The Zero Hour Brian Solis

[TRANSCRIPT] ZERO HOUR PODCAST: BRIAN SOLIS, GLOBAL INNOVATION EVANGELIST AT SALESFORCE

George Kamide:
Welcome back to the Zero Hour, brought to you by SafeGuard Cyber. I'm George Kamide.
 
Ashely Stone:
I'm Ashley Stone.
 
George Kamide:
And today's guest is Brian Solis, digital analysts and anthropologists, and now global innovation evangelist at Salesforce. Extremely excited to have him. We've talked with him before in person at some of our own events, but the man is a first rate thinker. You've probably seen him on LinkedIn, and he's just got a really clear eyed view of how to process what's going on and its implications for the future.
 
Ashely Stone:
Every time we get the chance to speak with him or hear what he has to say, our brains are just firing. We talk about how digital is more important than ever before, and especially in a time where disruption has accelerated digital, how to think about that right now and what that means in the future. When you think about it from a human centered perspective.
 
George Kamide:
Without further ado. This is Brian Solis. Um, so first off, thank you for making the time. I know you're a very busy man. I'm very pleased to be able to talk with you again. Uh, again, since we last spoke in February before the world turned upside down.
 
Brian Solis:
Still turning upside down, but that's what makes the, all the more exciting, it's great to see a familiar face, actually familiar two faces, even though this is a podcast I'm using my imagination. Last evening, we were together in San Francisco at Foreign Cinema which was really cool. And you should know, actually just yesterday I spoke with orchid again. So it's getting the band back together one piece at a time.
 
George Kamide:
That's right. That's right. Yes. I joked with her that her panelist career is taking off to the extent that basically my LinkedIn feed every other day is her face somewhere. Yeah. And so, for the benefit of our listeners, definitely go back and listen to the episode with Orchid Bertelsen cause she is one smart cookie.
 
Brian Solis:
She sure is.
 
George Kamide:
Um, okay. So Brian, I am familiar with your work. I told you in person, I think I first came across your work when you were at altimeter group. I think that was around 2013. Um, and you have extensive experience as a digital analyst and anthropologist of these larger technological trends and how they pertain to your customer experience and also business processes. But you have recently, very recently joined Salesforce as a global innovation evangelist. Could you tell us a little bit more about that role?
 
Brian Solis:
You know, it's a, it's a really special role and a really special, uh, group to be part of, uh, within the organization. And it's a really special company, especially in these times, you get to see someone like Mark Benioff shine and doing so much for frontline responders, uh, donating, you know, 50 million, I think in, in PPEs, we just launched work.com uh, last week to help organizations essentially become digital health care organizations to be employee first, as we start to get back to work and to ensure the best, uh, just ensure health is first and foremost for employees and also customers. It's just, it's just so exciting. It's just so much, uh, so fast. Uh, and in all of this amazingness, I'm trying to do my part, which is look at how, especially these days, how the world is changing and how organizations need to not only just change along with it, but also get in front of it, to thrive in what I'm calling the novel economy.
 
Brian Solis:
And that was something that was inspired in my work at Salesforce, listening to the tremendous resilience that customers are experiencing and that they're exhibiting in terms of how they're, how they're looking at these challenges and how they're changing. And just, I think this is my eighth week I've been there. Uh, and in eight weeks I have been so inspired that I feel like I'm an entirely new genre. I might as well have been there for eight years already. I am learning so much the work that I was doing prior to Salesforce or what I'm doing here, I guess I haven't even answered your question yet. What I'm doing here is I just it's, it's like a, it's like a control-alt-delete moments like the Renaissance. So specifically, uh, my job is to look for opportunities to help steer decision-makers, to help steer organizations towards a brighter future for them and their customers and their stakeholders.
 
Brian Solis:
That's a little bit like the work I've done in the past, where I've written research, I've written articles, I've written books. I speak at conferences all around the world to help show new possibilities, to help inspire people towards those new possibilities and help people build bridges between where we are today and where we need to be tomorrow. And now I have the opportunity not only to do that for Salesforce, but do it at a grander scale with resources that I have never really had to work with. So I am, and we probably hear it in my voice and beyond excited at this opportunity.
 
