The Digital Imperative: How Companies Can Innovate in a Fully Digital Era

the eCommerce Growth Show
The Digital Imperative: How Companies Can Innovate in a Fully Digital Era

On this episode of the eCommerce Growth Show, Segmentify’s guest is Brian Solis, who has been called “one of the greatest digital analysts of our time.” He is a Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, the world leader in Customer Relationship Management (CRM). His research involves digital transformation, innovation and disruption, and change in leadership and management. Today, he talks about how the world of eCommerce is changing and what companies can do to keep up and what organisational culture and innovation mean. He also discusses his latest book, Life scale: How to live a more creative, productive, and happy life and his research on the disruptive power of technology and digital distractions. Go ahead and read our article to learn more about Brian Solis and his research on the digital world! The full transcript of the podcast is available here as well.

Valuable Learnings from the Podcast

This episode of the eCommerce Growth Show focused on Brian Solis’ experience and research on the evolution of technology and its effects on society. Here are some of the key points from his speech on the evolution of eCommerce: 

  • Technology has always been used as a solution and that there is always amazing state-of-the-art technology available. However, your intentions on how to use it are that counts – the purpose.
  • Being “digital-first” means that online services are a regular part of your everyday life. It involves taking an Uber, ordering food/groceries through an online platform, being on social media etc.
  • This past year, since the whole world had shut down overnight because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, everyone had to become digital-first.
  • There was ten years worth of acceleration in eCommerce in 90 days. 75% of customers from every age demographic have tried out a new retailer in this online economy. Moreover, 60% have stated that they will be continuing to use these new brands, so creating brand loyalty is more important than ever.
  • The only way to survive in this novel economy is to start thinking like the consumers to anticipate what they are seeking correctly because they are now asking for things other than products and services. They are asking the companies to care for the environment, society, and their employees.

Generation C

The concept of Generation C, where C is for connected, is about having a digital-first lifestyle, not your age group. Meaning that the more you use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Uber, any food ordering app etc., the more convenient everything becomes. As a result, you create a universe of your own of which you are the centre. Now, because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, everyone had to become digital-first since the whole world had shut down overnight. Noone exactly had a choice in this. 

Gen C is made up of people who know what they want and can get it. As Solis has stated, this is the standard. If businesses are not meeting this standard, meaning that they are not able to provide what is asked of them, they are bound to go extinct. 

Experience Divide

Solis explains what he calls the experience divide as the difference between what the consumers expect and what the businesses think that the consumers expect. What the consumers’ value and how they are making their decisions have been rapidly changing. The businesses have tried to keep up with these changes in the market. However, their efforts were only at the surface level, such as adopting eCommerce but not fully grasping what was expected of their specific online store. The market and the consumers continued to change even more rapidly as new experiences, services, and apps were introduced. Thus, the divide continued to grow.

Nevertheless, this experience divide is not something to be scared of. If anything, it is an opportunity – an opportunity to find out what is valued but not offered. The solution lies in thinking not like the executives but rather like the consumers you wish to reach and attract.

This is where Segmentify comes in! Segmentify’s business model is built on creating a personalised and unique eCommerce experience for your customers. You get to track and observe the data in real-time through the dashboard. The algorithm allows you to handle every visitor individually in real-time.

You can go here to learn more about how Segmentify works or book a demo to see the effects yourself! The demo includes a 14-day free trial, and you’re guaranteed to see the results within that period!

“Culture is the strategy.”

When the word “culture” is used in an organisational setting, what most people will think of our mission and vision statements and the like, Solis reminds the listeners that those are merely acts of culture. He argues that profiting should not be the centre of business activities. It should be the by-product of doing good for society and the world. That is culture. Culture is also how these ideas are communicated and visualised throughout the organisation.

Most of the innovation centres fail due to this lack of culture. People don’t feel that they are working in an environment with a culture of innovation. They are not encouraged to take risks and learn from decisions gone wrong. Instead, they are scrutinised for their mistakes. Innovation involves bending and breaking the rules, and even making new ones, and obviously making mistakes along the way. However, this is against everything we’ve been taught growing up. In every aspect of our lives, whether it is work, school or home, we are given rules to follow. That is why innovation is so difficult to attain and why it is crucial to create a culture that will make people see that rules do not matter. There is a new path that involves taking chances and trying and learning new things. That is the strategy. That is culture.

For a long time, technology was seen as the answer to every problem, including the problem of innovation as well. But the truth is there’s always new technology. What matters, as mentioned above, is how it is used – the purpose. 

Rewiring the Brain

In the last 15 years, with the help of the internet and then apps, our brains have been rewired to jump from one thing to another to follow a high that we get from sharing more, being online more, engaging more, and responding more. During this period, we never explicitly altered our behaviours and values. Instead, the change in our core values was almost in sync with the technology change. As a result, a new kind of social economy was created based on how much our online presence matters. Solis reminds us that those apps are specifically designed to be addictive. In fact, due to the increase in online presence because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it’s only downhill from here. 

That’s where his book “Life scale” comes in for anyone who wants to break this addiction and build a healthier relationship with technology to be more creative, happier, and more productive.

