What Your Kid Can Teach You About the Future of Your Business

What Your Kid Can Teach You About the Future of Your Business
Image credit: Pixabay

Want to predict the future of enterprise technology? Spend some time with an 11-year-old, if you can get him or her to look up from Minecraft. (I have the game at home and speak from experience.)

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Technologies that will make businesses run better tomorrow are, more and more, being adapted from technologies that the average teenager uses today. This phenomenon is only becoming more prevalent.

According to a 2014 study from IDG Enterprise, over the next 12 to 18 months, the “consumerization” of IT within organizations will have a net positive impact on business agility, access to critical information, process efficiency, user productivity and user satisfaction.

Brands that want to maintain a cutting-edge advantage as well as forecast what’s next for enterprise technologies need to develop and maintain a deep understanding of how people are using consumer technologies today. And that may very well mean that preteen of yours.

In fact, I’m continually astonished by the pace at which companies are successfully poaching ideas from consumer tech. You need look no further than how companies have adapted elements of social media and online chat to their own uses. Technologies like HipChat and Slack have taken elements of life online that have long been familiar to consumers -- from the chatroom, to the newsfeed, to emojis -- and adapted them for use within the workplace.

These technologies aren’t just adaptable to the enterprise because they’re familiar to employees, but because they emulate and build off of the authentic connections between and among people that are already in play outside office walls.

One powerful example is “Amy,” the email-based scheduling assistant from the software company X.Ai. When the user sends someone an email to schedule a meeting, he or she simply copies “Amy’s” email address, and the app goes to work extracting information from calendars and emails to set up a meeting automatically.

Amy is so real, according to X.Ai, that she often gets thanked and has even been invited out for drinks! Interestingly, she has a clear lineage back to another helpful voice with whom many more of us are familiar -- Siri, the no-interface software that lives on our iPhones.

Why is consumer technology driving enterprise innovation? Two primary reasons:

First, consumer-vetted tech lowers the barrier to entry and decreases risk. The high odds of failure are mitigated by relatively small losses, compared to what could go up in flames if an untested enterprise technology put the business on the skids. Remember when Uber’s entire system crashed overnight after it launched its own navigation system from the ground up?

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Of course you don’t, because Uber relied on consumer-tested systems Google Maps and Waze to get its navigation systems up and running. Only now is the company exploring the creation of its own mapping system.

The second reason that consumer technology is driving enterprise innovation is that successful consumer-facing technologies are built for real people, unlike so many mind-numbing enterprise applications with functions jammed together without a thought for how a normal person interacts with technology.

It takes only a handful of decision-makers to impose a solution on an entire enterprise; but, for a consumer technology to survive, each individual user has to decide to continue using it. The sink-or-swim environment in which consumer technologies exist makes for smarter, more user-friendly, more compelling technology.

And compelling is ultimately what great technology should be. It should not only be usable, it should make the user feel compelled to keep using it. In his best-selling book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, the entrepreneur and Harvard ethicist Nir Eyal lay out a four-step “Hook Model” for how to turn any type of product or service into a set of triggers, actions and rewards leading to reinvestment.

Ultimately, Eyal argued, developing products linked to people’s everyday routines and authentic human emotions is both cheaper and more effective than relying on expensive marketing and research. For example, he said, Pinterest has found success by tapping into the innate human drive to search for resources. Pinterest does this by offering users a universe of content to sift through while also streamlining their browsing process through its infinite scrolling feature.

The more a user invests in building Pinterest boards and interacting with the community, the more rewarding Pinterest becomes. It’s as addictive as game apps like Candy Crush.

The common denominator among successful technologies, then, whether they target consumers or the enterprise, is, unsurprisingly, a great user experience. With consumer tech driving enterprise tech more than ever, it’s critical for businesses to understand customers, how they behave, what they want and, most important, the reasons behind their behavior -- the all-important why?

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This allows companies to anticipate coming technology demands and maintain an edge. You’ve got to stay alert and find ways to talk to customers at a personal level -- even that 11-year-old.