Get Reworked Podcast: The Digital Workplace as an Ecosystem

RBC's Aaron Kim shares how his team designs a digital workplace that balances efficiency and stability with innovation and disruptive thinking.

Get Reworked Podcast Episode 36 Guest Aaron Kim on RBCIn any ecosystem, it's the balance that is important. Too much of one thing can lead to negative consequences for the whole. It's a concept that carries through to the digital workplace.

In this episode of Get Reworked, we talk to Aaron Kim, senior director and head, digital workplace solutions, at Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). When it comes to the tools for a digital workplace, it's important to not get too comfortable with the status quo. A healthy workplace ecosystem depends on balancing that with innovation and experimentation.

Listen: Get Reworked Full Episode List

"When things change, people tend to long for what they lost or they miss the old days," Aaron said. "By doing that, they fail to see the new opportunities in front of them. There's a whole new world that probably has more opportunities than the previous one had."

Highlights of the conversation include:

  • How a biology student transformed into a digital workplace executive.
  • Thinking about the organization as a multiverse with multiple realities.
  • How to focus on the big picture while ensuring local teams have the tools they need.
  • Balancing competing priorities and navigating workplace conflicts.
  • How to use enterprise search to surface content relevant to employees.
  • The enduring legacy of Web 2.0 in today's enterprises.

Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak talk with Aaron about Web3 hype, Elon Musk's bid to takeover Twitter, hockey vs. soccer, and the enduring appeal of vintage 1960s Batman. Listen in for more.

Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Aaron Kim: We are not actually [the] architect of solutions, we're more like urbanists. So we're not trying to solve issues in a given house or building or street, we are trying to solve issues that impact the whole city. When you do that, typically, things that we do that help to solve the big citywide needs. What are the big traffic arteries, the subway lines, the sewage, the garbage collection for the digital city of RBC?

Mike Prokopeak: You just heard from Aaron Kim. Aaron is the senior director and head of digital workplace solutions at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Siobhan, you've known Aaron for a few years and actually have worked with him in the past. Tell us a little bit about him.

Siobhan Fagan: I do. I met Aaron first because he was actually recognized for his work in the digital workplace so I'm really excited that he's joining us today. He has worked in all different sides of the workplace. So he's been in emerging technologies. He's been in enterprise search. He's been in social collaboration, intranets, all those hotspots.

He also brings a scientific background. So his background is in biology. And he manages to find some applications to that in the workplace today.

So I'm really excited to bring him on today. Are you ready, Mike?

Mike: I am. Let's Get Reworked.

How a Biologist Came to Work in the Digital Workplace

Siobhan: Welcome to the podcast, Aaron.

Aaron: It's a pleasure to be here.

Siobhan: So Aaron, we brought you here today to talk about the work that you're doing as head of the digital workplace at Royal Bank of Canada. But before we dive into that, I wanted to ask you about something in your background. I noticed that your degree is in biology. And I was wondering how you made that leap from biology to work in the digital workplace?

Aaron: Yeah, I come from a family of biologists actually, my sisters are biologists, my brother-in-law is a biologist, my wife is a biologist. And I love biology, I love science in general. So it was an easy choice when I decided to do biology at university. The two areas I love the most in biology are insects in biochemistry.

So in my third year at university, I finally got this dream internship in research. I had the opportunity to work with the big expert in Brazil, work with the biochemistry of fireflies, and I was working with an enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD). This enzyme is key for fireflies to process the generation of light. And also, it's very important in general for understanding the aging of cells. So it's something super interesting in theory.

But what actually happened in real life is my day-to-day was working very long hours in a lab with no windows because we're working with light. And I was getting these bottles full of dead insects that I would put in a blender, run some tests and plot charts the whole day. And only a handful of people probably would understand what I was doing and the importance of it. So I found that even though I love science, I don't love the work of doing science every day.

So in my fourth year at university, I applied for co-op team in an IT company. And I was accepted, and then I found this whole new world. They basically gave me all the training in IT. And I found that the work I do today, in a few months I see it in action and I see it having a positive impact on people. I was fascinated by that world.

So I tried my hands in as many areas of IT as possible, like QA, Unix system administration. I was a database guy. I worked as a Java developer, architect. I did performance engineering, and finally, I landed in work with emerging technologies for the workplace. And that's our I'm still working today.

