival and the future.

Maybe the hallmark of a future focused organisation will be its willingness to let the ‘enemy’ of new ideas permeate the culture?

Already we see a shift in the social values of youth culture; the desire to reconcile outcomes and values without trading either. Reconciling values like authenticity and meaning to be as important as the quality of a product or service.

A recent marketing study by Havas Media Group measured the potential business benefits gained by a brand, when it is seen to improve our wellbeing and quality of life. They add that trust is no longer enough, and that meaningfulness is now the key brand driver of value.

This chart from their research shows that Meaningful Brands outperform the stock market by 133%, within the top 25 brands delivering an annual share return of nearly 12% (that’s almost seven times higher than the STOXX 1800 stock index).

Meaninful brands out perform stock market

Interestingly they list the top 12 Meaningful Industries, which are:

  1. Healthcare
  2. Consumer Electronics
  3. Food
  4. Personal Care
  5. Retail
  6. Apparel
  7. Internet Platforms
  8. Automotive
  9. Energy & Utilities
  10. Beverages
  11. Telco
  12. Finance & Insurance

Finance & Insurance = ouch…..huge opportunity here!

Here’s some compelling reasons from a recent Goldman Sachs study, as to why moving Finance & Insurance up the meaningfulness chart is important.

  • 33% believe they won’t need a bank in 5 years
  • 84% say user generated content & reviews influence their decisions
  • 50% are counting on tech startups to overhaul banks.


Millennails as the agent of Change

Or this Techcrunch article with the headline Millennials are Destroying Banks, And It’s The Bank’s Fault. Maybe it’s not fair to say all banks deserve this headline?

Xavier Dumon heads up the marketing and communications for BNP Paribas Fortis’ Hello Bank! initiative. Launched in 2013 Hello Bank! was established to create a fast and easy way for younger customers to interact with their bank and is the first 100% digital mobile bank in Europe. Here’s Xavier’s take on marketing to youth;

Young people see right through most marketing strategies.  Meet them on their terms not yours.

So often I hear that the move to design for the emerging generation is not worth it because there is ‘no revenue’. Maybe not today…but we are talking about the architects of tomorrow. The generation that as teenagers will have accumulated more data and personal information than we ever thought possible.

Designing for this cohort is a sophisticated balancing act that requires authenticity and deep understanding. Maarten Leyts the CEO of Trendwolves worked together Xavier on the launch of Hello Bank!  Trendwolves is a Belgium based consulting firm with expertise in European youth culture, marketing and trends. I first met Maarten through Annalie visiting for an Amplify event, and more recently had a chance to spend some time with him in Brussels.

Maarten also presented at the first NextBank conference in Sydney. His was an arresting contrast to the many presentations focused on branch and logo makeovers. Maarten moved the narrative to the ‘phygital‘ world; the intersection between the physical and the digital. Hello Bank! hosts these as pop up phygital spaces offering a real bridge between the online and offline world.

Youth culture moves seamlessly between both, highlighting that we can no longer design for an analogue world. I would argue that this is an even greater reason for us to champion the social mores of the physical world and ensure they are extended into the digital world.

Why has our move to the digital world allowed and condoned behaviours that are abhorrent in the physical world? Imagine meeting a person for the first time and saying hi…can I have your account number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name and a trick question about your dog?

This wholesale giving up our rights to privacy and pseudonymity must be restored if we are going to provide a safe and equitable world for youth to transact. Which leads to what I call the ‘AND’ not ‘OR’ generation:

Great service AND authenticity
Great value AND personalization
Great experiences AND ……

But….and there is a big BUT…this is a generation that does not care whether their banking services come from a bank, or a ride comes from a taxi company, or a weekend in Paris is in a hotel room.


What do I want to do today and how can you help me achieve this?”

Help me…make it easy for me! At  the same time there is a new battle going on for the currencies they will need for the future:


When I was working in Financial Services one of the important litmus tests for a new product was; “Would I want someone to sell this to my mother?” I think the question of our time is:

Will this empower or limit opportunity for generations to come?

What does the hyper connected world look like for todays child?

  • The IoT baby starts with smart diapers flagging temperature spikes and onset of fever, they then move onto wearables and monitors.

Who decides on the privacy setting and gets access to the data?

  • Education portals capture every event from attendance to academic records, health, temperament and social skills.

Who should be the guardian of this data; parent, institution, government or held in ‘trust’ as a future asset for the child?

