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innovation

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Organizational design and management practices, i.e., people and how you intentionally organize them, arguably have more influence on your business than anything else. It determines virtually every type of interaction, plan, implementation and use of resources. Yet, there is often more than one way to skin a cat. In today’s rapidly shifting market environment, it’s wise to understand how leaders are experimenting and what kind of results they’re seeing.

For some businesses, an adhocracy can be an approach that provides a real edge.

Setting the stage for a collaborative analysis

How do you solve the conundrum of continuing your company’s growth trajectory through entrepreneurship and value generation? How do you keep an organization fresh, agile, innovative and in touch with clients’ needs as you grow?

Enter adhocracy. We got to know the concept, like many others, by reading about it in a book — in this case, Julian Birkinshaw’s Fast/Forward. The concept suggests that the model privileges action, where meritocracy privileges individual knowledge and bureaucracy privileges authority. In adhocracy, organizational structure is transient and based on market opportunities. Strategy is based on experimentation and management is based on decisive action and emotional conviction (a clear counterpoint to a data(only)-driven model). Could this model boost entrepreneurship in a company with thousands of people?

Intrigued by these concepts, our team worked hard to loosen our top-down structure. This meant that, rather than being locked into a rigid hierarchy or functional group, we kept everything transient. We built Growth Units (business units, with the word growth to emphasize the focus) with an end-to-end structure. Executive squads led each Growth Unit, with every executive, no matter at which level (SVP, VP, Director or Manager), being a partner in the Growth Unit. An entrepreneur who owns their destiny in business —  that is, they own their P&L, set their own target clients, go to market strategy and value prop and decide when to pivot. Nobody is looking up to somebody above, which speaks to three other fundamental aspects of adhocracy: speed is of the essence, management is light touch and governance is flexible. We gave both Growth Units and individuals the ability to act with autonomy within clear guardrails. What bound everyone together was an emotional commitment toward the opportunity in front of each of the Growth Units. We kept, of course, supporting structures, such as HR, marketing and F&A as horizontal structures that comprised what we called the Platform.

Adhocracy reoriented us toward helping clients accelerate their digital transformation, and we continued to grow with great success. At the same time, our success caught the eye of Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School and author of Fast/Forward. Birkinshaw had seen adhocracy work before, but he’d never seen it at the scale we had achieved. And like us, he wanted to understand the strengths and weaknesses of what we were doing. So much so that he invited us to be part of a case study.

Related: 5 Tips to Consider When Designing (or Redesigning) Your Organizational Structure

Mistakes, learning and finally, balance

In the case study, Birkingshaw posed some fair questions: Had we gone too far? Was this the proper structure to grow fast, as we wanted? What are the right incentives to take risks? Were we creating too much complexity? Was the emphasis on market opportunities and client responsiveness distracting us from coherent positioning?

By the time of the case study, the transient aspect of the organizational structure — focusing on market opportunities to determine when to create or decommission Growth Units or moving execs between them, was being taken very seriously. We had created a new process called rebalance to do just that. But rebalancing was happening a bit too often, so much so that some execs brought up the feedback that our groups simply didn’t have the time to connect and build a sense of shared purpose. When we looked at some of the key elements of adhocracy — emotional conviction and cohesion within the Growth Units — we realized that we’d swung the pendulum too far.

It became clear to us that, even though we wanted to maintain the freedom we’d given our groups to work without bureaucratic hurdles, we needed a more long-term view for the Growth Units. We slowed the pace of rebalances and didn’t shake things up quite so often. People had time to commit and invest themselves emotionally. Our reward was a major jump in their enthusiasm. They clearly understood what our customers were dealing with on a deeper level and were much more engaged in finding solutions.

Seeing this was incredibly motivating. But when we looked at the behavior and attitude of the Growth Units more closely, we saw that we’d swung the pendulum a little too far again, this time in the opposite direction. The Growth Units had so much cohesion that it created a siloed effect, and we had a hard time moving executives between them when opportunities were really asking for it.

Seeing these extremes, we set the goal of achieving harmony. To be successful, we could be neither too emotionally convicted nor too transient. The executive partners needed time to validate and evolve their own Growth Unit business strategy. Through experimentation, with their full dedication, and at the same time be minimally in tune with what was happening elsewhere. They recognized that we are one whole organization and other GUs might be in need of help (for instance, because they are growing faster than others).

To reach this new goal, we first made sure people understood that we were all on the same team and had the same vision. We encouraged them to share information so everybody could learn more quickly. Lastly, we required each Growth Unit to create two powerful stories each year and to rate other Growth Units on those stories, according to specific criteria. The idea was to give the Growth Units a chance to highlight their customer engagement, the problems they had and how they tried to solve those issues. We showcased the stories as a way to practice positive self-accountability. To learn and get exposed to the ideas, data, techniques, contributions and successes going on across the entire company.

Related: Establishing The Structure For Organizational Growth

Back when we started, all executives who were not in one of the Platform areas (IT, HR, F&A) were assigned to a Growth Unit, with one single exception: our CEO. That is another aspect in which we realized we had swung the pendulum a bit too far: we also needed a few executives who could serve and collaborate across units.