Accountability

Another downside of technology, of social media specifically, is the lack of accountability. These are platforms with no checks and balances, therefore deteriorated or false information is easily uploaded and distributed. The responsibility lies not just with these platforms but also with their advertisers. The latter should explicitly say that they do not want their brands to be seen in association with behaviour that is harming the consumer and society. Sadly, it is all about profits. Brian Solis quotes the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma and explains how false information is 6x more engaging than the truth and more profitable. He finishes by saying that we have to see we are harming ourselves and break the cycle.

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The Podcast Transcript

Carlos Monteiro: Hey, everyone. This is Carlos again with EVOLVE for another episode for the eCommerce Growth Show. We’re joined by Scott Emmons, and we have the honour today to be joined by Brian Solis. So Scott, please, you can introduce Brian, and we get to it.

Scott Emmons: All right. Thank you so much, Carlos. Yeah, we’re very lucky to have Brian join us today and spend a little time with us. And Brian’s a guest whose bio alone could consume the entire episode. His latest gig is Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, which we probably have to talk a little bit about today, about what that means and what’s going on in that role. It looks amazing to me. And Brian has been called, here are some quotes, one of the most creative and brilliant minds of our time, one of the greatest digital analysts of our time. A top futurist speaker, one of the 21st century’s business world’s leading thinkers. And it goes on and on. So basically a rockstar. And I know how much you love folks going through your bio Brian but wait, there’s more because Brian is also an eight-time book author. His latest book, Lightscale, which I’ve read, and How to Live a More Creative and Productive and Happy Life. So we want to talk about some of the concepts Brian talks about in that book today as well. We, of course, invited Brian today to speak about how all dark matter in the universe could be Primordial Black Holes actually. So thank you very much, Brian, for coming and talking on this really deep science topic with us today.

Brian Solis: Yeah, I stayed up all night doing my homework, getting ready for it. Scott, it is always a pleasure to see you. 

Scott Emmons: All right. So I’m kidding about the topic. So an impressive resume for sure. Brian, what we actually would like to talk with you today is about innovation, about digital, about humanity, and empathy and all sorts of things that I’ve been evangelising for some time now, and in a very interesting way. So I’ll start off just on a personal note that hopefully, you had a nice holiday. I’ll get on your end. 

Brian Solis: Yeah, it was nice. We’re out here in Lake Tahoe, where we’ve been sheltering in place since the beginning of the Pandemic. We had a white Christmas. It was a nice, tight family only. Staying safe. But when it comes to Christmas time, it’s really about your family, your loved ones and spending time together. Anyway, I just kind of wish that I could see my parents. I haven’t seen them since last Thanksgiving, actually. But I’m thankful for the blessings we have. How about you, Scott? It’s been a while, man. You’re looking good.

Scott Emmons: Thank you, Mike. Yeah, sheltered in place in Dallas, where we almost never have a white Christmas, including this year, but I compensated by covering my home in Christmas lights inside and out to give it that Christmas-y feels. Same, it was my household of three, and my daughter and her fiance came, and we hung out on the back porch, socially distanced and, had a nice visit and a safe visit. So it was nice to at least get to see them for a little bit for Christmas.

So I think you know when you and I first crossed paths, Brian was like at a brand innovators event in Las Vegas as the first time we probably crossed paths in person, which by the way, that was that event I was a little bit of a fish out of water because essentially here I was this technologist that was in a big room full of marketers. It was very interesting for me. And then the last time you and I saw each other in person was at the Innovation Mansion at South by Southwest, where you gave a little talk, and you were promoting the Life scale book and the concept at that time.

Let’s start with this role at Salesforce. What are you doing there? What’s it been like? That’s a pretty impressive organisation. So I’d love to hear what leading innovation at a company that Salesforce involves.

Brian Solis: I have a really unique role at a very special company. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a lot of folks at Salesforce for basically my whole career. And I’ve joined a real special group within the special company. That is part of the analyst relations team, competitive intelligence. And then my role, along with some of my colleagues, is to champion the stories of innovation, especially in these times, but also to explore opportunities for innovation. So I’ll give you an example. We’re all here in a global pandemic, and you suddenly have seen companies thrust into a digital imperative that has been an overnight necessity, 20 years in the making.

But when you literally shut down the world overnight, and you have to build, for example, working from home infrastructure. You have to build digital commerce. You have to build curbside or BOPUS infrastructure. That starts to seem like an innovation. And in many ways, it is for some of these companies, but now you have a sort of digital parody. We have a vaccine that’s on the horizon. We’re going to come out of what I call the novel economy here in a stage where you can kind of go on this new path of this digital imperative, where you are reacting to how the world is bestowed upon you, this gift of a pandemic or you can start to think about, well, if everybody’s doing this, what can I do now?

I’ve demonstrated that I can react this way to start to change the trajectory and break the mould moving out of, hopefully, this shutdown into an economy that’s going to help us be more innovative, more progressive and more experimental. And so in that role, I help companies explore what those opportunities are, and then look to help companies both internally and externally, still as an Evangelist, sharing all these ideas with everybody to help executives think differently about what those business models can be inside and out moving forward. So that’s the role, then. I get to do a lot of fun research, a lot of fun experimentation, and then a lot of thinking, Scott, and it is something that you and I have talked about over the years.