Siobhan: Excellent. I love it. So it's sort of a arc, a journey, if you will, from theory to practice. You gave us a very vivid description of what life was like in the lab. So what does a typical workday look like for you today? I hope it does not involve blenders or fireflies or anything of that nature.

Mike: In windowless offices. Yeah.

Aaron: It's very different. So I work with a team of 81 people and our portfolio covers social networking, the conventional internet, enterprise search, mobile apps for employees. We have an internal podcast platform. We work with health and safety solutions, occupancy how people use spaces, digital adoption, and also we have somebody responsible for the overall employee digital experience.

So in a typical day, what we try to do is to focus on what we call "big rocks," what technology solutions that would bring the most positive impact to our workforce. And as you can tell, over the last two years, a lot of that was working on health and safety because of the pandemic. And also the remote collaboration, because suddenly, we all had to go home and work from our home offices.

What's happening now is actually we're transitioning to technology to support hybrid workers. So people coming back to the office, and there's going to be this different arrangement. We're going to be in the office a few days, and we're going to be working from home a little bit. And because of this transition, we do believe that our mobile portfolio is going to start growing again.

The Organization as a Multiverse

Siobhan: So you talk about that move now into hybrid work, and RBC has 88,000 employees right now. So where do you start looking at the design process to deliver that for so many different stakeholder needs?

Aaron: When people ask me about this design process, I see, actually many people seem to expect that they would say something like, I start from a blank page, or I start with the design thinking process. But in reality, I don't start there.

I see large organizations like, you know, the Spiderman multiverse concept, where there's all these worlds that are slightly different from each other. So the organization is more or less like that.

So I see people working in other financial institutions or other large organizations in other industries as variations of what I see in RBC. So many of our challenges are the same, people say too many tools, too many interruptions, I cannot find anything. So all these problems are coming to any large organization.

So where I start my design process is by actually understanding how other large organizations like us tried to solve this problem, and how successful or not they were. So I spent a lot of my time talking to my peers in other financial institutions, in other large organizations, in terms of how did you solve your search problem, or how you're trying to solve it, how you are trying to address the need for collaboration, remote or on-premises.

And by understanding how different people solve their problems and the lessons learned, it informs a lot of how we tackle the problem, right? Sometimes you see something that worked better always say, maybe there's a close enough solution in that area, or suddenly say, nobody saw this, or maybe you're gonna try something new. So I always start not from a blank page but from drawing from the experience of my peers.

Taking the Big Picture View of the Organization

Mike: So you can look outside of the organization and see what others are doing. But you've got a lot of competing priorities inside RBC. How do you balance some of those competing demands?

And I guess, maybe starting us off with where does your work sit within the organization, are you operating kind of under the IT umbrella, are you operating under your own umbrella, are you kind of in a different spot in the organization?

Aaron: My group is in on the IT side, and we work very closely with functions that are related to all the employees like corporate communications and HR, and corporate real estate, because they also serve the whole organization, but I'm on the IT side.

And when you talk about how we potentially prioritize work between different demands from departments, I see our team are serving a mandate where we are not actually architect of solutions, we're more like urbanists. So we're not trying to solve issues in a given house or building or street, we are trying to solve issues that impact the whole city.

And when you do that, typically, things that you do that help to solve the big citywide needs, they take precedence over the ones that may help one department. For example, I always see ourselves trying to solve, what are the big traffic arteries, the subway lines, the sewage, the garbage collection for the digital city of RBC? How do we solve enterprise search, the need for information? How do I ensure that information is actually there, that information exists so that we can search it? How can we modernize the tools we have? Or how can provide a better experience for the tools that are legacy.

By solving this big problem that impacts everybody, we do believe that we end up helping each department. So that's why it's not that I'm ignoring the need for departments, but they tend to prioritize the work that would serve the whole enterprise.

Siobhan: So Aaron, I'm curious because oftentimes departments are very much focused on their own issues, and I'm sure are coming to IT with you know, this is my demand, this is what I need. How do you share that bigger picture that urban map with the different departments, is there a formalized process of sharing like how everything fits into the bigger hole?

Aaron: What happens, basically, at least once a year, we meet with what you call functional areas of the bank that serve the whole enterprise and define a roadmap of what you're planning to do for the next 12 months. That process percolates through departments, but when you think about departments, in the case of a company as large as RBC, they are very large, too, right?

