Conversations Intelligent Leaders need to be having.

Conversations Intelligent Leaders need to be having.

with Jeffrey Bleich

Tech-optimist? Tech-pessimist? Tech-pragmatist? …Where do you sit?

Every day, we read about mind-bending new technologies or innovative workplace practices on one hand, and stories of mismatched skills being taught to young people or significant workforce retrenchments on the other. So how do we separate the theatre from the threats and chart a path forward? What are the major considerations we need to be turning our attention to when it comes to the ‘nature’ of technology?

This was exactly the focus of my conversation when I interviewed former US Ambassador to Australia (and namesake of the Jeff Bleich Centre for Digital Technologies, Security and Governance) Jeffrey Bleich. Throughout our conversation, I was struck by his pragmatism, his awareness of the complex implications of technology and his willingness to act. This, I believe, is the substance we need from our leaders – courageous individuals who are prepared to take it in, take it on, and take the best of humanity with them.

How do we think, truly broadly about the digital ecosystem?… We haven’t really thought about the fact that digital technology is changing the way people live, breathe, work, eat and think about their lives …Thinking of it as an ecosystem that is particularly challenging to democracies.

Here are four of the big ideas from our conversation:

Conversation #1: AI has arrived. Ethical guidelines have not.

Scientists and AI experts agree that we are in a race against time: we need to establish ethical guidelines to catch up to technology’s irreversible integration into our lives. In January 2019, Gartner reported that AI adoption tripled in the last year alone, with an estimated 37% of firms now implementing AI in some form. In a recent Deloitte survey, 76% of executives said they expected AI to “substantially transform” their companies within three years. Since 2017, more than two dozen national governments have released AI strategies or plans to develop ethics standards, policies, and regulations.

The problem? No two strategies are alike. While some Principles may correspond, the context of issues such as ethics, privacy and bias all shift dramatically between countries and cultures. Major technology companies are ahead in the global race to develop ethical guidelines and AI governance teams. We see new partnerships between Facebook and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) forming The Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence, with an initial investment of $7.5 million. Amazon and the National Science Foundation recently earmarked $10 million for AI fairness research. Unless governments can get ahead of rapid change, the rule-breakers will become the rule-makers.

In theory, global bodies such as the OECD have gathered support for overarching Principles on AI. However, in practice, governments, corporations, academic and science communities pursue AI strategies that do not relate to each other. So how can we possibly figure out how they relate to us?

Jeffrey Bleich stressed the need for systems-thinking – to understand that nothing happens in isolation from this point on. Just as international laws around space or the oceans exist, global AI ethical standards are surely achievable?

Conversation #2: We need to see technology through a systems-thinking lens

Every single choice you make, every thought you have, every aspect of how you move through the world is being gathered in these devices and it’s being constantly updated in ways that can’t really be controlled by our current cyber security technologies… The fact that we’re not thinking in those terms, should concern all of us.

The next generation will need to see their world as a whole system – a seamless interface, perhaps. This is true of digital technology’s impact in our governance systems, our workplaces, our homes, our own brains. We are hyper-connected and every day, less able to switch off. AI is becoming so integrated in our world that we lose sight of where it starts and stops. How many hours in your day are completely free from technological interruption or influence? Even when you sleep, it’s likely your behaviour is being tracked simply because you didn’t update your phone settings. When you wake, do you take a moment to think ‘how do I feel?’ Or do you reach for a device to find out? As we move through our days, are our choices arising internally from a desire or an idea? Or are we behaving according to predictive (and prescriptive) behaviour models?

And what exactly is an AI? There is no precise and accepted definition of AI. Is it machine learning? If so, how developed? In movies we know AI to be non-biological consciousness. Usually portrayed as a single connected entity. But as we move incrementally along the journey we struggle as citizens to understand what is going on behind the laboratory doors of big tech companies. Let alone how our governments are regulating to protect us. If AI poses a threat, it moves behind a cover of normalised convenience.

Conversation #3: We need to adjust our governance. In our homes, workplaces and democracies.

When we think about governance, we think about what the government does… but governance is the set of norms that we all live by… some of it is training ourselves to be more aware of threats and to adjust our own behaviour.