You, too, have helped sort of build a lot of cool technology infrastructure. You know how hard it is to get people to change. And that’s really at the heart of this. So when we get innovation and evangelism, it’s not just about what you can do. It’s how you get people to do it. 

Scott Emmons: So it’s even without the disruption that the Pandemic’s brought… If you think about back in 2017, when I was at Brand Innovators as an example, there was a lot of talk about innovation labs, right? You had companies doing these big profile innovation programs that had a very public-facing part to them as an example. I think you said some kind words about the time about the work I had done at Neiman’s, including being a model for innovation and experimentation as an example. Well, even before we got to 2020, right? That stuff, it all disappeared. And not just at Neiman Marcus, right? It felt like across the board. You saw a lot of programs that were going strong in 2013, 2014, 2015. Those kinds of timeframes sort of morph into something else. So especially when you’re thinking about smaller enterprises, enterprises that might not have a Salesforce kind of set of resources. What’s the right approach for today? What are they doing that’s the right way to go about it when we think about innovation? 

Brian Solis: Well, I’ll say this is one of the things I really appreciate about the role I have today. I work for one of the most innovative technology companies in the world, and my job is not to sell or even most of the time talking about technology. It really is to take an outside-in approach, which is to look at… I mean, if it’s one thing that I could appreciate about this Pandemic is that it’s allowed us to really see how the world is changing in real-time. And it’s through that lens that we can see, for example, where a lot of the problems were with yesterday’s normal, which is why I refuse to adopt a new normal or a next normal. I mean, this really is a control-alt-delete moment. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see all of the things that we couldn’t see before in order to move differently and create the future that we really want to see. And with retail, with hospitality, with travel, we’ve seen just the front lines of complete disruption over the last several months. We also saw where, for example, those innovation labs or those innovation investments or digital transformation in general kinda missed out on opportunities, right? 

You and I were brand innovators, but you and I have also been on the front lines of innovation for many years. There’s no shortage of amazing technology to go do great things. It’s the why it’s the purpose. And then it’s the ROI of how we turn those things into business models that are going to help us grow. And what we’ve seen too many times is that technology was used as the solution—but not really understanding, for example, when you have a pandemic, and people can’t shop the way that they used to shop. Or how amazing our magic mirror is going to transform your business now, right? Now, we have to look at what I call generation after generation novel, where you have all of this digital-first behaviour, right? That now has to be truly digital-first beyond all of the kids with smartphones, right? Or anybody who uses Uber or DoorDash or Postmates, or what have you. Everybody had to become digital-first because of the shelter in place or because of fear or because of anxiety or whatever it is, you know? And so you have not only people shopping or experimenting with curbside or BOPUS now. You have sort of this mindset of “Well, that’s convenient. That’s fast.” You essentially give the gift to any retailer or any business: Data. Which is saying these are the things that I prefer. These are the things that I don’t like. These are the traits, or these are the characteristics that you can learn from in order to build a better service and not just create digital touchpoints but to create a better service because you’re getting to know me, create a better experience.

And so really what I see or what I hope for is that right now, this generation and this novel economy where people are not only becoming digital-first, but they’re also re-examining everything in their lives, right? Things that they’re telling companies that are more important to them, like play a better & a more important role in society, make me trust you or help me trust you more. Let me see how you’re treating employees and customers during these times. You start to get real humans really fast in this digital-first economy. And so those insights, I think, are helping us understand what we’ve been trying to make sense of for the last decade—personalisation, real-time, mobile-first, app academy. Now we can actually humanise all this stuff to build a better customer journey, a better experience, a better relationship, a platform with customers that are changing right before our eyes. And that, I think, gives us that purpose that we’ve maybe overlooked for a long time.

Scott Emmons: Well, so yeah, there’s a really a ton of good points there. I know Carlos; you wanted to jump in on the novel economy.

Carlos Monteiro: Yeah, sure. Thank you. I listened to some of your podcasts, Brian, where I think in one of them, I don’t remember if it was the one for Salesforce, but you said that you started your career speaking a lot for the C-suite, right? For the C- level. And when it comes to the digital economy and digital natives… I am a millennial from 85 myself, and I see that I’ve had one experience… I’m an entrepreneur, but I’ve had one experience working for a large company. And sometimes, I’m sorry about the word, but there’s a lot of dinosaurs there, right? The question I have is more like, whom are you talking to today? Because there are a lot of millennials taking the C-level today becoming the directors or whatever. These are maybe the digital natives, right? Then you have gen X-ers or gen Ys, whatever you call, younger people than myself. So are you talking more to this generation to have them implement technologies in their company? Because maybe they get things faster. And I’m not saying we’re better than anyone. I don’t know if my question makes sense.