Ashely Stone:
Yeah. I love, I love the energy that you're sharing. It's fun and exciting to hear that, you know, as we're all trying to navigate a life with COVID as, at the time that we're, so I'd love to know from the perspective of a digital anthropologist, how does life after COVID look for businesses and what is it going to take to survive the new normal?
 
Brian Solis:
first, I'm going to give away a little background secret to all of the listeners. We do have video and we can see each other. And I'm very jealous of your light in your room and yours too. George, I I'm, I'm actually very, just I'm in a dark office, uh, which the only light that really emanates here is from my monitor. But other than that, uh, I'm going to take some of that sunlight, uh, and brighten my, my day. So, the answer to your question is I wonder as a digital anthropologist and also as an aspiring philosopher, uh, is there life after COVID? And by that, I mean, uh, or is it something we live with for the rest of our life? And it's, it's an important question to ask because it helps, it helps me think in terms of scenarios. Uh, so coming back to the novel economy that I was mentioning earlier, the novel economy is, is this name I'm giving this conversation?
 
Brian Solis:
Uh, it is, it helps me, it helps me get my mind around it so that I can contemplate possibilities and, and, and also tangible steps towards something. So when we talk about the new normal, uh, I, you know, I, I don't know what that means other than yes, things are different. Uh, in some cases the new normal could be described as Groundhog day, or it could be described as a blank canvas to create the future, uh, under just disruptive circumstances that no one really saw coming, except for bill Gates, I guess. And the thing that I would like to think about with the novel economy is that like the virus, it, it just means new and unusual so that we don't necessarily have a defense mechanism. We don't necessarily have a playbook in order to best respond and, and in order to best move forward.
 
Brian Solis:
Uh, I talk about things like if we're thinking about going back to normal, or if we're basing our future on yesterday's definition of normal, well, we really need to rethink that because there were many things in that normal that, you know, we will put an air quotes. That was part of the problem. So essentially, even though we are disrupted, we're not bouncing back to what we knew. We have an opportunity to bounce forward to something new and that rhymed and I didn't intend it to point the point is that we have an, we have this unique once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine what we do moving forward, the novel economy,
 
George Kamide:
I would say both opportunity and necessity, right? Because the stakes are very high for businesses, because as you said, I don't know that there's a quote unquote post COVID. There's not just like this, you know, the switch goes off and we just go back to quote unquote, normal. So new normal becomes normal. And when you have such disruptive forces, not just technologically, but like consumer demand is down, um, people have to work differently. How do you connect with them? I think, yeah, what you're saying is if you were to just return to normal that we already had inertia problems with that. So how do we, I guess my question to you would be like, what would be your advice right now? We're past the hair on fire stage to companies trying to look to Q three Q four, 2021. Like, how do you completely retool your thinking around some of these things that we take for granted?
 
Brian Solis:
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Uh, and I couldn't, I couldn't think of a better, uh, a better way to think forward. So let's, let's let me take a step back because there's there's opportunity. And like you said, necessity, and there's also stages. So like you said, the hair on fire stage in the novel economy, I talked about survival, uh, then being alive and then aiming to thrive. And this, this plays out between now and say anywhere between 24 to 36 months, cause I'm not going to move that. We're not going to move that quickly. Uh, in that time we're still sort of in the early phases, because much of the world is still in lockdown mode. And it's really difficult to assess. What's going to be longer term behaviors right now in terms of what customers do want, what they don't want, how employees want to work, how they don't want to work.
 
Brian Solis:
What, what I can't emphasize enough is as we start to plan for not just now, but forward, we have to look at data in an entirely new way. It's the best, it's the best things we have an add to that AI and machine learning and really training it with these new filters, not the biased filters that we came into these times with. Because as of March 1st, 2020, so whenever you're listening to this as of March 1st, 2020, we could look at that as the day, the world changed from a dataset perspective. So it's almost like you could throw all of your old data away and start all over again and start to look at the patterns that are changing now so that we can also, you know, with predictive analytics, look at the changes that are coming. The reason I say that is because I published a piece in CIO recently that looked at how shopping has already changed, how e-commerce was already on a trajectory to not rival physical commerce, but it was showing incredible promise for where it was going to be.
 
