Futurized goes beneath the trends to track the underlying forces of disruption in tech policy, business models, social dynamics, and the environment. I’m your host, Trond Arne Undheim, futurist and author. In episode 30 of the podcast, the topic is the Future of Work. Our guest is Ian Barkin, Chief Strategy and Marketing officer at Sykes and host of the One-Take podcast. In this conversation, we talk about the future of work, robotic process automation or RPA automated outsourcing experience, focused call centers. We touch on COVID-19 smart tech impact sourcing the creative use of talent scaling and selling a venture. Building a personal brand, his One-Take podcast and the future of marketing. Quick word from our sponsor. Do you have business challenges where you would like high quality external input from experts? Yeigi is an insight network with access to on demand teams made up of select talent from thousands of experts across industries and markets, including financial services, education, software, energy, healthcare, and life science Check out Yegii at Archives.yegii.com. That’s Y E G I I.
Trond Arne Undheim (01:20):
Ian, how are you doing today?
Ian Barkin (01:22):
I am doing very well. Trond. How are you doing?
Trond Arne Undheim (01:25):
I think it’s a great day for another podcast. I have some questions for you, Ian. Of course look you and I know each other, but what, what I didn’t know is all of the interesting things that you actually have done because you know, when, when we, we met at MIT a good while back, and, you know, you were, I think at a Sutherland global services at the time, and you told me about Sutherland. And I remember that it, you said you were also a you know, that’s why you were there, I think a Sloan alum. So you went to MIT, but I have discovered that you also went to Middlebury college. You have a master’s from LSE in London. And well, and then after that, which we kind of got a little out of touch, you started an RPA consulting firm and symphony ventures. And then now you sold that to Sykes, which is your current employer, where you have launched a thriving podcast called One take, which is fascinating. And you have these really, really good conversations. You’re a massively good listener, which I think we’ll try to emanate the rest of my life. So here’s my question to you, Ian. Okay. You have done so many interesting things that you had very big successes with selling your company. What in your background keeps driving you and what did you learn the most from?
- Ian Barkin LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ianbarkin/
- Ian Barkin Twitter: @ibarkin
- SYKES podcast LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/sykes/
- SYKES podcast Twitter: @SYKES_Global
- MIT Sloan https://mitsloan.mit.edu/
- Middlebury College http://www.middlebury.edu/#story645114
- LSE https://www.lse.ac.uk/
- Symphony Ventures (acquired by SYKES) https://www.linkedin.com/company/symphony-ventures/
Ian Barkin (02:47):
Ooh, how much time do we have? Let’s see. So I
Trond Arne Undheim (02:53):
There’s only one answer to the question. Just joking. You can, you can have two, you can have two that it’s a podcast where I’m
Ian Barkin (03:00):
Graded. So I’ve always been passionate about innovation. I think that just, and you know, some of that manifests in the fact that I just like new technology and toys and things. So that’s, that’s not particularly creative or different, but but I always, I always liked innovation, always liked how technology was applied to improve the way we did things. Always, I guess there was an element of a, of an entrepreneur in me. I mean, I suppose there’s manifests in small ways as a kid where you’re trying to start things or you’re trying to sell, can do door to door or what have you. And and just being bolder than, than perhaps there’s normal to walk up to strangers and try to, to convince them that what you’re doing is worth them listening. And you did a bunch of those things. And when I was, when I was younger and actually symphony ventures, which you mentioned, that was my, my third sort of official kind of grownup startup and so much as I had, I had covered I was in, I went into consulting initially early into my career cause it was promised to, to expose you to lots of different companies and challenges and countries, et cetera then found myself in a research and advisory firm focused on what was at the time called machine to machine.
Ian Barkin (04:17):
And that, as we know now is internet of things. It was just the connectivity of assets and the, you know, sensory technology in them, that new status. And then some sort of bandwidth communication, short, medium, or long ZigBee or wifi, or
Trond Arne Undheim (04:34):
I remember some of those people in the nineties, people sort of looked at them a little weird,
Ian Barkin (04:39):
Well, I’m used to that. So, and I, and I loved that stuff and I’ll tell you what I, I learned. I learned innovation patients from that effort too, because back this is 15 years ago, people were talking about how everything was going to be smart instantly, and we’re gonna have smart homes and smart roads and smart buildings. And, and they do these hockey stick guns.