So it's not that we're talking about the patterns of 20 people or so we're talking about departments of 2,000 people, so many of the things that you solve for 88,000 people, and we solve a lot of these situations for the department or 5,000 people, for example, we improve search for with a new algorithm or a new way to promote frequently searched terms, you tend to benefit of departments. So it's not that they are neglected, it's more that they benefit from the overall improvements in their own departments.

Balancing Competing Priorities and Navigating Digital Workplace Conflicts

Mike: All right, Aaron, so I think you're starting to answer the question I had as I heard you talking about sort of this urbanist idea for thinking about the digital workplace, and I think it's a really powerful metaphor.

I guess when I'm thinking about it from the urbanist point of view, trying to make sure that you're planning for the whole and not for the individual. You talked about individual departments and communicating to them. But the idea of the NIMBY, the Not In My Backyard, people who want to very closely control their immediate neighborhood and not allow things to happen in there that might be better for the whole. Can you talk about specific strategies to overcome those barriers?

Aaron: Yeah, what happens is, right, some technologies are more team oriented than cross-enterprise oriented. So for example, in companies are like a set of tribes, right, each department has their own mini culture there that you need to respect as well. So because of that, there are tools that we don't have a big say on saying, if your team was to collaborate in this wiki tool that you love, since you're using inside your team, I don't have a say, don't have an opinion about that.

But there are tools that are like the telephone, right, that essentially, if each one, they have their own system, it won't work. So we try to make sure that there's a healthy balance between two that are enterprisewide and converging around the same tool set, has a big advantage for the enterprise, and tools that are more department or team oriented, where they can coexist.

So I think having this balance is important. And the other part that's important is, if you say there can only be one, you're not actually helping innovation either. So we always try to have this mindset of keeping an incumbent or the one that, by default, you try to use this. But we always try to have one or two challengers to the throne, so that you are not just using something for 20 years. And then after 20 years, you don't have anything anyway to modernize things.

So having this framework of an incumbent and a challenger helps us as well to make sure that there's innovation happening, but there's still the economies of scale of using something across the enterprise.

How to Keep Legacy Tools Contemporary and Useful

Siobhan: Aaron, I first became aware of you when you won the Digital Workplace Leader of the Year Award at an event that we co-produced with Digital Workplace Group many years ago. And part of what made your application so compelling — I was a judge on this, I saw it firsthand — was the success you had rolling out a social collaboration platform at RBC. It had great adoption numbers, you had a number of communities that formed as a result. And I was hoping that speaking of this broader platform that is giving back to the organization, what were the long-term impacts of introducing that platform to the company as a whole? And I also am curious if you're still using the same one?

Aaron: We are still using the same one. I'm also surprised when I say that 10 years after. But what happened is, I was thinking about this today, right, the first iPhone was launched in 2007, so we are 15 years after that, and the phone, the iPhone that I have in my hands today is very different from that one. But the same way when we implemented the solution, the first social collaboration 10 years ago, it looked so different from what it is now, essentially, the one thing years ago was very bare bones, and we kept adding layers to it.

So over time, we had the opportunity to have chatbots layered there. We had machine translation for callers in Canada, so we need to have English and French. We added lots of different integration with other systems. So even though it's a 10-year-old system, it kept growing. And as part of this one thing that surprised me a bit was this at some point, probably in 2019, we more or less plateaued with the system, you had about 60,000 monthly active users.

And when the pandemic started, actually we experienced another huge growth there. We grew about 20%. Now we have 72,000 monthly active users, unique users. What we saw is as people started working more remotely, they started relying more on digital platforms to share content, because they're working in different times, in different time zones, in different routines. So even though it's 10 years, it's actually still growing, I can say, it's weird to say, actually, even for me, that 10 years on, our social collaboration platform is at the peak of its usage all time, from 2012 to now, there was never a time that it was so used as it is now.

The Evolution of Social Collaboration in the Enterprise

Siobhan: That's an excellent story. And I'm glad that it's still in use. For anybody in our audience who may be unaware of social collaboration and what that means internally in the workplace, can you just give a brief description?

Aaron: Yeah, it's a social part of it. Yes, it's also having WebEx calls and somebody, while we're waiting for other people to join, this person was wondering about why this friend of mine keeps sharing her Wordle results. I don't care if you took four attempts to find a word of the day.

