Curiosity and transparency are essential for good leadership in the current fast-moving era, according to one of the country’s high-profile tech business executives.
Stephen Scheeler, the Chairman of CEBIT, believes curiosity is a superpower — and an important way to make sure leaders aren’t answering the challenges of today with the approaches of yesterday.
“How do I turn on my curiosity as a leader and not just look for a formula that’s always worked and then repeat that formula?,” he said.
Like any environment, Australia has its challenges and its strengths when it comes to business attitudes and practices.
The high level of small and medium enterprises here throws up certain challenges, believes Scheeler. Such firms are entrepreneurial and close to their customers but can be stretched when keeping up with developments in, for instance, artificial intelligence and data science, as well as in their day-to-day operations.
Scheeler is founder and CEO of The Digital Executive and a Senior Adviser to McKinsey. He was at Facebook between 2012 and 2017 and was CEO of ANZ for four years of this period.
He sees “digital disruptive leadership” as made up of eight essential elements: vision, humility, curiosity, transparency, adaptability, data dexterity, customer obsession and speed.
These are fast-moving times, Scheeler argues. A company can reach an audience with blinding speed compared to previous years. It took 14 years for TV to reach 50 million users. For messaging app WeChat, it took just four months.
Understanding the development and potential applications of artificial intelligence (AI) — which Scheeler likens in significance to the advent of the combustion engine, electricity or telecommunications — will be critical for companies to thrive.
“These things are now just taken for granted as ubiquitous pillars of a modern economy. I think AI is going to become one of those pillars as well,” he said.
“It’s [also] hard to fully imagine because it’s the second and third order effects I think are going to be profound.”
At the company level, staying on top of technological change requires leaders to get engaged, get their hands dirty, and stay relevant, advised Scheeler.
“You need to get close to what consumers are doing and what innovators are doing and really feel the technology and walk in their footsteps,” he said.
Ready for change
The readiness of Australia to adapt profound shifts, such as ubiquitous AI, has been questioned lately.
According to CSIRO Chair David Thodey, the country needs to give immediate attention to the next wave of digital developments, and its “technology adoption rate is around 50 per cent lower than leading countries”.
On one measure of technological sophistication, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Atlas of Economic Complexity index, which focuses on exports, Australia’s ranking has fallen from 57th globally to 93rd. That puts the nation behind innovation superpowers like Japan, Switzerland and South Korea.