Brian Solis: It does Carlos. Well, Scott and I are just a little bit older than you, barely. One thing that I want to point out is that age has nothing to do with innovation, right? It’s a mindset. I certainly have worked with, let’s just say, multi-generations where people are stuck in whatever environment has raised them. The challenge that we have, whether you’re a digital native or you’re digital… what would you call it? I guess, immigrant. It’s really about what your intent is and also your experience of who you are, where you came from, but also where you’re trying to go. I still do try to talk to the C-suite because whatever age they are, they’re the ones making the decisions. I’m also going after the boards of directors and also shareholders, people who are responsible for the decisions that are often meant, and I know Scott can appreciate this, that are often meant for the short-term, quarter to quarter performance, shareholder value, stakeholder value, whatever that is.

But here’s one of the reasons why I really doubled down on exclusive research in the last year on what I called the novel economy. So I shelved all my research in March to just focus… Because as a digital anthropologist, I should probably say that, Hey everybody, I’m also a digital anthropologist. And what that means is I study how people are changed by technology and how that plays out over time in behaviours, decisions, but also at core values, beliefs, and norms. And those cultural rituals that helped me make sense then of where trends are going so that when we make big investments in not just technology, but also change and change management, in leadership, it is because we have a trajectory that’s going to make sense that we are trying to align with something bigger than ourselves. And so, to answer your question in that regard, was that in this Pandemic specifically, I watched a cross-generational group of people form. Which was based on if you, if anybody’s followed my work over the years of what I’ve talked about, digital Darwinism, which was based on this generation C concept where C stood for connected, it was whether you’re a millennial, Centennial, whether you’re a mature boomer, gen X, if you led a digital-first lifestyle, meaning you took Uber’s, you use Facebook, Instagram, you had your food delivered every now and then, like me, I had gasoline delivered to my house through an app called “Filled”, you really start to see the conveniences of life, where you become the centre of your own universe. And you communicate through that little screen basically for everything and what I had shown over the last 20 years with the dawn of the 90s, right? With the internet and then Amazon in 1996 and then the iPhone in 2006 and Facebook, Instagram, and the app economy, and all of those things started to push people forward in new directions. It was essentially the reason why eCommerce had been on an upswing over the years. But I think that Scott could appreciate it. Nobody really took it as urgently as they needed. It wasn’t just because a 45-year-old and a 25-year-old were using smartphones. It was because they were physically, emotionally and intellectually changing. Their standards for excellence were different. Their standards for great experiences were different. How they wanted to do business was different. How they researched, how they went through the discovery process was different. And then ultimately, what they valued in terms of relationships was different.

And then you bring this global Pandemic, and you have now everybody having to become digital-first. So again, cross-generational, so not just 20 five-year-olds who are shopping for food or using an app. Everybody has to do that right now. And when you do that, you become this; I lovingly refer to as “accidental narcissists”, basically somebody who knows what they want and can get it. And that is that standard. And if businesses are not rising to that standard, then they become a dinosaur, obsolete. Not because of age, but because of the experience that they provide or don’t provide to people. And now you add to that the somatic marker that is COVID-19, which is a deep, visceral, emotional, psychological bookmark within us that is going to forever change how we value things, life. In fact, if you look at some of the biggest changes in the last several months, how people spend money, how they don’t, what they value in life, how they define success, so much of this is different. Nobody’s gonna really… I don’t know how it is for you, Carlos, but over here, we’re not going to look at a roll of toilet paper the same way ever again, especially an empty one. In fact, so many of my friends are buying bidets, because they realised that the supply chain for toilet paper…

Scott Emmons: Good plan B, right? 

Brian Solis: It’s a good plan B, but for a diet. Nice one, Scott. I see what you did there. But the truth of the matter is this is a long-winded way of just saying that society as a whole is really changing. And now you’re starting to see this society split, especially in the United States, where we have politics playing into that somatic marker and enriching that visceral emotional response to all of this stuff. You have people who are angry and confused and anxious and fearful. So what you have thought, is this now… Here’s the silver lining and all, you have this real opportunity to understand how people are different from all of the assumptions that you’ve had over the last couple of decades of business models that you’ve been trying to pursue. We saw, according to McKinsey, ten years of eCommerce acceleration in 90 days. 75% of customers of every age have experimented with a new brand retailer service in this novel economy. And 60% have said they’re going to stick with these new brands and services and retailers. So now you have loyalty up for grabs. You have another wave of disruption beyond a pandemic about the hit businesses all around the world. And this is that opportunity to not just respond, but to grow in a new trajectory to be relevant for a consumer, gen N that’s being born right before us right now. 

Carlos Monteiro: Fantastic.

Scott Emmons: So first of all, you pretty much in that one response covered just about every question I was going to ask you, Brian, so amazing. I was like, stop him, stop him before there’s nothing left to talk about. I’m teasing, of course. So I completely agree with all of that. I’m definitely one of those consumers that have tried something new, and I’m not going back. I’m not going to retreat from the curbside pickup of my groceries. It’s just not going to happen. It’s just too good. It even caused me to change brands in terms of what grocery I use, based on how good the experience was. I won’t name names, but the one I’ve used for years was not nearly as good as the one I use now. So I’ll stick with the new guys that are better at it.

