“Leadership Skills for the Future”

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Hello and welcome back to the Dr. Nilda Business Foresight Strategy show. And with me today, I have my cohost Rachel Calderon and a very special guests all the way from the UK, Steve Wells. So let me read you his bio. He has a very interesting bio. Steve Wells is a global futurist, a keynote speaker, and the COO of fast futures. He advises global corporations in the transformative potential of disruptive technologies and how brands can leverage them to creative distinctive identities in a fast changing world and drive, potential growth and improvement. His particular focus is on new models of leadership, collaboration, innovation that’s required to sustain and differentiate brands that are rapidly changing reality. Steve is a co editor, the contributor to the books, future of business, which I have, business genuinely stupidity, which I don’t have, ensuring AI serves humanity, the future reinvented, reimagining life, Society of business and his forthcoming book unleash the human potential and the future of AI in business. This is fascinating. I thank you so much for being here with us today. So I want to start with, tell me a little bit about what fast futures is about. What is this company, what do you do, what is it about?

in terms of what it’s about. What’s really important to us is two things really. One is helping to grow when it’s about future studies, about looking into the future, not just doing the usual thing that corporations do and kind of use trends to work out where we might be in two years’ time, but really take a step back and look at the disruptive nature of technologies and other factors in the environment that may change the destination of our businesses and our lives of whatever we’re choosing to do in the future. But what’s really important to us as well is trying to do this in a way that helps people realize that as a society we have a choice. That choice is whether we want to use the opportunities that technology has given us to create a very human future, or do we want to leave our fate to the tech companies? So that really what we’re about, we’re about the future and we’re about hopefully creating a sense of importance around taking that opportunity to create a very human future.

So what is the story behind fast futures the book? And the book is called the futures of business

Well, I’ve known Rohan my co director for about 15 or 20 years, about three years ago we were having a chat and he said, look, I’ve got an idea for a book, I want to bring 25, 30 people together for them to share their special, unique, their expert perspective on future. And we spoke to some publishers and we said if we were to produce a book, how long would this take? And they said about 18 months to two years and we thought there must be a way to break that publishers paradigm to be disruptive in the publisher space. So we bought that book to market in 19 weeks with 60 and not 25 or 30 chapters. So we have 60 contributors, 60 chapters from pretty much every single continent around the world. And we bought this book with a view to, as I’ve said before, really helping people understand what are the kinds of technologies we’re seeing. And importantly, what are the potential implications for business society more generally because unless we understand those, then we can’t formulae the sensible rep and sensible flexibility and strategies that we need to take advantage of those.

So in your book, I know you talk a lot about businesses in the future and technology. So one of the major themes that you see changing in this rapidly changing world, which is change and that’s the thing, although change has been in all of our lives, but we find that with the information age, it’s much faster. The future is tomorrow its a future as next week.

The thing of particularly interest me is first of all, we were talking just now about the significance in artificial intelligence. And without a doubt, artificial intelligence is one of the big game changing technologies, that we’re already seeing and that we’re going to see. But what actually sits behind that I think is almost a change of mindset that we’re seeing. In part, it’s generationally driven. So what the moment may be, we’re, most of us are part of an analog world. We’re used to making things, products. We’re used to devising developing services. We kind of understand the solutions that we have available to us may include technology, but we kind of used to a reasonably modest pace, stepwise change now that world, that analog world is clashing with the digital world and people in the digital world kind of understand that technology is the solution.  Data is actually the thing that lubricates everything. It’s the new oil, if you like, data is the value. It’s not the product, not the service. It’s the data that wraps around that. And the people that have grown up in a digitalized world have grown up in a world of social media, of connectivity,  they expect things, they know things that, these things should be available to them now. And I think this creates a very, very different mindset. And the challenge is how do we then factor that into the way that we run our businesses and even to the way that we run our lives. Because maybe the big challenges actually, if we’re running a business that’s been successful in the past, why do we need to change and how do we change? Because actually I think there’s a question about underlying organizational DNA.    Are we capable of creating a new game? Because if we’re not, then we’re likely to get left behind. And we see that quite often, two examples of what happens when you ignore it. Kodak and blockbuster. They also totally ignored, the possibility of a competitor coming in and stealing their market. Blockbuster actually had a partnership offer on the table from Netflix. They turned them down. Now Blockbuster don’t exist. Netflix. Last time I looked worth about 60 billion. And look at the way the companies can come in and be a really disruptive to certain markets than we need not look no further than Airbnb and Uber and Uber have had their critics, but fundamentally what they’ve done is they’ve come in, use the existing technologies, really looked at what the consumer wants, what the customer wants and put those together with a really focused offering. And that’s been revolutionary. So could other companies, could a Hilton group do an Airbnb, could the biggest cab company in the world do an Uber? Probably not because that’s a really big leadership challenge.