Trond Arne Undheim (05:02):
I know what I’m referring to, right? Because these guys were a little weird because they, they made a mistake of over promising many, many times over
Ian Barkin (05:11):
Absolutely. And over promising because they were looking myopically at the capability, the technology capability was there. It was just all of the other realities of, of of adoption. Just weren’t it it’s, it takes a long time and investment and, and change to adopt embedded sensory technology in everything you do now. And our homes are smarter than they’ve ever been. So we’re, we’re, you know, progressively adopting more and more of it. Anyway. So I I’d started a, an advisory firm in the internet of things, space loved that, but also understood that well, things were over promised. They took longer to be adopted and actually be deployed. And then I went back into, went back into big companies for a while, went back into outsourcing primarily, which was tapping into
Trond Arne Undheim (06:00):
Tell me, I’m a curious choice for you to do that because, you know, you’re curious about things. A lot of people would then have gone into a Silicon Valley type outfit or at least an industrial outfit, but you chose outsourcing, which I must admit, you know, at least when you joined it, wasn’t a thriving innovation business to be perhaps Frank,
Ian Barkin (06:24):
Very fair. And actually, you know what it was there’s I guess two stories here. One is, it was a mentor. There was a mentor of mine. I’d known since I was 16, who was one of the real innovators and grandfathers of, of this global arbitrage outsourcing model. And I just happened to just through dumb luck, which, which is which is a real strategy of mine is, is dumb luck. And and I knew about the industry and actually I left consulting to go into outsourcing. And my manager at the time took me aside when you heard what I was moving on through. And, and literally told me I was making a huge mistake. I mean, no joke. And I, and I, it scared the heck out of me at the time. But to this day, I’m still in touch with that, that individual. And I, and I I’ve told him several times how much I appreciated him
Trond Arne Undheim (07:19):
Out on the limb like that and giving you personal advice, whether it is in the end, correct for, from their perspective or even from your perspective, regardless.
Ian Barkin (07:30):
And, and in the grand scheme, that was correct in, in so much, as you said, you’re just going to be filling out RFPs. It’s all about low cost, and you’re going to find yourself doing the same thing over and over again. And, I did do that to some degree but what he couldn’t have known is just, again, dumb luck comes back into the story bumping into or my bumping into robots, this robotic process automation.
Future of work – Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Trond Arne Undheim (07:54):
Yeah. And tell me a tiny bit just about that. And then, you know, we can continue your story, but rogue RPA is such an interesting concept, even just calling it that. So just for the benefit of people who don’t know what you’re actually talking about.
Ian Barkin (08:11):
Absolutely. So, we’ve already laid enough of the foundation stones to, to, to continue telling the story. Cause I was an outsourcing, outsourcing was leveraging global talent to achieve process ends, right? Companies needed accounts paid, they needed accounts recorded. They needed HR transacted and what they had done over time, thanks to folks like my mentor, is they realized they could tap into talent elsewhere outside of the borders of their country and company to find lower cost talent, to do that work. And so, so we were tapping into all the places that we’re used to now, the China’s the, India’s the Brazil’s, the Latin America broader Guatemala and effectively you were sending work there cause you can define it. You knew exactly what you needed that team to do. You knew how to get them, the ones and zeros they needed to, to transact the process. And you knew how to measure whether they did it accurately and at a speed that you had contracted them to execute against. And so that’s pretty robotic,
Is RPA truly robotic?
Trond Arne Undheim (09:19):
Right? It is robotic, but it’s not the traditional word for it. It doesn’t look like a robot, which I think is interesting because you know, everyone has, or everyone, a lot of us have this mental image, which, you know, right or wrong is what we think a robot has a form factor hardware with the form factor.
Ian Barkin (09:37):
Absolutely. And, and so, so so we found software and I was lucky and I wasn’t, you know, it was early on, there were others before I made that. I on, on whose shoulders I stood. But they, they saw the potential of using software to emulate the work that these people were doing. And that’s RPA in its purest form. It is just, it’s, rule-based transactional processing that emulates work that humans were doing in our back middle and front office operations. But you do it with software and what that meant generally, if you taught the robot correctly, it would do those transactions faster and more accurately. And, and this had been around for a long time, but what, one of the things I find so fascinating is, is we’re a, we’re an emotional creature us humans and we’re also visual learners and thinkers. And so someone came up with the idea of calling these things “Robots”, not just macros, not just programs, but they call them robots. And yeah,
Trond Arne Undheim (10:51):
I’m glad he didn’t call them macros. That would have been a problem.
Ian Barkin (10:54):
Well, when we spent a lot of time with the space being somewhat pejoratively described as macros on steroids, which, which is what it is to some degree, it isn’t a negative, it’s actually a useful description.
Trond Arne Undheim (11:05):
Sure. Yeah, I agree. I agree. But the terms are so important in terms of what something becomes in the market place.
Ian Barkin (11:12):
Right? And in this case, a Rose by any other name, wouldn’t be adopted as enthusiastically. And so RPA by calling it automation of processes, but saying that it was a robotic automation of processes created the chance to use clip art like nobody’s business. And so all of a sudden it became very visual. It became much more exciting and, and took off. And again, the dumb luck factor I, and some of my friends were in the right place at the right time, started a consultancy that helped enterprises figure this out and then apply it. So RPA well,
Trond Arne Undheim (11:50):
Good, great. I mean, dumb luck. You’re, you’re being very here. I think dumb luck is, is about being in the right place. Right. And so you’re not really lucky when you are in the right place at the right time, you are strategic, but patient, which is what you were talking about. Yeah. Yeah. So you can call that dumb luck any day of the week, but it is innovation patience.
Ian Barkin (12:11):
And, and, and gutsy, right. I think entrepreneurs have an element of, of inability to judge risk. And so we, we took a leap and we started a thing and, and it, it turned out pretty well for us.