You talked about it at the beginning of that answer. I heard the ROI piece pop up. You and I did an interview together on another podcast called CXO talk. I was talking about how ROI was often used as a club to kill innovation. And you coined the phrase ROI meant “return on ignorance” at that point, which I loved and have repeated often with proper attribution since. How’s the, in light of all these new circumstances, ROI is a club mentality, do you think that’s dissipated? Are enterprises more willing to go out and take a chance?

Brian Solis: I think they have to be. This is why culture, organisational culture, has to become more important in this conversation regarding innovation, right? The whole premise of ROI and, of course, the play on it for “return on ignorance” was really about opportunity costs. If we do not do something, what does that do to our shorter and mostly longer-term impact? Because we’re so caught up in this sort of short-term mentality. Whereas people are changing now faster than ever. And what they want and what they value is not in alignment with what we think they value, which is why… 

Scott Emmons: Brands were barely keeping up before they started changing faster than ever.

Brian Solis: Yeah. It’s the same challenge they’ve always had because they couldn’t see the change. They projected themselves onto the markets. So they put their… I’ll just kind of quickly explain, this is what I call “experience divide”. We have decision-makers, right? So the club of the things that we have to make decisions about, right? Everything from profitability to employee welfare to… You name it. Just like the construct of a traditional business are all the things of which then the hierarchy of that business is designed to make decisions around for the best interests of stakeholders, and then the best interest of whatever the halo is at the top of the organisation, whether that’s shareholders and the board or what have you. All that’s fine and good. And over here, you have, especially now in this novel economy, you have the markets and how it’s changing. And people within that market and what they value and why and how they make decisions and why they’re making those decisions. And so over time, over the last 20 years, if you’ve seen Scott, experience divide was like building cracks. People were changing. Businesses weren’t. And they try to do these little things like “Oh, okay. Let’s have some eCommerce. Let’s have some cool things within the store. Let’s do whatever “…to try to keep at least whatever fibres they could stay connected to the market. But over time, as they got to experience new things, new services, new apps, they started to move more and more and more. And we started to see that disruption caused in-between is that experience divide, but it’s also an Achilles heel, right? It is your vulnerability. So a lot of startups, a lot of competitors would look right there and say, okay, well what do they value and what are they not getting? And this is why entrepreneurs and investors would zoom right there because it was an opportunity. Hence the ROI. It was also an opportunity cost if you weren’t doing the same things. 

Now, what we saw was that in the last year, this just started to go [PUFF]. And now, the same decision-makers over here cannot in any way continue to make the same types of decisions or employ the same types of ignorance that they were before. Because now this is moving further and further away. And what happens is when you’re on this site, and you’re looking that way, which is where we miss everything. When you’re looking back this way, you start to see obsolescence. You start to say that experience is old. That experience sucks. Oh, I have choices now, which is why we’re starting to see so many new experimentations, and they’re building bridges in their own way for their best interests. So if you’re not intentionally trying to do that, then you’re going to miss out.

And unfortunately, that is where digital Darwinism has come into play. We’ve ignored the sense of urgency for a really long time. There is no more runway to ignore it. And we have to now start thinking like the customers that we want to reach and not like the executives we have. Look, really been proud of, for the last several years or decades, where we’ve earned our positions of where we are. Now we have to almost re-earn everything to be relevant because the world is changing. And that’s the hard part. And look, we see that… It’s not just in business. It’s in life. You have people holding onto what they know, and you have people changing. And rather than understand why that change is happening, we project ourselves onto them, saying “You’re doing things differently than I’m doing them. And therefore, I’m going to dig in deeper here.” And that’s why innovation is totally a personal decision. It’s a personal transformation. That’s what makes it so hard is because you’re essentially telling yourself, “I have to change. I have to be different.” Your source of inspiration is right there.

Carlos Monteiro: What’s the… I mean, it’s obvious… But the role of culture in all of this? Because you spoke about short-term thinking versus long-term thinking. I think you’re speaking a lot about culture. I’m very closely connected with the folks from the conscious capitalism movement in Brazil. And we see that there are more companies trying to become like conscious companies, not just in the weak sense of the word, but really. There’s like a framework. I think Mr Raj Sisodia and there in the US did an amazing study about the whole food market and how they’ve done it. I don’t know if it’s changed after Amazon acquired them. But they didn’t have to invest so much in marketing because they are investing in the community and that kind of stuff. I heard you speaking in one of your podcasts about that culture is the strategy, right? It’s not like culture eats you for breakfast, but… And so that is fantastic. But in your role, can you teach culture? Because I think it’s a big part of your role, at least discussed, right? With the folks that you’re talking to.

Brian Solis: I think culture is something that… Look, if you look at… I wanna take a step back. Cause I want to back people into the answer to this question. So there’s a saying that you brought up for everybody. You’ve probably heard it. I think it’s attributed to Peter Drucker, which is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And the problem with that statement is that culture is the strategy. Culture is why you do things. What we tend to think about when it comes to culture is the mission statement, vision statement, our team offsite. But those are the acts of culture. At Salesforce, one of the reasons why I joined the company is because Mark Benioff promotes stakeholder capitalism, which is really about the why of business to make a better impact in society in the world, so not just existing for profit. The idea is that profit becomes a by-product of doing the right things for people for places, and things. We have this one philosophy where we give 1% of technology, 1% of profit and 1% of our own time to make an impact on the world.