The rebalancing process continues to exist and has been improved over time. We started off with 12 Growth Units globally. We then changed what some of them looked like quite a bit, then created new ones, merged some and split others. More recently, we created the concept of alliances — groups of two or three Growth Units that share goals and a core set of customers that might be too large for one GU alone. Smaller Growth Units seemed to work better for us, which seemed consistent with the Dunbar number concept. So we set a guideline to keep each Growth Unit at 400 people or less.

Good growth never means you quit learning

How is adhocracy working for us? There’s a consensus that it fostered entrepreneurship, a better sense of ownership in everyone and it brought us more agility to identify and serve market needs. We grew more than 40 percent organically in 2020 — a result that, of course, cannot be attributed to adhocracy alone. But we were pleased with our success and grew more certain that we had made the right choice for our company. Adhocracy can truly allow entrepreneurship to flourish, even at a large scale — and we are currently more than 5,000 people. We were also cautious enough to take the reality check the case study had handed us — mistakes are easy to make, and it’s wise to view your organizational structure as a work in progress.

Of course, the most important thing is to find what works for your business. Maybe it’s an adhocracy; maybe it isn’t. Regardless of your organizational structure, it’s important to continually work on refining it. Make it your own, based on the unique needs of your company. Because when it comes to business and improving, the journey never stops.

Related: 4 Considerations When Determining the Best Leadership Structure …

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Disruption happens every time we break with tradition to start something new. Of course, going against what has always been the norm can be isolating and frightening, but only in confronting discomfort, even welcoming it, can discovery begin. I often consider medicine a fitting analogy: after certain fractures, an orthopedic surgeon must cut the bone to realign it properly to prevent a bone deformity. It’s a painful procedure, but can forestall future pain and potential disability down the line. Or consider newborn babies, which wail for good reason; their lungs are working to evacuate amniotic fluid, adapt from carbon dioxide to oxygen and start the process of vigorous blood circulation within these first breaths — likely the most difficult they will take for the rest of their lives. Every great change in history, from the wheel to the Revolutionary War, has generated a process of disruption to achieve a new “business as usual”. The result is typically a system that’s stronger and better equipped to survive.

Being disruptive is more crucial today than ever, but it requires acknowledging bigger, scarier issues that we might prefer to avoid. The next stage in human evolution will come not through space exploration, but by having difficult and in many cases upending discussions about the state of humanity on our planet.

The following principles I’ve found are instrumental to developing a productively disruptive mindset.

Related: Why Should I Think About Innovation?

Find a moral baseline

To solve longstanding problems (such as poverty, hunger, gun violence and racial disparity) conversations need to be had about our moral baseline. Again, we’ll use medicine as illustrative: Upon diagnosis, a woman in an affluent gated community has a consistently better breast cancer prognosis than one living in a low-income neighborhood in another zip code in the same state. Put simply, postal code largely dictates the care received, not genetic code. Medical research has come far and we have breakthrough care available, yet we offer it unequally. As a society, we need to determine our priorities, set standards for human life, and then start forging a path towards meeting them. Additionally, most doctors and other healthcare professionals are still making determinations via methods rooted in old ideas about what people need and want. Disruption is about going to those places where people are suffering, determining what they actually need and coming up with new ways to get it to them. By establishing a moral baseline, more people can stop worrying about how to survive and start being more productive, even innovative — and only difficult, disruptive discussions can achieve this.

Solve persistent problems instead of popular ones

Those living in America have the luxury of being divided about whether to get the Covid-19 vaccine, but I’d suggest that the argument we should be having about it is inequality. At the time of this article’s writing, 83.5% of the U.S. population has received one dose, and 71.6% are fully vaccinated. Compare those figures to Africa as a whole, in which just 7% have received at least a single dose, and where eight countries have virtually no vaccine supplies at all. With so many people around the world working on securing everyone against this virus and so much of the global population affected by it, there should be more innovation than that.

Related: How to Tap Into Innovation, the Most Crucial Part of Your Entrepreneurial Journey

The pandemic has highlighted inequalities in medical care, to be sure, but they’ve existed for centuries, and in all applications of care. Developed nations’ research in breast cancer treatment, for example, does little for women in sub-Saharan Africa, where physicians battle powerful stigmas against mammograms and gynecological exams. For some African women, letting a doctor even give them a proper checkup is seen as a sin, and doctors have no way of effectively communicating otherwise. While some parts of the world are finding cures and treatments, others badly need disruption to come in and catch them up. 

Be less tolerant of suffering

If we want to end pain and misery, we need to be less tolerant of it, both around the world and in our own neighborhoods. Princeton is a beautiful place, but a few blocks from million-dollar single bedroom apartments, immigrants eke out the barest subsistence in shelters. As managing principal of Axiom Healthcare Strategies, based in that New Jersey city, I came across a note a patient wrote as part of a survey — communicating that without our nonprofit cancer support services, she would have been homeless. We all know these inequalities exist, but as long as they stay out of our line of sight, we can worry about them in silence. Until we ask questions that disrupt that silence, there will be no true answers. 

Related: Time to Innovate: Stop Settling for Great and Aim for Phenomenal

Nobody has the solutions to our biggest problems because few people have the courage to start conversations that address them, but when they do, they make a difference. In 1976, Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank innovated a loan program for poor women in Bangladesh typically excluded by conventional banking institutions — an innovation most people thought was crazy. Despite these doubts, the model proved profitable, created jobs, pulled families out of poverty and was generating an annual $155 million in revenue in 2006, the year Yunus earned the Nobel Peace Prize. Since its inception, the program has been adopted around the world, including the U.S., but it took time to get many of the women they support to even accept the money, including hard conversations disrupting their understanding of normal. 