Brian Solis:
And suddenly it's hockey stick since March 1st. And it's only going to continue to do that as, as, until we have a vaccine, uh, and hopefully people don't deny its existence and we take it and we establish, uh, a safer place to, to get back to life outside. Uh, people are going to be weary of shopping, uh, and, and, and also behaving the way that they used to. So this means that digital becomes more important than ever before. So understanding those behaviors, and then lastly, splitting your digital transformation strategy, at least into two parts, I call it bi-modal digital transformation. This is something that was all so inspired in my work at Salesforce is that you have now new standards for operational excellence. You have a remote workforce, you have e-commerce, that's soaring through the roof. You have service now that has to really rely on digital.
 
Brian Solis:
So automation and AI and chatbots, all of these things that are now taking priority. So you have operational excellence that you have to focus on it, and then you have this new customer and these new employee behaviors that are emerging. So how can we use digital to essentially increase what's the best way to put this, to innovate in new business models and new business services. So these two things become absolute priority for the organization to not just serve the necessity, but also start to carve out a new place in these new and emerging markets.
 
George Kamide:
Yeah, that's a, that's a good distinction. We've, we've heard, um, you know, we've heard digital transformation a lot as a term, but most often what we find is it's actually digital optimization, right? Cause you're just overlaying technology onto your existing processes. I think what you're saying is you got to rip out those processes and it's how does digital completely retool entirely new operations, entirely new processes?
 
Brian Solis:
Yeah. Or set another way. Digital transformation itself was digitally disrupted, right? It exposed everything that was lackluster, outdated outmoded, and also not targeted for the world that we were going on. I think you put it, you put it perfectly. It's not like we weren't going to be digital as a society. It's just absolutely accelerated. What's also disrupted is behaviors. This is why digital transformation. I think when I wrote my first report on the subject, I don't know, 2012, somewhere between 2012, 2014. And in that very first report, it said digital transformation can only be effective if we looked at it from a human lens and that human lens was the digital customer and the digital employee, because it gave us a sense of purpose and a sense of vision for why we were doing this and where we were going and what those stages look like. And then shortly after that, I published the six stages of digital transformation to help guide all stakeholders. It wasn't just CEO's but all stakeholders to build this digital business moving forward. But here we are, it's uh, it's almost like, it's almost like I could read. I could republish that research and align it with today's narrative. And that, that, that roadmap, that roadmap would still work. It's still, even though we're disrupted by the virus, it's still human centered. That's that is the best sense of purpose to guide us moving forward.
 
George Kamide:
Yeah. And I think from the front lines, we've seen that. So I'm very intrigued by the March 1st 2020 is sort of like the zero day or the Zero Hour after the podcast. So we suddenly started getting questions from global 100 banks and life science companies wanting to use WhatsApp. These are heavily regulated industries that this was like a glimmer and an eye on a future roadmap, many years out, right. They're not known for being ships that turned very quickly. And then suddenly, after March, it's like all of my customers in region use WhatsApp. I don't have a physical call center anymore. Everyone's at home. How do I reach them? I need WhatsApp for customer care. Or my sales reps are stuck at home. People are stuck in their houses. We don't have these live events anymore. They need WhatsApp. It was just, but that's a very human need, right? That's the channel that my customer is on. And I was sort of head in the sand. Didn't really want to acknowledge it, did want to contend with it. And now this is the forcing mechanism or as our CTO calls it a break the glass moment, like you've got to reach for the tools that you can, uh, in this time. And you know that that's a truly transformative move. It's not like they're just going to turn WhatsApp on for two months. Cause it's such a heavy lift for them that it's going to be a substantial transformation.
 
Brian Solis:
Gotcha. As you were talking, I'm thinking about what a perfect, what a perfect place for you to be in because you can, you help enable, uh, that type of move safely and securely. Cause then in, especially if there's a reason why those are, uh, highly regulated industries.
 
George Kamide:
It's been crazy.
 