Trond Arne Undheim (12:23):
Let’s bring this onto a little bit of a larger canvas just for a second. So the future of work, which is something you have laid out in your podcast, it’s something I realized some of my early work with my PhD could also now be, is now called the future of work. So these are things like you know, to what degree can you digitalize and what processes can you not digitalize in terms of achieving innovation and the role of face to face which we have all experienced a major transition on potentially, or at least a temporary one. And we’ll talk about that. What is the future of work to you? What does it mean and what is it that you’re trying to achieve by probing into it with, you know, in your podcast?
Ian Barkin (13:12):
Yeah, no great question. It, it runs the risk of just being a, a collection of technical sub-components. And I think for a while there, it was that, we were, people were calling future of work. The automation, as we discussed, there were, they were referring to some of the analytics and data science elements of it. They were referring to mobile and social networks. The way I see it. And as you said, in my podcast, talking about the future of work life and culture, really, is work is so much more than the tools we use. And it always will be it’s it’s, it’s not the laptops or, or the punch cards or the, or the slates we used to use before it it is, it is what we’re trying to produce and for whom we’re producing it.
Trond Arne Undheim (14:07):
Yeah. I love that about the, sort of the longer formulation of your podcast. Do you, I mean, you’re tackling that head on, I guess we, we share that we have that in common that we take technology and we kind of run with it as a lead concept, but it’s not the, at least in my treatment of it, it’s actually rarely the protagonist.
Ian Barkin (14:30):
Absolutely. And, and it has for ever really in it probably a longer discussion of human psychology, I suppose, but it’s, we are often steered by the tool provided to us. So there’s that classic: If you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail sort of statement. And so when you have digital technology, every transformation initiative is about implementing software; is about digitizing. And so what you don’t end up with is a, is a better configuration. You just end up with a revised version of the prior thing, using whatever technology someone had the ability to buy most recently in your company,
Future of work – markets
Trond Arne Undheim (15:18):
But it is also a set of markets. Let, let’s see if we can kind of unbundled some of those markets. And I, you know, you talked about one, our RPA has become a market. How do you define the markets surrounding? And I’m inserting an S here, there’s a plurality of markets inside of future work. How would you line those up and what, what are, you know, what sort of size are we talking about? How important is this discussion in the overall economy?
Ian Barkin (15:35):
Well, so again, if you’re steered by the, the ultimate mission, which is for organizations it’s, survival and the ability to thrive thrival that would match survival and thrival, I’ve made up, right. And I like it. And they do that by creating great experiences for customers in a way that compels the customers to first create a relationship with that enterprise, and then to maintain that relationship. And you do that by having better products and services. And so the future of work should be steered by that, by experience. And you achieve experience in good product design, through design, thinking through having a mentality and a focus on what you’re actually trying to achieve. Right?
Ian Barkin (16:32):
There’s not, we’re trying to apply this technology because we have it. Now we’re trying to overused word, but we’re trying to delight this, this customer segment because, because our survival depends on it. And so design thinking and that’s predicated on better analysis and study. So there’s a lot about just the, sort of the telematics of how humans interact with their world. There’s a lot about data analytics and data science, that’s imperative to inform any of these decisions. And then there’s a, there’s a huge dependency here on all of it, which is around skills and education having.
Trond Arne Undheim (17:17):
I mean, what you have chap charted out though, is it’s a myriad of markets because it’s, you know, it’s essentially, Oh yeah. The way you have laid it out now it encompasses almost the entire business software market, plus a whole host of kind of educational markets. And, uh, and then it deeply ties into industrial processes as well. Of course. Yes. But then with outsourcing now you’re into every business. Yes. Yeah. And, and so, so I mean, it becomes kind of a, it’s a strange thing to talk about the future of work, because it becomes everything and nothing at the end of the day.
Ian Barkin (17:36):
Fair enough. If you, if you cast the definition too broadly than what do you, what are you discussing? And, but you’re right. I mean, to some degree, we’re, I think we just get fascinated by by point elements or technologies or solutions, when I suppose I enjoy having been able to open my aperture so wide that I am looking, I don’t, I don’t disagree with you mean,
Future of work – disruptive forces
Trond Arne Undheim (18:21):
Let’s, let’s try that. I mean, you know, one of the things I do with the people I interview here is I throw this very basic framework of disruptive forces on them. Right? So technology is one we’ve talked about RPA, what are some of the other technologies you are particularly excited about that, you know, despite just being technologies, what are they, you know, that they’re doing something to, to the future of work right now?
Ian Barkin (18:31):
Well, so if, if you, and this is sort of a tech complexity hierarchy, because people ask me if RPA is AI, and I’m not sure what AI is, because it’s so high up there, but, but so the other technologies around machine learning around just higher order, voice recognition that we find in all of the assistant devices that are in our homes and in our pockets and in our cars these days, I think those are, those are, are critically important here because we’re able to interact and learn from the assets in our lives.
Trond Arne Undheim (19:19):
And you must know something about this. Cause I was going to ask you, you’ve actually created a LinkedIn and Lynda course on RPA AI and cognitive tech.
