The Future, Through the Lens of Entrepreneurs

This week’s article is provided by Faris Alami, Founder and CEO of ISM.  It is a companion to the interview he and Dr. Christopher Washington did on the Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future.  Their interview titled Post-Pandemic Approaches to Developing Future Fit Employees, aired on Tuesday, March 1st, 2022.

Here’s a short clip of Faris Almi and Christopher Washington’s interview:


Here’s the full interview:

For the past few years we have faced the challenges of COVID-19, from the initial shutdowns to the reopening, to the next shutdown and reopening — each part of the “new reality.”

Many have found it devastating. They grieve for the loss of nearly a million lives in the U.S. alone, as well the loss of businesses and communities According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “the pandemic resulted in the permanent closure of roughly 200,000 U.S. establishments above historical levels during the first year of the viral outbreak, according to a study released by economists at the Fed.” (Simon, 2021)

At the same time, the pandemic also provided opportunities for entrepreneurs to start or grow their businesses.

“The new numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday… found that a whopping 5.4 million new business applications were filed in 2021, surpassing the record set in 2020 of 4.4 million.”-Andrea Hsu,

As with any other challenge, there will always be some who gain while others lose. As we continue to deal with the implications of COVID-19, there are opportunities to create new platforms and paths to explore to pursue the dream of starting a business.

The “New Reality” of the Corporate World

The reality of the pandemic has shifted the workforce in a variety of ways. The initial and most tangible shift is the transition and creation of remote jobs. According to the NCCI, only 6% of employed Americans worked from home before the pandemic. Initially, about 35% of the workforce worked remotely in the first four weeks of the pandemic. As of May 2021, about 24% of employed Americans still work remotely, with no plans to return to the office. 

Instead of being in person, working right there in the office, many people continue to work remotely — managing and tending to their business tasks, their personal lives, their kids, and sometimes their elders, all at once, and all in the same place.

The workforce has shifted. These times create new challenges, and also generate new problems to be solved — thus producing opportunities for innovative solutions to accommodate this new sect of employment.

Lifestyle and Purpose as a Priority

The second shift is in the mindset of workers and the realization of their top priorities truly are. The time with family and friends has allowed a reflection on the importance of finding purposeful work. They no longer look for a job just to have a job, they are looking for a job with a purpose — to have a better life, to have a better world, support the underserved, the underrepresented, go to the moon — whatever it is, their purpose is driving their job search.

After the pandemic shifted many Americans’ lifestyles, the flexibility and remote work made many not want to return to the office and maintain that level of flexibility they got to experience as a result of the pandemic.

They ask themselves: Will this job allow me to fulfill my purpose?

Purpose or Wage Ratio Increase?

Many aspects of business have been affected by the pandemic, including the cost and availability of labor. The entrepreneurial spirit of Americans was ignited during this period of reflection. With many Americans looking for purposeful work, they are also looking for purposeful pay.  According to the Pew Research center, “the wage ratio increased to 16% by the third quarter of 2020 and had ascended to 19% by the second quarter of 2021.” (Kochhar, Bennett 2021).

This created a new challenge for entrepreneurs — particularly small businesses or startups. Many don’t have the funds to create those jobs. Sometimes there is not enough revenue to justify the payment for that work.

This is why you see the shift today — some entrepreneurs are able to navigate this new reality by hiring and training new talent. They are facing the fact that they can no longer afford talented individuals with experience. Those folks, most of the time, have been able to launch their own businesses or find jobs that will pay them what they are worth.

The End of a 40 Hour Work Week?

That represents a new challenge for entrepreneurs accustomed to having people 40-50 hours a week. And there must be a mind shift, not just a physical shift. They need to find new ways to allocate and articulate their work in a 20- or 30-hour work schedule rather than a 40-hour schedule.

This may mean that looking for a team of people working part time as opposed to 1 full time employee may be the best way to find success. Some of the benefits of hiring a team are the opportunity for innovation with more minds collaborating, less opportunity for employees to feel overworked or burned out, increasing retention, and increased productivity within the time they do work instead of just fulfilling the 40 hours to ‘complete’ their schedule.

It took a few years for us to successfully shift from an in-person workplace to a virtual staff. It will probably take time to reverse that shift. We could be looking at 2023 or 2024 before whatever this “new normal” becomes apparent. Sometimes you are open, sometimes you are closed, sometimes someone’s not able to show up.

I encourage entrepreneurs who are starting or growing businesses — specifically small and medium businesses or startups —to rethink the way they view the workforce. It seems that we still can hire for attitude and train for skills!

Ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is this really a full-time position, or can these tasks be completed on a part-time basis?
  2. Can this job be divided amongst a team instead of just an individual?

Why does your business exist? What purpose are you fulfilling for the community or for the customers you serve? The answer might help you attract the talent to want to work with you toward your purpose.

With this article, my goal is not to tell you what or what not to do, but only to inspire conversation for us to think about these ideas.

Keep thinking about the future of work through the lens of entrepreneurs, as they face new challenges every day.


To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.


About the Author

As Founder and CEO of ISM, Faris Alami works with international leaders and entrepreneurs on strategies and implementations, to create an empowering environment for startups and existing businesses to prosper and grow. In the course of his career, Faris has been a special advisor and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem expert with the World Bank, a Business Advisor with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, and a Mentor to MBA Students and Entrepreneurs globally.


