The value of agents for professional speakers: 6 drivers to move to the next level


I have been a professional speaker for a little over 20 years, with my first solid paid gig in January 2000. I have undertaken many other ventures over the years, but I have been speaking consistently throughout, with it often being my primary source of income given the frequently long payback period for startups.

I recently reached a significant threshold in my speaking career. I am now represented by Provoke Management, an elite speaker management company. I was honored to be invited by its co-founder, author and speaker Brett King, and I’m delighted to be working with the exceptionally experienced Jay Kemp and Tanja Markovic at Provoke, with my talented colleagues including the likes of Jim Marous, Dave Birch, Robert Tercek, and Jo Ann Barefoot.
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How the Future of Retail will drive the Future of Travel


The travel industry is poised to expand in incredible ways, not the least of which will be due to rapid technological progress. The future of retail, in particular, and how top performing companies embrace such advances will play a significant role in shaping the sector.

At Travelport LIVE 2017, world-renowned futurist Ross Dawson’s keynote homed in on this point. There he shared his EPIC framework which identifies the four domains of value in retail and applied it to the world of travel. You can watch a video of the full keynote with slides here.
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How to become a top professional speaker: 5 key insights from a leading keynote speaker


Many people aspire to be professional speakers, traveling the world, sharing their stories and insights, with audiences hanging on their every word.

However, many more people desire to become professional speakers than those who actually succeed on that path. What have those who have thrived in this career done to achieve their objective?

Professional keynote speaker and futurist Ross Dawson shares five critical steps that have helped him gain the experience, insight and authority to have been invited to deliver hundreds of highly successful keynote presentations across 28 countries.
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8 key insights into the Future of News: Making media relevant to a 21st century audience


The news industry is undergoing radical transformation. It is also at the forefront of 21st century innovation. The convenience and hype around live video recording, social media, and a variety of new platforms and interfaces are helping ordinary people to become not only consumers of news, but also creators of news. What does this mean for the future of the news industry?

Leading futurist Ross Dawson gave some important insights on “Creating the Future of News” in his opening keynote to the 2015 International News Media Association (INMA) World Congress. Despite the challenges facing traditional printed news, Dawson pointed to our increasing demand for information. “Humans have an insatiable appetite for news and media, and that will continue to grow,” Dawson told the New York congress attendees. “News is exceptionally important for the future of individuals, for the future of companies, and for the future of humanity.”

Here are eight key insights into the future of news, drawn from Dawson’s talk at the INMA congress.

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1. Every organization needs to develop their media capabilities

We all thrive on the flow of news. The relationships between organizations and their customers are no exception. Today, “every organization is a media company,” Dawson observed. Consequently, organizations across diverse industries need to harness media capabilities. This involves creating an environment in which media skills can be developed and readily tapped. In fact, in the 21st century, most media is created for—and created by—everyone. The popularity of Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and many other platforms is turning individuals into news creators in widespread contexts.

2. News must be immediate, direct, and relevant

The decline of print media is becoming a hard fact in many parts of the world. Dawson is well known for his Newspaper Extinction Timeline that he created in 2010. Although the futurist believes predictions in general are unreliable, he created the Timeline to “wake up” people who were falling behind in the world of modern media.

The reality is, most people now expect news to be instantaneous. Recording functions on devices such as mobile phones and tablets mean that anything anywhere can be recorded and become part of the news. Open source intelligence is changing the news landscape as never before. As a result, timeliness and direct reporting are ever more important.

Relevance is also key. Technology is making it easier to customize news for audiences and individuals. Dawson showed how the social value of news flows into the industry value of news, with direct implications for the revenue of news organizations.

3. Boundaries are there to be transcended

Organizations must push the traditional boundaries of media if they are to survive in the competitive 21st century climate. In his keynote Dawson quoted Professor James Carse, the author of the influential book Finite and Infinite Games, saying: “Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.”

Dawson told the INMA audience that “[the concept of] journalism is a boundary which we need to transcend.” He cited recent developments in automated journalism as an example of this transcendence.

4. Engaging people’s senses and emotions is key

Visualization will be increasingly important to the future of news, as will interactive user experiences. Infographics, moving 3D charts and multi-format news are already on the rise. Media labs are now using emotion sensors to detect people’s reactions to interactive media. The proliferation of interfaces from smartphones to wearables to virtual reality is seeing new experiences such as Facebook’s immersive Oculus Rift headset, Microsoft’s HoloLens holographic computer, and Magic Leap’s 3D computer-generated imagery.