  • It’s estimated that by 2020 the Personal Information economy will be valued at 1 Trillion Euros, of which 670 Billion Euros will flow back in some way to the individual. Source: Boston Consulting Group.

What new business models need to emerge to make this flow possible?

  • There’s an increasing question as to whether or not Facebook is relevant to youth culture or is it simply becoming the Yellow Pages of our time, the place you look-up, connect and then move the conversation off-line.

Where will those conversations take place?

  • Digital identity, reputation and verified attributes will be essential for check-out, payments and all transacts in the connected world. The means to ‘prove’ who you are will increase along with the value of having proved it.

Who should own and control that identity?

The emerging generation will have their eligibility for education, assessment of health insurance rates, access to services, suitability for loans and credit all assessed from data points collected from pre-birth. There are already companies in the USA and Europe using Facebook Friends as an indication of applicants credit worthiness.

Do we want them to have the means to assert self-authentication or are we comfortable with silo services like GAFA being the means by which they can log-in to essentials services and transact in the world?

There is a reason the distributed argument resonates with youth. Consider what is at stake for this generation. The millennial generation is the largest population in history, even bigger than Boomers. We need to find ways for this generation to create the society that speaks to their values.

In order to design for the decentralised, distributed world we first need to understand what the driving force of change might be. I would posit it is agency;

  • The “sense of agency”  (or sense of control) refers to the subjective awareness that one is initiating, executing, and controlling one’s own volitional actions in the world. Source: Wikipedia.

As we move to higher levels of complexity, which is managed by things and machines, it is our social evolution that will determine our humanity. As AI starts to merge into our physicality who will be making the decisions and giving the directions?

As we move up towards the 4th Wave of the Information Age, we will see the need for products and services to incorporate all previous waves AND deliver tailored personal experiences.

4th Order

Above all that appears broken in the old order; there lies the broken continuity with our millennials and their frantic search for meaning. Following time and suffering this will also show us where salvation lies? – Brian Grimmer

How do we begin to design for this new and distributed world? What are the business models for the intention economy? Not what I did yesterday, but what I am doing now!

The recent launch of Google’s Now OnTap further demonstrates that Google see context and intent as king. However the price for auto-opt-in will be high. This is a business model that relies completely on tracking your behaviour, packaging the data and selling it. The Faustian bargain is you get it for free, but the cost on the way out isn’t transparent.

Equally CRM systems and business models that are reliant on your past behaviour will struggle to compete in the new world. What a customer searched for, purchased or the hotel they just checked out of is already the past. Sending a survey three days later asking ‘how-did-we-compare’ is today’s version of spam. Organisations will need to shift NPS and feedback into-the-moment and integrate it contextually within the overall experience.

Ultimately, the only way this is going to work for individuals, is if it is designed with their best interest in mind.  What we need in the world of free services, IoT and wearable devices is the pause button to ask for #Consent, in order to understand #Context and make clear what the #Consequences of the action may result in.

As the phygital world becomes the norm the advances in science, medicine, longevity, learning and technology will literally emerge from the realms of our imagination. Learning through implanted knowledge, or directing artificial limbs with thoughts and hearing images.

We are  the custodians of this change, as the AI world takes shape.  We need a conversation of differing points of view like never before. If we are to preserve the beauty of our humanity then we need ethicists, poets and artists in the conversation along with the engineers and scientists.

If we are to learn anything from the Renaissance it is the combination of all disciplines that leads to the blossoming and renewal of Society at large. This is the debate that must come to AI. If we are going to Socially Engineer the future, then we need to be using the best of our humanity to design for how we behave under the worst of scenarios.

We need to design for empathy and forgiveness and we need to ensure that there is space in the matrix, for the human spirit to triumph amidst any and all adversity.

For this is the essence of change.

Everything is broken.

What will we do with this one great life?

This One Life_Close

For me writing is a process. It brews in my head like drip coffee and gets fuelled by what I read, images and music. Usually there’s at least one track I play over and over when writing. For this post it’s Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. I think this track is from a live concert recorded in 1970’s most likely in England. The blog themes of youth and change are particularly meaningful when I think of this track and my youth. As a teenager I purchased this album (vinyl) three times. My mother broke the first 2 over her knee, declaring it the devils work. I hid the 3rd album and it survived. Enjoy 🙂


  1. Joy Monsma

    Powerfully provocative, we truly do need to use “the best of our humanity to design for how we behave under the worst of scenarios”. Thank you.


  2. Noel Kelly

    I hope we’re working on an ‘encrypt everything’ basis.
    Something I’m sure the US OPM is regretting about now.


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