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EPISODE 100 : 02/09/2022

Jonathan Reichental

Dr. Jonathan Reichental is the founder of Human Future, a global business and technology advisory, investment, and education firm. He is a recognized global thought leader on urban innovation, sustainability, and digital transformation. He has written three books on the future of cities and just released his fourth book, Data Governance for Dummies. Jonathan has landed on several national and international lists of top CIOs. He also instructs at several universities and regularly creates online video courses for LinkedIn Learning.

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Dr. Jonathan Reichental

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
  • Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
  • Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
  • Opportunities for small business loyalty programs

Watch Spark Loyalty’s Small Business Success Channel

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:00] Welcome to Spark Plug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology brought to you by SnowShoe, Your smarter loyalty leader, Spark Plug is excited to welcome Dr. Jonathan Reichental to the podcast today. Jonathan is the founder of Human Future, a global business and technology advisory investment and education firm, and he’s a recognized global thought leader on a number of really interesting trends like urban innovation and sustainability, digital transformation. In fact, he’s written three books on the future of cities, and his fourth book just came out end of 2022. The book is called Data Governance for Dummies. So if you’re interested in data governance, I’m sure we’re going to discuss that a little bit today. He has online courses for LinkedIn learning, so it’s fantastic to have you here to educate us, Jonathan.

Jonathan Reichental [00:00:51] Well, thanks, Ned, and Ashley for the invitation, I’m thrilled to be here. 

Ashley Coates [00:00:54] We’re thrilled to have you. And I actually want to kick off with something that Ned mentioned in the in your intro, which is the fact that you write for the For Dummies series. I think a lot of us are very familiar with that book series. So how did you get started writing for the series? 

Jonathan Reichental [00:01:12] I mean, it’s kind of a surprise to me too, and it was a surprise to me to learn how remarkable this brand is as part of Wiley, the big book publisher, Global Publisher. And they it is known as the largest reference series of books in history. They’ve sold over 250 million of these dummies books. And, you know, if you go into your local bookstore, you’ll see a small selection, But there are literally thousands of different titles and all sorts of topics. Just out of nowhere, actually, the publisher reached out to me and they were looking to build out more material on the future of cities and the Smart City movement. And we talked about a range of different ways to approach the topic, and they got back to me a few weeks later and said, You know what, we’ve been talking about this internally. We think it would make a great dummies book. And I said, Yeah, I think I think so too. But here’s a little thing about, you know, I’ve written a few dummies books. I don’t write them for dummies, you know what I mean? It’s like I write the book the way I would write it if it was under any title. I mean, these are high quality, you know, topics that I explore in detail and bring, you know, richness to it. But I write it in a way that everybody can understand. And that’s why I liked the Dummies title and the way that they approach topics and the style that they use and the the graphics and the approach. It’s sort of like, you know, it’s a template. And so it works really well, I think as a as a way for me to educate and share. And the audience, of course, the buyer market, the readers love them well. 

Ashley Coates [00:02:44] So one of the topics that you explore in the Dummies books is Smart Cities. You’ve written three different books on this subject, and it’s about how technology can help improve the lives of billions of people who live in urban centers around the world. Yeah. So can you give us a quick summary of how and why technology is part of the answer to that? 

Jonathan Reichental [00:03:06] I will. I’ll try to distill my 12 week university course down to about 2 minutes for you. And I only have kid because obviously it’s a very big question, but I think it all comes down to this. We are now an urban planners, right? For the first time in history, as we passed sort of through the from the 20th to the 21st century, more of humanity lives in cities than outside of cities. We’re a majority urban planet. We’re approaching about 60% of all humans live in a city. This is incredible. It’s never happened before. This number is accelerating. About 2 to 3 million people are moving into cities every single week. Over the next few decades. That’ll mean another few billion humans living in cities in addition to natural population growth as well. So our future belongs to cities. That’s that’s my that’s my line. And how are we going to have a good life in these cities and how do we make sure that the air is clean to breathe, that the water is good to drink like you’re doing now? You know that we have abundant power that is, you know, it doesn’t destroy the planet as we burn through carbon, but we migrate to non-carbon. How do we have good experiences where people can get the services they need from government digitally? You know, because that’s where we want to be. That’s where people are right on their phones or on their laptops. How can we make these cities, our cities safe and fun and places where people aren’t lonely and there’s a good use of the natural environment? All these questions get answered in many different ways, right? But can we can approach them through new behaviors? We can approach them through, you know, just doing things differently. But technology, just like in every other part of the economy, is going to play and is playing an increasing role. In fact, you know, just like we say, I don’t know if you agree with this, but the contention is every organization today is a technology organization, therefore. Local governments. Cities are technology organizations, too. And so that’s that’s the thesis. That’s the whole idea between about, excuse me, smarter and more sustainable cities is that we use technology and new ideas to create a better life for people. 

