Redefining leadership, partnerships and knowledge for exponential sustainable impact

16 February, 2018

Original source:  FMO

Last week I had the privilege to spend three full days at Singularity University in Silicon Valley. I went back to school - together with more than 50 senior management and board representatives of Dutch companies.

We experienced a steep learning curve during a high-speed, information-dense series of lectures from professors, doctors and entrepreneurs with medical, technical, engineering, financial and economic backgrounds.

Whether they were discussing the latest developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum computing, virtual reality, neuroscience, exponential economics and blockchain; Over and over again the Singularity professors showed us that the world really is no longer local and linear, but global and exponential. More so, that it is continuously changing.

In fact, the only constant is change. And that change is no longer linear, but exponential; the rate of change is constantly increasing. The digital revolution spurs new technologies, products/services, and business models that (are expected to) follow exponential and disruptive growth patterns. Disruption is the new normal. And in this world data are the new “assets” and information is the new “oil”.

Many potentially disruptive technologies are already being tested and applied in practice. Sooner or later they are expected to be implemented at scale. So-called “moonshot projects” focus on breakthrough technologies that solve big problems through radical change. This is about really big problems that impact more than 1 billion people. And revolutionary change: not 10% incremental change, but 10 times!

Take the development of autonomous cars. Once scalable, driverless cars will have a huge impact on employment, ownership and accidents. Experts predict car ownership to be “dead” by 2025.  Accidents are expected to reduce dramatically. Changes in medicine, biotechnology and neuroscience will have a material impact on our lives. In the near future, virtually all diseases can be fixed with DNA changes; humankind is potentially to become immortal before 2030.

Data becomes the new currency. This raises key questions around data availability, data access and data ownership. They all relate to ethical questions. Technological changes can give companies and even individuals more power than governments. Many questions exceed national boundaries and need a global solution. Who sets the boundaries?

Technology is more and more entering the board room. In Silicon Valley, our professors stressed that it is our responsibility to hire people who understand technology and who grasp how changes, technological or otherwise, impact our business. Moreover, the advice was to hire a Chief Adaptability Officer. We should not merely assess our employees’ IQ (intelligence quotient) and/or EQ (emotional quotient), but also their AQ, the “Adaptability Quotient”.

Historically, we have seen many linear economic growth models based on the scarcity of goods and services. The new exponential growth models are based on abundance. Moore’s Law says that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits doubles every two years. This means that, for the same price, you get about twice the processing power every two years. That is how mobile phones transformed from pure portable voice telephones in the eighties to our smartphones, that are high-tech mini PC’s.

Technological disruptions provide huge opportunities to dramatically increase impact and positively reinforce the global sustainable development agenda. In this increasingly complex world of exponential changes, we need to redefine our traditional perception on knowledge, partnerships and leadership:

  1. Knowledge: Technological developments are fast and exponential. In any sector and in particular in solar energy, it is crucial to understand which trends and which other sectors will disrupt the industry and how.
  2. Partnerships: New types of public-private, cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder partnerships can help us to understand, test, implement and scale innovative solutions.
  3. Leadership: Technological changes provide a huge opportunity to make a difference at global scale. They contribute to sustainable, high-impact and scalable solutions, which are needed to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

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