That’s culture, right? We call our family at Salesforce our Ohana, which means in Hawaiian. And what we do every single day, especially during this Pandemic, when we have these internal sessions that Mark actually leads with other executives at the company for employees where we’re talking about what’s happening outside and what we can do to make an impact outside of Salesforce and understanding what… If you’ve seen what he’s done with PPE all around the world and sourcing that and helping the front lines… That’s culture. That’s leadership in helping people understand. Look, there’s this north star. This is why we exist and why we work together and where we’re trying to go together. And every day we communicate, how are we doing together? What’s the role you’re playing in how we’re doing this together?

So people feel empowered to move towards this north star that has to be done intentionally. So, for example, you might’ve heard me talk about Gapingvoid and Jason Korman, who’s the CEO of Gapingvoid. They’re a culture design company out of Miami, Florida. I’ve had the opportunity to work with them and do research over the years on how do you design a culture? And it can be done. It’s actually a thing called culture science that they’ve created, where you go through this work of designing what that culture’s supposed to be, and then doing the things every single day that bring that culture to life, but not just doing. It’s how you communicate. It’s the visuals that you have around. So all of this stuff, this is why culture is a strategy. It has to start there. You can’t just… Scott, I know you’ve seen this. This is why so many innovation centres fail. It’s because there is no culture of innovation where people feel like, Hey, 1) You’re empowered to take risks. 2) If you make a mistake, what’d you learn from it and let’s move on. Instead, we look at mistakes as being a source of failure. Nobody wants to do that. And then lastly, the biggest thing of why innovation is so hard is because every aspect of our life in business, at home, at school, in church, you follow the rules. You are given these rules. These are our comfort zones. When we talk about that proverbial comfort zone or the proverbial box, these are, this is our box. And when we’re asked to step outside of that box and think differently, we haven’t changed anything. We haven’t changed the rules. In fact, the rules still persist over here. If you make a mistake, if you don’t follow the rules, that prevents true creativity, true innovation. And when you get to honest to goodness innovation, innovation’s asking you to do one of two things: Bend the rules; break the rules; or maybe the three things, create new rules. That goes against everything else that you’ve been taught in life. And what makes it so hard, which is why culture is so important to help people feel like we can leave that behind. We’re going to go in this direction. In fact, you’re going to feel motivated, incentivised to go in this new direction. You’re going to feel like you’re being paid to take chances or to try new things or to have new ideas or to learn or unlearn things that are going to help you grow in a new direction. That is culture. Every organisation right now has to prioritise culture, in addition to technology, in order to be true, not just innovative, but just relevant.

Scott Emmons: In my previous role, it wasn’t just technology. It was creativity, and it was culture, and it was this sort of you had to mix those things together right to come up with something that was really a game-changer.

Let’s talk about some of the things that led up to the Life scale book and that some of the concepts you talked about there. I’d go back to say 2007 or so when the iPhone was introduced. That was a game-changing thing for me. I was doing kind of business intelligence and doing enterprise architecture and stuff like that back when that launched. Now all of a sudden all our customers were connected all the time. As for the smartphone phenomenon… Here we were trying to know the customer and deliver the right thing at the right time for the customer, and they knew way more than us. We didn’t have any infrastructure that could… We were out at the time. So from an enterprise point of view, we had that problem. But then you also have this being always connected to the whole social media explosion. My “always-connected” consumers, also all talking to each other across these social media platforms. Do you want to jump in on that, Brian?

Brian Solis: Yeah, well, look for better for worse, we were connected. We were always on, and that didn’t come with an instruction manual. And if anybody…

Scott Emmons: It went awry in some ways.

Brian Solis: In many ways. I’ll try to be as condensed as possible because this could be its own show. If you’ve watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix, you essentially see what what has happened. Let’s just say the data social is probably along the same time as the iPhone. Facebook, I think it opened to the public in 2006? Yeah. Twitter around that time.

Scott Emmons: Not that long ago, if you think about it, but it feels like it’s been around our whole lives.

Brian Solis: Exactly. And a lot of that is by design. So you have essentially a lot of practices that went into play, that went into, for example, gambling technology in casinos, gaming. It’s called persuasive design. Social engineering, it’s designed to change you. For example, if you think about before-Facebook, the idea of putting your pictures and of your family on the internet was probably something you would never do. And now you feel like you’re not living if you’re not sharing all of that stuff. So those techniques that went into these apps were designed to change our behaviours to essentially do more, share more, be online more, communicate more, engage more, respond more. And the more that they changed us with every new app. Snapchat, now you have to communicate through affirmation and conversations, and then you have TikTok, and now you have to learn every single new challenge that’s out there. You continue to change from your centre. Let’s say before all this stuff. You’re a set of references. Now you do this. Now you do this. Now you do this. But you never really had time to acknowledge to yourself that these were the decisions you were intentionally making. So your core values had to try to keep up with you as you’re making these decisions. This is why I said it didn’t come with an instruction manual. 

