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Technology Can Power Human Relationships

Stephen Ingledew


Is the evolution of technology outpacing the ability for organisations to adapt? Stephen Ingledew examines how we can thrive in an Era of Digital Darwinism

One of the terms used to describe our current era is ‘Digital Darwinism’. The term has been used to explain when technology and society evolve faster than the ability for organisations to adapt.

In other words, a form of natural selection in which organisations must learn to evolve in new ways to the digital era or die out.

The view being, as with original Darwinism, that it is not the strongest that will survive nor the most intelligent but the ones that are most responsive to change.

However, responding cannot just be about embracing new technologies as they emerge.

It will also need to be about ensuring technology powers human relationships and does not replace the need for people interaction, both with customers and between people inside an organisation.


For technology to power human relationships, the whole business will need to consider how it will adapt to the new environment of digital Darwinism.

This will mean shifting from a product centric approach to one much more focused on the human experience delivered to customers and stakeholders.

Alongside this, changing the emphasis from a distribution and sales push to one where there is greater focus on the interactions with customers and the experience delivered.

In turn this will mean adapting to more of a retail mind-set to ensure the organisation can engage on a human level internally and externally and not merely in robotic form.

In other words, shifting from traditional corporate relationship approaches based on faceless and opaque engagement to one based on genuine people to people relationships enabled by technology.


This will ensure that technology is recognised as being much more than just increased automation and greater efficiency, and can enable stronger human relationships with customers and other stakeholders.

For example, the shift from analogue to digital facilitates a far greater reach and easier interaction with customers at scale.

Similarly, using data to develop a deeper analytical understanding enables a much improved personal engagement. Communications can shift from a broadcast to a conversation, then brought alive through relevant story telling using social media channels. This enables organisations to evolve from being aloof entities to being more open, approachable and maybe even a bit more human!

However, this will require a comprehensive digital infrastructure that integrates all aspects of corporate culture from back office to customer engagement. A culture that will need to evolve at the same pace as the technological advances.

This does mean that embracing new technologies will have to be much more than leaving key decisions and strategies in the business solely to those with a deep technical know-how.
Furthermore, it may also require collaborating with new external partners in the market eco-system in a mutually beneficial and open way.

Of course, when seeking to adapt the whole business there can sometimes be challenges with internal structures and ingrained culture which can often result in a very inefficient spend on technology.

In this respect, a ‘business as usual’ approach to innovation, using technology to deliver incremental improvement will not be enough.


Instead, a disruptive as usual innovation approach could be used, one which focuses on upending existing markets and creating new ones to address opportunities and new competition head on.

A disruption as usual approach utilises design thinking and starts with the human need and relationship – not the technology or product.

Importantly, this methodology leverages human qualities of imagination, empathy and creativity through an iterative co-creation approach.

For example, empathy to have an intense focus on identifying ground breaking insights and busting established long standing assumptions by listening and watching customers.

Imagination to turn the fresh thinking into new ideas and create a portfolio of possibilities and potential disruptive solutions, co-creating with customers through visualisation of the solution with graphics.

Then creativity to rapidly build and test chosen solutions, embrace experimentation and not be constrained by a linear process and risk-averse mentality.

So enabling a fail quickly, fail cheaply approach is invaluable when no-one really knows what the winning bets are and technology options are rapidly evolving.


This approach to using technology to drive innovation can only be achieved by developing new internal ‘ways or working’ (WOW).

A way of working that focuses as much on the experience of the people in the business as it does on the power of the new technologies available.

For this to happen it will mean moving away from the traditional functional, linear, top down form of management.

This cultural shift is absolutely critical if organisations are going to best placed to respond to market disruption caused by new technologies and ever changing customer expectations.

Therefore, new technologies can only deliver real improvement in customer experience and commercial outcomes if it goes hand in hand with transforming the internal employee experience at the same time.

There are a number of aspects to this. First, adopting an agile way of working that delivers continuous actionable insights aimed at improving the customer experience and interaction.

In other words, genuinely buying into the ‘test and fail, learn and scale’ ethos of agile working. The agile way of working is an imperative when disruption is the new norm and enables co-creation with customers to thrive in delivering against unmet and new needs.

Second, a commitment to collaboration across the teams within the organisation. This means cross functional co-located teams talking a common language and purpose which then embraces the positive power of diversity in the team.

Valuing the creativity that constantly arises from the dynamics of a diverse set of people working together with a common purpose. This really unleashes a new mind-set within teams and ensures everybody can embrace new technologies to enable better outcomes.

It also ensures you don’t try to solve problems by using the same thinking used when the problem was created in the first place.

Third, empowering teams to experiment in order to encourage genuine innovation and dispelling the fear of change or making mistakes. This is all about empowering the teams that are closer to the customer and data to make the decisions and recognise that success is very much built on failure and learning.

Fourth, data and insights should form the basis of all decision making, not subjective personal perspectives of the most experienced or senior person in the room.


Evolving the way of working will ensure the business is best placed to continuously innovate using the new technologies that are shaping the way we live, work and play.

For example,

• wearable technologies to enable customer interactions when it is most convenient and relevant
• mining data from internal and external sources to increasingly personalise conversations and adopt ‘segment of one’ marketing
• behavioural data to have more relevant conversation with customers that delivers better outcome
• artificial intelligence to provide help and support for customers at key times of need and deliver this at scale

However, with technological opportunities, people matter most and this is why humanity must always be at the centre of our drive to innovate. A customer driven strategy with technology powering closer customer relationships is an explicit recognition that people do sit at the centre of what we do.

Successful enterprises will embrace new technologies but put human needs and relationships at the forefront of their strategy and as a result adapt in the era of digital Darwinism.

Stephen Ingledew

Former Managing Director, Customers & Marketing - Standard Life

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