We were talking earlier and what do you think companies should be looking to do? Or what skills do you think that they should be looking to do because a lot of companies get stuck on like what area should they be looking to transition into AI? How do you think a company should be positioning themselves for the future of their business?

Yeah. Well I think futures is one of those areas, one of those skills that organizations need. I don’t necessarily mean that everyone in the organization needs to be a futurist, but I think with some fundamental skills about foresight, about sense making, about scenario thinking where people can actually take a slightly different view of what they’re seeing emerge in the future. So rather than taking the traditional planning approach, which is looking at the trends on building what we got and actually taking a step back and looking at the possibilities in the future I’m building back to now.

Right. And looking at what they currently have. Looking at everything with the what if but what if like this works great but what if we added this and always having that we don’t always have to invent new. They talk about reinventing the wheel. We don’t always have to reinvent that wheel, but if we can do more with that, wheel we could do a better wheel. That’s futuring, that’s looking at it in that perspective. So that’s definitely leading the way. Would you agree?

NASA just come up with a new wheel which will be more effective for rovers on Mars, but actually maybe that wheel design will actually also be useful on different terrains here on earth as well. So you take a fundamentally simple design, you look at a new way of creating a new piece of kit for a very specific task and look where you can roll it out, no pun intended. In other situations as well. So I agree with you that maybe there are some solutions around that we already see, but I think this goes back to how do we lead and how do we work within our organizations when we start to think about the future and the disruptive nature. If we’re a successful organization now. And I think we all probably see it all the time with the people we talked to in client organizations or wherever. What’s the real motivation for me to throw away everything that I’m used to, to throw away everything uncomfortable with, to get rid of the stuff that’s given me the success I’ve enjoyed now a move into this world of uncertainty and complexity. Because that’s what we’re doing and that’s one of the other things that I think as organizations we need to think about. So if we think about artificial intelligence and we look at the plethora of opportunities that represent potentially to even change the notion of what we mean by work colleague, because maybe that work colleague becomes an enhanced human. Maybe that work colleague isn’t artificially intelligent robot. How can we take the same work business paradigms we have now into that new situation. For me, the issue of leadership is so important. I don’t see some of these future challenges and future disruptions of technological in nature. I really think their societal in nature and it’s our how we responds to those challenges and opportunities as human beings that actually makes the difference at the end of the day. Not how sophisticated that piece of Ai is.

Okay. I was listening to an interview the other day with Renee Mauborgne. I’m sure you’ve heard of her Blue Ocean Strategy and she was talking about not necessarily being disruptive. She says that every business is really formulated and not every industry can be disruptive, but you can still stand out and be different within that company. And I think that’s where a leadership skills come in. Having leadership skills for the future. Would you agree?

Maybe we started to touch on there one of the opportunities that people still have going into a more digitized future. So one of the things that I think we’re going to be seeing as artificial intelligence plays a much bigger part in our lives and our businesses is a certain number of kind of more human type issues within our business. So how do we develop relationships with new business partners given that we expect, all these new technologies to create new industries, to create new businesses. How do we start to articulate new business propositions within the context of a digitized economy? So I do think that human relationships are actually the piece that we can almost lift out from where we are now and preserved because there’ll be critically important as all of the routine stuff that we currently see and more into the future is automated away. And that brings us around to the point of view that we often see nowadays, which is what’s the future for the workforce? What are the future of the jobs in a highly mechanized and automated society? And once you started that, you then start to question fundamentally what kind of society we want. Do we want a universal basic income because 50 percent of the people may not be employable because we have so much automation. If we have universal basic income, how is that funding? If we’re funding that from the public sector, what’s the tax regime we need to create the revenues in order to fund that? How do we differentiate businesses that employ people and businesses that distribute, autonomous organizations with the only existing software on the blockchain. How do we tax those competitor? So these issues are just so massive for humanity and for society generally, and that goes back to my point that this isn’t a technological issue, it’s a societal issue and it’s an issue about how we choose to address some of the challenges and opportunities that the technology represents.

Can you give me one example of a company that has embraced this and has succeeded?

