Keep it simple, stupid

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Lizzie Hodgson
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Lizzie Hodgson

Here’s a stat for you: By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be made up of millennials.

And here’s another: There are 1.56 million jobs in the Digital Tech Economy, covering all jobs in the Digital Tech Industries and digital tech jobs within Traditional Industries. Plus, a whopping 80% are based outside of London.

Oh, and there’s this: It is estimated that 35% of all workers in the UK will lose jobs due to tech / automation in the next 20 years.

Confusing, isn’t it?

I mean, most of us think that in a handful of short years we’ll all be building online empires driven by a workforce of highly tech and digital savvy millennials (and whoever comes after them).

The thing is, in my experience, the majority of UK workforce aren’t up to speed in terms of making the most of digital or tech opportunities, but we know they need to be: the term ‘job invention’ has never been so apt. What’s more, just a handful of these millennials will actually have the skill set to do the things we’re all hoping they will.

For example, I gave a talk a couple of weeks ago to a group of really talented, young apprentices from London about my ‘accidental career’ drawing on examples where I’ve created opportunities, not waited for them.

The apprentices weren’t from the best schools. In fact many of them faced limited opportunities with little if any workplace experience - let alone tech experience. But they understood the world in which they were living, and all of them were driven and ambitious. It was invigorating to meet them. I felt inspired and empowered.

However, I learnt that as part of their course, they are placed in companies to work (a wide range of organisations). And that’s when things start to break down: There is a disconnect between what they are expected to know regarding digital and what they actually know. Just because they have a SnapChat account and have only experienced life post-internet it doesn’t mean they will immediately be the next Elon Musk.

The young people I met will all be successful in their professions, of that I’m sure. But the pressure and expectations we put on others to simply ‘know’ what it is to thrive in the digital world because of their date of birth is surely nonsense?

Like all of us, they need training and nurturing. Instead many explained they felt diminished and disheartened.

Why does this matter? Well, I believe those who do the building, the training, the advising, the consulting have to take greater responsibility. We need to keep in check our sometimes ‘superiority’ complexes (and yes, I too have been guilty of this in the past).

Yet everyone of us started out on our digital and tech journey knowing nothing. Sometimes it’s useful to remind ourselves of that. Then we can put ourselves in the position of our clients, or trainees, or apprentices… or even peers.

"We should approach learning by gobbling up the learning curve that is ahead of us whilst caring and sharing the story of the learning curve that's behind us"

We must help our clients mature and yes, teach them how to do the basics themselves without making them feel inferior or overwhelmed. This is crucial. Or as Keith Jay, MD of Five Mile puts it: “we should approach learning by gobbling up the learning curve that is ahead of us whilst caring and sharing the story of the learning curve that's behind us.” High five to that.

Maybe then the challenge we all face is having the opportunity to be part of ‘the’ conversation. I mean, unless you’re in ‘it', it’s very difficult to participate in the first place, isn’t it?

As digital envoy for Digital Together (a Kent Connects initiative showcasing digital transformation and collaboration across the country) I’ve come to this conclusion: people need simplicity. They want help in understanding the foundations and feel empowered.

We in the tech ‘world’ might have a tendency to congratulate ourselves on how knowledgeable we are about the latest chatbot application or Google algorithm. Sure, we need to be knowledgeable. Especially if we’re advising others on their tech/digital efforts and strategy (and yes by the way, for some a chatbot will be totally appropriate). But, but, but… businesses of all sizes can become overwhelmed - and frankly disheartened - with our oh-so-clever technology echo chamber. 

Instead we must always remember that technology is a great enabler, but often the focus on the ‘why?’ becomes lost. Even in my own experience, I feel this:

I’m an advocate of content management system Drupal. I have a loyalty to it, so naturally, I built my company website in it. However, when it came to my personal site, I was conflicted. Should I be standing by a platform that I know isn’t right for my needs - a very simple portfolio site? So I didn’t stay loyal. I stayed true to the 'why?' and created in an afternoon. Ok, so it’s not going to win a Webby and it’ll need improving over time, but it’s mine and I have total control over it. 

So here are my mash-up of top tips for digital advisers… and anyone taking on a millennial:

  • Keep it simple when advising others on their digital journey

  • Remember you knew nothing. And the things you know now will probably be useless in 5-10 years time. So keep on learning, and share that in a way that won’t overwhelm those you’re trying to educate (no one likes a show off)

  • Just because someone is under 25, don’t expect them to know everything digital

  • Avoid staying in the echo-chamber full time - get ‘out there’ and understand what the majority are experiencing

  • Focus on the 'why?' - ask the question and listen to the answer

  • While it’s tempting to be platform loyal, we need to ensure that we have to offer up solutions that work for our clients. Which is why it’s important to experience things outside of our usual platforms (and again, refers to the echo-chamber issue).

In other words, while we have to be aware and up to speed on much of the complexities digital and tech offers, sometimes we must also remind ourselves there is huge value in this mantra: “keep it simple, stupid.”