But what people don't realize [is] that social is part of what you do, right? Especially in an enterprise context, sometimes, you know, things that if you only share with people, you're not actually maximizing the opportunity of that knowledge.

By providing a platform where anybody can share things even though they don't know who may be interested, creates the situation where more information more corporate knowledge is digitized, in order for people to access it, they can search for it, they can reach out to the person who is sharing the content, they may not know that the person even exists.

Social collaboration is basically doing collaboration with a mix of people that you know, that may need that information, and people that you don't know they need, but you're still sharing with them. Of course, following privacy laws.

Essentially, if you're sharing stuff that may be usable for others, you share it in a way that other people that you don't know may have access to it. And I think that has lots of legs, essentially people benefit from having more information they can have access to for their day-to-day jobs.

Using Enterprise Search to Make Information 'Gardens'

Mike: You brought up this a little bit earlier, but I think it's related to this point now, where you talked about part of the goal of the social collaboration feature was to get people to share information, and the sharing was the biggest piece of it, that you can digitize it, you can actually do something with it.

You brought up enterprise search just a few minutes ago, because that, to me, seems really critical here in the digital workplace because as more people — and I think you said 60,000 monthly active users at one point are adding this information in here. That's an incredible flood of mainly unstructured data, I would imagine. How do you ensure that people can sift through that and find what they're looking for when they're in the moment of work and they need it pretty quickly?

Aaron: That's actually an excellent question. So as we grow, I remember probably more or less in year six of our social platform, we started having that problem, right? Essentially, you say anybody can come here. We can create anything that you want. And after five or six years, it became a jungle of knowledge, right? So essentially, there's a lot of knowledge, but how you find it, how you find your way through it, and what's authoritative and what's not?

So what we started doing is we started creating this concept of you still can create whatever you want. But you're going to start creating a garden in the middle of the forest where the content is more curated, has more subject matter experts getting the content, and also it's more structured and standardized.

So we tend to create the concept of hubs essentially, more structured places where you go to a page about Outlook, or the page about WebEx, and they look more or less the same. They have the same structure, the same menu navigation.

And also, we started curating search results, we started monitoring the top search terms that people were looking for every month, and try to reach out to the experts in that area and say, when people search for how to change the password in the software, what's the best pages to point them to?

We started doing this manual curation in basically what they call the gardening of the information. And this made a huge effect. So people started finding what they are looking for in less clicks, and have more confidence in what they're looking for is actually the official word on it.

Siobhan: Aaron, I love how your biology background does keep popping up with the gardening and jungle and all these different things.

But that actually makes me think because it's clearly an iterative process. So to the question that I asked earlier, where I was talking about designing and thinking about designing this as a blank page, I think it might be more helpful to think of it in this sort of living, growing organizational approach.

Why the Digital Workplace Is Like an Ecosystem

Mike: And I guess the question I think about there, Aaron, is that scientific background that you have, can you talk about how you apply that scientific training to workplace issues? I mean, do you think that gives you a superpower, to bring back the Spiderman analogy?

Aaron: I don't think it gives me a superpower, but I think the two things that impacted me the most are a bit of the scientific method, when something is not working, I tried to understand multiple ways to test the theory. So sometimes we try different approaches with a new solution and see which one has the results were expecting.

And the other part is the concept of ecosystem, because often we try to think about very simple system that, I do A is going to have a result B there, but there are a lot of things, you control a lot of things that you don't control. So if you have an understanding of the IT solutions for the workplace as an ecosystem, where some things you can predict, and some will happen, regardless of what they're planning to do.

It helps you to plan for a different future, my metaphor, I can keep using the multiverse metaphor, it's like Doctor Strange. I'm not trying to predict one future. There's probably three or four potential futures here. I don't know how it's going to play out. But then I tried to prepare for each one of them saying, think about hybrid work, right? Maybe people will love it, maybe people will shape it in a different way.

So I tried to understand that as an ecosystem, where parts of it are unpredictable. But you can see early signs of how it's evolving, and then you can adapt in a more appropriate way.

Mike: Can you talk about where do you see the signals of those new developments, those new multiverses that are perhaps emerging?

Aaron: The biggest difference that happened to me is, I didn't have enterprise search in my portfolio before right. It was added like 2 1/2 years ago, and that made a huge difference as being this canary in the coal mine.