Ian Barkin (19:27):
Yes. Yes. Good plug. That is actually what exactly what it is. RPA, AI and cognitive tech for leaders. And my, my working title for that initially, was it an MBA in RPA? But, but we made it longer and harder to say instead. And the real, the purpose of that course was to try to enable leaders and decision makers in organizations at every level to, to be able to sort of see through the BS and, and state informed top-down mandates and enable them. Because what I saw too often was a fascination in effectively magic, right? A fascination in the over promised sort of aspiration of, of what technology could do and that didn’t help anybody. I mean, it set people up for failure. It spent a lot of money on necessarily. It send people on these sort of these chaotic expeditions to try to, to discover the solutions that just weren’t going to be discovered cause they were, they were not discoverable. And so that, that course is really about understanding the difference between the macros on steroids and have the scale to the narrow AI, to ultimately what people define as sort of a general AI, which we do not have yet, but worth understanding where, where that is on the spectrum. Just so you’re not making decisions, thinking magic is real that’s okay.
Does our tech depend on our imagination?
Trond Arne Undheim (21:00):
Well, so I have a question at this point, I mean this could go in many directions, but there is also the counterargument that any reasonable progress in technology is created because we have sci-fi we have our imagination. Right? So, so there’s also the corollary, which is, if you don’t believe in magic, then you can’t see what is even just a tiny two steps in front of you. And in fact, I have people coming up on the show that are so inspired by sci-fi that they’re saying, you know, we’re going to invest in anything that is sci-fi or basically it has to have an element of sci-fi in order to even be fascinating. So how do you combine that perspective with magic, obviously being magic and shouldn’t be taken as reality and you know, these guys inventing things in the eighties and thinking they’re going to be implemented in 85 and then we’re now seeing it 20, 30 years later.
Ian Barkin (21:59):
Yeah, no, I, well, first of all, so I love that comparison to, because I think our scifi visionaries really did paint a future that that is possible in the realms of physics. And we’re working our way to them, whether, whether it was, you know, Roddenberry or Sagan or or Scott Card or Bradbury. I mean, I love the, the pictures and the futures that they paint. Some of them were somewhat dystopic and dark, but others were amazing. And I grew up watching the Next Generation of my mom and I used to watch Jean-Luke Picard constantly. And so I, I do think we’re inspired by that. And a lot of levels by the way, right. Roddenberry was a genius. He had the economics of Star Trek is something worth studying in a college course. Well, exactly. I think that’s
Trond Arne Undheim (22:48):
W one thing that I’m discovering, and I think a lot of people are, is that when you are in the creative arts at a level that reaches mainstream TV or Hollywood, or you’re a, you know, a successful author. Yeah. You know, I’m studying polymaths at the moment for one of the book projects I’m doing. And, and, and it strikes me that you actually could consider some of these authors the most useful polymaths to study because their method is laid out straight there. And the result is so much more visible and accessible. All the other polymaths, they have, you know, they have Nobel prizes and stuff that you can’t really relate to, but these author-polymaths, not only are they smart, combining arts and networks with, you know, but they have the science usually to back it up. And that’s fascinating.
Ian Barkin (23:37):
Yes. And they have the stage on which to present it in an interesting way so that you can visualize, like, I get back to robots being that visual imagery that, that kicked off a trend. If, if you have a sitcom with actors and, and and sound stages, you can get people really excited about mobile phones. Holodecks voice recognition of computers in every hallway. I mean, that’s, that’s what we’re living by,
Trond Arne Undheim (24:06):
But Ian, there’s another aspect we need to discuss because tech is one thing we agree. Culture is a whole other, but business models, which is sort of layer two or three in, in, in my model. It’s in there. So among the four, that’s something that you have an acute awareness of, and you obviously have been able to sell a company. So you know something about it. And you’ve been in not just in innovation, but you’ve been, you know, to some extent in, in sales, you’re at least selling the vision enough that it sells the company. For instance, what is it? And by the way, I don’t know if that was MIT or you had it latent in you, like you said, from, from childhood of always sort of making things and selling things, the business models are getting interesting these days. You can’t just produce a technology and expect people to like it, right though, the whole design thinking idea and tailoring things to very specific markets, but then also selling it, positioning it. Yes. What is, what is that thing? Business models. Why, why are they starting to change? How do we even grasp them? I mean, I did teach at a business school, but I’m sort of wondering, is it really something you learn in business school because you either see these things or you don’t?
Ian Barkin (25:21):
No, that’s a, if I knew the answer to this, I would, I would be far better off. It, it’s a great point. I mean, ultimately, I mean the business models that succeed too well, I don’t know. Some of it’s just, it doesn’t jive with reality where the business models are really just about number of people that have downloaded your software. And then there’s some artificial equation thereafter that makes you a billionaire…
Trond Arne Undheim (25:43):
Well, that’s a good point. I mean, I don’t think all entrepreneurs actually understand why they are successful. Of course, after the fact they can talk about it, but they don’t really know what happened.
Future of work – is there something beyond platforms?