Ned Hayes [00:05:17] Right? And I know creating a better life is a really important goal, and it’s one that I think we all share. But because we’re on the technology podcast, I’ll just be kind of blood. I’m curious if you see some really cool things happening with Tech. Are there some cool things beyond kind of the day to day of keeping people alive, feeding people, giving them breathable air? What are some of the cool things that you’ve seen as you’ve looked at kind of smart cities and where the future is going? Are we all going to have flying cars? That’s what I want to know. 

Jonathan Reichental [00:05:46] You asked the question specifically about cool things, but I think you’re right in mentioning that, you know, building better cities is about life and death. I mean, it is about, you know, bad life, good life. You know, these are this is the stuff that matters, right? So when we when we do, you know, make sure that drinking water is safe, that’s a big deal, right? When we reduce congestion on highways or give people alternatives to to move, you know, through maybe light rail and other and make our cities more walkable, Both those things matter. But there’s an awful lot of cool things happening to, you know, just just interesting things happening around the world. You know, it’s a I don’t know how you define it, but one of the things that I that we I see is I travel to cities all over the world is how we’re embracing bicycles, for example. Now people think, hey, Jonathan, you’re a computer science guy, you know, and you talk about tech. Why are you bringing a bicycle? Bicycles are a technology and, you know, an old technology. But, you know, we have e-bikes now and bikes are really being embraced. And in our cities, giving people a new option, they’re healthier and they’re better for the planet. And yeah, I think those are pretty cool. The changing how our cities are designed so that, for example, you know, there are bike lanes and we want safe bike lanes. You know, we want safe bike lanes. Let me be clear. But we don’t want bikes to have to, you know, have to sort of grapple with the trucks and busses. We want them to have their own routes around around communities. I mean, another cool thing is just how many services now people can access from their smartphones. Some cities have you know, if you take, for example, Dubai, the city of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. Right. They have a they have a sort of one Dubai app that has hundreds of government services. And you can pretty much get most of the things you need done on your phone, you know, your convenience when you want it. You don’t have to go to a government building, you know, wait for several hours in a queue and go through all the paperwork. It’s all digital. I think that’s cool because that can provide services on the schedule of the person, the actual resident, the citizen, as opposed to, you know, the timeline of the government. One last example is I’ll take you to the city, city state of Singapore. And they were one of the first to use what’s called a digital twin. And we’re hearing the term digital twin now much more broadly use. It’s like one of the hottest areas of tech right now. But they were early in this and they said, you know, let’s make a digital version of the entire city. Let’s embed some sensors for things like traffic management and and environmental monitors, things like air quality and heat and things. Let’s take the data from that and display it through a three dimensional visualization of the city. And now any city leader, a decision maker and a right to stakeholders can sort of zoom in and see the condition of the city and make more timely, informed decisions. By the way, it cost them $65 million, a big investment. But it’s it’s paying dividends because now there’s sort of this real time ability for decision makers at the city level to respond. And by the way, so Singapore really pushed the envelope in that. But we’re seeing that now cities in the U.S., in Europe, Australia, others are now saying we need digital twins of our cities. 

Ned Hayes [00:09:06] Right. Well, I mean, one thing that we see in cities, of course, is physical retail. Right? And so, of course, retail, a lot of people who listen to this podcast care about retail. Yeah. So how does retail make urban life better or worse? I mean, how can retailers use technology to make that experience a positive one? 

Jonathan Reichental [00:09:26] I think we’re all on the same page, that retail is an essential and important part of every urban environment and has been since the emergence of the First cities, you know, 10,000 years ago in Turkey and and other places. You know, the commerce allowed people, attracted people and created a reason for people to be residents in certain areas. And and it also contributed towards choice and the ability for people to, you know, through their economic means, choose the things they wanted and and the lifestyles that they wanted to pursue. Look. The other thing we also recognize is changing in the last few years, the emergence of e-commerce. You know, online retail has been game changing. No doubt there’s been a lot of winners and fortunately far too many losers, if you like, in this equation as the as big online retailers has begun to dominate. But that being said, we also can look out at our main streets around the world and recognize that physical retail is is alive and well in many ways. In some places it’s growing. In some places it’s sort of shrinking. What I think retailers recognized is it has to evolve with the times. And and and that’s what we see, some natural sort of transition from an old world to a new world should happen. And that happens in every industry. And unfortunately, you do see significant, painful change sometimes when that happens. But also as we sort of move forward and we think about the kind of experience that people want, that means change and and well, look, there’s lots I want to come back to this point in a second, But I also want to say, if we think about our kind of central downtown areas, in a lot of communities, we have another phenomena going on too, which is post sort of in the in the kind of in the year like we’re past the worst of COVID. You know, a lot of people are staying at home. A lot of people are working from home. And that has moved where people are spending their time and also having an impact on on downtown areas. So things like office space is another area that’s going to be going to feel the tension of the change that we we see that we see ahead. So, look, there’s going to continue to be an enormous amount of physical retail in our cities, but it’s going to change. And one of the things we see is people want more of an experience. You know, they want to that the easiest example in the world is to use the Apple stores. It’s just a convenient one. How different, you know, today is an Apple store versus, you know, your traditional physical retail of ten years ago. It’s it’s radically different. And you know, I can walk into a mall here in Silicon Valley. Many of them, of course, were a little bit of a tech outlier. And, you know, the retail stores are there. There’s a few people in there. But you look over the Apple Store, it’s packed. They recognize that, you know, we want to create a really fun, different experience. They do training. You know, they they allow people to embrace their products. We use them, you know, put them on their body, ask lots of questions. And when they check out, there’s no there’s no cash registers, You know, that that’s all different that you just whoever you’re working with will take your payment straight away. I’m making a bigger point, which is that’s where I think retail is headed is a changing experience. The changing to not only deliver in a different way, but deliver what people want in a in a sort of a as we enter the third decade of the the 21st century. 