There's a book I love, the book is called Everybody Lies. They have a very good story where they say, Netflix in the early days had that wish list thing that you want to watch. I want to watch this documentary. I want to watch these French movies with subtitles, but they never did.

What people actually watched is what people like them are watching. So by having a recommendation engine that says I know that you watched these three shows and people who did the same, they liked the other show here, was a much better way to predict what people actually wanted.

So same way we search right? Search is basically a window in the soul of what people are looking for. You may not be sincere in your Instagram, or your Facebook or TikTok account, but in Google, you are, right. So you're searching for something it's probably something that you are really interested at.

So search is probably one of the strongest signs of, these are areas that people are interested at, and you can tell, if people are searching for something if they don't click on anything, it means that we're missing the supply side of this ecosystem, essentially, often where to find this. So many people are looking for, I don't know, leadership or this, and you don't have a good content describing that, so it helps us to work with the content creator saying, hey, these are areas that you may need.

The other signal that I find fascinating is chatbots. You see, we created these easy to use chatbots. Basically you put a spreadsheet with questions and the answers to the bot, and the bot converts that in some way, and becomes a chatbot for frequently asked questions.

And I have mobile in my portfolio, and the moment we released the chatbot for mobile there, we found something super interesting. When people had to call support and say what the problem was, they never raised a problem that's very frequent — people have their phones in their pockets, they sit on it and break the screen.

So but when you put the chatbot there, people who are ashamed of asking the question to a person, they had no shame in asking the bot, saying, I broke the screen of my phone because I sat on it, what do I do? So by giving these venues where people can actually express what they want without judgment, gives you a big sign in what people are looking for.

Are Surveys a Valid Tool for Asking What People Want?

Siobhan: I love that answer, Aaron, I'm just thinking of all the embarrassed people with their broken phone screens.

But to keep in this area, if people are not necessarily going to directly report, we've seen a huge increase in employee surveys, and also a lot of times when organizations are looking to roll out a new tool, they'll do a survey to find out what employees say they want. Are you saying that that's not necessarily the most effective way to find out what people really need?

Aaron: No, I think they're different angles, right? I think surveys are very valid as long as you understand that, even in surveys, people respond with what they think they want. In that same book, Everybody Lies. They mentioned surveys about who's going to win the presidential election, right, and they say that a better indicator of who people are going to vote on is when they search in Google the name of the two candidates, typically they tend to put the name of the candidate they're leaning towards first, and the other candidate after. They may not know. They may not realize that either.

So surveys are useful as long as you understand that not necessarily they reflect what the people really want because they may not even know themselves.

Underrated/Overrated With Aaron Kim

Mike: All right, Aaron, there's been a ton of great stuff so far, and I think a lot for us to sort of unpack and talk a little bit more about, but we always like to take a little bit of a break and get to know you as a person.

We've already heard some great indicators of your background and kind of where you come from and your perspective on things. But one of the things we like to do in the podcast is do a little game we call underrated/overrated. And we're going to throw a few concepts or ideas or thoughts that you and you tell us whether or not you think that thing is underrated or overrated. Feel free to give a little bit of explanation if you'd like.

Are you willing to play along with us?

Aaron: Sounds good. I'm excited for it.

Mike: All right, the one that I'm gonna throw out to you first is one that's been bandied about quite a bit over the last six to eight months. And that is the concept of Web3. Do you feel like Web3 as it's been talked about is underrated or overrated?

Aaron: Well, I'm gonna pepper all my answers with a shorter horizon, so I think that given this time they may be overrated now, but maybe underrated in the long run. So my answer is tempered by that.

So in a short horizon, I think Web3 is definitely overrated. I think Web3 will happen, will happen here and there, but it will take time in order to be the solution for everything.

The concept behind Web3, that's essentially, you found a way to have a scarcity in digital and that's big. I think that's actually a very useful concept. So by having that it's good to have many applications of it. But the part that I think is a little bit overrated, is when people say it's going to decentralize everything. I saw that already with Web2, right? When people are saying long tail, best sellers don't exist anymore. It never happened, right? The market force of economies of scale are so big.

So I don't think it's going to happen that way. But it's going to be successful here in there for some usages.

Siobhan: So Aaron, for the next one we're gonna bring it back to good old Web 2.0. We're looking at Twitter, and I'm just going to ask you, I mean, it's in the news everywhere, Elon Musk taking over Twitter, underrated or overrated.

