How to get Telco off its Burning Platform

I have a couple of really interesting videos to share with you today. I think they’re both brilliant, though perhaps I’m biased because they largely reinforce thoughts I already share with the stars of each video. Well, reinforce, but they also significantly expand the thinking with some enlightening dots that I hadn’t previously connected.

Nobody is going out on a limb to suggest that our lives are increasingly impacted by digital experiences. In the storefront, our loungerooms, our games rooms, on the move anywhere, these experiences are enabled by the digital devices we interact with and communicate through. These interactions and communications in turn are largely supported by telecommunications networks.

So, telcos clearly play a crucial role in our modern lifestyle. Arguably more so than ever before. Yet telcos, generally speaking, have also arguably never been more threatened in terms of their business viability. Profitability is down (generally), but costs are increasing and so are risks.

The traditional telco business model is a burning platform.

The Ernest Hemingway quote springs to mind – “How did you go bankrupt?” Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

Yet the need for comms networks isn’t going away any time soon. In fact their need and importance is only escalating. So, between these two great opposing forces, it’s almost inevitable that change of significant magnitude is ahead. Like tectonic plates moving ever so slowly, but ultimately grinding and colliding, eventually causing a release of force of enormous magnitude.

Fault lines are forming, smaller tremors have already been felt. But the big quakes are surely coming.

The OSS and BSS industry is co-dependent with the telco industry. Dependent upon the success of service providers, but also influential in their relative effectiveness and profitability.

I’ve increasingly seen telco and OSS as nearing (passing?) the “next wave” stage of the S curve:

S-curve image courtesy of strategictoolkits.com

The question hangs impalpably – what does the next wave look like? What skills, talents, networks, technologies, etc can be carried forward into the next opportunity for growth?

The success of OSS and telco are tightly coupled but also have their own identities. Do they continue to surf the same “next wave” (red curve above) together, or does each industry find disparate waves?

As referred to in a recent article about the great telco tower sell-off, Bert Hubert has published a brilliant video describing how telcos have outsourced and delegated their technological edge. They’re in the phase of selling off assets and divesting skills to support the financial engineering of their organisations (I’m generalising wildly here, as not all telcos fall into this category, but hopefully you’re willing to grant me this generalisation).

The video is long, but well worth the watch to give you a sense of where telcos are on the black curve above.

Then our second inspiring video stars Jason Fox and Aidan McCullen. It isn’t specifically about telco at all, but it does ask us to dial up our constructive discontent and embark on a pioneering quest. It takes us on the journey of finding the red curve that will provide us with a leaping-off point/s.

There are so many quotable ideas in this video (which is embedded below), but I’ll summarise with only a few:

  • Organisations are good at creating new capabilities but are hopeless at destroying and removing the detritus that just weighs the organisation down (refer to my earlier posts on inertia and subtraction projects)
  • Rather than just doing things the way they’ve always been done, they argue that
    20+% of time needs to be engaged in more meaningful and thoughtful work
  • Senior leaders that are in a position to change the direction of an organisation are so busy dealing with short time slices and empire protection that there’s no time remaining for extensive reflection and planning. No time to cultivate emergent and divergent thinking
  • There’s a fixation on numbers and arbitrary benchmarks that lead to incrementalism. There’s little time devoted to contemplation, reflection or divergence, nor for embarking on a journey of learning and change
  • At approximately 31:00 there’s a discussion about the kraken of doom, a metaphor for disruption. It’s not a pot of gold, but a kraken at the end of the rainbow (or in our case, the declining slope on the black S curve for traditional telco models)
  • New story arcs (red S curves) need time and space where new thinking can flourish, and this isn’t just restricted to an occasional off-site strategy meeting
  • A quest is a journey to find viable alternative options beyond the default . A quest goes into the unknown to find answers that are exactly that – not yet known. Beyond the incremental. Every question (to the answers we seek) begins with a quest (a seeking of knowledge)
  • Leaders need to have a quiver of strategic options to jump to if/when the right conditions manifest. Most leaders don’t have the time to think/vision, let alone develop any quiver of options. 
    (Currently this is largely outsourced too by delegating to consultants or vendors that may have biases toward benefits for their own organisations. Consultants typically don’t have the same level of tribal knowledge that the in-house leaders do, but they do bring stimulative ideas from a broader industry involvement.
    However, this also poses the question. Do consultants even have the time to think transformatively themselves given that their focus is typically on utilisation rather than having time out for introspection)
  • Often leaders do get the call to adventure (such as seeing an inspiring idea at a conference), but generally don’t have the time to heed the call, and get too busy, eventually forgetting about the transformative call to action
    (Ponder also whether senior execs are typically built with the tools to accept and lead this type of quest. Do their skills and personality thrive on a journey of discovery of the unknown? Ponder also whether the explorative, risk-taking types tend to get killed-off lower in the org-pyramid by the aggressive politicians that instead rise to power in some organisations?)
  • A change-maker is lonely. The ones who do it best are the collaborators who can bring others on the journey. But Jason and Aidan ask you to recall the iconic scene in Jerry Maguire… when Tom Cruise (a leader in a large sports agency) asks,  “who’s coming with me?” when forging out on his own. Feel the cringe when watching the excerpt provided!!
  • The curse of productivity and efficiency doesn’t allow for exploration or growth or conducting experiments

It makes me wonder whether leaders should be encouraged to take individual sabbaticals to explore and quest. This would allow their 2IC to shadow the leader on sabbaticals. The underling becomes acting in the role, providing for their personal growth and builds organisational continuity protection. The sabbatical unlocks disruption. I imagine this sabbatical (of a month for example) would be as an individual rather than as a collective such as at a lengthy off-site

Even if no specific outcome is achieved whilst on sabbatical, the leader goes back to their normal roles with greater savvy, awareness and forward thinking to project into a strategic future. Their journey of enlightenment is transformative (the type of transformation that should precede any digital transformation by the way).

Here’s the second video. Again it’s lengthy, but I hope you find it as inspiring as I did:

As an aside, this video partially explains why I left big-telco and now work from the outside in to these organisations. I loved the work on big, complex, impactful OSS suites. But I jumped off because I needed time away from meetings and short-term incrementalism to ruminate. I needed to claw back the time for investigating jumping off points onto the red S-curve. Time to discover parallel / overlapping universes of knowledge.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the question posed earlier – What skills, talents, networks, technologies, etc can be carried forward into the next opportunity for growth (from the perspective of telco and/or OSS)?

What jumping off points do you think exist for telco and/or OSS? Leave us a comment below.

I’ve been exploring a range of them over the last couple of years and am excited by a number of the opportunities that await.

I’ll also leave you with the concept of disruptive models that have the potential to impact traditional telco (and OSS) sooner than you might think

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