The same is true for the designers of these applications. They knew what they were doing in terms of incentivising us or encouraging us to embrace and adopt these new technologies. And once they had this, they had to keep our attention and keep us using these apps and services. So they keep changing the game and finding new ways. For example, one of the first examples of that was the light button. And what they didn’t necessarily study beyond that was, well, what is the effect of that on you? If you feel like you have to continue to keep up with this stuff, but also to get that type of reaction back from people, so you feel incentivised to share more. The early didn’t study, and if they did, it would be pure evil not to release this information before. What happens to you? It turns out that what happens to you is pretty intense. You essentially become addicted to a lot of stuff in micro dosages. There are six different chemicals that you get when, for example, you see a like or follow, or some type of reaction to a post and your body becomes dependent on it. So you share more, you do more, and the same is truly cross-platform: You like the attention, you seek the attention. All of this is happening without a doctor or without a mentor saying, “Hey, this is what’s happening to you. Be mindful of how this plays out so that we could sort of taking control of it in our own way.” And personally, it hit me several years ago when I realised that I just could not dive deep the way I used to. In terms of creativity, in terms of research and analytics, critical thinking. Because I was just so used to moving in a million ways. Every notification… I’d respond to every email, I’d have a bunch of tabs open and basically convincing myself that I was multitasking and keeping up with everything, which I was doing, but when it came time to write my next book, I struggled to get to the depth of how I was going to be 1) creative, but also 2) like unlocking this whole topic that I want to talk about in terms of this transition between personal innovation to corporate innovation or to global innovation or governmental innovation. I couldn’t get my arms around it. So I really started to study what were my behaviours and my routines were every single day. And I got to this point, like zeroing in on my relationship with social media and smartphones and apps and all of that stuff and started to then reverse engineer. Luckily I had, coming from Silicon Valley, a lot of access to, for example, a lot of people that were in The Social Dilemma to kind of get into doing my own research as to how did this happen? And then what were the effects? And so I did a lot of research with neuroscientists, with psychologists, with… My goodness! It took two years of research to kind of figure out all of this stuff that was happening. And then I presented on it in South by Southwest in… Oh gosh, I can’t remember… the year before this last year, so 2017, I think it was.

Scott Emmons: I listened to you talked about it in 2019? I think it was 2019. Maybe it was 2018. Let’s go back and look now. 

Brian Solis: Yeah, it seems like forever ago now with this Pandemic, but I also did research… Because the same things are true for… I was also doing research and stuff… Oh yeah, it was 2017 because a lot of the impetus was also the 2016 election, where I was doing research as to why people were so convinced that conspiracy theories or what was clearly false information were true in their minds. It’s a lot of the same types of things that go into that… that trigger internal responses. So I presented all this research like “Look what I found. Look, what’s happening. And this is why we’re here. Why we multitask, why we’re becoming more and more superficial, why we feel like we don’t matter unless we’re doing these things.” And somebody at the end of the presentation came up and said, “Wow, I had no idea. You blew my mind. This is really… Now my mind, my eyes were open to all this. I can’t unsee it. How do we fix it?” Well, I haven’t gotten that far yet. But I have a personal reason that I need to fix it, too. Because I couldn’t get that book, and that’s what became Life scale, which was… it turns out that the solution to a lot of this is taking control.

And look, there’s been a lot of conversations about this since The Social Dilemma. The answer isn’t… I mean, it can be, if you want to just turn off your phone or to get rid of it to distance yourself from technology. But that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to understand how do I be better with technology but be in control moving forward? So I’m not going backwards. I want to go forward. But how do I do that, and how do I take control? And it turns out that the whole book was research and how to do it because there wasn’t actually a real solution and how to move that in that direction.

Scott Emmons: It’s very prescriptive… The book, right? It’s almost a 12 step program.

Brian Solis: Actually, it is. I found a lot of inspiration, but also a lot of science behind why a 12 step program works, but also how to move it right. And in a traditional 12 step program, you’re breaking from addiction and trying to get yourself to a desirable state. Not unlike that here. I’m trying to get to a desirable state of a relationship with technology so that I can be better, more creative, happier, more productive, whatever that is. And the book, as you said, it’s prescriptive because you have to define for you which way you want to go. Hence the life is scaling. Where do you want to be, and how are you going to scale your life in that direction? And the same is actually true for innovation. The same is true for creativity. It’s actually a book of breaking distractions and actually making them work for you. But you’re also rewiring your brain and your body away from the destructive side of social media and technology in a way that’s actually more productive and positive for you. I think that maybe what I overlooked in the previous part of the answer to this question is that what had happened to us over the last 15 years is that we did get rewired. We got rewired for distractions. We got rewarded for jumping from thing to thing to thing. We got wired into thinking that we only matter when we’re doing X, Y, and Z, that when we get these types of responses, it’s why and how we matter to what extent. We sort of created this social economy that isn’t good for us.

