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Leading in a Time of Disruptive Change

Posted by The Icehouse on Sep 5, 2016 5:36:41 PM

Wouldn't it be great if you could instantly hear whatever music you desired, summon any fact, watch family on the far side of the world in real time, track your steps, or book a flight, all using a sliver of tech you could hold in the palm of your hand? You're probably reading this blog on such a device right now. A smartphone.

iPhone Smartphone Disruptive Change.jpeg

We all have one (or two) and it seems every day they become more indispensable. To date, more than 130 billion apps have been downloaded for Apple's iPhone alone – each of which adds yet more functionality and wide-eyed promise. It is a shock, then, to realise that the iPhone itself is less than ten years old.

Change is now happening so fast that it resembles a blur.

"The next ten years will mark one of the most explosive eras of technological advances in the history of humankind,” says leadership development specialist John Spence, who spoke to Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship students at the University of Auckland in July.

“We will go through a truly overwhelming influx of new technologies that will be highly disruptive to every business – and every person – in the world.”

However, he says that while connection by computers is increasing at a dizzying pace, true connection between people appears to be dropping off at an equally alarming rate. And this has implications for the way organisations are led.

"A successful leader of the future must be effective at bringing people together, creating high-performance teams, developing deep levels of trust and building real relationships with the people they lead," he says.

Spence, who regularly makes top 100 lists as a business thinker, is worth listening to. He is also well connected. So, naturally, he has canvassed the views of a few (high-powered) friends on the topic – Marshall Goldsmith, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Tim Sanders, Jim Kouzes, Tom Morris and Joe Calloway among them.

Their consensus on leading in a time of disruptive change, he says, is that it centres on two key ideas: emotional quotient (EQ) and technology.

"For some people, EQ comes naturally. They are great at working well with others and showing great concern, caring and empathy. For others, including me, EQ is just not something we were born with. But natural, or learned, the skills necessary to display EQ will be essential for tomorrow's leaders," he says.

The core traits of effective leadership haven't gone away. Honesty, vision, competence and the ability to inspire and be inspired are still important. But they have been joined by two others: a sense of fairness and the ability to act supportively.

As for technology, heavy hitters at the 2015 Abundance 360 Summit – an offshoot of Silicon Valley think-tank Singularity University – put some stakes in the ground. Spence says the gathered experts identified eight major areas of technology that would be game-changers:

  • Computer speed/deep learning
  • Machine intelligence (AI)
  • The Internet of Things
  • Advanced robotics
  • Augmented reality
  • Virtual reality
  • Synthetic medicine
  • Genetic decoding/recoding

When the computing power now being developed is applied to those areas, the impact will be unimaginable, says Spence.

"Therefore, to be effective, future leaders don't need to embrace change, or even revel in it, they must drive change. They will need to be visionary in their ability to predict how these seismic technological shifts will impact their industry, their individual businesses, and their customers."

For an organisation to be successful in the future, he says, the rate of internal innovation must exceed the rate of innovation in the marketplace. Likewise, the challenge for an entrepreneur, a student, businessperson, is that an individual's innovation must be greater than everyone they compete with.

He quotes the president of a US university, who lamented: "We are training students today for jobs that don't exist on equipment that has not yet been invented, which means we are going to have to completely change the way we educate our youth."

"Now if that isn't disruption, I don't know what is," says Spence.

Learn more: Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Auckland

Topics: Partnerships, Leadership