It may be hard to feel the plight of corporate fat cats with six- or seven-figure salaries and cushy bonuses. But being at the helm of companies when there is such volatile change in the way we all live isn’t a picnic. Apparently, there is much keeping chief executive officers up at night these days.
Only 16 per cent of CEOs in a survey of more than 200 leading ones in Canada feel they excel at mastering their time. The numbers in areas such as thinking big (38 per cent), predicting the future (30 per cent), embracing technology (26 per cent), innovating (34 per cent) and leading the pace of change (40 per cent) were also pretty low, according to MacKay CEO Forums, which offers courses for more than 800 Canadian CEOs of companies worth between $5 million to $5 billion.
Most leaders grasp that kids in school today will end up in jobs that don’t currently exist. They know there has been a transition from the most successful of companies offering purely physical products (a toaster or a fridge) to physical products with a digital connection (smartphones or e-readers) to trading in information only (tweets and video posts).
But there is “little awareness of what is coming” and how to be part of what Canadian tech executive, entrepreneur and author Salim Ismail calls the explosive and exponential (as opposed to linear and incremental) change that is happening at the same time in a swath of fields: artificial intelligence, robotics, biotech, nanotech, medicine, neuroscience and energy.
Ismail, who wrote a book called Exponential Organizations, addressed 450 CEOs, business executives, owners and board members on Tuesday in Richmond at the Edge Summit presented by MacKay CEO Forums.
They shot back at him with questions like “does making money matter anymore?” Yes, answered Ismail, but some of the most astute companies are willing to lose money to gain market share because they are laser-focused on changing even ahead of regulatory hurdles and widespread acceptance of new technologies such as driverless cars.
One of the biggest challenges is marrying a sense of what is coming to what already exists. There can be entrenched resistance, he said.
“If you try to bring disruptive innovation into an established organization, the immune system will come and attack you. All of our organizations are built to withstand change and risk,” said Ismail, who is also the founding executive of a Silicon Valley-based think called Singularity University.
He said companies that have had the most success managing disruptive innovation, including Apple and Google, have done so by giving it space at the edges of their businesses, where it can be nurtured away from naysayers and old ways of doing things.
Once there is some critical acceptance by consumers, the product or service can then stitched back into the company. Nestle’s Nespresso, which has grown into a successful retail espresso machine and coffee pod line, was grown “far away from the core and is now a $5 billion business for the company,” said Ismail.
Chipmaker Intel’s lauded co-founders have long told CEOs that “only the paranoid survive” and it was Gordon Moore, way back in 1965, who noticed the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had been doubling every year since their invention. This quick pace of progress and what it means for companies and their leaders was dubbed Moore’s Law.
But now, said Ismail, there is a “doubling pattern of Moore’s Law” going on across all these different industries at the same time. It can be especially easy to miss a so-called disruptive innovation when it pops up in an unrelated field. For example, said Ismail, makers of energy drinks might be on alert for a company which taps neuroscience-based information to make playlists that boost the brain’s attention span.
Peppering his talk with examples of apps that can analyze a person’s mood and feelings based on a 20 second voice clip (Moodies Emotions Analytics) and anecdotes about a recent road trip from Miami to Toronto in a Tesla (“34 hours, 11 stops and I didn’t pay anything in gas”), Ismail said there are, at any given time, now “20 such ‘Gutenberg’ moments hitting us,” referring to the everlasting and wide impact of inventor Johannes Gutenburg’s printing press in 1450.