Aaron: I think in the short-term is overrated. Most people will not probably notice the difference between the Twitter from the Jack Dorsey era and the one from Elon Musk. Over time in the longer run, we may see some differences, but I don't think it will happen in the next few years.

Mike: Okay, trying to predict the future of work. You know, there's a whole cottage industry of people out there who will tell you what the future of work will look like. Do you think that trying to predict it is underrated or overrated?

Aaron: I think it's underrated. I think it's possible to do but don't forget, I work in the financial institution, right? What you do is basically managing risk, and the way you manage risk is predicting three or four potential outcomes and say, this is the way that you do things for each one of them.

So I think it's very useful to try to predict the future of work as long as you're not saying, I know it's going to happen this way. What you're trying to say is, I know what's going to happen in one of these three or four ways, and this is how we're going to react to it. So in that sense is very underrated because it's super useful to go through that exercise.

Siobhan: All right, Aaron. So you started off the podcast by mentioning that you were raised in Brazil. You are now clearly in Canada. You're with the Royal Bank of Canada. So this is not exactly an underrated/overrated question. But I want you to see if you can pick one, soccer versus hockey?

Mike: And whole countries are listening, Aaron.

Siobhan: I know

Aaron: I know, yeah. So this is where I probably betray my roots. I wish I could say hockey, but it is soccer any day, any time. I watch the Ted Lasso series, but I like the player, Dani Rojas, where he basically says football is life. It's like that for me. I follow soccer almost every day, and I suffer with it, and I have joy in everything. I think it's great. And I can't have the same relationship with hockey even though I'm here in Canada for so long.

Siobhan: I love all of the references that you're bringing into this conversation. So football is life. I'm gonna bring you to another TV series now Aaron, and I'm gonna ask you to say if it's underrated or overrated. This is the 1960s Batman TV series, is that underrated or overrated?

Aaron: That's incredibly underrated.

Mike: Adam West rules.

Aaron: That's correct. There were so many Batman movies in the last 30 years and none of them gets even close to that one.

That was so bad that actually what that's what makes it so good. I remember watching reruns of that series with my mom as a kid, and she would laugh so much she used to say that she wants to be the villain, the old woman that had bombs in her hair. She said, this is genius, having this superhero that feels like he's not as smart as the villains in the series. I loved it.

Siobhan: So Aaron, I'm gonna share this with you. When I was growing up, my mom would often put my playpen in front of the TV and that show would be on in reruns, and so family legend has it that my first word was Batman.

Aaron: I love that story.

How Web 2.0 Still Resonates in the Workplace Today

Siobhan: So Aaron, part of your background, and we've touched on it a little bit, is actually in Web 2.0, and that relates to the social collaboration piece that you introduced to Royal Bank of Canada, and you spoke at some of the Web 2.0 conferences back in its heyday.

I was hoping that you could maybe talk a little bit about what that means specifically for our audience, but also just share, if you see any lingering effects or impacts in the workplace today?

Aaron: I think the simplest way to explain Web2 today is the original Web from the 90s was read-only. They were basically glorified digital copies of paper content, like magazines or brochures. And in the early 2000s, the web started becoming more of a two-way channel where people could participate, contribute and be part of the experience.

So this in many of the companies that are very large today are basically carrying much of that lineage of Web 2.0 like Google, Facebook, Amazon. So they're still around and very big, much bigger than they were at that time.

And the influence in the workplace, because people started expecting that from your workplace, right, having the ability to have transactions processed as efficiently as you get in Amazon, or content that could be very broad and authoritative, like what you have in Wikipedia. So I think they created the expectation of a high bar for what can find in your workplace, impacted us big time. And I think it's a good thing. Not always you can meet that bar, but essentially having something to aspire to is big even today.

But there are a lot of parts Web2 that never materialized, right? I mentioned the part about the long tail. I remember, I find the book (The Long Tail), the Chris Anderson book on long tail brilliant even today. It's just that I think the cover said something along the lines of the future is to sell less of more. And that was only partially realized, right. Essentially we still have big best sellers. We have all these things. Netflix you can find very obscure things if you have a very particular taste. So a bit of that happened. But the death of best sellers, or blockbusters, never happened.

Mike: Yeah, as you think talking about the Netflix, it's sort of like you're right, I mean, they created these niche shows that served a very particular audience, but then they would kill them after a season because there wasn't, surprise, there wasn't, you know, a huge blockbuster that came out of it. So yeah, you're right, it's sort of the business conditions kind of have dictated something a little bit different in reality.