Ashley Coates [00:12:47] Thank you, Jonathan. Just to go off of what you just said, you mentioned the Apple Store and the experience that they have created in their physical retail space. And, you know, being able to take advantage of technology and technological advances is a big way that they’ve done that. Yeah, we have a lot of listeners who are independent retailers, so they don’t have the big budgets and the big staff like an Apple does to to really harness the power of technology and help evolve with with the times, just like you’re talking about. Do you think that that’s a big challenge or a big obstacle for smaller retailers? And and how how should smaller retailers overcome that? If that is a big challenge? 

Jonathan Reichental [00:13:29] For some, it will be. I mean, that’s just the natural product of progress, right? Some of it some of us can argue we hate it, we don’t want things to change. But if you realize things change and for some retailers, this is going to be a and it is a tough a tough period. Okay. That’s the sort of like let’s recognize the problem. On the other hand, I don’t think money is often a barrier to technical adoption. And one of the reasons I say that is a lot of the tools that any one of us can use are either very low cost or are cheap. I mean, that’s one of the great emergencies of the 21st century, is that technology has been democratized. And, you know, the three of us right now, we could spend the next few hours, we could build a business, and that business would be running by tonight. You know what I mean? It’s like we don’t have excuses anymore other than our our having great ideas, you know, having the will and the energy and and and doing a little bit of training and skills building. So even a small retailer can can start to adopt things like loyalty programs, mailing lists, you know, and you know, reach their customers, promote themselves on social media, have a online presence. And all of these things are the entry barriers are really, really low. And so to say, you know, we can’t we don’t have access to the technology or it’s very expensive, those don’t really work anymore. You know, there’s a lot of stuff that you can do, even the checkout experience, right, getting rid of the cash register and, you know, making it easy. People to pay. All that stuff is really low cost and simple to implement these days. Well, I’m talking about the tech, the tech interaction. Right? The digital interaction. I’m not really speaking to the physical experience that you might have when you walk into a to a brick and mortar store. That’s something that each retailer is going to have to determine what, what what makes sense to them. So given the way you described your audience, my view would be think about what you want to become. I mean, where do you think you need to go and then sort of break it into easy pieces? Start with the simple stuff. I don’t think that it’s common that the very small kind of soul trade or retailer is capturing people’s information, for example. Start doing that, you know, so that when you have a special offer or something, you can reach the people who you know have been at your store. People still love those small retail stores. They still do. 

Ned Hayes [00:15:51] Just to follow up on that, I mean, one thing that we’ve heard over and over is that people do love small retail stores because they create a curated, unique experience and building a relationship. Building loyalty is incredibly important for this store. I’m curious in kind of the city of the future, does that kind of very specific curation start to matter more? Because it’s unusual, it’s unique and differentiated? 

Jonathan Reichental [00:16:16] Yeah, I think it’ll be absolutely necessary. You know, there’s certain things today that we still think are discretionary, but as you kind of go out a few years, they’re not, you know, things like having a digital presence and having a digital interaction, even if you are predominantly physical in how you deliver your products and service, there will be continuing pressure. Look over the sort of the decade and beyond. You know, in the city of the future, we will see large brands dominate. We will see online dominating, let’s be honest. So the kind of the the small independent retailer will will feel enormous pressure, particularly in the big cities. And in the center of those big cities are in the center of the in the in the in the commercial districts. I mean, that’s difficult today to have a small event store and a very high end, you know, mall. That’s just not happening. So, you know, location is important. But I think, too, to really answer the question directly, you know, recognizing the significant pressure to evolve and the fact there’ll be, you know, less opportunity over time. Digital is non-discretionary as the as the years go on. 