We need to start paying less attention to superficialities and start recognizing that fundamental scarcities exist. Physics professors often give each student a paperclip, instructing them to bend it back and forth to demonstrate that all things must inevitably reach a fracture point — but when each paperclip breaks depends on the student bending it, how quickly and with how much force. By only paying attention to the paperclip once it breaks, we miss out on a hundred opportunities to ease burdens and stressors beforehand. Instead of waiting for our breaking point, we need to have hard conversations, confront the norm, and be willing to disrupt it.

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Legacy industries such as nonprofits, churches, agricultural organizations and even schools have historically been slow to adapt and evolve with the world around them. While budgets and resource constraints have certainly been at play, it’s the traditions and rituals that many of these industries were founded on that have contributed to a lag in transformation.

However, this past 20 months has proven to be an opportunity, as organizations have had to rethink how they engage with their customers, volunteers, employees, supply chains and more. As a result, more traditional industries have had to rely on innovative digital solutions to help streamline day-to-day operations and communication — and it’s a shift that’s here to stay. So, what are legacy industries doubling down on, and what’s next as non-technical industries continue on the digital transformation path?

Related: How SaaS is Changing the Way We Work

The need for digitization

If you would have told me 15 years ago that the number-one trend in the fitness industry would be “tech-focused” exercise and fitness classes, I may have doubted you. Yet today, the on-the-go fitness model has become a way of life for many. Digital interactive classes pioneered by brands like Peloton, who offer at-home livestream and on-demand classes, are wildly popular. And why? Because there’s demand. As consumer behavior continues to shift towards digital, organizations and industries need to evolve in order to remain relevant. 

I see this firsthand with many of the nonprofit and charitable organizations I get to interact with regularly. While nothing can replace a welcoming handshake, the days of Excel spreadsheets and piles of paper sign-in sheets to track attendance and participation are gone. The lines are more blurred between physical and digital interactions, and those that are responding with a multi-channel approach to reach their community are seeing better engagement. 

So what does that mean tactically? As organizations invest to modernize traditional processes, the need for management software is essential. It’s the first and most effective step to quickly be able to manage programs, analyze trends and engage with community members, volunteers and employees. Technology can also help identify where the current strengths and weaknesses of an organization lie, and allows leaders to make informed decisions on what to do next. 

Beyond a people-management system, investing in an app or digital-donation solution is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s an essential business need. Many charitable organizations that have traditionally relied on in-person donations to keep valuable community programs running struggled to find their footing this past 20 months. Those that were either early adopters, or pivoted quickly to respond to the need in 2020, have been able to keep momentum better than those that clung to their traditional ways. In fact, some of the churches we partner with have experienced a shift this past year, with more than 90% of their gifts being donated online now. And research shows that those who give digitally actually give more — a benefit for all.  

Related: How Tech Platforms Are Helping People Give Away More of Their Money

For other legacy industries, including agriculture, the capitalization of digitization and SaaS technology has allowed them to streamline existing business processes and some day-to-day operations. Digital agriculture has the potential to make the industry more productive and more consistent, as well as the ability to enable workers to use time and resources more efficiently. Digital solutions offer critical advantages for farmers, as well as wider social benefits around the world. SaaS in agriculture helps strengthen the financial stability of farmers with the adoption of smart-farm analytics. With past antiquated practices, farmers were left to make uninformed decisions with little-to-no knowledge of outside factors at play. We know that connectivity in rural areas is still a concern for many. However, digital tools can help hard working farmers leverage the benefits of cloud computing and carry out farm practices with intelligent, informed decision-making. 

Benefits of implementing SaaS technology

Advancements in SaaS solutions for faith-based and nonprofit organizations are not only helping churches and charity organizations manage processes and increase engagement, they’re improving communication and accessibility for community members. 

When researching digital tools, it’s important for organizations to consider what kind of member and donor data can be pulled from the tools and how user-friendly the platform is for the end user. SaaS solutions should provide seamless access to the organization’s media, targeted communication, interaction with groups, calendars and events as well as mobile giving. A strong management software, when paired with digital tools and solutions, allows leadership to regularly monitor members and workflow as well as offers the ability to analyze patterns in data. 

Applying modern technology to agriculture means efficiency across the board. Recent research from McKinsey brings to life the tangible financial and resource benefits of embracing digital. SaaS-technology farmers can monitor and control crop-irrigation systems from a smartphone and utilize crop sensors, mobile technology, data analytics and collaboration tools among farmers and researchers and representatives across the public and private sectors. This software enables farmers to chalk out work plans against weather forecasts. Mobile task-management tools and data-integration techniques are available, that will measure machine operations and production. Apart from this, there is also analytics software that helps farmers track costs, production yields and profits against benchmarked values. Once modern agriculture is applied widely in the near future, millions of farmers will be able to benefit from the acquisition of real-time farm information. 