Applying new user experiences to create interactive news media has significant potential. As Dawson noted, the total global crowdfunding raised for film, theater and music was 100 times greater than the amount for stand-alone journalistic pursuits. This suggests the value people place on exciting, immersive experiences.

5. Organizations need intelligent platform strategies

The flow of news into the future will require platform expansion in order to create the multi-channel news and multi-party interactions appreciated by consumers. Consequently, organizations will need to build a structured method to understand how platforms develop relative to each other. Game theory can be applied to examine the trade-offs and contingencies of choosing particular platforms.

Another solution news organizations could consider is building their own platforms. With the right tools and expertise, this can create unique and compelling offers to attract users.

6. Inviting active participation reaps rewards

Nowadays, we are no longer mere recipients of media. We are participating in media. In some countries, people already spend more time on social media than on accessing formal news sources. News is mobile, and over the next five years, three billion more people will have access to smartphones and the Internet. In this context, news organizations need to consider the many benefits of inviting users to participate in news creation.

News organizations must understand that relying on their media professionals alone will no longer be sufficient. According to Dawson, successful companies will harness the power of crowds and automation to add value to their products and services. In his book Getting Results from Crowds, the futurist listed 12 applications of crowdsourcing in news, from iReport for reporting to Storify for story compilation to Cell Journalist (now ScribbleLive) for video. Dawson believes that organizations who pay their contributors—including the crowd—will attract a greater proportion of talented people than their competitors.

7. Aggregation is critical to entice subscribers

It seems logical that people are more likely to buy a subscription to a news source if it brings together most of the news that interests them. News aggregation is therefore critical to collating the types of individual, local, national and global news that appeal to an organization’s target audience. Furthermore, subscriber memberships will need to evolve to make members feel part of a community, with shared values.

8. Value creation flows between individuals, communities, and ecosystems

“True community is connection,” Dawson told the INMA audience. In line with this mantra, many newspapers aim to bring their readers together. Some, like The Guardian, even extend this to creating their own dating websites. Regardless of the method, the fact remains that in an open world, value creation occurs most beyond the organization, across ecosystems. The news organizations of the future will not simply create value for their participants, they will encourage them to create value in their own ecosystems. This cycle is crucial to the flow of innovation that media companies can mobilize to create an exciting and adaptive future.

6 key insights into the flow of innovation: Creating value in an open world


Embedding innovation into business structures is widely seen as vital for the future success of organizations. Innovation is enabling an extraordinary pace of change in the whole structure of who we are, how business works, and how society functions. “Innovation has become a flow, and must be a flow,” observes leading futurist Ross Dawson.

By learning about the flow of innovation, organizations can turn the realization that we are living in a world of innovation into a positive impetus for change. Here are six key insights into the flow of innovation, drawn from a keynote speech that Dawson gave at the 2015 APIdays Sydney conference.

1. Networks are at the heart of everything

“In a world in which we are moving towards a truly fluid economy, driven partly by powerful twin technological and social trends towards openness, networks are at the heart of everything,” Dawson says. In his book Living Networks, the futurist notes that we have shifted to a society where “value is created by the network, not by the organization”. Rich connectivity makes networks more pervasive, and it is in this connectivity that innovation becomes a flow.

The present decade is full of exciting possibilities because the networks in which we are participating are “coming to life”, Dawson says, and mimicking the workings of our biological networks. What conditions are allowing networks to come to life? Our ability to “enable the connection, enable the flow, enable the innovation, enable that diversity of things coming together”, the futurist observes.

2. Connections are most valuable when they are diverse

The value of diversity is becoming increasingly evident in today’s world. Diversity is key because innovation is all about bringing together different directions and perspectives that have not been connected before. The 1993 Nobel Prize Winner for Chemistry, Kary Mullis, pointed out the value of innovation by recombination, stating, “I put together elements that were already there, but that’s what inventors always do. You can’t make up new elements, usually. The new element, if any, was the combination, the way they were used.” The moral of the story: a team with a broader range of experiences is more likely to challenge conventional wisdom and appreciate the innovation potential of new developments.

3. Innovation with the most important impact occurs at the levels of the organization and the business model

Dawson distinguishes five main domains in which business innovation can be applied: the product or service, marketing, processes, the organization, and the business model. While innovating at each level is required, higher-order innovation is more likely to be repeated and to reap the biggest returns. This is partly because traditional, inflexible organizational structures depend on habits that reinforce the existing business model, as Rita Gunther McGrath observes in Harvard Business Review. Therefore, many organizations need to revise their structures and business models if they want to keep pace with change and reinforce innovation.

