When I parted company with Hyper Island (after a quarter of a century), I wondered briefly the answers to 3 questions: would I find interesting clients and companies to work with going forward, would I be able to focus on learning design, and would I be pushed in my own learning to continue to step up and deliver new learning and training experiences?
I have just completed a 3 month project for Coca-Cola Bottling Investment Group, BIG and I can without hesitation say that the answer to all three questions is a clear yes. This was the most exhilarating project I have worked on in years and it was based here in Asia, in Malaysia, and working with some of the best storytellers in the business.
We have just finished a two day leadership off-site in Kuala Lumpur and the level of polish, theatre and leadership was off the scale. Here is a company that is doing very well but knows that it could be doing even better. The group of 200 leaders from 12 countries are lead by the astonishing Murat Ogzel and after the pandemic are setting out on a journey to accelerate their transformation.
My role, together with friend and colleague, Laurence Smith, was to bridge the gap between the visionary speakers (Adam Grant, Mike Walsh and Catriona Wallace), the data and the evolving jobs of the 200 leaders. Laurence and I designed and ran two sessions on day 1 and a longer session on day 2. The first of these focussed on pushing people to expand their digital mindset while the second focused on making (a daunting prospect with 200 people in a single large room). While these are the names of sessions I have run before, we worked hard with the organising team to make them completely fresh and new.
Here are just a few of my biggest learnings that might be helpful to other companies taking their teams on the next parts of their transformation journey.
1. Theatre is everything.
Coke had created a truly immersive world for two days. We might have been in an hotel ballroom but the production company had transformed it into a 360 degree video space together with a sweetshop, refreshment areas and all things Coke. This level of branding and worldbuilding infused everything from the clothes we wore to the music, videos and smoke machines. We learned, played, made and celebrated. We entered via a tunnel into this highly visual space and just these sorts of little design decisions made all the difference as we left the outside world and focused on the future.
2. Leaders matter.
The programme was a finely crafted journey from the moment Murat set the scene to the clever ending where he got everyone dancing. Here is a leader who owns the space. If you are going to transform your business then having this level of commitment from the top is itself transformative.
3. Learning can scale.
You can get 200 people making, for 90 mins in a single space but the setting needs to be excellent and allow people to talk to those next to them. We had them exploring AI, imagining the future of their work and exploring supply chains step-by-step. These leaders are the regional bottling organisations inside Coca-Cola and not marketers and the issues their face are all production, distribution, logistics and customer relationships (as opposed to consumers). The level of creativity and engagement was amazing.
4. Design of great learning take a long time.
Although this was a two day delivery, the design of just our part has taken the best part of a month. In my previous job design was getting squeezed instead of being expanded to meet the new challenges ahead. It was great to work with a client who pushed the design over and over again; including in real time as the sessions unfolded. A big part of my design work focused on creating a take-away that the leaders will be able to use to start conversations with their teams and beyond.
5. Data is key to transformation.
Although innovative technology such as generative AI, machine learning, the metaverse and IOT are all important to this business, it is data and insights from that data that make the difference. This was made tangible by two presentations today on B2B customer relationships and coordinated supply chains. These internal presentations, in my opinion, were the highlights of the two days with Tolga Cebe, Umesh Madhyan and Ruth Genota turning what could have been dry powerpoint decks into visionary glimpses of current work on connected parts of the supply chain.
6. Continue to create a sense of urgency.
Coca-Cola BIG is highly successful but that very success holds many other companies back from transforming. This event was about the opportunities and threats of not transforming.
7. Help people look in the mirror.
BIG had engaged Frauenhofer to survey all the participants and produced a detailed report on how they see transformation. This was presented in the afternoon of day 1 and was a great way to balance what they see as working well as well as identifying gaps and needs.
8. It’s not just about the technology.
Adam Grant was a great choice of inspirational speaker and he emphasised the human and leadership elements of effective change. This was made more powerful by the format, a fireside chat between him and Murat. Even though he did not attend in person, but joined us over video, the staging of this conversation proved to be highly effective.
9. Give people things to take away and do with their teams.
Along with some excellent branded swag, participants left with a toolkit that I had designed that should allow them to run some interesting exercises with their teams. I have always loved specific things that allow me to take ideas further and creating these for others will now be a standard part of my future design work. I will personally take away some recommended books, reminders of Coca-Cola’s music (that was used very effectively to link every session (and an ice bucket!).
10. Great learning is a team game.
There were so many people to thank for this event from the production company to the design team to all of the participants who really leaned in. I’d also like to thank Laurence and Orri Helgason for this amazing opportunity.