Related: How SaaS Is Transforming the Multi-Billion Dollar Delivery Management Industry

Integrating traditions into digital opportunities

For some, discussing technology and SaaS with leaders of industries that place great value in long-standing traditions can be a sensitive topic. They’re accustomed to the ritual of taking your family to church every Sunday, going door-to-door to collect donations for your favorite charity, afternoon coffee with other local farmers to gather insights about crops and trends they’re experiencing this season — the list goes on. The reality is, those traditions and rituals can never be replaced. In fact, as a society, we tend to latch on to those special traditions and moments as some of our favorite memories. 

Yet, there is a space for digital adoption in that narrative as well. We have to think about technology as a means to enhance those traditions and connections, not to replace them. Time and time again, I talk with leaders that expressed immense appreciation for the opportunity to be able to reach more people through the digital tools and technology they’ve invested in. Or, for the family that is wrapped up in the buzz of kids’ soccer games and afterschool activities, having an opportunity to tune in online to their favorite nonprofit’s annual gala is a great way to still be engaged and a part of the community, even if they can’t attend every in-person engagement.

The question to ask is: How are you incorporating digital strategies and solutions to help maximize what your organization is trying to achieve? Bring those traditions with you as you explore new technology. Create ways to compliment those rituals and special moments. Moreso, are you thinking about the possibility of new (and digital) traditions that could spark joy for generations to come?

Though traditional industries have always aired on the side of caution with the implementation of digital solutions and tools, it’s clear the time to embrace and invest is now. The world has forever changed this past 20 months, thrusting us into an age where organizations have had to learn to successfully operate digitally in order to sustain and grow into the future. 

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Email has become the preferred way for people to stay informed about the brands and products they care about. However, the email marketers who enjoy the most success are the ones who adapt to the times. 

Email marketing strategies are always changing. 2021 saw many developments, some unexpected. Let’s take a look at five changes in the industry you should check before 2022 begins. Adapting to these changes and trends can be a great boost to your email campaigns.

Email marketing will become even more relevant

In most areas, the lockdowns have decreased consumers’ habits of shopping in-store. McKinsey & Company found that 75% of people have tried new shopping behaviors as a result of the restrictions. With online shopping and home delivery becoming more popular, there’s never been more reliance on email.

The number of overall emails (sent and received) has increased every year since 2017. The projected number of emails that will be sent every day in 2022 is estimated to be an astonishing 333.2 billion

For email marketers who want to make the most of their campaigns, this means you have a lot of competition in the inbox. So, what can you do to stand out? It’s as simple as planning and sending emails that people want to open. Customers will want to open emails that have real value. 

For those who have yet to jump on the email marketing bandwagon, it may seem like it’s too little, too late. This isn’t so. Even brands that launch a newsletter in 2022 could enjoy tremendous returns and communicate all the right things to their customers.

Open rates are no longer the “end-all-be-all”

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) went into effect in September of 2021. Citing privacy issues, Apple stopped senders from tracking open rates using invisible pixels. Chad S. White, the Head of Research at Oracle Marketing Consulting, pointed out that this will lead to false opens, noting that “all Apple opens will be massively inflated going forward.” The problem, in a nutshell, is that unengaged subscribers will appear to be active.

So, open rates are pretty much dead. This doesn’t mean that they’re useless metrics, but it does mean that they are less reliable. Instead, we’ll see more focus on click rates and overall email engagement.

In 2022, more one-on-one communication with readers and customers will be the key. In the coming year, try to reframe the mindset that email marketing is a one-way form of communication. Encourage replies, and when a reader sends you a message, by all means, write back. Interactivity is likely to escalate like never before, and you can be ahead of the curve by adopting before your competitors.

Related: How to Give Your Email Engagement a Boost Ahead of the Holiday Season

Data decay has accelerated

On average, about a quarter of an email list goes bad in a year. In 2020 and 2021, email lists have been churning even faster. For instance, at ZeroBounce, we found that 30% of our email database has become obsolete in the past year, so we had to let go of those contacts.

Why did this happen?

For so many people, their employment situation has changed. The lockdowns resulted in thousands of companies going under. Some people were laid off and many changed jobs. In what has become known as “The Great Resignation,” millions of workers left their jobs and some retired early. The result is a considerable acceleration in data decay.

With all the competition in the inbox, marketers can’t afford to risk landing in the spam folder due to bad data. Periodic email list cleaning is an email marketing best practice that will only intensify in 2022. Keep an eye on the quality of your list and remove outdated contacts by using an email verifier. If you have a dynamic list and get lots of sign-ups, you may have to validate them monthly.

Related: 4 Ways to Stop Your Emails From Going to Spam

A few extra email marketing tips to conquer 2022

Email changed drastically over the last five years, but last year there were some real transformations. The wise email marketer stays aware of trends, adapting to regulations and practices.

With some brainstorming and trial and error, there’s no reason you can’t be a trendsetter instead of a follower. Whether you’re a beginner or expert-level email marketer, here are some extra tips to conquer 2022:

  • Focus on click rates and conversions. After all, this is the name of the game. What content is leading to higher click rates and better conversions?

  • Keep spam complaints at bay. You shouldn’t get more than one complaint for every 1,000 emails you send. Remove those contacts right away.

  • Test plain-text vs HTML emails. Changing to plain-text or sending a more elaborate HTML email could make a big difference. Some audiences respond much better to one.

  • Experiment with shorter or longer copy. This depends on your company, products and, most of all, your audience. Test different lengths until you find your sweet spot.