Ned Hayes [00:17:25] Right. Right. And I think one, the idea that has come up repeatedly is that Kodak a few years ago well I kind of dating myself a few decades. You know, having an online store was something that some stores did, but not all. And moving forward, being mobile, being accessible, 24 seven in some regard, whether that’s a chat channel or whatever. Right. Is going to be part of the retail experience. I’m just intrigued by the way that smaller stores can almost feel like speedboats going around these big, big chains where they can’t move fast enough and adapt fast enough. And the smaller stores are actually able to adapt to changing environment much more quickly. So it’s just fascinating. But speaking of adapting, one thing that I think you’ve written about is sustainability. Right. Being able to create sustainable goods make urban areas more sustainable. So what should consumers look for when they’re looking to create a sustainable lifestyle when they’re going to stores to purchase? What does it need to be sustainable? And do you think this is a trend that will continue? 

Jonathan Reichental [00:18:30] Yeah, yeah. An important question. One of my closest colleagues, a person I admire very much, Gil Friend, he was a chief sustainability officer in a couple organizations and sort of works in that area. And I often talk to him about this topic and he helps me understand it and he helps you understand what direction it’s going. And something he said has stuck with me and I’ve used it a lot with my students and in my writing is, you know, how do we create the world that we want? You know, people feel that they don’t have power. So and that’s actually not true. People have enormous power. And you see why. One thing is, of course, in how we vote, assuming you can vote in elections, that that’s one way that you you share your voice. But the truth is you actually vote every time you buy something. I love this idea, right? Every time you give money to somebody for a product or service, you’re actually electing to support that product and the way it’s manufactured and the materials and the ethics and the values of that organization. And we all buy stuff every single day or every few days, whether it’s groceries or other types of products. So I think the movement around sustainability really starts to shift as the new generation makes a lot more different buying decisions. Right. In a way, they’re kind of doing that already. And you look at, for example, consumption of meat. So a very unpopular topic. But I have to I always speak the truth no matter if people don’t like it or not. I try to sort of give data and have you make up your mind and our. Love of consuming meat is damaging both for our own health. We know this data, but also for the planet. And as nations have become more industrialized, the more developed they consume more meat. It’s all sort of heading in the wrong direction, unfortunately. But now we see, as do generation of not only any demographic who understands that, you know, I want a better quality of life and I want to have such a massive footprint, I’m going to reduce my meat. Plus a younger generation now that don’t see the need to have nearly as much meat. They’re making that decision every time they eat, every time they they buy food or go to a restaurant. And so you see pressure now on meat producers and you see the emergence of alternatives. Right. The the the beyond burgers and things like that of the the Chicken McNuggets that that are made out of, you know, that are not made of meat anymore. They’re made out of other products, vegetable based and products very convincing because the market is is being pushed in that direction. And finally, there’s actually it’s sizable enough that it’s it’s growing and it’s worth investing in. So I think that’s a very big piece of how choices and decisions are made. The other thing, of course, is that we’re in the world of sort of, you know, where leaders of very large organizations are being asked to put on their reports, their their carbon footprint, you know, and being evaluated, if you like, around that, you know, whether they being very, very upfront to shareholders in the marketplace that, you know, here’s what we do and here’s the cost of doing what we do. And, you know, people are starting to make up their minds differently based on information. Well, we don’t like, you know, the way in which you’re harvesting that particular raw material or the the amount of toxic output that’s happening in your factory, you know, being really clear about this data and making it very overt and requiring companies not to do it, I think helps in the conversation, too. I think the last point I would make is we are entering a period where people are a lot more conscious of the environment and the world in which they live. People do want to have a good, healthy environment. They now recognize, for example, the value of parks. You know, we of course, I wrote a book about smart and sustainable cities. But there’s another phenomena that’s sort of a subset of this called Healthy cities, right? And the United Nations as a whole, you know, focus on this, as does the World Health Organization. And, you know, health, as we know, is physical. So for mental and spiritual, it’s how we feel. So people want more that they put their putting pressure on elected officials to to respond in their communities to ensure that, you know, how they invest in a different city. Projects reflect people’s values and their new new wants and desires. 

Ashley Coates [00:22:46] Well, to shift gears a little bit, Jonathan, I’d love to hear more about Human future, which is the firm that you founded. Can you share your elevator pitch in terms of how you serve your clients in the areas of education, advisory and investments? 