So I'm looking at kind of what comes next, as you look at the lessons of the Web 2.0 world and where we're at now, which feels like maybe we're in between things. Are there lessons that can be applied from that period that you think we should all be paying attention to?

Aaron: The lesson I have from the Web 2.0 is that at that time, it looked like it was a revolution. I think it felt that oh my God, the world is changing so much. But when I look back now it was a gradual thing happening, right? Many of the things that we started to say, oh, this is happening, they started happening in the late 90s, not in the early 2000s. They were a continual kind of progression.

But what changed my thinking is the pandemic. Essentially, the pandemic is actually something that was cataclysmic in the sense of saying, oh, my God, this actually changes a lot. Because it changed a lot, I think there are so many new opportunities for us to think about this.

When things change, people tend to long for what they lost or they miss the old days. By doing that, they fail to see the new opportunities in front of them. There's a whole new world that probably has more opportunities than the previous one had.

So I keep thinking about this hybrid work thing. and people are saying I don't want to go to the office anymore, but I think the beauty of what may come in the future is, the old way of working when people were all in the office and the two-year gap where people were working from home, they both have limitations. The old world had this tendency to favor extroverts. People who go to the office, they dress well they are very assertive, they speak well. They look like, what they used to call, this person looks like leader.

But it was detrimental to people who are shy, who were introverts. And when you moved to working from home, introverts started shining because they had lots of contribution that are over texts. So people who never opened their mouth in a meeting, they started saying things so that world feels comfortable with the second population.

In hybrid, you may actually have the best of the two worlds, saying it's a more balanced place where it's not all about how extroverted you are or how assertive you are when you talk, but it's a mix of the two opportunities. And I think that's a major lesson of saying, when something is changing, rather than regretting what you're missing, think about all the things that could still happen. And I think that's the biggest lesson I got from the Web 2.0 days and from the pandemic.

Siobhan: Aaron, I'm scared to say anything else because that is such a perfect ending to this interview, and I had a lot of other questions for you. But I think I want to just leave it there. So thank you so much for joining us on this podcast. For people in the audience who would like to find you online, where where can they do that?

Aaron: You have to basically learn my middle name. My middle name is Julius. So if you look for Aaron Kim, you're gonna find a million of them. But if you look for Aaron Julius Kim, you're gonna find me in LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, whatever you want to contact me, using Aaron Julius Kim is going to be easier for you to find me everywhere.

Siobhan: Can you spell your middle name for people because I know they're gonna want to find you on all of those channels.

Aaron: It's J-U-L-I-U-S.

Siobhan: Perfect. Now you know where to find him folks. So Aaron, thank you again, thank you for sharing your perspective, and I really appreciate you joining the podcast today.

Aaron: Thank you both for the opportunity to be here.

Wrap Up and Final Thoughts

Mike: That was a really interesting conversation. And it kind of went in a lot of directions that I didn't expect it to go because Aaron was able to bring a lot of these really powerful metaphors into the conversation about something that can be pretty boring or pretty technical or pretty dry. Maybe boring is not the right word, maybe dry or technical is the better word there.

But when he's talking about taking that urbanist's point of view, how we need to think about our organizations more of like cities where the different neighborhoods work together, when he talked about creating a garden in the middle of the forest to sort of try to make sense out of the tangle of information and insights that are inside of our organizations. I mean, those really just stood out to me from this conversation.

What got your attention, Siobhan?

Siobhan: I do think that the jungle metaphor will ring true for anybody who is struggling with enterprise search, and that's pretty much every organization as far as I know.

I also love how he just folded in pop culture references honestly. You know we had a little bit of Wordle bashing, which I do not support, but I understand. We had a little Ted Lasso, we got a little Batman in there, what's not to love?

Mike: What is not to love? You know, that is the first time we've had 1960s Adam West-era Batman on the podcast, so hopefully will not be the last.

Siobhan: I think we'll have to work it in another time.

Mike: Definitely, yeah. All right Siobhan, always great to talk to you and I'll talk to you next time.

Siobhan: Great. Talk to you soon, Mike.

Mike: We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, we are all ears. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. And be sure to share Get Reworked with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. And then finally, be sure to follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well.

Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with us and we'll see you next time.