Valuing the creators

Jean-Marc Laouchez is the firm’s global managing director, solutions.

Although technology is positioned to reshape the future of work, without a critical component—acceptance and adoption by people—it can never fully achieve its promise. How are people the driving force for technology, and why are skills, which only people can bring, essential to creating the future of work?

Do you recognize the names Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, and Jaan Tallinn? Tony Fadell? Tim Berners-Lee? What about Skype, iTunes, the iPhone, and the World Wide Web?

Third in a series.

The Future of Work: To work is human

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When an exciting new technology arrives, it’s often forgotten that a big breakthrough starts as a big idea, the brainchild of a person or team.

Like any product, technology creates value and gains market share by solving real people’s problems. When an innovation strikes gold, the connection between the value that’s created and the team behind the technology is often lost. But without these exceptional individuals, the value could not be realized.

Firms should view high-performing, high-potential people—those capable of creating great value for them—as high-value assets. That’s because, in the future, these innovators and achievers—not real estate, machinery, or inventory—will drive growth. Consider that the economic value Berners-Lee, Fadell, Heinla, Kasesalu and Tallinn have released amounts to trillions of dollars.

After Berners-Lee conceived hypertext mark-up language, he famously refused to put a price tag on the first Web page. Although he noted in his 1989 proposal that the United States military and librarians worldwide would find value in the World Wide Web, he could not have predicted the commercial impact of his advance. In 2015, the US online retail market alone was worth an estimated $342.9 billion and is expected to reach nearly $700 billion by 2020. Google, today almost a synonym for the Internet, enjoys a brand worth estimated at $82.5 billion. With the number of online transactions projected to pass eight trillion globally by 2020, plus revenues from advertising, and the nascent Internet of Things (which by itself is projected to inject $200 billion into the UK economy alone by 2020), the true commercial value of Berners-Lee’s innovation is still unfolding.

The coders who created Skype, the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software that gained a million users within its first month, are almost national heroes in their native Estonia. VoIP technology had been on the market for 10 years when programmers Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn pioneered their key innovation as Skype, bypassing a central server or telecommunication providers’ lines to connect people via their PCs and home lines. Originally designed for the consumer market, it’s now firmly part of the business landscape. Microsoft bought the company for $8.5 billion in 2011, replacing its native Lync product with Skype for Business in April 2015.

Many see Steve Jobs as the mastermind behind iTunes. It was the brainchild of entrepreneur Tony Fadell, who saw the opportunity to connect an MP3 player with a digital music store. Apple hired him and gave him a team of 30, and the iPod’s release in 2001 helped to disrupt the music industry. Thus far, and just in 2016, Apple made $18.03 billion from iTunes sales alone, and although the iPod has quietly slipped into the tech dust bins of history, its creation was a key milestone in developing the iPhone, which hit 231.2 million unit sales worldwide in 2015. Presumably Apple is glad it made such a smart hire.

Apple’s experiences with Fadell prove the rule: Although technology clearly releases great value for people, whether it enhances people’s lives or enlarges shareholder’s dividends, it cannot (yet) create itself. Now and for the foreseeable future, innovations require people to conceive them, create them, and drive them to productive use. So companies seeking success should focus on their talent by looking within the organization or bringing smart people in. It’s how they will find their unique—human—catalysts for growth.

Authors

  • Jean-Marc Laouchez

    President, The Korn Ferry Institute

    Bio >