Whether we think about privacy, security or surveillance, we need to understand that the changes technology brings run deep, and currently, largely run free. As we’re already seeing, digital technology has the potential to fundamentally shift our trust in each other, which gets to the core of relationships and the bedrock of our communities. This new domain requires a rethink of governance and of leadership throughout our communities.

In our conversation, Jeff discusses the urgency with which leaders need to be having more mature conversations. We need to be across AI, automation, mobility, blockchain and education. Leaders need to get out ahead of issues, developing policy for 3-5 years’ time, rather than arguing about 5G or autonomous vehicles like we still have a choice.

Leadership is needed to ensure we don’t let digital divide. The poorest communities stand to be most at risk from job loss, information exclusion and limited connectivity. In parallel, autocratic countries are finding technology a useful means to exert more control over citizens. Will we have a cold war in cyber? Is technology borderless? Or will it create new borders?

Conversation #4: Human agency is being impacted

I think humanity is going to be very different at the end of this century than it is right now. It’s a hard thing to contemplate but we will. We will be augmented by tools that we’ve developed… technologies that we’re already using, we are changing the way our brains are wired, the way we think about the world.

For most of us, in all our humanness at this time in history, AI represents a mechanism by which our behaviours are grouped, sorted, targeted and modulated by data intelligence. Technology was born to enhance our lives and advance our impact, but conversely, as its influence on us grows, we find ourselves ring fenced and judged by its learned assumptions. Who is dictating behaviour now?

Algorithms tend to move us iteratively toward our own extremes. Here’s an example Jeff gave in the interview: When we decide to watch a youtube video, the experience becomes mediated by the algorithm, showing us options of further videos to watch. When we click on something, the technology pigeon-holes us and begins to show us slightly more extreme versions of what it thinks we may like. If you click on a dog, your next set of options will be different sets of dogs. If you click on a small dog, pretty soon you’ll be looking at those handbag-sized pooches. In this way, the human brain is guided further down a path or our own bias. The internet (un)naturally tends towards extremes, with a capacity to fool humanity into the worst of itself.


Finally, here’s some food for thought from the inspiring Jeff Bleich that I’d love to challenge you to discuss with a friend or colleague: “At what point do we lose our wonderful, messy humanity, our story-telling, our mistakes, our illogical tears and become rational, predictable, superficial versions of ourselves?”

A practical approach to change management

A practical approach to change management

By MYOB Social Media Leader James Curnow

August 22, 2019

Appearing at Partner Connect 2019 Day Two, the Emergent CEO offered her advice on how business leaders can embrace change and set course for a more successful tomorrow.

Holly Ransom knows a thing or two about managing change in life and in business.

As the chief executive of Emergent, a company specialising in disruptive strategy and building the capacity of leaders to execute change, Ransom has developed her career along the themes of innovation and disruption.

Named one of Australia’s ‘100 Most Influential Women’ by the Australian Financial Review, Ransom has delivered a Peace Charter to the Dalai Lama, interviewed Barack Obama on stage and was Sir Richard Branson’s nominee for Wired Magazine’s ‘Smart List’ of Future Game Changers to watch in 2017.

To say that Ransom has some wisdom to share on the topic of change management is a severe understatement, which is why the attendees at MYOB Partner Connect 2019 were eager to hear her keynote presentation on the subject.


We can’t afford complacency


Ransom began her presentation by highlighting the challenge presented by a world undergoing significant disruption.

“In 1898, the US Patent Office came out and said that everything that could be invented, had been invented.

“Which is effectively like saying: ‘Hey everybody, put down your tools, let’s go to the pub – humankind has peaked.”

Ransom asked the audience to contrast that statement against all the change and innovation they’ve witnessed in their lives over just the past 18 months.

“We can’t afford complacency,” she said. “We can’t afford US Patent Office mentality to creep in.”

Things are moving faster and people are expecting brands to move with the same speed, and that has real impacts for things like customer response times, as just one example.

READ: 5 lessons born of adversity from Amanda Lindhout

Beyond the technological rate of change, Ransom also highlighted the intergenerational change that’s occurring as another factor to consider.

“We have an ageing population, and that’s an important conversation, but we also need to look at the equation with two lenses,” she said.

