Exponential Tech a Top Strategic Issue for Senior Execs

Exponential Tech a Top Strategic Issue for Senior Execs

November 8, 2019

Silicon Valley Think-Tank Singularity University CEO Rob Nail discusses exponential technologies and their potential for businesses at the recent 10X Future Visioning Con in Singapore.

By Joanne Leila Smith

The Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) brought Singularity University (SU) back by popular demand to update businesses on the latest groundbreaking technologies and how these can be tapped for exponential growth at the 10X Future Visioning Conference in November 2019.

SU CEO Rob Nail says the conference aims to equip leaders with the necessary insights to leverage fast-changing technologies to disrupt their industry and escalate their business to the next level.

Prior to SU being founded at NASA Research Park in 2008 by renowned innovators Ray Kurzweil and Dr Peter H Diamandis with programme funding from Google, Deloitte, and UNICEF., Nail co-founded Velocity11 in 1999, building automation equipment and robotics for cancer research and drug discovery. It was acquired by Agilent Technologies in 2007. He was recently a Director in the Technology and Audit Committees at Harman where he explored options for long-term growth, which he claims resulted in an USD 8 billion acquisition by Samsung.

At this month’s Con, speakers from SU covered topics ranging from artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented and virtual realities to biotechnology and entrepreneurship.

One highlight of the Con was the impact of biotechnology on the future of food and longevity.

SU Faculty of Biotechnology and Future of Food Dr Ryan Bethencourt discussed advances in cellular agriculture and clean meat; addressing the need to feed an additional three billion people projected to be born over the next few decades.

Another interesting development presented by Dr Aubrey de Grey, whom shared insights into SU’s advanced research on human longevity and the possible creation of the Homo Vivus – humans with radically extended lifespans – and its massive implications on both the social and economic dimensions.

With so much interest from the business community on how to leverage the tech revolution, meaningfully, we asked SU CEO Rob Nail on why tech innovation should be a top strategic issue for Senior Management.

Given that CEOs are already faced with the enormous responsibility of maintaining a sustainable, profitable business and good oversight on governance, we asked Nail why they must also wear technical hats, given this is why they hire other talents to fill tech roles?

“The strategy of any company dealing with a disruptive threat or opportunity must be understood and championed by the top leader and leadership of the organisation. Disruption driven by exponential technologies often comes from different industries, doesn’t look like or operate the way the current business does, and requires different skills to develop and navigate – often creating a reaction from internal “antibodies” of the core business. Only the CEO can ultimately keep the “corporate antibodies” at bay so that a company can disrupt itself instead of being disrupted from the outside. The CEO must be sure to identify, support and protect those individuals and teams with new talents and skills that are required for the future business,” says Nail.

With this in mind, Nail outlines the ideal principles that make a successful management team.

According to Nail, teams can have many different forms to be successful, but a few principles they must embody include:

  • shared vision or Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP)
  • respect and psychological security to test each other and their assumptions without personal implications
  • productive diversity of perspectives, and backgrounds; and
  • partnership with strengths shared between internal and external focus as well as mix between vision and execution discipline.

In recent years, we have seen a rise in the term ‘futurists’ in the business community. We asked Nail his thoughts on why there is so much emphasis on futurists now, or is it just repackaged shamanism to appeal to a secularised audience?

“Technological progress and the change and impact it is having on society is accelerating. Everyone is looking for clarity of vision of where this is taking us and how we can navigate it successfully. Unfortunately, “futurist” has become a term popularising a person that foretells the future. We prioritise tools and methods for forecasting, prinicipled thinking around what is possible, vision and ideation capabilities, probabilist evaluation of future scenarios, retrocasting, and narrative-based articulation of vision. These are tools and methods that are taught to let our students and clients determine their own futures with credibility and support of the Singularity University thought-leaders and community,” says Nail.

With the pace of technology changing so rapidly, Nail says that for larger organisations to meaningfully adapt and stay agile to meet changing market demand requires a commitment to continuous learning.

“First, establish and invest in the mindset of exponential thinking and continuous learning, support a team and process at the edge to regularly evaluate disruptive (Horizon3) threats and opportunities, find opportunities for uncommon partnerships (with start-ups, governments, non-profits, etc.), and treat technological innovation as one of the top strategic issues that the board and executives consider in planning,” says Nail.

(Ed. Singularity University claims to be a global learning and innovation community using exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges. Nail claims its platform encourages breakthrough solutions using accelerating technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and digital biology. Image of CEO Rob Nail courtesy of SU, Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre Singapore, 7 November, 2019.)


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