Ian Barkin (25:51):
Yeah. And because they, they, they benefited from a very artificial mechanism. That’s extremely successful at achieving scale. Sort of perhaps unjustifiably fast and at a level that’s unjustifiable, but then you apply evaluation to it. But other business models that are really more around data and understanding user proclivity and then, and then enabling enterprises to act on that, to create further services. And that’s, it seems like, it seems like that’s the winner now. And, and honestly, the last 10 years of, of my time in enterprise business, we all found ourselves…what was interesting is there was this, there was this osmosis of business model. There was sort of a permeable membrane at that point. It wasn’t, we’re a car manufacturer. So we compete against other car manufacturers or we’re an outsourcer. So we just have look at our peers and see what they’re doing. It’s everyone was trying to be Amazon. Right. Everyone was trying to be Airbnb. I mean, all the conferences we went to were the biggest country, biggest companies in the world didn’t own any assets anymore. They just had a platform. So I, I, yeah.
Trond Arne Undheim (26:59):
How, how do you think that thing is going to end? Because the platform game now has become the only game in town. Everybody does want to be Amazon and, you know, forget GE and others who also of course had the platform, but they also had products and they had industry relationships. They had other things and they own infrastructure and machinery and things. How is this going to end? Because I kind of have a hunch that both when it comes to AI, broadly understood as it is right now, over the last decade with the deep learning kind of movement, but also this whole, very dubious notion that platforms is the only business. How is this going to end?
Ian Barkin (27:38):
Well, it certainly commoditizes what you would traditionally have thought of as the valuable component of the equation. And in so much as it’s, it’s no longer that you’ve got the, well, you’ve got the vehicle and you drive it or you’ve got the hotel room and you maintain it. Those that’s, that’s an afterthought too. And, and so who knows, maybe there’ll be a, as often, there is a pendulum swing back to appreciating the, the actual asset rather than the product.
Trond Arne Undheim (28:05):
Well, one thing, one thing, and I don’t know what your opinion I’m, I’m, I’m European in that respect. I mean, I grew up with the government owning a lot of the infrastructure. If you think about it, ostensibly. Yeah. What that was is the government owned the platforms, right. I mean, it’s not different from that. There’s no difference. Right. So, so I mean, all we have now is with outsourcing to use that word of, of all these platforms to private providers, we have given away the gold, which most sensible people knew was gold. Right. And we have given it away to the marketplace thinking they can run it more efficiently. The problem is, of course you create all these juggernauts every decade that then runners all into trouble because they own such a fundamental part of the fabric of society. Yes. I mean, right now we have Amazon last decade. We had Google before that we had Microsoft that could, before that we had IBM. And then before that there were some industrial companies, why did we do this to ourselves?
Ian Barkin (29:06):
Well, I, I think there’s a, I guess there’s an economy of scale to it that enables it. And then, then, then it’s sort of a flywheel where it just gets easier and easier to go. As you’ve gotten big, there is a fascination. And again, back to the, there are the mechanisms and the, the financing that’s available now to, to get scale extremely rapidly. But obviously then you need to lay it on the, put it in context of the, of today, of the current era, in which nationalism seems to be rearing its head and, and borders are shutting down, supply chains are being limited. So we may have to find ways to, to produce things again for ourselves, at least for the time.
Trond Arne Undheim (29:46):
Well, exactly because platforms become less valuable if they can’t cross borders. That’s for sure. Right. So, so tell me, I mean, there’s, there’s, there’s more aspects of this kind of disruption game, there’s social aspects, and you, you call it culture. There’s, there’s kind of social and cultural aspects intermingled here. What, what, what are you thinking about how they are acting on this? If you would take even just the current situation where we are all in a very peculiar social state, each of us right now, how does that to you, as you’re reflecting on this moment, how does that impact the future of work? Well, I mean, call it, COVID call it whatever you want to call it right now. That’s kind of impacting us.
Outsourcing – the SYKES experience
Ian Barkin (30:34):
Well, I’ll say from, from, from my work perspective, from the Sykes perspective Sykes and any outsourcing company was, was always built on talent, right? I mean, whatever technology you had, the, the, the product you were selling at the end of the day was, was good people that you sourced well, that you trained well, that you’ve compelled and to, to be able to retain. And they’re the ones who were picking up phones or answering chats and, and maintaining a level of service for your enterprise client. So you’re creating that experience we were going for. But the, the, the mechanics or the logistics of that, I suppose, were always very physically bounded. You had a, you had a building and you could only hire people within a reasonable distance of that building because they had to get to work and then get home, and then back to work affordably and at a time that allowed them to get some sleep and to cook and eat and see their family. So now that those, the, the dependency on the physicality of, of office locations delivery centers is, is less relevant. And it’s not gone because we still do have some centers and we have everyone socially distance appropriately, and we’ve got the appropriate health measures, but we can now tap into talent all over the planet, which is
Trond Arne Undheim (32:03):
Because you actually made that transition. You potentially, I mean, depending on how the markets go, but you could come out of this w w with some opportunities, I mean, obviously we are all scared by this, but there are some opportunities here that are really exciting for the outsourcing.