4. External networks should mirror internal networks

Klein bottle orangePicture an organization as a Klein bottle (left), an object whose inside and outside have the same surface. In a similar way, an organization’s internal and external networks must be integrated. This analogy shows that the dividing line between the outside and inside of an organization is increasingly fluid. Part of this fluidity is due to open data, says Dawson. He cites Amazon as a prime example of a company that harnesses platform thinking to open up its organizational boundaries. Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, gave all of his teams a mandate: to expose their data and to ensure that their interfaces are externalizable. Employees were told anyone caught breaking these rules or communicating outside the interfaces would be fired.

5. Open data creates value

Business is being shaped by a fundamental, ongoing trend towards openness. This trend is derived from a virtuous cycle where social attitudes shape technology, which in turn shapes social attitudes. Dawson explains that today’s leaders must manage three layers of information inside organizations: proprietary data, information shared with trusted partners, and information thrown open to the world. “There are massive risks to not taking action, not exposing information,” he warns. Organizations who cannot decide what information should be available and what should not are being left behind.

6. Value creation occurs most beyond the organization, across ecosystems

One of the most important messages from Dawson’s APIdays keynote was that “Organizations cannot stand alone. They must be able to create value across systems.” The notion of the business “ecosystem” is signalling a change in strategy: a movement from value creation inside the organization to value creation across a broader space. To succeed in this transition, leaders must realize that they cannot capture all the value for themselves, or their organizations will erode. This is because today’s networks are created not only for the creators, but also for the broader community. The only organizations that will fully develop the flow of innovation will be those that allow sufficient value creation for other participants.

Ecosystem web2
Image sources: Micah Elizabeth Scott and Rosmarie Voegtli

The future of analogue people in a digital world


A little while ago, I gave the keynote at Bridge Point Forum on Future Directions in the Digital Age, the title riffing off the conference’s theme of The Rise of the Digital Age.

I opened by making the critical point that, while the digital world is rising around us at an extraordinary pace, humans are completely analogue. Nothing about humans is digital. While we can conceive of and enact digital processes and thoughts, these are created from fully analogue neural networks.

This means that one of the most important frames on our future is understanding the interface between analogue humans and our increasingly digital external environment.

I illustrated the idea with segments of this movie of three Geminoids – essentially robot replicas of humans – together with their human models.

There is obviously a long way to go, but digital (and some analogue) technologies are getting closer to replicating some aspects of what we understand to be human.

Our analogue nature is in fact at the heart of what makes humans so much better than computers at many things such as conceptualizing, synthesis, and relationships.

There are many capabilities that were long considered to be uniquely human, such as playing chess at the highest level, yet brute digital processing power beat us long ago. Other amazing capabilities built on our analogue structure, such as facial recognition, are now being matched or transcended by digital capabilities.

All of which means that human interfaces with digital machines must be a large part of our future. They may be simple, such as visual and gesture interfaces that play to our analogue strengths. Or they may be more direct, such as the thought interfaces shown in this movie.

Perhaps an increasing number of people will choose to make themselves partly digital, as Kevin Warwick of I Cyborg fame has done. Or perhaps we will simply create better interfaces.

I do not believe our human analogue richness can be fully captured in digital structures (which is a subject for another post). Which means that the interfaces between analogue humans and the digital world in which we are immersed will be absolutely central to our future.

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Passion and the Future of Work


A little while ago, I spoke in the keynote session of the Richmond Financial Industry Forum in Interlaken, Switzerland.

I spoke on Passion and the Future of Work. Below are some distilled thoughts from my keynote presentation.

The future of work is perhaps the most important lens to understand the future of business, society, and indeed humanity.

Over the next decade and more we can expect the global landscape of work to change to an extraordinary degree.

There are two primary driving forces that are transforming work.

In a connected world, almost all work can be done anywhere.

And the exponential growth of processing power is enabling computers to outperform humans for an ever-increasing scope of work.

At the same time we have long been designing organizations in a way that dehumanizes work. As we design workflow around increasingly precisely defined jobs and roles, this has often taken out the scope for uniquely human characteristics such as imagination and ingenuity.

Today we must focus on the work and activities at which humans can express their unique capabilities and excel far beyond machines. (Read more on the dehumanization and humanization of work.)

What we are passionate about is very likely what we are best at, what enables us to express ourselves and our capabilties to the fullest. We can be sure that passion will be at the heart of the future of work.

For most of us there are two domains to have a real impact on the future of work: ourselves as individuals, and the organizations in which we are leaders or employees.