As you can see it too, going back to the conversation with conspiracy theories and fake news and how we’re creating tribes around a lot of this stuff just as human nature, we’re actually not getting any better or getting worse. 

Scott Emmons: It feels that way. So let me bring all that into the context of the current situation. When you were talking about the book back, when I listened to it at the Innovation Mansion, you said the real problem is we’re placing greater emphasis on what happens on the screen and not at the moment. Now, for a lot of us, the screen is the moment. That’s all we have. I’ve been in this office with the exception of Santa kind of joining me briefly for the holidays unchanged since February, as an example. So my whole contact with the world is this screen at this point. How does that affect the whole life scale approach now?

Brian Solis: Yeah, guys, I gotta jump right after this answer, so I apologise. 

Scott Emmons: Yeah. Sorry. I lost track of time. You’ve had so much fun. Sorry about that.

Brian Solis: We’ll have to do this again because you’re asking some really deep questions, and actually, I have been thinking more and more about this. Post-Lifescales, I kind of wish that the book came out now because we’re only accelerating, for example, eCommerce and working from home and all of these new behaviours and opening up these new worlds to us. The same is true for the dangerous side of this is that we’re accelerating a lot of these challenges, for example, if you look at the cross-generational adoption of TikTok and you look up in terms of gen X, matures, and boomers who are adopting the platform, you could actually watch in real-time how they’re becoming addicted [and] retired. Though they think that the great illusion is that you’re more connected, you’re more informed. You’re more involved. But it has the back-end things like rewiring both your brain, but also the body because of the chemicals that are happening as you’re doing more and more of this. So I think the problem is actually getting worse, and you could see it. I mean, just look at the adoption of QAnon conspiracies. It becomes… 

Scott Emmons: Unfathomable, by the way to me. But yeah…

Brian Solis: It becomes really easy. Once you start to do this, then this makes sense. That’s why it becomes a truth and why people are so passionate about their beliefs. It’s all the same series of dominoes that gets you there. The difference is though what I learned is how you rewire that or how you rewire yourself away from distractions are different steps, different programs. But nothing’s going to get you to a better place without some type of intervention and some type of help and some type of belief that you could actually be in a better place. This is what makes it so difficult, and I’m watching this happen every single day. Every time I discover new behaviours because of now being digital-first. Like you said, being in this office or here, this is my world. I know that there are other things that are also accelerating, and yeah, I just wish I could go on this big promotional tour with Life scale sometimes to just kind of get the word out.

But I think, if anything, I can be thankful for the fact that Netflix produced The Social Dilemma because I think that did open up a lot of eyes to the problem. I think they need a Part II to kind of get into the information wars. And, and also lastly, I think there has to be some accountability. Honestly, Scott, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, all of these places where people are intentionally misleading others, like the Pandemic, for example, that was created. I hope people don’t believe that, the creators. And if they do, that is created and given a platform with zero checks and balances where someone else can watch it. And it is believable. Especially…

Scott Emmons: It becomes propaganda, literally.

Brian Solis: It’s believable. So I think the accountability has to go to the platforms, and the platforms have to be pressured by the advertisers to say, “Look, I don’t want to support this type of content with my brand. And I want user safety. I want consumer safety, and I want leadership to say I want the truth.” Right? Stop monetising. Unfortunately, it comes down to profits. It was set in the Netflix documentary is that this information is six times more viral than the truth. And so, when it becomes more viral, it’s also more profitable. And so until there’s…

Scott Emmons: That’s why you have all that clickbait at the bottom of very nationally recognised news agencies, right? When you go to their websites, you get down to the bottom. It’s like, what is all this?

Brian Solis: Yeah. If you look at them, I forgot his name. Sorry, but the head of Newsmax said in an interview that there is essentially no motivation to stop promoting what they’re promoting. I’ll just kind of leave it there because people love it. It’s engaging. People share it. The advertisers love it. So we have to sort of break that model to say, “Ah, we’re actually destroying ourselves by that way.” And it’s not scalable in any way, in any positive way. Let’s just say it this way: We’re going to need more than Life scale to do something.

Carlos Monteiro: Brian, if we can help you promote and go on that world tour and have people find your book, how can we do that?

Brian Solis: Well, I think what I did as I was moving into because now I’m 100% focused on innovation, and I did. I have to actually see how it’s going. I put it in the hands of some friends. If you go to life scaling me, we created an education program for coaches so that they could take the Life scale methodology and then become the teachers of the program. So essentially, instead of me becoming the Tony Robbins of Life scale, I’m giving it to people, giving them the infrastructure to then go and help others life scale.

Scott Emmons: Perfect. We want to be mindful of your time. There is so much more that we didn’t get to on my list of questions. So hopefully, we’ll get a chance to re-book you down the road and continue the very interesting conversation with you, Brian. We really appreciate you coming and taking some time out of your busy day to spend with us.

Brian Solis: Oh, Scott, it is my pleasure. It’s always good to see you. It is always good to talk to you. And Carlos, it is a pleasure to meet you.


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