Jed Brown: Innovation at Work and What Makes an Intelligent Workplace
Jed Brown believes in the power of curiosity. Currently the chief product officer at SocialChorus, Brown has years of experience in the technology sector, including stints at Microsoft and Fuze. In an interview with Simpler Media Group, he observed the many challenges society has faced throughout history which resulted in uncertainty and changes to how we work. These challenges range from wars to the founding of new countries to various industrial revolutions.
As the world continues to change and as technology advances, many people wonder what the future of work will look like and whether the current workforce will have a place in it. But Brown believes the future is bright and that employees will have a place in the future of work.
“With myself and our employees, the approach has been to help instill a sense of curiosity and passion for the continual pursuit of knowledge and embetterment,” he said. “If we are open to change and learning, I believe there will always be purposeful things for us to do in our lives to make the world a better place. The worst thing we can do as a society is to be resistant to learning or improving who we are and what we do.”
SocialChorus is a sponsor for the Digital Workplace Experience fall event, taking place online Oct. 14 and Oct. 15. Brown is hosting the session “Innovating for the Future of the Digital Employee Experience” on Oct. 15. He’ll explore topics like the value of modernizing your intranet and how to build a unified engagement platform to get the most out of fewer systems. Brown spoke with Simpler Media Group about how to make meaningful innovation in the workplace, what workplace norms have been challenged by the pandemic and what does and doesn’t make a workplace “intelligent.”
Resilience In and Out of the Workplace
SMG: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned about the state of the workplace since the pandemic began? Were any of your previous assumptions and beliefs challenged, and if yes, how?
Jed Brown: The pandemic really helped reinforce what is important in the workplace and in my personal life. We humans are very resilient. We complain a lot, but we endure and make the best out of any circumstance. It’s a superpower I believe is overlooked and under-leveraged.
Life is short, and people have more opportunities than ever to do something meaningful with that life. We are seeing this in the job market with the number of people quitting or changing careers across every industry.
As someone who embraced remote work pre-pandemic, I was skeptical as to how big businesses would respond to a more fluid and home-based workforce, given their capability to embrace change. I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of focus and adaptability I have seen from even some of the oldest businesses out there.
SMG: When organizations embrace innovation, how can they make sure they’re making meaningful change instead of just innovating for the sake of innovating?
Brown: It starts at the root of how you approach your business. For example, pursuing 'innovation' leads you down the inevitable path of the innovator’s dilemma and pursuing an output instead of an outcome. From my perspective, true innovation comes from a relentless pursuit of solving the most important problems facing people today.
The most innovative products in the market are the ones that we can’t imagine our lives without. They start with trying to solve a problem that either hasn’t been solved yet or the current solutions don’t work. Then [they] relentlessly pursue making the lives of the users or consumers better. The most innovative products for me are the ones that over time feel expected and almost mundane — you can’t imagine life or work without them.
Going back to the question, the best way for a company to embrace good innovation is to focus less on if they are innovating or not, and instead on measuring what kind of impact on and problems they are solving for their customers. That relentless pursuit of delighting your customers leads you down the path of true innovation.
What Makes a Workplace 'Intelligent'
SMG: What is your definition/understanding of an 'intelligent workplace'? What technologies (and/or human capabilities and skills) make it intelligent?
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Brown: It starts with intelligence. I like to think of intelligence in the technology space as the magic that makes our experiences feel simplified and personalized for any given task we have at hand. [That may mean] helping me find a better route to work, understanding how many people are in an office to control the right temperature and airflows, or understanding the pattern of how we triage support tickets at work and automating some of those processes. An intelligent workplace is about simplifying the experiences we have as users of technology which ultimately can be measured by productivity and simplicity.
SMG: What technologies (and/or human capabilities and skills) don’t make it intelligent? Are there any misunderstandings that people have on what an intelligent workplace actually is?
Brown: Many people associate intelligent workplace with the presence of artificial intelligence in the workplace. I don’t care to venture that far. Some of the smartest “smarts” are pretty dumb pattern recognition, IoT sensors or even rudimentary if-this-than-that-like workflows, just to name a few examples.
Can AI help augment these scenarios for even higher accuracy and applicability? Absolutely! But for me, it starts at 'simplifying' experiences as we touched on earlier. The best skill sets out there to make this magic happen in the intelligent workplace are understanding human nature and having empathy. Being able to critically analyze where we spend our time and what subtle changes can be made that accrue to a much larger intelligence and simplification of our lives is what has the most impact.
To give another example, a good 'smart home' isn’t just a single device or experience. It’s a combination of hundreds of sensors and adaptive flows that simplify the experiences in a home from the smallest of comforts like turning off all the lights to the highest complexity of an alarm system and auto-locking doors. It’s a journey that gets better and better in the aggregate.
SMG: What would you say to business leaders who want the workplace to return to 'normal' as opposed to embracing change?
Brown: Walking back any type of change or evolution will be an uphill battle for any business leader who believes that any point in time in our past was the best and only good version of us. I believe the opposite. Everything that life and work throw at us is an opportunity for us to improve. A relentless pursuit of always getting better at what we do is a cornerstone of how we as humans have improved and continue to overcome so much, even in the most trying of time.
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