Karl A L Smith

human knowledge belongs to the world

Karl Smith Experience Consultant

20 questions about the life and experience of #KarlSmith

I was recently asked to answer 20 questions by Beament Leslie Thomas (BLT) a leading niche, specialist recruitment company some of it explains why I like to do the impossible and how.

This edition of 20 Questions is with Karl Smith; CEO of Agile World Inc. and an acknowledged leader in the field of Human-Centered Design, User Experience, Usability and Agile Transformation. He has been honored with a Fellowship by the British Computer Society. He is also the Founder of several organizations including UCD UK Conferences and the Human Centered Design Society.

Karl Smith

What was your first job?

My first paid job was working in Sweeties while still at secondary school, measuring out the quarters and yes I was allowed to eat the sweets just not open anything boxed.

Who’s influenced your career most (and why)?

Leonardo da Vinci, because he was never satisfied with being one thing but wanted to discover the world around him and try and understand it. I think our business world is at last understanding that a wide experience is highly valuable, the T shaped person being the current terminology. For me Leonardo da Vinci did not just have a diverse experiences he could link them together to get a 360-degree view from any single starting point. A fascinating person in politics, science, invention, design, art, I wonder who he would invite to a party?

What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone?

Whatever people say it made sense in their head to them before they said it. If you can work out why before you respond you’ll have insights and abilities beyond your age or experience.

What’s the best/worst quality in a leader?

Fearless leaders are the best to work for. They understand what’s going on and why, they establish teams and are inclusive even when it’s not required. The worst kinds of leaders are those without any backbone. Leadership is not a title it’s a behaviour and true leadership is born from responding to and overcoming adversity, leading from the front and inspiring the troops to be better than they thought they could be.

What was the worst piece of advice you’ve been given?

“Don’t be concerned, it will all get resolved during the project”. It never is. Usually this is because the person setting up the project does not have a clear idea of how to achieve the outcomes required – if they are known – and does not understand business pragmatism.

What was your best meeting ever (and why)?

It was not a huge project but I gathered the requirements for The Roundhouse Trusts web presence over a 12-hour period. It was the presentation of the solution to them, there were a couple of other people from the consultancy side, the client agreed and signed off the solution during the meeting. It was one of the few occasions where there was no back and forth about minor details. The reason was I had accepted them as experts in their business and delivered a solution that met all the stakeholder requirements, without one ounce of personal preference, just commercial acumen. I synthesised their needs and dreams into an actionable solution and replayed the solution in their own words back to them.

For the people who have so kindly asked, what was your worst meeting ever (and why)?

I was brought into a new role and was engaged on a huge project with a USA Banking client, the project had been ongoing for over a year. There were red flags everywhere and quite rightly the client was furious about the problems with their new software.

My boss asked me to attend a meeting with client representative to explain the situation and describe what I was doing to rectify it. Fair enough, my response was to say okay, but that I would investigate the problems first and report back to him before attending the meeting.

What I discovered was that the US Bank had used a well respected digital design agency that I will call Bicycle 4, for the sake of context to create a design a solution. This solution had been discarded by the sales team as they did not want to use it. They then brought in some experienced technical people to gather requirements and got rid of them all in order to increase the value margin on the project replacing them with recent graduates. The sales team were not aware that the US bank intended to have Bicycle 4 managed the QA and sign off process. I relayed my report that the reason for the thousands of errors on the project was based on junior people building a system totally unrelated to what had been instructed. I said I was happy to let the US Bank know this was the reason, but he decided there was no need for me to attend the meeting.

And to the meeting, well I was never invited, but I suspect I did rather badly in it.

What did you want to be as a child?

Happy. I was not career focused and I am inquisitive, willing to learn new perspectives and evolve my thinking. This is somewhat at odds with what I do in Management Consulting but thankfully I have augmented standard processes with the Human Centred Design framework of ISO 13407:1999 and ISO 9241-210 which are building blocks towards delivering exceptionally engaging experiences for everyone.

If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?

I write a lot and am working on a couple of books, but if it was a profession I’d be a Barrister or a Judge; the Law is highly fluid and fascinates me. Legal matters are mainly procedural by building case law and arguments to achieve a decision in favour of your clients through advocacy. I did once apply to be a Justice of the Peace because I can keep an open mind.

Tell us about a turning point in your career?

There have been lots but I think the most profound happened at college; I was friends with a large group of Americans studying in London. All apart from two of them died on Pan Am flight 103 at Lockerbie. Of the two survivors, one was my best man when I married and we remain friends today. The experience crystallised a view of the world I still purvey today, “We have one chance to get it right, be the best you can and don’t intentionally limit or use others”

What was your worst mistake (and what did you learn)?

I worked for an insurance company on a change project. The mistake was not forcing my client to adhere to the agreed process of giving me a meeting agenda for every stakeholder meeting. If I had got this I would not have had a meeting with someone already angry that the project was being done without their approval, I would have organised the meeting differently. What I learned was to stick to the planned process as it provides checks, balances and risk management in unexpected and valuable ways.

What’s your favourite holiday destination?

Florida, I’ve been to many places around the world and 20 US states too, but Florida is both industrious and relaxed, the place makes a lot of sense to me.

What are you passionate about?

Delivering to a client’s needs not just responding to their request. It’s what people say about my consultancy; I really do consult not just carry out orders. I’m there to facilitate change and that will mean I discover opportunities and risks others miss. I expand the vision for my clients often without substantive costs because they usually already have the capability but just don’t know how to tap into their own people.

Who’s your business or personal hero/heroine?

My Father, he’s the best man I know. He always worked to give his children opportunity often setting aside personal ambition for us. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for another person. He was also the Queen’s optician, he met Louis Mountbatten and provided optical services to both film and TV stars like Sir Cliff Richard and Kenneth Williams.

What’s your favourite quote or motto?

“Around here we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

What’s your greatest business achievement?

To still be going and loving what I do, I think this is because it’s not just about being paid, I do this work because it makes people’s lives better.

What’s your greatest personal achievement?

Completing the 2001 NYC Marathon bypassing the mass hysteria about Anthrax and travel at the time

What’s your favourite gadget?

My phone, sad I know but it’s true.

What would you choose as your last meal?

What’s your all-time favourite book (and why)?

Phule’s Company. It’s a mix of all the best things – military comedy, social change and advancement based on one simple thing; people are not what they appear to be they are a great deal more complex and amazing than you can see from the surface.

Which one person, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner with?

Leonardo da Vinci, I’d just love to hear him talk or Louis Mountbatten for the same reason.

Karl Smith has business experience spanning 27 years at comparable levels in fields including defence, industry, construction, fashion, finance, banking, FMCG, property, publishing, healthcare, travel, policing, crown office, local and central government. Recent organisational design roles include launching Enterprise User Experience in Accenture and setting up Wipro Digital.

He has a wide experience in management consultancy and digital technology and has been honoured by the British Computer Society for his eminence in IT leadership over the last 15 years with a Fellowship.

He mainly focuses on customer experience engagement, agility and management in both B2B and B2C sectors.  Karl is involved in defining new business concepts, strategies, requirements, governance (ISO/IEC 38500) and solutions that support businesses and organisation’s involved in transforming themselves to be adaptive and future proof themselves for market disruption. He has been working on commercial IoT since 2001 and hope technology will soon catch up with his vision.

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