Photo by Mikey Harris on Unsplash

Do Not Let Machine Learning Advances Outpace Your Organization

This blog a companion to the Voice America Interview on “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” with  James Brenza and Joe Hammond, founders of XDS on May 18, 2018, Machine Learning and Analytics: Case Study.  The blog is a guest post provided by James Brenza. James is the coauthor of the Innovative Leaders Guide to Implementing Analytics Programs.

The future of many industries and businesses is increasingly about data and how analytic models can increase agility, accelerate decision velocity, and improve outcomes. Whether you are working in retail, manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, financial services or public sector, you are probably already feeling the pressure. As the clouds are forming on the horizon are you, your leadership team, and your organization embracing this change?

The machine learning and artificial intelligence tsunamis are not about to arrive; they have already arrived. The effort to integrate data and develop analytic models has been compressed from weeks to hours. The effort to deploy models has been compressed from hours to minutes. Some of the most advanced firms are revising models intraday. The future of your organization and personal leadership is being measured by your ability to embrace and adopt the agility created by these technologies.

An entrepreneur’s perspective

As entrepreneurs, we have embraced this new reality into the fabric of our organization. As a team, we have aligned ourselves on customer centricity and agility. When we refer to customer centricity, we mean understanding their primary challenges and their barriers to adopting productive solutions. We accomplished this by listing all of our constraints and our customers’ constraints. We then systematically design and deploy solutions that step over those barriers.

Our focus on agility certainly applies to technology. All of our development is done in weekly sprints and two month iterations. This allows us to make small course adjustments very frequently to ensure we are being responsive. We can also adjust our strategic plan when better information becomes available. Beyond technology, agility also applies to how we run our organization. All initiatives and campaigns are managed with agile principles. We continuously test outcomes and adjust our course as needed. While a strategic plan is necessary, adaptability is the new key to survival. Through that lens, a major portion of our strategy is to remain agile and responsive.

The impact on analytic products

Our products and services are based on analytics. Many organizations have had analytic initiatives trudging along for years without significant benefits. Other organizations have tried to start for months without any demonstrable progress. Analytic agility has become the key to our success (and probably your future). We designed our solution architecture to embrace agility and continuous change. While we work predominantly with structured data (i.e., organized tables that contain billions of rows), our analytic model capability is completely agile, responsive, and based on machine learning. We have adapted to slices of data that can arrive periodically. Our models must adapt to every revision of these datasets. Rather than fight that reality, we designed our products to embrace it and take full advantage of our ability to respond quickly.

Recent transaction outcomes are treated as just one more data source with every model execution. This allows us to capture the very best outcomes from prior model executions as well as input from business experts. Since our machine learning engine is highly automated, it can build multiple models concurrently, select the very best features, create hybrid models, and allow experts to compare the model outcomes. This has reduced weeks of work to just hours. By continuously incorporating recent outcomes, we have integrated continuous change and learning. The future of automated machine learning is not on the horizon – it’s here and it’s now.

How can a leader respond?

  1. Embrace change as your primary link to surviving the future. We need to look beyond just revising business plans annually or quarterly. We need to evolve plans and develop products that learn and adapt continuously.

360 degree thinker

2.       List your barriers and have your team focus on removing them. If you put your barriers on a list in front of you (instead of letting them swirl in your head), you can attack them more vigorously. For every barrier you list, challenge yourself to list three creative solutions that let you step over that barrier.

unwaverin commitment

3.       If you and your team cannot overcome barriers, enlist external perspectives. The only shame is not enlisting assistance and allowing it to sink your ship in silence.

inntely Collaborative

4.       Create a culture that flourishes on innovation. We recommend creating a team that is dedicated to staying on your forefront, providing them with a collaborative environment, guiding them to the problem (without shackling their solutions), and injecting some impatience for solving problems. Hint: work in one-onth iterations to demonstrate small solutions quickly rather than allowing the problem to fester for multiple months.

professionally humble

5.       Make sure your personal leadership inspires a commitment to change. This needs to include both your external voice, internal voice, and observable actions. Your team will know you are sincere when you are interested and “in the game” with them.

inspire followership

Do those items sound like leadership platitudes? Here is the translation for getting into the continuous change analytics game:

  1. Create a one-line statement that declares how you will use analytics to guide your day-to-day business.
  2. Identify the barriers to that statement and list experiments to overcome them.
  3. Partner with an expert when your team cannot create a breakthrough in one month.
  4. Collocate your business and technical vanguard team. Let them focus on creating a single, demonstrable solution in one month.
  5. Remain visible to the team, set guardrails, support them, but do not micromanage them. They need to own their outcomes and learn through that process.

Embracing this new pace of change created by these technologies is going to be difficult. Ignoring it seals the fate of your organization. While you may not know all of the answers, you can create a culture and organization that will adapt and flourish.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About James Brenza

James is an Information Technology and analytics leader with twenty years of diversified experience and success in delivering analytical, functionally rich, complex solutions. A hands-on leader that carefully balances strategic planning, business communications and technical delivery. Extensive experience with motivating mixed-shore teams to deliver high quality, flexible results.

The top 3 benefits James provides are strategically aligned solutions, cost savings and change leadership.

Specialties: Alignment of business and technology strategy, data analytics, business process improvement (Six Sigma and Lean), data management (data warehousing and business intelligence), program management, contract negotiations, traditional SDLC and Agile solution development.