  • Allow people a way to sign up. What’s the point of having a list if people have to struggle to subscribe? Have several sign-up forms and talk about your newsletter on all your other channels.

Related: ‘Abuse Emails’: What They Are and How They Impact Your Email Marketing

A spirit of experimentation can spark innovative email ideas

Marketers can learn much from all of the changes in email marketing and strategize on how to be ahead of the curve in 2022. Remember that trends start with someone. When you develop an idea, just because it’s very different and not practiced doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. A spirit of experimentation, curiosity and entrepreneurship is the right frame of mind when you want to use emails to their fullest potential.

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The majority of EdTech startups think that the way to succeed is to digitize traditional learning methods and amass as much content as possible. But nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the whole approach to learning in the digital era should be reimagined from scratch. 

With the advent of the PC and then smartphones in the last few decades, the world has changed dramatically, and we are now living in the age of distraction. We are always online, receiving hundreds of emails, messages, and social media notifications every day. Technology has cut the hours of the day into smaller and smaller pieces placing deeper learning out of reach. As a result, many people are at risk of missing life-improving opportunities.

Using our three years of experience in developing an EdTech product that fits the lives of busy adults, we have compiled a list of the top emerging trends for the EdTech industry that will shape the future of education. 

1. Bite-sized learning will replace traditional courses

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have found that the dropout rate of online courses has increased to 96%. It means that current digitized studying methods — let’s call it EdTech 1.0 — don’t work anymore. They require time and focus, which are nowadays becoming a luxury. So, we need an EdTech 2.0 solution. 

EdTech companies focus on creating bite-sized content to address users’ needs. There is no need to set aside hours for studying — you can take just 5 to 15 minutes a day to keep your knowledge updated and your mind in good shape. For instance, reading or listening to one book summary a day on the Headway app will give you crucial insights into 365 nonfiction bestsellers by the end of the year. But a short format does not mean superficial learning; you will be profoundly immersed into a wealth of genuinely relevant and helpful content.

2. Gamification is the way to motivation

It’s no secret traditional learning methods are dull and require a considerable attention span and constant striving. But with goal setting, gaining points, moving to the next level and challenges, games can make learning exciting and enjoyable to the modern clip-thinking user.

The combination of studying and game mechanics is called edutainment, first introduced by geographer Robert Heyman in 1973 as his genre of interactive films about animals. Initially, edutainment was used for children’s learning but later, adult audiences picked it up. As a result, the global edutainment market is increasing and is expected to reach $10 billion by 2025.

Gamification engages attention, encourages motivation and instills a willingness to learn. In addition, it transforms the studying process from a tedious obligation into something you would want to do with a cup of coffee instead of watching TV. 

Creating gamifying elements on the Headway app has partially met the need to study with excitement, not boredom. After introducing rewards for finishing the first summary and saving the initial insight, we have noticed a steady increase in user engagement; first-day retention has increased by 5.2%, and the number of new users who completed their first summary has risen by 3.6%. 

Related: Gamification, A Rising Business Model In Edtech

3. Knowledge is readily at hand 

Over 80% of the world’s population uses smartphones, and that number is constantly growing; it is expected to climb to 7.5 billion users by 2024. Most of the time, a smartphone is at hand. Do you remember the last time you went out without your smartphone? You probably went back right away to retrieve it. Our smartphones hold our plans, thoughts, work, social connections and entertainment, and they are with us at business meetings, important events, bed and even showers. Therefore, have a smartphone if you want to get closer to a user.

EdTech 2.0 products are accessible anywhere and anytime. For instance, if you are on your way to work on the subway or have five spare minutes waiting for a friend — just open your learning app. Nearly half of Americans spend five to six hours a day on their phone every single day, not including work-related use. So rather than scroll a boring feed, they could choose to have fun and learn.

Smartphones are becoming the main instruments in the self-education industry as they help make the learning process more efficient by interaction. It is no longer enough for the user to just read, watch or listen; they want to discuss the received information, share it and create notes.

4. Get to know your customer and personalize

YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Instagram and TikTok require users to choose what to interact with. Dozens of digital products compete for customer attention each second, so remember, you will have strong rivals if you are in EdTech.

You should offer something relevant to attract and retain users, and personalization is key. With the growth of Big Data and AI, personalization of educational content is becoming the “new norm,” making this trend applicable to EdTech services.

For example, Coursera asks users about their interests between lessons, analyzes their responses and offers courses that align with their interests. The Headway app also makes it personal. For instance, we create a unique selection of book summaries for each user based on their preferences and allow them to set their own reading daily goal.

Related: Here’s How EdTech Companies Are Creatively Revolutionizing Special Education

5. It is time for digital-native consumer brands in education 

The post-war consumer economy boom of the 1940s and1950s and the rise of new mass markets created consumer goods powerhouses. From the 2000s, the digital economy has been giving rise to digital native consumer services powerhouses such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple and Netflix. 

Today, the demand for accessible and entertaining self-learning content is apparent, especially during a pandemic that has emphasized online studying. According to HolonIQ, the global EdTech market will reach $404 billion by 2025, and the education apps market will increase 26% by 2024. Our growth is similar; at Headway, we develop EdTech 2.0, focusing on gamification, personalization, technology and short-form content. Our team has tripled using these principles and implementing new formats during the past year, and our revenue has grown sixfold. So, the numbers confirm it is time for digital-native consumer brands in bite-sized educational content.