Jonathan Reichental [00:23:00] Yes, I would love to. Well, you probably picked up a little bit already that, you know, I’m an educator and I do like to teach. I do like to inform. It’s become a real passion of mine. And I do spend a lot a lot of time around this and agitate. Education takes many forms. For example, this podcast is for me, a form of education. It gives me a chance to share ideas. I always say it’s up to the listener to make up your own mind. You know, you can. You can. If I say things you don’t agree with, don’t do it, disagree, and don’t do anything about it. If I’ve inspired you in some way, that’s a good thing, right? So the educational part of my business is all about helping people and organizations understand the world in which you live and the world in which we’re moving into, you know, cities and all types of organizations. And I also work with the private sector they’re struggling with, you know, how do we remain relevant? This is a key question, not so much cities. Cities are very relevant. But if you’re you know, if you’re a retailer, I guess a big retailer or a bank or even a telecom company or electrical utility, I work with all these companies. They’re sort of saying, you know, everything changing around them in this fourth industrial revolution, this revolution, and they want to understand, well, what is it for us? How do we keep relevance? And then you kind of dig a little deeper and you ask example, well, what can we do to use data to help us drive business growth? How can we take advantage of the Internet of Things? Should we care about cryptocurrency? You know, what does artificial intelligence mean for our products and services? Does it help us, you know, develop better products or does it make our products obsolete? You know, so I help organizations both understand the topic, but also strategize around that. So it’s a big part of the educational piece of human future. As you can tell from the name of the business. I am focused on all of this through the lens of what it means to people. I start all my writing and thinking and teaching around the future cities, the future of organizations. With. The key question is what does it mean for humans? What does it mean for us? What’s the impact? The next part is the so that’s kind of education and advisory. So education is workshops, talks, writing videos. I’m a professor, so I teach this topic. I do executive education. The second is the advisory. So, you know, it’s one thing to sort the talk and then you got to build plans and actually help implement. So I help do that to actually make change. You know, I never wanted to just be a big thinker. I always wanted to be someone who actually makes things happen. That’s very important. And then lastly is this idea of social impact investing. So, you know, again, I want a future that’s better than the the world in which we have today. I want everything to progress in a very positive way. So what can I do in that regard? I can help startups who are focused on a better world, on socially positive organizations to, you know, I can help them make decisions, you know, as any advisor can do. And I put my money where my mouth is by investing in these businesses to hopefully they succeed and then I succeed as a consequence to we all succeed. So that’s really the the thrust of what I do. 

Ned Hayes [00:26:07] Wow. That’s a lot. Yeah. Well, we’ve been through a real sea change for retail and for education over the last few years with the pandemic. So how did the pandemic affect how you approach educating people about technology and the future? How did this change what you teach and how you teach? 

Jonathan Reichental [00:26:28] I have to say I’m very fortunate and but but it’s kind of rare. I actually did better during COVID and now beyond COVID than it did prior to it. And I’ll try to explain that briefly. The first thing is when everything closed right in March of 2020, in April 2020, everything started to shut down all over the world. People didn’t know what to do. Businesses didn’t know what to do. But a lot of people thought, Hey, I’m going to learn stuff while I’m sitting at home trying to figure out what’s going on, where you know what’s happening next. I’m going to learn. So a lot of my learning materials, my online materials, and even my time online, the demand went way, way, way up. Really way up. Like notably. Right. Doubled, tripled type, you know, consumption of my materials. And that has kind of sustained itself because people who didn’t know me got to know me. They got to know my materials. And now they’ve, you know, kept that up. The other part, which is fascinating, is so I do part of my work is I do speaking gigs around the world. I will go to a large conference and try and inspire audiences around some topic at blockchain or the fourth Industrial Revolution, digital transformation, a whole range of topics. And, you know, for for wealthy organizations, they can they can afford to have me get on a flight and come and see them. But many places can’t because we were all stuck at home when everything was digital. I was getting requests to speak at events that I typically wouldn’t be able to, or these organizations went totally digital. So I was more popular, right? So I went from speaking, let’s say, once a week to almost doing a keynote or some sort of event every single day through COVID for like a year and a half. So I did a lot of it for free. Absolutely. I wanted to do my part, you know, as well. But of course, I also ran a business, so I had a generated income from it as well. So that’s what happened with sort of me and my business and a few of my partners during the period of COVID. Now, as we started to the vaccine rolled out and people got more confidence and we started to ramp up business again. There is now this much bigger urgency around digital, for example. And so I’m seeing that reflected in the demands for my time and my work and my businesses work. So it’s been, you know, a good thing. I mean, people realize that, you know, digital really matters. I mean, can you think about had we gone through COVID 30 years ago? I mean, it’s not worth thinking about. We were lucky. I hate to say the word lucky because that’s a ridiculous way to think about it. We had to this was a tragedy. Disaster. But fortunately, we had digital, which kind of kept us connected, kept businesses running. And, you know, we realized how important the Internet is and how important digitalization is. Those are all the things I care about in all the ways that I can add value. So I’ve seen a really big uptick in in my demands. Maybe the final thing, which is worth sharing you and this comes back to sort of the core maybe of how you found me and brought me here is I also had more time and I was also at home like all of us. And so I got this invitation to write this book, you know, by Wylie, the Smart Cities book. And then I just kept writing, and I basically have written several books. I’m going to have my seventh book come out shortly because I was at home and now I have a small catalog of our growing catalog of of books that people can buy about my work that maybe I wouldn’t have created with such urgency and such speed in the absence of COVID. So, by the way, all that said, I did get COVID and I got very, very sick. So I do have a little bit of long COVID these days, which seem to be getting a little better. But, you know, I spoke, obviously a good game. I’m on the COVID stuff, but I also wanted to be realistic and tell you, you know, it hit me hard, too, as it did many families. 