Ian Barkin (32:19):
Yes. And, and, you know, to, and it’s been fascinating to watch just because when we just did, you know, not to, not to put my, my corporate hat on, but we just had the best Q2 we’ve ever had. And so we actually, financially we’re doing extremely well. Because we’re because we had the capability to move people home. We moved 35,000 people to work from home in a matter of weeks. And we had had experience already with it. Cause there was some component to the business that was, was at home from the start. We hired agents who, who were working from home as, as their, as their office location. So we had, I suppose, back to platforms, we had the platform, we had the mechanisms to, to hire them, to distribute the work, to, to support them, to manage them. But it is amazing now to watch that the world’s effectively our oyster from a talent acquisition perspective, we can, as long as you’ve got, as long as you’ve got internet
Trond Arne Undheim (33:18):
And okay, so as long as you’ve got internet, I mean, there surely there must be some limitations, but on the other hand, given that you’re operating call centers, I mean, I see your point. I mean, sir, certainly, I mean, training, there are some cultural aspects that, I mean, there are many, many aspects where humans like to be in groups. So, so I mean, that’s essentially my question to you. We’re not going to turn into a virtual species overnight again, back to this internet of things, argument in the eighties, just because we have the technologies doesn’t mean that our psychology changes.
Ian Barkin (33:45):
Yes, no. And honestly, if you were to, if you were to lean on evolution, evolution is the thing that would change our behavior. You just don’t have it anymore. It’s not like some of us are getting eaten by saber tooth tigers because we’re night owls and we’re out of the cave at night. And the,
Trond Arne Undheim (34:03):
But also I’m in evolution. If you’re going to talk about it in a physiological sense, I mean, that evolved over years and decades and, and much more, right. I mean, you can’t talk about any meaningful biological evolution. Can you, I mean, this would be an interesting argument to make, but it’s hard to test though, right? Would have we evolved because we’ve used cell phones for 20 years. It’s an interesting argument. I’m actually planning to try to empirically test it. I’ve, I’ve access to some data I’m going to dig out from some longitudinal work on that. Well, we’ll find out, but it hasn’t really been tested.
Ian Barkin (34:39):
I mean, my data points and I’ve got, two of them are my eight and 10 year old daughters who were spending a lot of time on Facebook messenger for kids to maintain relationships that they, they would have otherwise physically conducted together in school. And then that’s just, it’s, it’s, it’s sad because you wish your kids could be with their friends on the playgrounds and in school, in the classrooms, but they seem to be doing an okay job, obviously there’s this is, this speaks to sort of the development of, of girls versus boys too. I imagine there’s a very different experience if you’ve got sons versus daughters. But I think the evolution has begun to some degree. They’re spending a lot of time communicating very comfortably. When, when I was a kid, I was nervous to speak on the phone with a friend and they’re just they’re natives. Yeah.
Building your own personal brand
Trond Arne Undheim (35:33):
Speak to me a little bit about building your own personal branding cause you seem to be doing very well at it. What are your thoughts?
Ian Barkin (35:46):
So there’s a few different pieces to the equation. One, if you, I, I think now if you’re an entrepreneur and starting anything, or even if you’re just a sales person in an established organization there’s a huge value in having a personal brand. And in fact, from, from a media perspective, people resonate more with individuals than they do with enterprises. So people aren’t necessarily going to be connecting with and following corporations, LinkedIn or Facebook page as much as they would another human, because we just because we’re humans cause back to the social element of us. And if you’re an entrepreneur and you’re not using this mechanism to build your brand, then you’re, you were missing the biggest trick. The reason we were able to, to create a brand for the small startup I created was somewhat because of the fact that we were doing great work.
Ian Barkin (36:42):
We have really smart people and we had happy clients, but that doesn’t resonate and there’s no string theory to that that lets other people know it. You need to just get out there and scream it from the hilltops, but you gotta, you gotta do it carefully so that it’s not self promoting and it’s not advertising, but it’s hopefully, well, we’ll see. That’s why I wanted to ask something. So Gary V to take one and there are many other, you know, there’s a Seth what’s his last name? Golden woman. Yes. Gordon. Yeah. So those are two examples of extremely prolific content producers. So the last decade, yes. And Gary V I think now is famous for saying everybody should produce 60 pieces of content per day. So first off, yeah, that clearly has to be derivative content. So we’re not talking about completely new pieces, but on the other hand, there’s something profound there about how social media works.
Trond Arne Undheim (37:43):
But what are you warning about when you were saying, just make sure you know, that you’re not diluting or that you’re not just doing it for the sake of, of just producing.
Ian Barkin (37:54):
The, the, the second you say, what can I do to get you in this car today? People tune you out. Yeah. It’s just because we’ve, we’ve, we have this instinctual radar that says I’m being sold to, and by virtue of that, I’m probably being misled down a path that they want me to go down and it does, this is the proverbial car salesman’s problem. Exactly. And so it’s, it’s not well received, especially now when we’re bombarded by and have the freedom of choice of content all over the place are on every device, every channel. And it’s not, it’s not trustworthy. You don’t build a relationship virtually obviously, but relationship with this individual and you don’t get anything out of it.