Brian Solis:
I wonder too leading into this. It's a demonstration of just how much time. I think we thought we had that this was a glimmer or a beacon of light, somewhere down some somebodies roadmap in the future. But if you go back to what you said, which was, everybody uses WhatsApp. Now suddenly we have to use WhatsApp. It's exactly the metaphor for all digital transformation and essentially business itself. We were putting into markets, processes, and systems that we expected people to continue to navigate and to accept the fact that we're regulated. We're slow, we're big.
 
Brian Solis:
We have many priorities. So we can't deliver to you the most intuitive and natural experience that you want, even though your life outside of engaging with us is completely different. We expect you to compromise those standards to do business with us. That's essentially what we've been saying. And now we can't say that anymore. So this is why I'm on the human centered platform. People have been changing for a very long time. Now I want to go back to March 1st. So this is the digital anthropologist in me. This is really what inspired the novel economy. Uh, and, and, and I'm going to publish something about this. That's much more formal so that it gives people hopefully a roadmap to move forward with purpose.
 
Brian Solis:
When we look at how people changed on March 1st, when they entered lockdown, why data is so important today? I call it data-driven empathy because we can't just look at ones and zeros. We have to look at what are the reasons people are changing and what that means. So we, uh, we entered lockdown and that became essentially this whole experience has become a somatic marker in all of our lives, all around the world. It's it's, it's, it's an emotional bookmark that is forever going to be tied to deep, emotional visceral responses. We will never forget this. And so in that moment, as human beings, as a society, we've changed, we will never look at toilet paper the same way. Again, we'll never take paper towels for granted. We'll think in the back of our mind differently about stuff we used to take for granted in all of life.
 
Brian Solis:
This becomes really important because as we stay in lockdown, it takes about 66 days on average for behaviors to change to the point where it's second nature, you don't even realize that those have changed. And so all of this stuff means that society itself is resetting what it values. Uh, of course in individually, that'll play out uniquely as well. So this now means that as an organization, how you did business, what you stood for, what you represented your brand pillars, even your service standards, your marketing standards, everything now has to be reset for a new customer for a new world that wants you to connect with them at that level. That is essentially the cap, the campfire that is that somatic marker. This is a, this is an opportunity to take all this digital conversation that we're having and to be more relevant and to be more empathetic is a word I think people use too much, but it's truly the right word to be more empathetic, but then also to open your, to be vulnerable for the customer to say, we're changing too. And we're changing because of you.
 
Ashely Stone:
That's so great. And everything that you're talking about, the research you're putting out, this is exactly what organizations need as we're going through this period of disruption. You've talked a little bit about your past work and experience, and you're at Salesforce now, but I'd love for you to share the story of how you got to this point. You know, what, what keeps you going and where do you think you're going to go next in your career?
 
Brian Solis:
Oh boy. Uh, hold on a second. Let me reach over for my crystal ball. Oh man. It's not plugged in. Okay. I'll have to wait. I've always been inspired by the human side of technology. So this goes back to the nineties. It started with web 1.0 and really starting to see how the internet in those days consumer-facing internet was really starting to change how people shop, how they thought, how they connected, you know, it only accelerated with mobile and social media. And now, now, you know, in, in, in this pandemic and thinking deeply and reflecting also deeply, not just about how the world has changed, but also how I personally need to change along with it. Um, right now the idea of experience I think is more profound than, than it has been in my work in, in recent years. So much so that I am torn about which way I want to move forward. Uh, in terms of my next book, my next big, my next big platform coming into this, I had written a book called life scale and yeah, I actually credit life scale to leading me to Salesforce. It was the journey that I put myself onto, where I wanted my life to be, to then do the things every day to scale your life towards that direction. I have some very dear friends like [inaudible] from Salesforce who was very instrumental at John as well. Very instrumental in bringing me to Salesforce. The thing about Life Scale was that I was also trying to move beyond it. Um, it had, it had really steered me in a direction that I didn't foresee. Um, very, um, very thankful for that experience in my life. But before life scale was trying to write a book about next generation experience design, something that I was calling the human experience or HX. And the book before life scale was called X experience when business meets design. So kind of painting this picture for you because it sets the stage for where, where I, where I want to go.
 