I mean the, the two obvious examples are Airbnb and Uber. You would argue that Uber or perhaps the company, that, has fallen down a little bit on the way that it treats human element of its business. I mean certainly there are lots of cases in the UK where Uber has taken some criticism about the way that it treats its drivers as an example is the way that it tries to all those bullying through the regulatory regime.  So there are obviously some issues there.  I think it’s really hard to actually find very good organizations that demonstrate both adoption of technology but also a really true representation of what they want to see what humanity and society look like. I think one of the companies that do that fairly is Google, but they’re reasonably few and far between and you would hope that Google got it, wouldn’t you?.  Otherwise we’re all in trouble with what they do with that data. This is what really fascinates me because it seems to me that we’re almost on the cliff edge and what we have is we can choose. if we turn back from the cliff edge, then it’s kind of safe out there. But if we go over the edge and everything is destroyed, so we probably need to work out what we’re doing on the top of this cliffedge. What kind of fence can we put before we actually fall over the top? That ensures that we retain our safety. Then we become more comfortable with what they’re seeing. And I go back again to this notion of leadership and we need to help people become more comfortable with uncertainty and complexity. And if we take that notion of change that you mentioned early on we were really used to saying that change is a constant thing. We’re not used to saying that change is almost out of our control, which it kind of is at the moment. The other thing we know about changes that actually we don’t resist change. We resist being changed. So if we can help people to understand the opportunities and the choices that they have, then maybe some of these change feels slightly less daunting than it might otherwise be.

Can I ask you this? What are some examples that you can give our audiences as far as to help as leaders help them change in this technological environment that we’re kind of headed into here?

Well I think one of the things is to actually look at it, is to actually go find it, go research it go and understand what it’s capable of. Try and get underneath the skin of the technology and separate the myth from the fact we are seeing some absolutely amazing things that are being done by artificial intelligence and some of these other technologies as well. it’s just extraordinary. What they can do. What I find quite interesting is particularly media doesn’t like to jump on kind of sensationalizing some aspects of this and I’ve kind of been a party to that I suppose in the UK. When BBC rang me up and say, can you talk about the impact of artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles on the workforce? But I go, yeah, of course I can, but it’s quite difficult to actually get into that very short period of time that you had not only to articulate what the issues are around that, what the opportunities are in terms of business efficiency, but also what societal implications are of what the advantages could be. If we choose to take some of these other choices about embracing this change, and really trying to bring people with us.

Right. Makes Sense. Okay. So of course we’re talking about the future. What are the challenges that you can be characterized that you actually see in the future? What would some of those be?

I think Theresa May recently gave quite an interesting speech at Davos in part it was the UK is open for business subtext because we’re leaving the European Union. But some of the things that she said was we need to be very good in the UK taking the economic opportunities that these new technologies represent for us. In order to do that, there are some societal changes that we need to make that will help support that. Like education, like creating a technology friendly business environment. The other things that she spoke about were we need to be careful about the ethics that we allow the social media platforms, for example, to run with. We need to be clear that they have a responsibility not only around safety and protection of children, but also national security as it might relate to terrorism. So there’s kind of an ethical responsibility on the tech companies there, but there’s also an ethical responsibility and the way that we behave with technologies as individuals, so the way maybe we’ll behave when we’re on social media.  So I think some of these things kind of play into that agenda as well. So we’re starting to see countries with economic self interest playing into the opportunities that technology represents. But I don’t see that it’s fundamentally possible for one country to actually make that happen. So the at very same time we’ve got increasing nationalism, that potential for isolationism and some of the Trump policy decisions, the referendum in the UK to leave the European Union and kind of examples of that at the very same time, those nationalistic feelings or coming to the fore that actually what we really need is increasing globalization, particularly around how we deal with the ethical questions that some of these technologies represent. Maybe what we need is some sort of global ethics treaty and I’m pitching that idea from the {Inaudible}  who’s written a really good book will technology versus humanity and he proposes that we need a digital ethics treaty because potentially and as Professor Stephen Hawking says as well, AI is so potentially damaging to humanity, but we need to make sure we understand how to control it because it could be as deadly as nuclear weapons.

Yes, it has a lot of potential. There’s a lot of positive, but, there is also a danger. It can be extremely dangerous. S

interesting parallels on that because nuclear power can be really good or it can be really dangerous. We are in the same position with Ai.

So do you see the future as becoming so technological that they will lose the human factor, that they will you lose the human touch because with what we have found that the businesses that we worked with is either they are very technological and have tried to do as little human touch as possible or they’re very high human touch and try to use the least amount of technology. So what do you see?