For individuals, real passion always comes from beyond ourselves, in being inspired by or having a positive impact on others, whether it be our family, or humanity, or even beyond.

Organizations must understand the reality of an increasingly fluid global talent economy.

One useful definition of talent is those who have complete choice in what they do and who they work for. These talented people are those who will drive the success of the organizations they work for.

Money alone will certainly not attract the most talented. They look for far more, including the ability to develop their capabilities, to work with equally talented peers, to enjoy their work environment, to have flexibility and choice, and to achieve worthwhile things that have a broad impact.

There will be a rapidly increasing gap between companies that truly offer these possibilities and can thus attract the most talented, and the rest.

One of the massive emerging opportunities for organizations is to tap the full breadth of capabilities of their employees. Everyone is multi-dimensional in their skills, of which usually only a part is expressed in a job.

Internal crowdsourcing is about tapping the ‘crowds’ inside companies, by drawing on their insights, experience, and creativity that may not be used within their formal job description. This not only gives the organization access to more capabilities, it also allows staff the ability to draw on more of who they are and their fullest potential.

Climbing mountains is a powerful metaphor for our lives. Early in our lives we can see the opportunity to rise from the valleys, to go up and engage with the extraordinary beauty around us. Yet after we have spent much of our life climbing a mountain, we may realize it is the wrong mountain.

We all have aspirations. It is important that we ensure those aspirations are true to ourselves, express who we are rather than what society or our parents tell us is important. Those ‘true aspirations’, when we find them, will always engender passion.

That passion, and nothing else, will drive us to create a future of work that we want for ourselves and for our children.

Crowds and the future of creativity and innovation


Recently, I gave the opening keynote at the Crowdsourcing Week on Connecting the Crowd: The Future of Creativity and Innovation. Below are the slides for my keynote. Please note that the slides are intended as visual support to my presentation, and are not designed to be meaningful on their own. However, they may still be useful or of interest to those who did not attend the keynote.

Here are a few quick notes on what I covered:

1. Humanity
As computers transcend many human capabilities and work is dehumanized, we must focus on the skills and abilities where humans excel beyond any imaginable machine capability. At the heart of those human capabilities are creativity and innovation.

2. Crowds
Crowdsourcing, in ‘tapping the minds of many’ through a wide variety of mechanisms, can bring about an extraordinary degree of new connections from which creative ideas emerge. There is absolutely still a role for individual genius, and we need to explore further the domains in which individuals or small groups excel, and where crowds can create unique value.

3. Creativity
Studies show that creative abilities are on the wane in the US. To remedy that we must allow the sexual life of ideas to flourish, enabling connections and networks to form. Organizational network analysis helps us to design more innovative companies and business ecosystems.

4. Structure
There are two primary constraints on taking innovation to crowds: Intellectual Property and Context. The former is significant though IP protection is often over-emphasized. Context is often more critical, as innovation often requires rich organizational context. The two major domains of crowdsourcing for innovation are Defined Tasks and Distributed Ideas, each with a variety of different platforms available. Internal crowds are appropriate where innovation requires the most context.

5. Opportunities
There are a set of capabilities that organizations need to get better at to build their capabilities at creativity and innovation, including outcome definition, communication of context, crowd mechanisms, and getting broader participation. They must look beyond their boundaries in order to get the best ideas and outcomes.

Avatars Ascending: How robots will affect learning, skill development and jobs


Steve Rainwater robot photo 640x426
“Today, when you get a degree, it is already out of date.” This observation by futurist Ross Dawson reinforces the challenge of keeping pace with the smart machine era. Dawson believes that employment, skills and learning must respond to the growing roles of robots in our lives.

Will robots assail or avail the jobs market?

In an article from CIO Magazine predicting smart machine innovations, Forrester analyst Tim Sheedy states, “2015 will be the year we start to see information worker job losses because of intelligent systems.” The article also quotes a startling forecast by Gartner analyst Kenneth Brant: by 2020, smart machines will disrupt the majority of knowledge workers’ careers.

The rise of robots beyond the household and the blue-collar industries is complicating career choices. Zarif Aziz, a new engineering student at the University of Sydney, believes that robots will eventually replace most human workers. By studying a Mechatronics major, Aziz hopes to one day design robots and thereby secure himself a career.

The demand for innovative machines certainly boosts jobs in engineering, technology, and science. However, as Ross Dawson has told CIO Magazine, jobs for humans are not necessarily declining. Instead, jobs are changing in the type and level of skills they require. This was a focal point of Dawson’s keynote speech at the Youth Festival of ICT (YITCon), hosted by the Australian Computer Society.

