Unlocking potential

5 minute read

I finally made it to Oxford! As the United Kingdom began to depart lockdown, we were able to meet with about half our class in person for a hybrid Zoomies and Roomies Module 2: The Business of Data and Machine Learning at Saïd Business School.

It was truly a world-class experience – the opportunity to attend insightful discussions in person in an amazing facility, navigate the historic streets of Oxford, and spend time with some great classmates at dinner – finally able to eat in an actual restaurant again! It didn’t hurt that I was able to bring my family along for a day trip to share in the Oxford experience as well! Discussing life, liberty, the pandemic, and the pursuit of artificial intelligence helped unlock some of the trapped value of this programme and life.

A theme that resonated with me throughout this module was learning to appreciate the characteristics between traditional and digital business and operating models and their respective advantages and disadvantages. As I wrestle with my own understanding of where my organisation is, and more importantly needs to be to remain competitive, this module helped focus my thinking around the classic 'could we and should we' question of navigating change? Could we do this, balanced against the equally important question, should we do this? Studying the material for this module led me to revisit the topic of trapped value, weaved throughout our discussion of competition, disruption, and the journey to learning how to adapt traditional models to compete in the new norm of rapidly evolving digital ecosystems.

Graph demonstrating the trapped value gap

As one thing generally leads to another (we talked about causation), one book led to an interest, that led to an article, that led to yet another book – yes, I still have a book problem! One of our recommended readings was Competing in the Age of AI by Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani [1]. Their insightful discussion on value generation across traditional and AI-enabled business models helped me better understand some of the foundational challenges I face in my own organisation. 

Over the past weeks, I began to think deeper about the challenges and benefits of scalability while also appreciating the potential opportunities that edge computing strategies can offer. A chance conversation with some colleagues after the module led me to read an article on wise pivots – a strategy that can help traditional organisations navigate technological disruption. The original material came from Pivot to the Future, an interesting book that complements Iansiti and Lakhani’s discussion, further examining the notion of trapped value. A graphic helped me appreciate the challenge we face with digitally-empowered competition transforming markets – where traditional thinking meets AI-empowered disruption. I’m trying to not overuse that term lately (AI) because, to me, it really means a tool or set of tools to empower an overall holistic digital strategy. Plus, it forces me to unpack what we really mean when discussing these types of capabilities.

For me, this module was about learning to appreciate the benefits and pitfalls machine learning can bring to prediction and emerging market insight, the risks and benefits of rapid scalability, and learning to identify and unlock trapped value. There’s nothing easy about any of this, but it is essential for organisations seeking to gain and maintain advantage in an increasingly complex and connected world. Discussion throughout the week made me a believer in the need for a holistic data strategy and culture to remain competitive – something much more than traditional bolt-on IT capabilities as we were taught. The week made me think further about my own organisation, where trapped value resides, and the need to develop sustainable ways to access it, to gain and maintain competitive advantage.

Our value sets changed throughout the pandemic; a global event that accelerated a family of pre-existing disruptors. A shift in work from work-from-home has had a profound effect on our personal digital ecosystems. Our increased reliance on e-commerce fuelled an industry explosion of competition, widening the margin between tech giants and traditional bricks-and-mortar, in some cases to the demise of the latter. 

Zoom learning, good and bad, proved vital and demonstrated new possibilities and pitfalls for distributed learning. In many homes, this shifted digital connectivity from a luxury to a necessity, illuminating further a host of social and technical challenges to what may develop as a digital interpretation of equal opportunity. These are just a few of the disruptions we navigated over the last year that will continue to influence what we value for business practices, education strategies, travel necessity, and social interaction for years to come – the evolving new norm.

So I return to the idea of trapped value. This module introduced me to the digital aspects of this concept, something I generally always thought of as potential – potential in myself, my family, my colleagues, my organisation, and even my society. When I think of potential, I am often reminded of Robert De Niro’s memorable line in A Bronx Tale – ‘the saddest thing in life is wasted talent’. The key is to learn how to use your talent. Some can draw on this easily, for others it requires study, time and reflection to realise where their talent potential is and how they can develop it – just like the challenge of unlocking trapped value. Again, there is nothing easy about this, but learning to pivot your thinking is the first step to pivoting your organisation. Start small – how can you unlock your potential?

[1] Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani. Competing in the Age of AI: Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World. (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2020).
[2] Omar Abbosh, Paul Nunes, Larry Downes. Pivot to the Future: Discovering Value and Creating Growth in a Disrupted World. (London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2019).