Related: The Rise and Continuing Evolution of the Digitally Native Vertical Brand

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For anyone working in PR advisory or agency-side, our goal should be to eventually make ourselves redundant. Or, over time, reduce the retainer required for the outcomes we provide.

This isn’t a particularly popular view point within my industry, but after nearly eight years working in PR, it’s one I am willing to stand behind. Let me explain why.

Move away from measuring clippings

Related: Is Your Brand Ready for Public Relations and Press?

When I speak to startups or even corporations in a new business capacity, they tend to be looking for predefined, measurable outcomes. 15 pieces of coverage from a fundraising announcement, 10 clippings in targeted tier one and two publications for a new product release. This is understandable, and sometimes even necessary – in the startup world for example, investors may expect you to have negotiated an ambitious ROI for your marketing spend. This though, is a short-sighted approach.

Instead, think about how to create sustainable communications. This is the long-term approach whereby your comms activities become more efficient as your PR leads and marketing teams learn how to communicate on behalf of your brand, allowing spend to become more targeted and ultimately decrease your reliance on external PR advisory.

Use benchmarks and measure your improvement

Related: Look Beyond Your Industry When Benchmarking for Success

To build a sustainable communications department, you need learnings, and better that you have them fast. In addition to hiring expertise into your business, you can learn by testing your existing assumptions. If you’re a tech business, chances are you’ll already be testing assumptions about your product. You can do the same for your comms activity. By actively testing existing assumptions you can improve your own understanding of how journalists, industry bodies, readers and your customers respond to the PR work you’re doing.

Every PR campaign should be created as an experiment, with written assumptions and clear learning milestones. Pull together an outline of what you expect to happen, and then test against it – did you appeal to the right journalists – what was your response rate – what was your % success rate for pitching? Building out benchmarks to work with makes measurements possible and will allow you to see whether you are improving your efficiency and effectiveness over time.

By creating experiments and using innovation accounting to carefully measure metrics for improvement you will create a communications model that you can empirically test against. The next time you carry out a campaign, write a blog or pitch a story, you can use the data to refine your efforts, and as your company grows your communications will also share in greater efficiencies and effectiveness.

Related: Harness the Power of New Public Relations Technology

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Innovation is the key to a successful business, but it shouldn’t be the responsibility of a specific individual or group. Every team member has the potential to become an entrepreneur, after all, and it’s up to their employers to fuel this ambition. The payoff of this startup mindset will almost inevitably be new products and services that drive incremental revenue, and can even disrupt an entire industry, as well as an enhanced company culture.

This requires, however, offering the space and time for teams and individuals to innovate, along with an environment in which they’re free to fail as well as succeed. Here are four ways businesses can create it:

1. Hire lifelong learners

A culture of invention starts with the hiring process. Organizations should look to hire individuals who not only excel in skills that will directly impact their success in a specific role, but who also have an inherent desire to learn and grow. So, ask questions beyond the norm, such as,  “What have you recently learned that’s outside of your day-to-day work?” or “What is your favorite podcast?” These give insight into level of curiosity and the drive to absorb new information, and can help you understand what they’re passionate about beyond what they do professionally.

2. Encourage the sharing of new ideas 

Team members need a platform to share thoughts with the wider organization, otherwise they’ll keep potentially valuable contributions to themselves. And even if an offered idea isn’t “the one”, it can still set off a search journey for another one that is.

Company leaders can encourage a regular stream of insights through weekly brainstorms, an ongoing email thread or even a Slack channel. And while some staff members might be eager to share them with a larger group, others may respond better to one-on-ones, so it’s important to cater to what works for each individual. For example, at my company we established The Innovation Fund and Lab, which allows internal inventors to experiment, to develop ideas beyond our core products, without the need to generate immediate revenue.

Related: 4 Ways You Can Create a Culture of Ownership

3. Create a workplace that people love

A space where people work in an environment without judgement or fear is one where innovation thrives. One way to create that is to build bonds among employees through activities both inside and out of the office, such as eating together or playing a game of pool. These moments can also occur remotely with virtual happy hours and game nights. Another way of building connections is by integrating personal conversations into meetings. At the beginning of one, each team member could, for example, share a personal note with the team, which could be about weekend plans, or simply that they cooked a new meal for dinner.

Another part of creating a place where people love to work is making sure employees are recognized when they do good work. They’ll not only feel appreciated, but gain confidence in their role, which will inspire them to work (and innovate) even harder. 

 4. Offer innovation autonomy

Invention is often born out of giving people the freedom to reach a goal on their own; when they are given a problem with little to no direction on how to solve it, I’ve found that they come up with innovative solutions. And what they discover along the way might inspire new processes or products. 

Company-led events like hackathons also provide employees with an opportunity to push the envelope and innovate, either by themselves or with a team. Even if this turns out to be a time for them to focus on passion projects of their own, it might also get them thinking creatively about ways to approach internal issues, which turns into company-focused innovation.

