Dr. Dave Richards
Dr. Dave Richards has worked in technology transformation for decades and has seen the impact it is having on the ways in which we work. I spoke to him about how things have changed since the 80s, and the challenges he has faced in his career.
What does the future of work look like to you?
A key point is that technology is shaping the evolution of the human mind. Back in the 80s and 90s, those of us in the business of technology transformation used to talk and dream about the coming information age, and the explosive digitalisation and digital connectivity of people globally. We envisioned how work would be transformed through digitalisation, and how there would be a level playing field, such that multiple cultures, and developing countries, in particular, would be able to participate in a global information-based economy. We predicted the evolution of “Knowledge Workers” employing multi-media information and communication technology in ways that didn’t yet exist, but that we expected to become the norm in the new millennium, and of course it has!
We’re now poised for another technology revolution that will further drive human evolution. The key is in how technology elevates the value of data. Everything starts with data, which becomes information through analytic processing. Applying thought, information is elevated to knowledge. Learning transforms knowledge into intelligence, and creativity takes it up another notch to insight. Streaming insights become wisdom through sustained compassion, and ultimately love elevates wisdom to the realm of enlightenment. Therefore, what I believe the future of work will see is a new type of worker, — “Wisdom Workers”, who are the next evolutionary step beyond Knowledge Workers.
In summary, Knowledge Work became the new norm in the Information Age, enabled by mass Digitalization (i.e, data). Wisdom Work, in what I think of as the Age of Insight, will be enabled by Augmented Intelligence, which is my preferred definition of “AI”. I don’t think of AI as a new life form to replace the human mind, but rather, as a technological toolset to help us make sense of the masses of available information being produced more quickly than any mind can absorb. Ultimately, AI will allow people to work smarter, as we talked about back in the 80s, but also to be more creative, compassionate in the broadest sense, toward other humans, other life forms, and our planet — and ultimately wiser.
Why do you say there are only 3.5 kinds of innovation that matter?
I say it as a bit of a joke because in reality there’s only 1 kind of innovation that matters, and that’s business model innovation. To me, business models have 3 main elements. At the heart of any business model there has to be something of value that’s being delivered to customers, so a product or a portfolio of products (whether goods or services — and by the way, I hate it when people talk about products and services as though they are different; services are products).
Another main element of a business model is the production of the product, and the final element is delivery — how to get it into the hot little hands of users and customers (including distribution, marketing, sales and after-sales support). That’s why I say there are only 3.5 kinds of innovation that matter.
Given that I define innovation as the creation of new net value, and that a business model is fundamentally about how an enterprise delivers value to its customers, then by definition, any innovation must impact the product, production, delivery, or some combination. Of all the kinds of innovation we talk about, such as process improvements, financial innovations, or anything else, they must touch the business model in terms of increasing value or they are not innovation, by definition. The invention isn’t innovation; change isn’t innovation; transformation isn’t innovation; disruption isn’t innovation — unless they have a value-adding impact on the business model.
Why is learning to navigate cross-cultural communication so important, in your opinion?
For 4 decades now, I’ve been working globally with people on other continents, so I understand the need to know about the cultures you are collaborating with and selling to. Working across cultures means being able to positively influence and sell, market, engage, and partner with people who speak different languages, think somewhat differently and have somewhat different cultural values. As we all know, Americans and Brits have different cultures, and as Bernard Shaw, and later Winston Churchhill famously said, we are countries divided by a common language. Unless you really understand the nuances of culture, even across two seemingly similar cultures like Britain and America, you can get it horribly wrong. It’s even more critical when you’re working across cultures that have greater differences, like say India, China or Japan.
The bottom line is that we live in a world of great, and beautiful diversity. If we want to put our blinkers on and only do business locally, we’re certainly free to do that, but if we’re going to be really successful we have to learn to navigate cultural differences and be sensitive to the fact that other people will see things differently to how we see them. Organisations that really embrace diversity in every sense of the word always do much better. I often say that the potential value that organisations can create increases exponentially as they become more able to effectively engage diversity within the organisation. I call this the innovation zone.
What are your 3 top tips for developing a winning organisational culture?
Firstly, I think workforce and team engagement is absolutely vital. You have to have people who are passionately engaged. To do that, you need leaders who are transparent about the purpose of the organisation and the organisation’s vision, because, through transparency, you create a sense of ownership across the wider organisation, which is a great starting point for a winning culture.
Secondly, communication is vital. You have to create a culture that really encourages open, candid conversation, even when that conversation is uncomfortable. Creative conflict is a vital force for innovation.
Finally, I would add empowerment as the third key ingredient. People should feel empowered to share their ideas, and to try new things, to experiment and fail. They should not be afraid of making mistakes, rather they should be able to view and embrace every so-called ‘error’ as a learning opportunity.
So, my 3 tips for creating a winning culture are engagement, communication, and empowerment. But you can find lots more tips in my book.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
I think my darkest moment was having to face the reality that I had lost millions of dollars of personal wealth that I had built up through decades as a successful senior executive. I took all of that, and investment from other people, and ploughed it into what I now fondly refer to as my “dot-bomb”. During the major implosion of the Internet around the turn of the Century, I had to accept that pulling the plug and calling it a day was the right thing to do. It was really tough to acknowledge that although the idea was great, and we had the right team and capabilities, the timing was all wrong.
I had a wedding scheduled the following week, and we decided that a week after that, we would move to the US., and I became an employee of one of the companies that had invested in my “dot-bomb”. I picked myself up and dusted myself off because when you hit rock bottom, you have to bounce or you’re never going to come back from it. I learned from my mistakes, and have no regrets. It was an important part of my journey, and an experience I now share with clients. I’m in a really great place.
Off the back of that, what’s been the highlight of your career?
I would have to say right now is the highlight of my career. Generally speaking, I always feel that way. Every day is a new high. Of course, there are setbacks along the way, but I’m really enjoying what I’m doing at the moment. I’m involved in several initiatives that expect to be unicorns and have every right to expect that. I’m just really enjoying the fact that I’m able to contribute, and in the process, I’m having an amazing amount of fun. I’m having so much fun, it really should be illegal. I’m leveraging my thinking and existing intellectual property, helping other people bring it into the world in a really lasting, sustainable way.
What do you want your lasting legacy to be?
Developing a way to systematically bring a much more conscious and responsible approach to leading innovation. It’s all about how to systematically bridge between strategy and psychology. I call it bridging between the ‘hard stuff’ of organisational strategy, on the one hand, and the ‘soft stuff’ of individual and group psychology on the other hand. I have developed a systematic approach for bridging, to drive innovation, leadership and success. What I hope will be my legacy, is to manifest my IP in technology, training, and systems that other people can use — to learn how to apply it into in their enterprises or in client organisations they work with.