Brian Solis:
Next life scale though has in its own weird way, reared its head again. Uh, and it is because of the lockdown that people are now starting to see the struggles of living a fully digital immersion, uh, immersive life, uh, how that's affecting them personally, how this is affecting them creatively. And, you know, long story short digital does have effects on how we think and how we operate, how we work, how we create, how we, don't, how we communicate. And in some cases, it actually takes away from the depths of allowing yourself to be in the moment, be present, be fully you, uh, or even know what fully you means. Uh, and so life scale now has become a topic that a lot of folks want to talk about. So for example, I just gave a presentation to the, uh, the San Jose sharks organization about how to think about their relationship now that they're working from home plus also, uh, entertaining themselves, uh, with the same devices where, where to strike, not only that balance, but also to think about how we take control of these devices to purposely, you know, establish a trajectory that's healthy for everybody and great for everybody and productive.
 
Brian Solis:
So it's one of the reasons why you can see it behind me, uh, cause it's, it's, it's, it's become a huge topic all over again. So with all that said, um, it's now influencing how I think differently about human experience moving forward, uh, to know that this somatic marker know that now digital is becoming even more of, uh, an important pillar in how we think as customers and how we think as employees to know that behind the scenes, that there are incredible distractions and anxieties that are happening in our relationship with technology that we have to reimagine them, uh, how to establish digital experiences for customers and employees that are, that, that bring to light the things that we haven't been dealing with.
 
Brian Solis:
So that I feel better when I use digital that I'm encouraged to be more present and mindful when I'm, when I'm working that I learn the things that helped me close the 50,000 tabs I have open on my browser to focus on one thing and give that one thing my very best to essentially be the light in, in ways where people are pulled in a million different directions, because that is normal, but that's not in our own best interests. So that's one platform. And the next platform is really looking then at the umbrella of the novel economy, uh, underneath that umbrella, looking at for IT bi-modal digital transformation and helping guide their decisions incrementally forward, right? So iteration and innovation, looking at this new customer to help design new products and services innovate in terms of service and experience design, uh, and then also exploring, uh, this new future and how we could propel ourselves forward. And in that regard, it's both infrastructure wise. And then also what the new world could look like. Uh, can I tackle that at all in one book? Probably lot, but one thing that really well, some way shape or form, I'm going to start to crank this out is around this idea of moving towards a cognitive enterprise that's human centered, because automation is soaring in terms of adoption right now, because it has to, but what I don't want to see happen is that automation displaces the human workforce, simply because it can, in some regards, what I want it to do is steer employee productivity, employee creativity in new directions to be in front of automation so that we get better machine human engagement that it brings to life.
 
Brian Solis:
All of the things that we couldn't have, even with human beings, for example, you know, when's the last time you called the contact center and walked away smiling. I mean, it's, uh, we just, we just lost the humanity and all of these things. And so I want to make sure that humanity is front and center. As we start to think about AI automation and cognitive enterprise. And then lastly is sort of helping, helping inspire a more creative centric world of work, of life. And re-imagining what it's like to actually be with someone and to give them your full attention and your full presence. Cause I think it's been a long time since we had that. And I've never, I've never seen so many statements online these days when I, uh, when I come outside, the first thing I'm going to do is hug a stranger. I just I'm going to do the work that hopefully means that we don't forget. That is important every day.
 
Ashely Stone:
That's just incredible.
 
George Kamide:
And there's a whole bunch of fascinating conundrums or not conundrums dichotomies, maybe. So, you know, two things that have done really well, for example, streaming subscriptions and bikes, right? Cause it's like, you know, I'm stuck at home, I'm going to cave. I'm getting Disney Plus, I got to put the kids in front of something and also like I got to get out of my house and buy a bike. But also I would, I, my prognostication here is I would be intrigued to see if time onsite and social media apps actually goes down because people are in it right now. Is there like a counterpoint for like when the doors open? You're like, no, I don't want to look at Instagram right now. I just want to like have a picnic or, you know, um, but then when it comes back to business, I think what you were saying very much rings true for the business economy.
 