Ashley Coates [00:30:04] Yes, it certainly did. Well, if we could ask for a couple of minutes of free consultation from. Sure. For our audience, I’m just curious, as we kick off 2023, what advice would you give to? So we kind of many of our listeners are independent retailers. What advice do you have for them as we kick off the New Year? Maybe through the lens of the fact that cities will need to continue evolving, retail needs to continue evolving and adopting new technologies. 

Jonathan Reichental [00:30:34] I’ve been thinking about this question a little bit and I thought you might ask Think about it. The one thing that I tell a lot of organizations is it’s not business as usual anymore. And that’s and this is not temporary. And, you know, there is a part of all of us, I think that kind of says, no, that’s a pity. You know, it’s it’s so competitive now and the rate of change is so high that it can feel unpleasant and rather disruptive. And so that’s the world in which we’re operating now. And if you are if you’re a small retailer in a little beach town and you have a good life, you know, things aren’t going to change that much. But yes, you’re a small retailer in a in a city that’s changing rapidly. You know, you’re this is going to be tough now going forward. And that means understanding what you need to do to change, understanding the environment, understanding how you can embrace digital more than you are perhaps. And we although we talked about it a little bit previously, I’ll just sort of reinforce that there’s this is a time now to really build a a relationship with every person who enters your store. And I’m not talking about a sort of a notepad with a pen that you press and write down their email address. I’m talking about having an actual online presence that people can subscribe to. They can become members of. They can get discounts. They can be informed of what you’re up to, really building that. And the assumption, of course, is that you do have, you know, website, your products can be bought online as well. You need to grow that out. And so maybe what that means is you need to begin to get training and and learn skills that you haven’t typically carried about or wanted to you know, maybe avoided it because you just, you know, you don’t want that. You don’t want the overhead. You kind of need to maybe think about that or you work with somebody, you know, you find a colleague or somebody in your world that would be a good partner to help so you can focus on what you love to do with your store, but also have somebody else who can focus on what they’re good at and develop out your your digital, your digital experience. You know, I think a lot of organizations that have understood the value of delivery. So one of the things I didn’t mention about the Future Cities and the consequences of COVID is that we’ve gone crazy with delivery rates. You can just about buy anything and get it delivered to your home pretty fast now, and that’s not changing. So our cities actually are evolving in terms of how you pick up products and how you deliver products. So we’ve got to, you know, figure out it’s called the curb. We’ve got to have a new approach to curb management that wasn’t the term or something I thought about, you know, three years ago. But now we think a lot about curb management. So if you have a small against small retail store and you’ve typically relied almost entirely on foot traffic in addition to building out your your digital online presence, what does delivery look like for you? Can you start to be part of the delivery economy? So now not only can you get your products more easily to people in your community, but perhaps your reach is much further. You can send your products to other cities and other places in the world. So a lot of this is about digital tools, right? It’s really embracing digital digital tools. I think, you know, given the kind of the way you’ve kind of posed the question, and that’s what I think about, and we’ve reframed it or thought about differently, we could probably answer it a little bit differently, but I think that’s the right answer right now. 

Ned Hayes [00:33:53] Speaking of digital tools, you’ve actually done classes on crypto and smart cities and demystifying cryptocurrency. So I’m curious if you could speak a little bit to the future of crypto. I mean, the collapse of FDX, we’ve had various hacks, all of which are, you know, human beings doing nefarious things. It’s not about the underlying technology. But I’m curious, what do you see in the future for cryptocurrency? 

Jonathan Reichental [00:34:20] Is that an opportunity for me to give a great plug here? I have my next book that comes out on February 27th, 2023, and the book is called Cryptocurrency. So it is almost it should be by the time it’s out, it should be about a 400 page book on your question. 

Ned Hayes [00:34:37] Well, you can distill that down. Yeah. 