Having the will to master new skills

At YITCon, Dawson recommended upskilling as a strategy to retain employability. He suggested that skills in complementary disciplines are likely to remain in demand, especially skills that are globally applicable. A Masters in both business and data analytics, for example, could prove more useful than a Masters in business alone.

Furthermore, Dawson explained that people who actively participate in social learning and informal learning would adapt better to the future. Competitions, such as the programming contests run by TopCoder, can encourage skill development and learning from peers. Likewise, Dawson recommends engaging with experts on social media to develop one’s own expertise. This is because community interactions, whether in person or online, remain vital to social learning.

Social skills and emotional intelligence will be crucial to a future where we collaborate with robots. As Aristotle once wrote, “Man is by nature a social animal.” Our penchant for relationships gives us a genuine advantage over robots, Dawson asserted.

Learning to build relationships with robots

Collaboration with robots can actually foster mutual learning. For example, children learning to write can teach the CoWriter robot to show improvements in its handwriting. By watching humans, the Apprentice Robots developed by Pieter Abbeel have learnt to fold laundry and fly model helicopters without being programmed for these specific tasks. Using virtual reality and 3D printing technologies, a full working robot from hardware group Wevolver will soon accompany a hospitalized child’s friends to the zoo. The child will conveniently direct the robot’s interactions from a remote control at the hospital.

Despite the value in such initiatives, robots’ growing capacities for independent learning have provoked ethical concerns and inspired many a dystopian movie. Nonetheless, robotics specialist Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro remains optimistic about a future where humans and humanoids will develop close relationships. Robots, he believes, will become our companions and social partners.

Humanity ahead of machines

However, robots lack intrinsic humanity. As Dawson reminded the listeners at YITCon, our ability to make high-level ethical decisions clearly sets us apart from our avatars. And we shouldn’t forget the vital skill that lets us make robots in the first place: creativity. The power to create what we dream, as Dawson said, “keeps us miles ahead of the machines”.

Image source: Steve Rainwater

How soaring expectations of beauty are shaping technology and society


I recently travelled to Provence in the hills above Nice to give the keynote at the annual EuroCIO conference. I used my framework for the future of the CIO to point to the macro drivers of change in technology and society, and how these are shaping the technology function in organizations, and in turn the role of the CIO.

The single most important shift in society is that we expect more on just about every front that we can imagine. We expect more in everything around us, in terms of excellence in quality and service, opportunity for ourselves and our children, flexibility in our work, and openness and transparency from business and government.

We also expect beauty.

It is a core aspect of humanity for us to seek and appreciate beauty, whether it is in the natural world or that which we create.

Certainly art has been central to humanity from our very beginnings. Royalty and the wealthy have long sought to make even their basic tools, utensils, and lodgings beautiful.

Yet during the twentieth century we went dramatically backwards, as functionality was deemed paramount and aesthetics often irrelevant. Le Corbusier’s austere apartment blocks and their East German descendants were a powerful symbol of supposedly efficient yet soulless living.

It is telling that almost all the early personal computers were beige, arguably the ugliest color in existence. Even Apple for the first two decades of its existence stuck its technology in ugly boxes, even though their user interfaces set the standard in usability and attractiveness.

However expectations have risen rapidly over the last couple of decades, to the point at which most of us quite simply expect beauty around us, not least in the tools that we use at work and our personal lives.

After long suffering the same blindness as other computer manufacturers, Apple finally woke up with the revolutionary release of its multi-colored iMacs in 1998, making consumers realize they wanted beautiful computers, not ugly ones. Other manufacturers swiftly responded. Today computers and phones are objects of beauty and aesthetics almost more than of function.

All of this speaks of the rise of design, perhaps the central concept of the 21st century. Design is fundamentally about combining function and aesthetics within constraints.

We of course have extraordinary constraints, not least environmental and economic, however working within those constraints design elegantly brings us function. Elegance is essential, and beauty is a simple step beyond.

Beauty is about transcending the mundane. Today we expect that.

Functionality alone is not enough to succeed in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Beauty is also required. We expect it, we can have it, and we are not prepared to settle for less.

Our expectations are increasingly about self-expression, about surrounding ourselves with things that are aligned with the essence of who we are.

In every domain, from enterprise technology through to consumer goods, companies must realize that beauty is now a basic expectation of their customers. And as they do we will together create a more beautiful world.

Image source: Marcin Wichary