A bold leader sees the business opportunities presented by emerging technologies

Recent years have seen the pace of technological development grow exponentially. More data has been generated in the past five months than in the entire history of computing preceding them, not to mention new AI applications that are now publicly available. As a leader, how do you keep up with such rapid evolution? How do you lead your organisation when change is happening at a dizzying pace?

Technological development is happening faster and faster, and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to witness it over five decades – my entire career – in various leadership positions. In my first managerial position, my duties as a supervisor were mostly concerned with assigning tasks, setting targets and ensuring performance. We have come a long way since then, and the role of all leaders is now to act as a helmsman, a source of inspiration and ideas and a guiding star that shines a light on the goals set.

The role is now to act as a helmsman, a source of inspiration and ideas and a guiding star.

The role of a leader has become that of someone who steps outside their comfort zone every day, stays up to date with relevant new technology and geopolitical developments and recognises potential new business opportunities. You have to become a driven explorer in search of the blue ocean. You have to love what you do – enjoy being a penguin on a melting iceberg. You have to be able to tolerate constant change and uncertainty. At no point in my career have I stopped asking questions – I have let my curiosity lead me.

Accelerating change demands a lot from a leader

By the year 2000, technological innovation had grown the world economy to twenty times what it had been a hundred years earlier in 1900. The previous century, in contrast, had only seen the world economy quadruple, and the one before that had only seen it double. As large tech companies have revealed their AI solutions to the world in recent months, the pace of technological development has taken another leap.

When it comes to the spread of the technology, one milestone that has been discussed is exceeding 100 million users. It took mobile phones sixteen years to reach that milestone, the Internet seven years, and Facebook four and a half years. ChatGPT has reached it in three months.

Ideas are born of understanding

As a business executive, how do you stay on top of it all? How do you get ahead and continuously increase your competitiveness? These are the questions many leaders are pondering right now.

Looking at the big picture, you naturally have to recognise the external factors influencing your industry and your customers’ business environments and know logically how to implement them from the outside in, from what your customers and the market need to what your business provides. A pioneering leader learns, experiments and does not hesitate to ask how their organisation can test new ideas and uncover broader possibilities. Only through understanding can you achieve real change and get a handle on how the demands of leadership have evolved.

A pioneering leader learns, experiments and does not hesitate to ask how their organisation can test new ideas and uncover broader possibilities.

Developing your skills as a leader starts with understanding the world and knowing your business environment, but increasingly it also involves delving into technologies and opportunities that are from industries further afield than your own and fostering an adaptive organisational culture. In order to be able to dig your teeth into what this means for your business, you need to strengthen and develop your tech business skills.

Ask questions

What are the core competencies of your business? How do technological opportunities get turned into organisational business understanding and operating models for your organisation? How do you create virtual realities in your mind? How do you become a pioneer who is part of the larger process of learning, experimenting with and implementing digitalisation as part of your business’s services or cyber resilience, or the processes that support sustainability and responsibility in your organisation? How do you view everyday business through the lens of your own operations or from the perspective of a customer? When was the last time you spent time in one of your organisation’s shops, factories or customer service centres, exploring its day-to-day processes, how smoothly they run and how effectively they could utilise AI?

As the boss, you don’t have to be hidden away all the time. Tracking dirt in on your shoes, both virtually and physically, is a good thing.

It’s not enough for a technology company to have its sales department talking to a corporate customer’s tech staff. You need to be able to convert complex technological solutions into business solutions that produce value for your customers or into new business models. Increasingly, companies’ target audiences are their customers’ business and process owners.

The best way to learn is to keep pushing past your comfort zone

I think it’s about time for me to play Fortnite in order to understand the first version of the Metaverse or go on Discord to hone my understanding of what the next generation expects from working life.
Whether you like it or not, history is replete with examples of how people welcome new technologies with open arms. The best way to prepare for change is to be an eager participant in it and to grasp its possibilities by boldly going forth and experimenting.

In the end, management are the ones who are responsible for turning new opportunities into reality. Early adopters are the first to know whether a new technology is going to lead to profitable business opportunities or concepts or if it makes more sense to invest your resources elsewhere. Only by trying will you discover the opportunities.

Get excited, encourage others and experiment!