George Kamide:
There is manufacturing of course, but there is so much of it is, you know, what’s economist call sort of knowledge workers, right? It's people that have to decide on processes and make business decisions. And there is this pressure to use digital, which means you're always on. But the reality is that a lot of that business work requires extremely deep thinking and you need time and space. You need like an hour to like sit with documents and kind of synthesize new arguments or new strategies and not have 50,000 tabs open because doing 50,000 things, 25% is actually not very productive in the end. You know, it's just fascinating. I mean, that's the best word for it, dichotomy that slips between the digital and the analog or sort of the multifaceted in the singular. You know, I think that these are really not true opposites. They're probably parts of a whole,
 
Brian Solis:
I really appreciate your comment that I love, I love the idea of, uh, you know, being analog. Uh, and if you think about sort of the mental model that you just played out and that's it, that's a mindful, intentional decision you've made, which was to get a bike and go outside and put your phone down. It's very difficult for people to get there. Even though we do see people going out and walking and enjoying themselves and talking in ways that we, you know, not necessarily have seen, we have to remember that there are, there are, uh, devices working against us by design. And so what, this was the whole purpose of life scale, it's not just that easy to say, I'm going to do this, uh, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. A lot of these are applications that are purpose built with persuasive design because they're, they have to change your behaviors.
 
Brian Solis:
They have, they have to get your attention. You talked about streaming Netflix once joke that that their biggest competitor was sleep and winning. And so Netflix does compete against Instagram and, and Tik Tok. And, you know, essentially, you know, the commodity that is traded in this market is attention because it's a currency. So with that said, this is, this is why it's a good time for self-reflection. It's a good time to learn and unlearn. It's a good time to think about knowing that we're, we're living in an automated world. Uh, what, what as an individual, can I invest in myself to, uh, to grow in directions that are going to help me thrive in this new world? Uh, and that, I hope I hope this is, this is a time that people don't just lose in escapism and I get it. It's, it's, uh, it's how we might cope with these difficult times.
 
Brian Solis:
I'm sitting on a stack of Westworld episodes. I really want to get to you, but I've made the mindful decision to look at things that I've had on my, to do list for a really long time that I never gave attention to. Uh, I saw a funny thing, uh, was a friend of mine shared. It said, yeah, now that I've been at home, uh, all of these weeks, I, uh, I set out to finally tackle the challenge of organizing my house that I've been meaning to do for years. And I realized that time, wasn't the problem. I was going to say, there are a lot of, a lot of house projects getting ticked off and you're like, Oh, that thing that I've been putting on for three years only took me two solid hours to do. I just needed the two hours to do it.
 
Brian Solis:
Exactly. So I think it just comes back to the setting where I don't know. I mean, just get philosophical again. I think one of the things I learned when I went through the life scale journey was where I was and where I thought I was, were two very different places. And also who I thought I was and how the world saw me or who I really was also were two very different people. And that, that just has to do with the pace of life and keeping up with technology and doing all of these things that are pulling us into many, many different directions in our body. And our brains is sort of accelerating the speeding up and chemically rewiring and mentally rewiring in order to keep up with all these things, to the point that it happens over the course of 10 years, 12 years, that we don't realize where we've gotten and where we were trying to go.
 
Brian Solis:
So coming back to your point about getting the bike, uh, you know, I hope the world uses that as a metaphor to say, yeah, where, what, what could I be doing? Um, in addition to the things that I need to be doing so that I can grow in a way that makes me much more valuable to my loved ones, but also in the market.
 
George Kamide:
Well, Brian, it has been a pleasure as always, thank you very much for taking the time out of your morning to talk with us about some pretty heady stuff.
 
Brian Solis:
Yeah, next time let's do this in the afternoon. Um, my bad, my brain was on a, on fire, but I not to interrupt, but I just wanted to thank you as well. It's these types of conversations I find personally motivating. Uh, they get me to think and reflect, and actually have a whole mental list of things that I want to revisit, uh, in terms of content to get, to get this, this story out beyond the podcast. So thanks for asking some great questions and thanks for spending time with me.
 
George Kamide:
Absolutely. Well, until next time, stay safe, stay healthy. Same to your family, your loved ones. And I hope we talk again soon.
 
Brian Solis:
Yeah. I'll see you at Foreign Cinema.