Related: If You Want More Lasting Creativity on Your Team, You Need to Rethink Your Approach

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As the world continues fighting Covid-19, one thing has become very clear to just about every business: Safety and service/product delivery are linked. Customers around the world know this, and because they still aren’t sure about how risky each transaction will be, many are understandably nervous. The only way to draw them back to checkout is to strengthen the trust you have with them.

Related: Pivoting During the Pandemic: How These Businesses Succeeded

Fear arrived and never really left

When Covid-19 first hit, the fear factor was off the charts. People washed just about everything, left delivery boxes in the sun before opening, and went through countless gloves trying not to touch things around them. And although some businesses found it easy to implement touchless payment options, others struggled, either because of the costs or because of the way the transactions had to happen. When I went to Home Depot, for example, they offered Apple Pay, but the software at the terminal still required me to sign and click. These hurdles are still common.

Related: Marketing Amid a Pandemic: 3 Ways to Adapt to the Paradigm Shift

Creating a new industry-specific program 

In the salon industry, touchless pay has been especially challenging. That’s because stylists and owners rely on tips, and most of the time, they handle those by giving the customer a phone so the customer can digitally sign. That’s an issue, of course, because by trading the device, the employees and customers could potentially also be trading viruses.

My company, Vagaro, is based around providing software for salons, spas and fitness businesses and developing innovative solutions when needed. So, when I recognized this problem, I started brainstorming about how to create a new application that rewrote the checkout process to keep people safer.

At the end of it all, we created a safety program called Covid-Clean. The core of that program involves a new feature that sends the checkout process right to the customer’s phone. The stylist initiates the process, and then the software sends the customer a text message so they can see the total service amount, choose the tip they want and sign off to approve the transaction. 

The end of the appointment presents only one literal touchpoint. To make sure that salon workers could also keep control of how many people were in the salon when COVID-restricted capacities were in place, we added a new capability to allow customers to check into their appointments from their phones.

Related: The Pandemic Has Forever Changed the Fitness Industry. Here’s What to Know. 

Anything that builds trust is a viable option, so get creative for your situation

Right now, almost all businesses have some work to do when it comes to rebuilding trust and reassuring customers about safety. Developing a new Covid-clean feature has given salons a way not only to get more feedback but also to show customers we take their health seriously. These efforts have given customers peace of mind and kept salons from shuttering. As you look to improve safety in your own company beyond Covid-19, think about how technology can work for you. 

Tech doesn’t necessarily have to be your only approach. Use every option you have to build trust with your people, even if it’s just posting a sign alerting customers about how and when you clean. Keep in mind that the way you’ve been doing things is never written in stone and that adapting is a normal part of doing business successfully. As long as you listen and stay aware of what’s happening in your everyday operations, you can identify hazards specifically enough to put good solutions in place. 

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Every businessperson understands that innovation is essential. In commercial real estate, however, this principle is especially true. Since early 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic rocked the commercial real estate world, professionals in the industry came up with innovative ideas for not only surviving, but thriving. That kind of cutting-edge innovation will become more and more necessary in the future of the industry.

Real-estate professionals who want to thrive in the long term will have to become the most innovative in their field. Each year, the need for innovation only grows stronger. Luckily, the commercial real estate industry is capable of keeping up.

Sustainability needs will increase every year

As climate change causes harsher weather and the world races to become more and more sustainable, the commercial real estate industry will have to do its part. Both investors and tenants will be looking for companies with strong sustainability metrics.

Real-estate professionals will also need to find ways to keep up with new sustainability initiatives to remain profitable. A 2020 study found 40 percent of real-estate professionals saw increasing demand for sustainability among tenants, while 47 percent had seen increasing sustainability demand among investors.

As advancements in sustainability technology improve, real-estate professionals are likely to lose both investors and tenants to their competitors if they can’t quickly implement the latest tech.

Additionally, the requirements for sustainability may increase over time. Many U.S. states have implemented laws requiring commercial buildings to meet certain standards. California passed a law requiring new buildings to operate through solar power.

If you’re operating an older building that does not use solar power, you’ll soon be competing with solar-powered buildings, as consumer trends suggest that tenants will be more likely to choose the solar-powered options.

Other sustainability initiatives require companies to pay large fines if they do not meet certain standards. Failure to keep up with these standards could have a huge impact on the profitability of your investment. As the world’s goals for sustainability become more and more ambitious, real-estate professionals will have to become ambitious as well.

Related: Build Sustainability Around Your People, Not Just Your Office

The cultural shifts from the pandemic require

A 2020 report from commercial real estate company JLL found four main factors are impacting the change in need for office space: remote work, office design, commuting patterns and technology.

Many people expected remote work to change the commercial real estate industry — however, some of the changes are unexpected. Rather than everyone working at home, many companies are only partially remote. This requires office space to be optimized for video calls. The traditional open floor plan makes video calls more difficult, so office spaces will require more enclosed space than before.

Additionally, there will be greater demand for smaller offices, as companies have fewer employees on site. This allows commercial real estate investors to divide up their buildings and provide smaller spaces to a greater number of tenants.

Commuting patterns are also shifting. During the pandemic, many people moved away from cities and toward more suburban or rural areas. This means there will be more demand for office space in these areas.  Commercial real estate investors should look at less centralized locations for their new investments.

Demand for multi-functional places will require creativity

One of the largest upcoming trends in the commercial real-estate industry is the need for multifunctional buildings. As consumer trends shift, real-estate professionals will have to be creative to create buildings that can operate in many ways.

