Giles Clayton-Jones, former Head of McLaren’s global brand and founding partner of Bard London, reflects on how business and technology is innovating our future.
I will never forget the first time I entered the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC). Having parked my car, I walked through a long, perfectly white, underground corridor that took me to a lift and then to the reception in the very heart of this cathedral to innovation. This journey was deliberate and designed to clear your mind, to focus you on the experience of entering one of the UK’s greatest technology companies. I did this same act for nearly five years and the process never got stale.
Whilst the entire building was designed to create a reaction in those lucky enough to visit it, McLaren’s greatest achievement was not a fancy looking building, nor was it producing some of the world’s leading technology breakthroughs. Where McLaren – under the eagle-eyed direction of the genius Ron Dennis – got it right, was that technology wasn’t the goal, it was the servant, the force-multiplier if you like. The real goal was simple, to win.
I have been privileged to see at very close range some of the world’s leading technology companies and my experience tells me that all too often the relationship between technology and business isn’t about human advantage, it is about technology for technology’s sake, and that’s where the trouble lies.
How do you create the perfect fusion between technology and business? How do you manage technological breakthroughs to ensure they deliver for us and aren’t the goal in their own right? The answer lies in an obvious truth. If there is a customer need and your technology meets it, you have a winning formula. If you create the technology and then attempt to retrofit it to the customer need, by definition it won’t fit perfectly, and the rubbing will cause pain in the long run.
A few years ago, I started a communications firm with some colleagues with the clear and simple aim of putting the customer at the heart of what we do. As we had a financial services bent, and due to my experience working in Israel in the past, it wasn’t very long until we started working for several blockchain derived cryptocurrency firms. Blockchain for me is the very essence of a technology that hasn’t yet found its human purpose, it is a solution desperately looking for a need, and to date failing to find it. This is the very heart of the technology and business debate. When Facebook was founded, I am sure no one knew that it was going to be more powerful than governments and hold the balance of democracy in its hands.
Technology has the ability to do great good, to create great wealth and make our lives unquestionably better. But it also has the ability to confuse, to create solutions to problems that don’t exist and become the very reason for being. Business has been conducted for thousands of years and successful businesses have always used the latest technology to change the game and gain an advantage. But the really clever businesses, those that win races, harness technology rather than worship it.