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Will technology replace us or elevate us?

How CMOs and their organizations adapt to new technologies will determine if they will be the next disruptive force – or find themselves among the disrupted.

How CMOs and their organizations adapt to new technologies will determine if they will be the next disruptive force – or find themselves among the disrupted.

I have three questions for CMOs & CCOs today.

  1. Do you know what blockchain is?
  2. Can you describe mixed reality?
  3. Are you familiar with the application of deep learning?

The chances are many CMOs and CCOs would answer “no” to all three, or at least struggle to define their relevance. It may sound like the kind of stuff gamers obsess about, a little bit of science fiction, or a job for the technology staff.

And yet, in our profession, not having a good understanding could prove shortsighted for your business and your career.

Advanced technologies like these may take some time to understand, but they are going to have a deep effect on nearly every industry. These are not ordinary technology disruptors. This is not about using an app and a contract workforce to unseat taxi operators. These technologies, and others like them, have the potential to serve as a new foundation for how businesses operate, and, in particular, how they market their products and communicate their brand.

How CMOs and their organizations adapt to these new technologies will determine if they will be the next disruptive force – or find themselves among the disrupted.

The disruption of older industries by technology is hardly new. The difference here is the speed and scope of change that these technologies make possible.

The sheer pace of digital disruption means companies no longer can ease into a transition over several years. They may have only months to react and change.

In addition, these technologies are highly adaptable – in fact, almost unpredictably so. All were created for one or two specialized purposes, but are being applied rapidly to others, in unobvious ways. It’s worth taking a look at Joi Ito and Jeff Howe’s recent book “Whiplash,” which makes the case that most technologies find applications far beyond what they were originally intended for.

Blockchain, for example, was invented to provide a digital currency independent of any central bank or authority. That alone would be disruptive to both the financial industry and central banks. But blockchains can be applied to big problems in other industries, like healthcare.

Picture of a cinderblock with a chain through it, rather than 'blockchain', the cryptocurrency base

This is not what Blockchain is.

Mixed reality began as entertainment but could have profound effects in segments as diverse as education and medicine. Deep learning could upend everything from pharmaceutical research to writing.

This kind of radical change may at first seem frightening. How can you hope to keep up with the pace of technology-driven change? How can you focus on the complexities without losing sight of the big picture? Will we all be automated out of a job, relegated to spectators in a dystopian transformation where computers and robots replace us?

I see the future in another way. These technologies offer us a chance to fundamentally redefine how we solve business problems — and to fundamentally redefine the nature of work for our people. We have a chance to rethink almost everything about our work and our people, to make the jobs we do more productive, more rewarding, and more human.

Technologies like these can help to foster a richer and more collaborative engagement with our customers and our colleagues. We can use deep intelligence to make better decisions about how to connect with each other. We can use mixed reality to better interact with each other, to demonstrate products or share experiences. We can use blockchains to build transparency and trust, across geographic and cultural boundaries.

Perhaps the most important thing these technologies return to us is time. If we no longer have to spend time on the ordinary and mundane, we can reinvest it in the extraordinary and exceptional. We will have the freedom to develop better strategies, offer better counsel and extend the boundaries of our creativity. These are things that bring real value to our organizations and clients.

These are also what motivates people to be in our businesses. Nobody joins an agency because they love building media lists, grinding out press releases, or compiling reports. They are people who want to exercise their creative intellect to reach and motivate others. So not only will new technologies let us engage our stakeholders, the time we gain will let us engage our younger workforce earlier, in more meaningful and rewarding work that values critical thinking skills over tactical execution skills.

Machines and technologies will soon be able to do things we never imagined they could. We as humans, however, can do extraordinary things machines can’t. By taking advantage of these technologies, by adapting ourselves and our organizations, by making it easier for people to acquire new skills and transition to new roles, we can do more, more creatively, and deliver more value.

We’ll even find we have something else of great value: time left for ourselves.

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