Coworking spaces will be especially popular as remote work continues, but remote workers will also want to be near others during the workday. It’s not enough to simply call a former traditional office space a coworking space and expect customers to come flocking.

To be profitable, you must take into consideration the interests of workers. They’re looking to be social, but not distracted. Unlike in traditional office spaces, employees don’t have to be in coworking spaces, so your space must be enticing enough that people choose to be.

Successful commercial real estate buildings of the future will likely have the capability for tenants to rent office space, retail stores, yoga studios, salons and any other type of business. Often these buildings may even include residential living. Real-estate investors should look at investing in properties where mixed-use is an option because it will be the most profitable.

Related: The Emerging Trend of Smart Home Technology in Real Estate

Automation technology will be a requirement

Automation technology will continue to advance in the coming years. It’s not enough to adopt technology that is already available and stop paying attention as new technology enters the market. Commercial real estate professionals will have to remain ahead of the curve in adopting new advancements in automation technology to compete.

The most successful real-estate companies to date have implemented new technology before their competitors. As the rate of advancement in technology speeds up, those in the CRE industry should become well-versed in the new tech tools available so they can advertise the upcoming possibilities to customers.

Related: How To Get Started in Passive Real Estate Investing

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Nowadays, the biggest driver of business growth is innovation. Innovation allows your business to expand beyond the horizon and find opportunities to enter emerging markets. That is why it is significant to integrate innovation into an organization’s culture.

A recent global survey from Mckinsey about innovation revealed that 84% of business executives believed that innovation is essential to growth. Furthermore, executives whom I have advised state that innovations that occurred in the last five years positively affected their company’s bottom line. Innovation is at the core of entrepreneurship, and every business that wants to grow needs to embrace it.

My stock in trade has been the field of innovation and as such, I have guided numerous companies across various industries in their innovation journey and attained breakthrough success. That is why I know how crucial innovation is in maintaining your edge over the competition.

Who are chief innovation officers?

About 20 years ago, the title of chief innovation officer did not exist in the corporate world. Today, a chief innovation officer is vital to most businesses. If you look on LinkedIn, you will see more than 400,000 individuals bearing that title.

Most chief innovation officers used to be the company’s chief information officers, who manage information, data and information technology-related systems. But the business landscape shifted its focus to innovation. As a result, companies need an executive who can help build a culture of innovation and create a competitive edge by developing new products or services through innovation.

Basically, a chief innovation officer bridges the gap between your innovation strategy and your business strategy.  To become a genuinely innovative company, you need to synchronize your innovation strategy and your business strategy. However, the role of a chief innovation officer may vary from one company to another. Some chief innovation officers help drive innovation by helping the company conceive and deliver new — sometimes disruptive — products and services while others focus on transforming their companies into more creative and engaged workforces. Either way, the role of chief innovation officers and innovation is more important than ever to help companies grow and prosper.

Related: Corporate Innovation Through Effective Startup Investing

The future of innovation

Whenever you talk about innovation, the topic is always accompanied by change. The business landscape is indeed ever-changing, but the pandemic further accelerated it. If you are not quick enough to adapt to the changes brought by the pandemic, you might be forced to shut down permanently.

One of the key ideas highlighted today is making your business resilient. As enterprises move forward in a post-pandemic period, organizational resiliency will be among the main goals, and innovation will be at the heart of becoming resilient. Chief innovation officers will help companies develop the ability to rapidly respond to unexpected events and the associated shift in customer needs. The key here is how to make your products and services flexible to cope with significant business disruptions.

Most people think that developing innovative ideas is solely the role of the chief innovation officer. But this is not true. Chief innovation officers do not have a monopoly of knowledge when it comes to new ideas. In most instances, the role of chief innovation officers is to cultivate a company culture that allows other people within the organization to develop new ideas. They do that by training people to become innovative and helping create a work environment that encourages individuals to contribute new ideas for the company’s benefit. Chief innovation officers can further champion an idea raised by an employee.

Related: 4 Ways Market Leaders Use Innovation to Foster Business Growth

Some key traits of a chief innovation officer

Nowadays, companies cannot be too passive with innovation. The business landscape is rapidly changing, and customer needs are also evolving at a quick pace; therefore, a chief innovation officer should always be vigilant in responding to these changes and be the beacon of new ideas and critical thinking.

A good candidate for the chief innovation officer role needs to possess a variety of integrated qualities to be effective in building a more innovative culture:

The first is curiosity. In the context of innovation, being more curious or in touch deeply with your customers will spark more insight and build more empathy. The more you apply curious thinking such as exploration, investigation and learning, the more likely you will generate innovative solutions that your customers want, need and can afford.

The second quality is championing divergent and convergent thinking simultaneously. Innovative ideas may come from all directions, and so it is important to cultivate diverse points of view to encourage novel thinking in parallel with critical thinking. Just because you have a big idea does not necessarily mean it will be a commercially successful idea. Chief innovation officers play a pivotal role in encouraging a balance between divergent and convergent thinking.

The third key trait is collaboration. Seldom do big ideas come from a lone genius. To ensure that good ideas become the next generation of new products and services, a chief innovation officer must collaborate with all levels of the organization.

Related: Covid-19 Will Fuel the Next Wave of Innovation

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