Ian Barkin (38:39):
And so I think there’s a lot to be said, and I’ve, I’ve loved what I’ve been able to do, just because it’s it’s, it’s sort of a, it’s sort of a personal journey of exploration that I’ve selfishly done on stage. I’ve just, I have these wonderful, like, like the discussion that you and I had on, on my podcasts. Very recently, I mean, I get more out of that then if, if there was, if there was no one in the audience, I would still love it and I would, I would gain something from it and that there are people in the audience is just that much more of a thrill that other people are, are getting to, to benefit from that discussion as well. Yeah.
Trond Arne Undheim (39:19):
I, I that’s, I think that’s profound. I mean, you at least have to see value in what you yourself are doing, but, but you know, that doesn’t discount that a lot of people start embodying social and they see social as a mean in and of itself. Yeah. Right.
Ian Barkin (39:35):
Gary V by the way, I love the study of Gary V because he, I mean, he’s fascinating. He sets a bar that if you achieve one 10th of, then you’re heading in the right direction. I mean, there’s, there’s a lot, you can learn from him. But he, he used it as a means to an end. His history was he used the internet and social to, to build a business. And then you realize there’s more money in helping other people use the internet and social, then the business he was building. And so he became somewhat of a self help coach in that regard. And Andy also has a business that helps other companies.
Trond Arne Undheim (40:12):
No, it’s funny. I actually knew of Gary V before anybody else, or, you know, I was listening to his wine library, TV, TV, you know, cause I was, I was into wine. It was, you know, he had a very different style. Yeah. Even just in that very little domain. I mean, and that was his background. I believe his father was a liquor store owner and he that’s how he Rose to fame. But the point is to listen to his early shows, discussing wine it’s transformative. And you know, I was writing it at the time of column on the sociology of wine and he was almost a case study because here, first of all, wine has always been very diverse and I don’t know why we’d degress into wine from GaryVee. But anyway, the point is he just completely took it down to his own level. He was just, you know, here’s, you know, I don’t like this and, or, you know, he was very, very personal.
Ian Barkin (41:05):
Yeah. And that’s it until he, he, you know, so I guess back to sort of the root of the question, which is if you’re comfortable sharing, just come through, be comfortable being yourself you’re comfortable. I mean, there’s very little social about this. You’re staring at a small glass eyes so that people think you’re looking at them. And so there’s, there’s there’s right. So it’s an artificially social environment that you’re in when you’re creating this content, but if you’re comfortable doing it and you know, to Gary V’s credit, I mean, he’s, he’s always telling people don’t care. What other people think about what you’re doing? Just do it if you love it. So I don’t find the world to be that generally judgmental or cruel. It’s not like anyone was judging me negatively while I was building the brand for symphony. I don’t think they were nice enough not to email me that sentiment when I was doing it. But but if you are comfortable doing all of that, get out there and do it because you’re creating a legacy of content you’re getting better and better at your craft. Every single day you go online, you’re getting better at articulating what you’re trying to say.
Trond Arne Undheim (42:08):
Well, well then that brings us to the podcasting medium specifically, right. Because I, and I’m a very recent convert. I mean, I always liked the interview format turns out I’ve been doing interviews all my life. I just regret, I never recorded them and publicize them. I mean, I, not only would I have been richer, I would have brought so much data out there to the, to the world. What are you thinking about that they’re actually generating somewhat interesting lasting content conversation.
Ian Barkin (42:40):
It so a few, so yes, yes. And yes there, I realized that I was having discussions with my, my colleagues and friends and, and industry partners in the RPA space. Every time we had a phone call, we were having discussions that were, you know, that were to me, at least they were interesting. And, and we were early enough in the, in the space that what we were talking about was probably helpful and enlightening to people who were, who were just entering the space. If we had recorded any of those, they would have been valuable. And I sort of realized that we should just get on with it and record it. Now, some people really clam up when you tell them you’re recording. Now, it becomes much more of a formal thing. And I think over time you get used to a much more informal natural banter where you’re still covering the content. So I think that’s, that’s important. And as you said, just to have a library three weeks ago, someone liked and shared something very excited about an upcoming webinar. I was part of, and it turns out that the webinar happened two years ago. So whatever the, whatever LinkedIn algorithms where we’re looking or, or whatever they were doing that day, they surfaced there’s surface content. That was over two years old and instill was paying dividends.