Jonathan Reichental [00:34:40] I will do that. Look, the first thing I’ll say is I’m not some sort of wild crypto advocate. That’s not where I answer the topic. I answer the topic much more from the perspective of an educator. So I want people to understand what it is, where it’s come from, how it works, and what what it might mean. Here’s a couple of things I will say. Despite what we’re seeing as some terrible events, you know, the failure of the biggest, you know, exchanged and FDX and other bankruptcies in the in the, you know, the crypto exchange marketplace and also the prices, you know, some of the some of the value, some of the crypto is going, oh, despite all that, I do think this this topic has legs and it’s going to be with us. It’s not I don’t think it’s a Ponzi scheme that’s going to collapse and vanish. And one day we’ll look back. That was hey was a fascinating time. It was like, you know, anyway, it was it was it was one of those things that we can look back and say, wow, I wasn’t that interesting. I do think it’s a very big deal and it’s going to be with us indefinitely. Just one data point that you might find interesting. As of the end of last year, as of the end of 2022, 425 million people have crypto. So half a billion people, that’s five, 10% of the world, you know, would be 800 million people. So that’s 5% of the world has crypto, just to give you an idea. And and so just the sheer scale and, and and it’s worth, you know, a few trillion dollars. So given that the evidence suggests that this is going to be around for a while, the question is what will what does that mean that what you are going to see a lot more services supporting crypto. You’re going to see a lot more banking and financial products based on crypto, giving people choice, you know, in their investments and their trading options. You’re going to see more adoption of crypto in the retail space. That hasn’t been a very successful area for I mean, up until now, even though there are, you know, several hundred retailers who do accept Bitcoin and Ethereum and a couple of others, it’s because of the the rapid fluctuations of the currency just hasn’t been something that can stick. I see that, you know, maybe through the form of stablecoins or other tokens to be something that will we’ll actually see be part of our world. So I would say if you are somebody who either right now knows nothing or doesn’t have a good sense of it, it’s a it’s an opportunity to learn and to sort of really appreciate sort of what is this thing, what does it mean to my world if you can, You know, it’s possible to buy and and experience crypto, you know, just for like $10. You know, you’re going to have to spend a lot if you if you’re happy to to gamble, if you like, $10 or $20. But just to experience it, to actually have a wallet and acquire a crypto, you might want to do that and then sort of see what what the whole thing’s about in terms of investing or trading. Be very, very, very, very, very careful. It’s really, really risky. Really risky. You know, if you are a person who has a portfolio and you’re wondering whether cryptos should be part of your portfolio, it could be. I mean, that’s a consideration for every individual, but it ought to be a small part of it, a very small part. So I really want to put the emphasis on this. It’s if you’re a risk taker and you have, you know, $50,000 to to go to Vegas and lose it all. But you might use that on crypto, right. Be prepared to lose it all or have the value certainly dropped significantly. But, you know, those big risk takers, you know, the folks that make big bets, sometimes they get big payoffs. But anyway, really risky. What was the last thing I was going to say about it? I mean, there’s a broader storyline here about crypto assets, right? And you see something like, for example, this this idea of I get a little bit in the weeds here, but it’s the non-fungible tokens or Nfts. He’s a different type of crypto asset and there are many retailers that are beginning to embrace NFT. You know, some of the big names like Adidas and Nike and some of the big luxury brands, the big watch companies, the clothing. In fact, I’ve worked with a few of these on this very topic where people they use the these for the digital assets. They give them to people or sell them as ways to create loyalty, to have sort of some clubs and release, you know, what they call them, like the limited edition versions of things like a pair of very expensive shoes or a new watch. There’s an awful lot of interesting things happening in this space. Largely experimental, right? We’re not in any sort of period of maturity, but but retail actually, and crypto assets, the broader kind of topic is, is a growth area. Now, we’re not talking about the coins themselves, actual currency. We’re talking about the other aspect of the of the crypto market. So I think that could be interesting to your listeners. 

Ned Hayes [00:39:30] Right. Just one example of this. I mean, Starbucks just jumped into the NFT game with rolling out a complete loyalty system based around Nfts, which I never thought would happen. Being around in the early days for blockchain and Nonfungible tokens, I always thought they were too technical for the average consumer. But people like Adidas and Starbucks have managed to to put some value on them. So it really goes to Can you actually put. Real world value on these things and will consumers pick them up? And if you make them able to be consumed and able to be purchased and resold, then they have real world value. Just Segways right into my next question, which are kind of the future of retail and technology. So it sounds to me like you’re saying that crypto is going to be part of that future. What else is going to be there in 5 to 10 years? Well, we all be in the metaverse shopping or what’s going to be happening with retail in 5 to 10 years. 

