IC Speaker Series
The Speaker Series featured four executives discussing the impact of technology on the world, and more specifically on their industry. Each offered a unique perspective on the issue through the lens of their personal involvement with technology, and although all were dealing with the same fundamental issue, that of the disruptive power of tech, they all presented radically different conclusions.
The first speaker was Ed Roussel, who worked for the Telegraph in London for seven years, with a strong focus on adapting the company to technology, before joining the Dow Jones in 2013 and masterminding the redesign of its Wall Street Journal suite of digital products. In April 2015, he was appointed Chief Innovation Officer of Dow Jones, where he works on identifying new areas of opportunity for the company, with a particular focus on mobile innovation.
Ed Roussel focused on adaptability in his talk, grounding the concept in evolution. Applying this to the business world, he presented two initially similar companies, one of which adapted its way to success and another that stagnated itself into bankruptcy: Fuji Films and Kodak. New technology forces you to reimagine existing products, or go extinct.
Roussel then applied this to the newspaper industry. Although technology causes many changes, some things that don’t and shouldn’t change. At the Wall Street Journal, these include high reporting and editing standards, and sticking to the brand’s values of holding those in power accountable. However, it is also unreasonable to think everything can stay the same; a newspaper cannot simply be shoved into a web page, changes must be made. Ed Roussel’s goal is to find the middle road between change and continuity.
Sally Shankland joined UBM, a multinational media company, in 1988, and was CEO of the Americas from 2012-2015, leading it in the transition from print-based publishing to an events and digital marketing services business. In June 2015, she assumed the presidency of the Higher Education division of McGraw-Hill Education, which is currently transitioning from being a publisher to being a learning science company providing personalized learning services.
Shankland’s talk was structured around three threads. The first was the importance of empathy, described as the new literacy. Empathy humanizes us, and allows us to understand our colleagues and our customers. And, counter-intuitively, completing an altruistic task actually increases your productivity.
The second thread was ‘small data.’ Shankland argued that we have so much ‘big data’ that we don’t know what to do with it, and should focus on the learning that occurs in the moment, the ‘small data,’ which is personalized and adaptive. Everyone learns differently, and data should be structured accordingly.
She wrapped up with the importance of confidence. The two main causes of failure are over-confidence and under-confidence; the ideal is a middle road, the point at which ego is no longer important and you can focus fully on the task at hand.
Nick Taranto, after attending Dartmouth, started a microfinance organization in Indonesia, attended Harvard Business School, and joined the Marine Corps before working first at Goldman Sachs and then McKinsey. In 2012, he decided to co-launch a start-up, Plated, which allows consumers to choose from a menu and have all the ingredients home-delivered. Today, Plated has received $50m in venture capital and delivers in almost every state.
His talk was his personal, and yet widely applicable, story of taking a start-up from humble beginnings to success. He presented the business and social case for Plated, outlining the history of the food industry over the past 100 years from family-centered, locally sourced, natural food to today’s industrialized factory farms. Plated’s ambitious goal is to usher in a modern version of the former.
Taranto detailed the story of Plated up close and personal, elucidating the many difficulties his team faced. Although his story was personal, Taranto extracted some key lessons from his story. First, he stressed that hustle and storytelling trump raw intelligence. Second, humility always wins. And finally, it is crucial to “find your why,” no matter how long it takes.
Amar Urekhar has more than 15 years of experience in healthcare communications, with a focus on marketing and advertising. He founded the Indian branch of McCann Health in 2000, and was later Managing Director in Greater China and President in Japan. In 2010, he was made Vice President and head of the Asia Pacific region. Since last year he is President of the Americas region for McCann Health.
His talk focused on how lessons from the commercial world can be applied to the non-commercial sphere. Smart marketing and advertising, focused on emotional appeal, can make a difference in non-business campaigns. He proceeded to show four videos: one to showcase effective emotional appeal in an advertisement for a new drug, and three describing social media campaigns that were successful due to emotional appeal, such as one to fight suicide.
Tying it all together
Technology is a powerful tool, but a tool is useless without a user with a purpose. And the extent to which technology has a positive impact depends very much upon this user. These four speakers all harnessed technology for good, whether enhancing the reach and readability of news without compromising on quality, providing personalized and adaptive education, revolutionizing how we consume food, or harnessing viral marketing using social media and emotional appeal. Their work is an inspiration to us all, and their diversity of approaches and applications demonstrates the vast range of possibilities within technology. All you need is a vision and an idea, and the determination to carry through with it.