In his recently published book, Reboot, author Jason Stockwood writes, “Technology is not delivering on the promise to make our lives more engaged and fulfilling, our businesses more efficient and productive, our societies more cohesive and informed.”
Stockwood has 20 years of experience with successful online companies including lastminute.com, Match.com and Skyscanner. He is currently the CEO and vice chairman of business insurance provider Simply Business – which has twice topped The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For list, where he has also been named Best Leader.
In the book, Stockwood looks at recent scandals within the tech sector and explains why certain companies have got their priorities wrong. He also sets out a blueprint for a better relationship between business, technology and society.
As we enter a new year, Stockwood tells THE STAND what can be done to fix what he sees as ‘a broken model’ and why the future isn’t as bleak as some experts might have you believe.
The reports of work’s death have been greatly exaggerated
There was an Oxford study by two academics, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, in 2013. A key takeaway was that 47% of jobs will go by way of AI and automation by 2030, and a lot of publications picked up on that. Everyone was like, ‘This is a rare time, and it’s unique in the aeons of history. So, good luck with it!’
As somebody who has been in technology for 20 years, it didn’t resonate as a balanced argument. My own personal experience is that these things are overhyped. When I grew up, the internet didn’t exist. We don’t know exactly what types of jobs are going to exist in the future.
I have a lunch at our business every couple of months, and 20 of us will meet up. I did a straw poll, and 15 of those 20 people are doing jobs that did not exist 20 years ago.
And it will be the same again. There will be a bunch of jobs that our kids will inhabit that you can’t imagine existing now.
Don’t believe the hype
I’ve been an investor, and there is so much focus now around valuations. People talk about creating the next ‘unicorn’, and, quite frankly, it’s the wrong way to look at it.
The venture capitalist community does a good job in funding start-ups, but their measure of success is whether they have an up round, or they can create valuations. It’s not necessarily about the types of customers they satisfy or the culture they generate, and you see that again and again.
“Customers couldn’t care less about what a business is worth. They care about whether your business can solve a problem.”
Theranos is just one example. Here was a business that was valued at $9bn based on this idea that it had the technology to deliver clinical-level blood trials by simply using a pinprick. But it was built on bullshit. The technology didn’t work. It’s amazing that fraud is still happening on this scale.
I think there is a simpler vision. Customers couldn’t care less about what a business is worth. They care about whether your business can solve a problem. Can you do it in a way that is ethical while you build a culture that cares about people?
Create a responsible brand of capitalism
In the digital world, the space between your culture and your customer is zero. If you don’t have the right culture, people will find that out.
Uber is a great example. Look at the values of Travis Kalanick. The role of leadership and the CEO sets the tone. It got to a point where it may be one of the most highly valued start-ups, but it began to build a reputation for unethical business decisions.
I sit on the board of an organisation called B Corp, which is about responsible capitalism. We’re seeing a growing cohort of businesses (including Innocent, Qbic Hotels and Ella’s Kitchen) that are registered as B Corps. They realise it’s the right way to operate and that the younger generation cares about these issues.
The true value of a business must be viewed in its full social context. Shareholders are a part of that, but work and business aren’t abstracted from society. It’s a weird idea to me that business should exist on this other plane and doesn’t have an obligation, not only to shareholders but also to employees, society, the environment.
It’s also a reality that if you want to get the best people to work for you, the next wave of young talent, then you also need to care about this stuff.
See more from Jason Stockwood on the future of work:
A blueprint for a better business
When we came into Simply Business it was a loss maker. We did away with timekeeping, process management, appraisals… and we focused on building trust. It sounds obvious now, but people get to choose their own hours and wear what they want. Nobody has an office, so everyone sits with their team; nobody is looking at the clock because you come and go as you please; and you measure people in output. You have a constant coaching relationship with your boss, so there are regular opportunities to get feedback as opposed to doing it on an annual basis.
If you spend your time setting out the vision and building trust within the organisation, then the work that gets done between the teams and the business simply needs leadership rather than management. I’ve often thought that management is the failure of leadership.
We also made sure everyone was a shareholder in the business. Everyone created the value, so they should share in it. For me, it only works if it all works.
Graham Weston is one of the founders of US tech company Rackspace. He said, “People want to be a valued member on a winning team that is on an inspired mission.” That pretty much sums it up for me.
Reboot: A Blueprint for Happy, Human Business in the Digital Age by Jason Stockwood is published by Virgin Books.
Ryan Herman is a journalist who writes about business, entrepreneurship and sport for publications such as Director and Vice Sports.