Jonathan Reichental [00:40:26] I’m on the fence on Metaverse. I’m okay saying this because actually back in 2007, I was a researcher in Metaverse technology. It was so so 16 years ago, I was the one who was talking about it. And I wrote several pieces on including a well-received piece in the Harvard Interactive Media Review magazine. And at the time, people thought I was crazy. I remember being in front of a large business audience talking about the metaverse in 2007, by the way, and they all smiled and I showed them Second Life. And I had I had built an office in Second Life that Zuckerman there, which was, you know, metaverse. And they thought, this is fascinating, but it’s ridiculous. And of course, we know it didn’t go anywhere. I mean, the metaverse did not take off. And now we see, you know, Metta and Mark Zuckerberg sort of betting the farm on it, not really working, to be honest with you. So the hype, you know, I come from a place, I guess, of of credibility in this. I can say the hype is way, way exceeding what’s actually being delivered even in the most popular metaverse environments. There’s not a lot going on. Right. A lot of people spending money. But I’m talking about vendors, not actual consumers. Right. And even back in 2007, you know, there was retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City at the time. And I remember BMW who had retail stores in Second Life, and it didn’t amount to anything. And eventually it was all shut down. You know, we’re at a point now where the graphics and the processing is much better. The the head mounted displays, you know, the things to be able to see the experience are immersive. It is pretty phenomenal. I mean, if you’ve had a chance to play any of the games or tried this stuff out, it is stunning, absolutely stunning. But would anybody put on a headset and go shopping today? A few people would. You know, small handful of people would do because it’s what they do. But there’s no evidence of broad adoption of this anytime soon. Some of the consulting firms say it’s going to be worth trillions by the end of the decade. Well, we should call them on that. If they if they both get it right. If they get it wrong. So I’m going I’m hedging a little bit on this. I’m not yet convinced this is a is a big deal in the in the next 5 to 10 years. I really think if we’re going to have sort of an immersive retail environment, you know, something that you could turn your living room into a any type of world or store you wanted sort of a Star Trek holodeck, you know, or the The Orville has something similar. If you watch the Seth Macfarlane science fiction show, you know, it’s a room and you basically call up any environment you want and it boom, it’s you can experience the environment. I see that happening in your living room. I really do. You know, at some point you love, you’ll buy this box and you switch it on and you’ll say, Hey, take me to a beach in Hawaii and your living room will be Folly Beach in Hawaii. And but there won’t be any heads up. There won’t be any display in your face. You will just experience this as normal. But I think I think that’s a little distance away. We don’t have the technology for today. We’ve got some really cool experimental stuff. But to be able to do that doesn’t exist today. Some great research being done on it. So, you know, we could see breakthroughs, you know, 20, 29, 30, 31, something like that. Or by 2035, you know, once you get to sort of 2030 and beyond, all bets are off, you know. But the acceleration of tech means we’re going to be surprised by a lot of things. Right? I’m really, really surprised. I mean, just the sheer acceleration, something like GPT, which is sort of the tech of the moment right now, is it gives you a little tease of what might be coming. I mean, that’s that’s really, really phenomenal. So anyway, getting back to the question about what do I see the next few years, I do see continued evolution of both physical retail as an experience, a completely different reason for you to go to the store, not, you know, this idea of you kind of wandering in and sort of perusing shelves and stuff. It seems like that is changing more to be experiential more than anything. And maybe you have the experience there in that you buy the product online or you buy the product online and you pick it up from the physical store. If it’s more convenient to do it, you know, do that immediately. So the kind of that dynamic I see evolving, but where are the real innovations going to happen is going to be online, It’s going to be digital. You know, the bulk of retail experiences are going to be digital. And I think that’s just a matter of being realistic about where the next ten years are going. 

Ashley Coates [00:44:35] That’s really fascinating. What a vision of the future. Well, Jonathan, thank you so much for being with us today. Just fascinating conversation. So glad that you could give us some of your time. We do have one final question for you, which is, what would you like your legacy to be? What would you like to be remembered for? 

Jonathan Reichental [00:44:51] Oh, goodness. That’s the kind of question that podcasters should ask. I love that. I’m thinking about through. Few lenses. The most obvious one to me, we don’t remember what people did typically. We remember how people made us feel. That’s what typically happens. And so I would like to be remembered for being kind, being a kind human being. Right. That to me, that’s the most important thing. I mean, I think kindness is one of the most important qualities, and I try to reflect that in every single thing that I do and every interaction I have with every single person. You know, when you wake up in the morning, you have a choice of how you’re going to what you’re going to do. And it surprises me how many people enter the day angry and they decide not to be nice. They just have the negative approach. I choose to be a kind person when I wake up, so maybe that’s the big one. If I could be bold to say a second, it was that I was an educator, that I committed my life to helping others learn and understand the world in which we occupy for a short period of time, and that I was successful in inspiring and helping people be successful because of that. How would you answer the question. 

Ned Hayes [00:46:00] How hard that question can help us on your podcast first, and that’s a really thoughtful answer. Thank you. It’s so true. It does seem like some people wake up wanting to hurt the world instead of improve the world. I really, really appreciate your thoughtful engagement and I look forward to getting your next book. 

Jonathan Reichental [00:46:19] Oh, that’s very kind. I love being here. Thanks. There. Thanks, Ashley, for your engagement to your questions and the opportunity. It’s been a real pleasure. Thank you. 

Ned Hayes [00:46:26] Spark Plug is a wholly owned property of SnowShoe. Copyright 2022 2023 Spark Plug Media.