Trond Arne Undheim (43:55):
Okay. And what do you think about the future of meetings? Because it’s a little bit related to this. There’s one problem with recording everything, right? Is that you get an enormous amount of content. So whether you’re in the meeting or not, I mean, you’re going to have to spend that time, presumably, unless the algorithms can record everything. I have this one little vision, which is, you shouldn’t really have a meeting, unless you can have a five minute podcast interview you a podcast or interview you after the meeting. And you actually have something to say, you know, but on the other hand, there is something going on in this back forth where people are weighing arguments. And, you know, I actually don’t like meetings very much as a format. So if we could innovate on meetings, my life would improve
Ian Barkin (44:40):
You and I in our, in our discussion on my podcast, which is the, the virtualizing of meetings with the tools we have available today is simply paving cow paths, is it is digitizing an archaic format of interaction and decision making and design. If you could, if you could scrap it all, if you could rip it, that feeds isn’t it. And in fact, earlier this week, I have a standing staff meeting with my, my leadership. And I brought that up at the beginning of the meeting and said, I’d like to challenge us to not do these meetings in the future. Now, what would that look like? And we didn’t come up with any brilliant ideas yet, but I’ll keep you posted because, because you’re right. It’s, there should be different and better ways given the tools we have. And I guess the only other point is if anyone ever, everyone always wants people to record meetings, there’s something very different about live than recorded. And, and sometimes for content like podcasts or movies where we’re, you know, we’re, we’re comfortable with the fact that it’s, it’s been recorded, but recorded meetings are just death to listen to.
Trond Arne Undheim (45:49):
They are boring, aren’t they?
Ian Barkin (45:50):
So I, I do not go back and listen to very many recorded meetings unless it was so incredibly important. And there was such a good reason. I wasn’t able to make it that I go back.
Trond Arne Undheim (46:02):
I think there must be an RPA algorithm for, for filing results from meetings or, or even process arguments. So, so that, that could actually be a very specific machine learning innovation to, to actually start figuring out how to do
Ian Barkin (46:20):
The meetings. And then ultimately if we can just get back to back to star Trek if we can just get to a star Trek reality where where you can just like plug in, or maybe this is a matrix, something you can like data, you could just read all of that content so fast. We can just speed through everything faster. That’d be great.
Trond Arne Undheim (46:37):
Well, I think that’s what Elon Musk is working on with Neuralink. You know, the idea is speeding up certain things. Although you, you sort of wonder if you’re hitting up against the natural biological limits.
- Neuralink (website)
Ian Barkin (46:47):
Yeah. Oh, your head will explode. You’ll have migraines all the time.
Trond Arne Undheim (46:50):
Yeah. Look, I’m going to round this off just to ask you so, and I ask all my guests, because these things we talk about tend to be a little tricky. So how do you track RPA? How do you track the future of work? How do you stay up to date? How do you find such exciting guests to put on your podcast? How do you do it?
Ian Barkin (47:10):
That is a great question. I my attention deficit disorder serves me well and so much as thanks to the Twitters and the LinkedIns and the, the countless newsletters that you can just skim the headlines to as they all populate your inbox. You just try to absorb as much as you can as quickly as you can, but it’s, that’s far from perfect. And I, I know everybody does the problem is just too much. There’s too much out there now. So everybody has a particular view of reality. I, I, I’m always championing the idea of, of dashboards and data and trying to, to design it in ways that are, that it’s easier to almost absorb in an ambient fashion so that you can, you don’t have to spend a lot of time double clicking on things, but you can sort of glance at it.
Ian Barkin (48:06):
That’s sort of a classic like stock market chart of it’s up as good down as bad. And I can clean that in, in picoseconds. So there’s that, and then guests for show, and I’m, I’m still at this point, I’m still just reaching out to my own Rolodex. I guess it’s making me realize how lucky I’ve been through just the course of my own natural career to, to bump into so many interesting people. And and.
Trond Arne Undheim (48:32):
It’s funny you say that I, I have,uI mean, how much I have, you’ve run a podcast for a year, I’ve run it for a month, but I mean, so far there has been absolutely zero shortage. I just reached out once and it’s an avalanche of interest because I think everybody wants to be on TV. It’s the, you know, the Warhol,uright thing, you know, everybody wants 15 seconds of fame and if they can get 45 minutes, absolutely. Um, we all want to be listened to,
Ian Barkin (48:59):
And I think that’s it, as long as honestly, you get, at least maybe I get bombarded by all of these pay-to-play things constantly where they want to promote you. And it’s just, it’s just exhausting and frustrating. Whereas the chance to just chat with someone about stuff that we both find interesting, I’ll do that all day long. And, and also by extension, I’ll listen to that sort of thing all day long. And so I think that’s why I think podcasts are such an effective mechanism for brand building and growth.
Trond Arne Undheim (49:35):
Well, on that note, Ian, it’s been a very enriching, I find your podcast. Interesting. I find you very thoughtful and I always enjoy talking to you, Ian.
Ian Barkin (49:44):
It was a blast. Thanks so much for having me on you are welcome.
You have just listened to episode 30 of the Futurized podcast with Trond Arne Undheim, futurist, and author. The topic was the future of work. Our guest was Ian Barkin, chief strategy and marketing officer of Sykes and host of the one taker podcast. In this conversation, we talked about the future of work, robotic process automation or RPA automated outsourcing experience, focused call centers. COVID-19 smart tech, the creative use of talent scaling and selling adventure building your personal brand, his One take podcast, and about the future of marketing, my takeaway is that the future of work is happening in surprising ways with twists and turns that there are impressive digital elements that enhance automation, but also real human factors that counteract and temper those developments. Thanks for listening. If you liked the show, subscribe at Futurized.co or in your preferred podcast player and rate us with five stars. Futurized–Preparing you to deal with disruption.