“By 2016 the millennial cohort became the largest generation in the Australian workforce.

“Right now, they’re around 37 percent, and by 2025, they’ll be two-thirds of the Australian workforce.”

According to Ransom – a millennial herself – this generation wants to work differently. They’re also generally less trusting.

It’s the issue of trust that brought Ransom to her final point about the forces of disruption and change in our transformative world.

Here she cites the Edelman Trust Barometer, which shows the deterioration of consumer trust in brands, politics and media over time.

“This is effectively the consciousness that this generation has grown up with.

“That means we have to work harder to ensure that they can feel they can trust us.”


How we work: Paradigms are shifting


As the world has changed, so are the ways we approach work, and Ransom is eyeing a significant paradigm shift in our approach.

“The definition of insanity is thinking we can keep doing the same thing, when everything is changing, and think we can get a different result.

“How can we get a different result?

“I want to identify the building blocks of change – and that is habits.”

READ: Futurists predict the return of manufacturing in new Radar Report

Ransom believes the small, repetitive behaviours that people perform on a daily basis are a far more powerful force for change than any quick fix.

“Relative to our goals and aspirations, and the way the world is changing, are our habits still serving the results we’re in pursuit of or do we have to change it up?”

For some, the change is already here and it’s evident in the way people are approaching how they think about their work.

“We’re moving out of an old paradigm into a new paradigm,” said Ransom.

“There’s a model for the way we worked in the industrial age that is broken relative to the way the world is demanding we work in 2019.”

“How do we start seeing life as a series of sprints?”

People are talking about ‘healthy stress’ versus ‘unhealthy stress’, ‘productive downtime’, ‘change fatigue’ and more as we struggle to come to terms with how we can adapt to a rapidly changing business environment.


Identifying your strength wheelhouse and the 24-7-1 method


It’s at this point that the practical nature of Ransom’s advice came to the fore, as she lay out a method for leveraging change.

The method relies on a reframing of what the way we think of fears in our lives.

“Something’s happened to the word ‘fear’ in our culture,” Ransom said.

“It’s become sensationalised, which means we have become desensitised to how it can turn up in daily life,” she said.

Ransom described fear as also being the many actions and activities people tend to shy away from in their day to day existence, preferring to exist within their comfort zone instead.

The area outside of a person’s comfort zone is their “courage zone” — an area populated by the habits we could (and should pursue), but tend not to.

“Between comfort and courage is the red line of resistance – the thing I want everyone to think about.”

The entire model Ransom describes as the “strength wheelhouse”, which she believes can act as a good model for planning behavioural growth.

“The best part about this is the amazing reward for effort you receive when you do the think you’re afraid of – your comfort zone expands.

“It’s just like being in the gym building a muscle – as your comfort zone expands, so situations you weren’t comfortable with before suddenly become easier.”

But, as Ransom pointed out, there’s no point going after big behavioural shifts all at once.

Instead, business owners and entrepreneurs should consider a more incremental approach.

“You’ve heard of Minimum Viable Product? I’d like to propose Minimum Viable Habits as a model for how we can go about dealing with change in our life and work,” said Ransom.

It’s a method that’s designed to work for our modern, busy lifestyles.

If workers are busy with their day-to-day, trying to enact large change quickly is more likely to fail.

Instead, Ransom suggests the “24-7-1” approach.

“The idea is that, within 24 hours of hearing this information, you need to take an initial bite-sized action step.

“The action is meant to be so small that it’s inexcusable you didn’t get it done in 24 hours.”

She recommends that step might be as simple as drawing up your own strength wheelhouse with all the things that are within your comfort zone and all the things you’d like to achieve that lie in your courage zone.

“Then, within seven days, you take a bigger step again.

“Within one month you’ve got to take a bigger action step again.”

This is Ransom’s blueprint for building minimum viable habits; something she says can be just as useful for teams as it for individuals, in work or life in general.

“Once you’ve gone through 24-7-1 once, then you roll it forward into a whole new one.

“And that’s because the single greatest ally we’ve got in trying for change is momentum.”

So, what would your strength wheelhouse and 24-7-1 action plan look like today?