How to Lead in Times of Disruption?

By : |November 24, 2017 0
Industry experts and academicians ponder over how to lead in times of disruption and how to re-invent in this new era

“Digitize or Die” was the ominous topic given to an illustrious panel of industry experts and academicians of a panel discussion that took place at the ThoughtWorks Live! conference held in Bengaluru recently. How should one lead in these disruptive times and how to re-invent in this new era were the big questions that they pondered over.

The illustrious panel comprised of Rishikesh Krishna, Director & Professor of Strategy, IIM-Indore; Manu Saale, CEO and MD, Mercedes Benz R&D Centre India; Kiran Reddy, CEO, SPI Group; Vijayaraman, Senior Delivery Head, Verizon India;  and Gunjan Shukla, Global Operations Lead, ThoughtWorks.

Reddy started with a confession that the erstwhile leadership doesn’t fit and stay relevant in the new era and one has to start afresh and reinvent oneself by going to the drawing board again. The panel moved to reasons on why Classic leadership won’t work in the technology paradigm of today. Manu Saale put forth the realization that the digital tsunami that has eaten away many industries, has to be acknowledged and confronted at the board-level.

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Hit the Middle Ground Between People and Digital Tools 

Bringing in an academic’s perspective, Krishna touched upon the co-existence of digital natives, middle-bracket people, and people who are still on traditional mindsets. “If you really want to get into the heart of human behavior and nuances of decision-making, a mix of human and digital tools is still the right approach. There is going to be a role for both traditional and digital-classrooms.” He emphasized on how getting the mix right is an imperative as well as a challenge.

Vijayaraman addressed the task of pivoting right to the change happening around and within.  “It is not easy. The job of a choreographer is an extremely difficult one. The challenge, when everything is going fine, is to examine the question of whether to change. To change the engine of a plane when it is flying – something like that.”

It so happens, that there will be a class of people, who is excited, and then there is also a middle category that is not sure why – and that’s where the challenge lies. Leading a tech-centric organization instead of one where tech was a support service, Reddy had a hands-on view here and stressed on the role of a leader to make this change less overwhelming and to simplify it. “You have to somehow get it right and adapt your business to the technology.” Invest in things that you are uncertain about. There is a shift from now to the future. The singular ability for success is the ability to adapt to an uncertain future. Those are the directions to be taken.

Small Challengers – Big Bets

The panel also segued into the scale of bets that companies are taking as they face new market dynamics.

Citing GE, Krishna also pointed at the pressure that big companies are facing trying to be like start-ups. “Not all companies would be disrupted at the same pace. Ask yourself where your company lies in the whole spectrum of digitization – at the core to digitization or at the periphery?”

Every industry gets crowded pretty soon so taking big bets is a good thing, argued Vijayaraman. “But at the same time, taking smaller bets on changing the culture of an organization – that’s also important and we are doing that. We are looking at start-ups and learning from them. We also ask- whether they can complement us in some way.”

Ecosystem Effects

As to the ecosystem implications of disruption, Reddy illustrated how Cloud Kitchens are pioneering the creation of communities and explained the importance of intent of giving, instead of receiving from an ecosystem. Vijayaraman echoed this with sharing of instances of creating momentum with more open-ness and collaboration where everyone catches on.

Krishna also commended the growing awakening that ecosystem development is equally important, albeit, adding a footnote that India still has some road to cover on that front.

The role of India in this new game was also dissected a bit. Kiran put the spotlight on the great value India brings solving its unique problems instead of merely solving global problems.  Vijayaraman gave examples like Google Offline that corroborate the value of India-specific issues.

Being introspective, candid, adaptable and being able to simplify it all – that’s what successful leaders would look like – as per what the panel captured.

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