I think actually our business is quite a good example, of how things might play out in the future. Let me just describe our business. So there are seven of us. We have a couple of people in Texas, we have one person in London, we have two people southeast of London, we have another person in Melbourne, Australia, and we have another person just outside London. So our team is spread around the world and now for a small business that gives you a sense of the opportunity that technology represents, because without technology we wouldn’t be able to work right like that. So we have different platforms that we use to interact in different ways and there’s no rocket science here. Skype is our getting together to meet face to face, the oldest email to transmit important information/communications, we share business data in drop box.  So were using those technologies to help us share information to help us share our experiences and to work together on a one to one basis. So I would actually see more of that as we go forward. I think lots of companies use technologies in similar ways, but I don’t think too many are kind of using it in the way that we are. And there’s no rocket science here. We’re using existing technologies. We’re not using brand new shiny just off the shelf technologies. We see millennials and Gen zed start to come into the workforce in the future. We’re going to see another change because of expectations about how people work, not just the tools that they work with will change as well as we go into the future, so increasingly remote work and increasingly the use of a video and immersive technologies to help us create the face to face environment.  Maybe working more in virtual worlds as well as working with augmented reality and so on, so there were lots of opportunities, lots of new ways for us to meet what I think is a fundamental basic human need and that is the contact with another human being. Whether some of these technologies in the future will actually replace that. Whether we will have ended up marrying robots rather than real people.

But I totally understand because that’s how we build our business. We’re not even in the same state and we use all of this technology. A lot of people have questioned how on earth do you work together and I’m like we can spend probably a day together as well as not spend the day together due to technology. So technology, we use it when it’s necessary and there are times when everybody’s off all of the technology because we’re actually doing our jobs. So it brings us together. It separates us out, but rather than even get up and goes down to the hall, to someone’s office, we have all of this technology that we use. We use drop box, we use WHATSAPP, we use all of it, we use all of this so that we can actually enhance our business. But yet we’re also very aware of being high touch and so with our customers, we take the time to pick up that phone and call them and talk to them and try to be as high touch as possible. So we’ve been successful in using both. So we’re very technological. We use all, I think, probably all of the latest technology if one of us doesn’t know it somebody, one of us knows it and , and then there we also are very high touch. So we take the time to visit or our clients when necessary talk to them. We’re very customer friendly.

I think it’s interesting you’ve differentiated, kind of the relationship piece from maybe some of the other routine. Some of these kind of other stuff that we will have to do with an our businesses. , but the important thing is what about relationship? And that’s where I think the technology really plays a part in actually allowing us to go and do those other things, go and do those good relationship things. Maybe inside our bigger organizations it will allow HR professionals to really demonstrate a degree of empathy, to really demonstrate that they understand mental stress and that they can help people within their organizations develop coping mechanisms given the uncertainty and the complexity that we’re seeing elsewhere in the work environment. So these are the choices that I think we have as we go into the future as we go through this transition phase to really get underneath what it means for us to be human within the context of a highly digitalized society. Because the technology is coming. We ain’t going to stop that because you say, I want this personal contact. We also have all this technology to help make our lives easier. So we have to find a way for us to exist with technology.

We need to coexist. Thank you so much. So my last question, does the future doesn’t look positive or does it look bleak for where you’re standing?

No, it doesn’t look bleak from where I’m standing because I have kind of the faith that in the end enough of us are going to make the right decisions to ensure the, we do reach the point that we have a very human future. And I suppose one of the things that makes me say that is the dystopian alternative is just rather to great to consider.

Okay. Wonderful. Well, I want to thank you so much, Steve, for being here with us, for sharing with us your wealth of knowledge I would say pickup all those books because his books are amazing.  I don’t have them all, but I have quite a few of them. I have like three of them. So I look forward to having you back and sharing a little bit more about not just augmented or artificial intelligence, but how it applies in business because that at the end of the day, that’s what business people want to know. How does it apply to them? I want to thank everyone for being here and tuning into to another one of our programs. So next week we will have another futurist and we look forward to seeing you next week. All right guys. I’ll see you. Bye. 

Our Guest

Steve Wells is a global futurist, keynote speaker, and the COO of Fast Future. He advises global corporations on the transformative potential of disruptive technologies and how brands can leverage them to create distinctive identities in a fast-changing world and drive exponential growth and improvement. He has a particular focus on the new models of leadership, collaboration, and innovation required to sustain and differentiate brands in a rapidly changing reality.

Steve is the co-editor and a contributor to the books The Future of Business, Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity, The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business, and a forthcoming book on Unleashing Human Potential – The Future of AI in Business.

His professional background is in futures, strategic planning, publishing, and partnership development. He has worked with a range of clients across a number of different sectors including Allergan, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Astra Zeneca, Baxter Healthcare, EU Directorate General for Communications Networks Content and Technology, Harman International Industries, International Legal Technology Association, Leo Pharma, National Health Service (UK), Pfizer, and UK Government Department of Business Innovation & Skills.

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Interview With Steve Wells- “Leadership Skills for the Future”

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