Now in its third year, Ads24's Food for Thought is coming into its own as a notable annual opportunity to flip perceptions, fire up synapses and get industry experts thinking and talking about the forces (economic, political, environmental and technological) shaping the future of business. This year's event explored the notion of humans vs robots, and offered insight into a world where a desperate need for human connection and belonging square up against formidable advancements in technology and AI.
To set the scene, Ads24 created an experiential environment where guests could literally taste the best of what technology and humanity have to offer – 3D-printed mascarpone cheese, served on spirulina-infused flapjacks with pipettes of berry-flavoured compote, and coffee cubes were served side-by-side with their artisanal counterparts. Most interesting was the option to “hack your taste buds”, by taking a pill composed of the miracle berry (synsepalum dulcificum) which temporarily numbs the taste buds that pick up sour flavours, making a sip of pure lemon juice taste sweet as an orange. And then, for a real peek into “the future is now”, there was the dessert – delivered by drone.
An experiential smorgasbord set the scene for a morning of mind-blowing learning and debate
With perceptions suitably altered, and comedian, author and speaker, Don Packett on hand to referee the presentations by Richard Mulholland, Rapelang Rabana and Brad Shorkend; Ads24 kicked off the talks by posing the questions: Where are we today in the fight between humans and robots; where will our businesses be by 2030 and; how do we prepare for that journey?
Richard Mulholland: Beware legacy thinking
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” This quote from the late futurist Alvin Toffler summed up the premise behind much of author, presenter and business owner Richard Mulholland’s talk which drew on case studies and learnings from his own and other businesses.
Sharing stories about the rise and fall of Blackberry, Mulholland picked apart how a company which at its height sold 52 million devices in one year, failed almost overnight, because once they had found a solution to a specific problem, they were unable to evolve past it.
“The assumption they made was basically that Blackberry thought they were an alternative to an iPhone and they wanted to treat that as such,” says Mulholland.
In fact, what Blackberry had created through BBM, was an alternative to email and a new way to communicate in business. Had they opened up BBM to other platforms, Mulholland surmises, Blackberry could have become the company that WhatsApp is today.
“... for established businesses, innovation does not happen when you start something new. If you are an established business, innovation happens when you stop doing something old. This is key. We have to be willing to sacrifice the things that got us here in order to get somewhere else.”
Rapelang Rabana: AI as a tool to advance civilisation
Tech guru and entrepreneur Rapelang Rabana put forward a convincing argument for artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool that will take humanity to the next stage of evolution.
“I believe that AI isn’t this thing that we should fear, it’s actually the tool that could help us change things, it could offer us a new path to evolution that will give us new growth and new futures,” she says. “Being pro AI is also being pro human, if we understand how it improves our capabilities as people.”
There are a number of negative perceptions around AI, Rabana says. If we think it’s something scary, or it’s going to take our jobs, we are in effect falling prey to the kind of scepticism our ancestors held towards demons, or angels or fairies. AI is not that mysterious and has practical implications that will change the way we work, be that doesn’t mean we will be out of work.
“We know that the printing press replaced all those scribes, we know that internet [streaming] killed off video stores, or that cars killed of the need for carriage drivers and now we are probably pondering what is going to happen to the doctors, the media agencies, the financial advisors and all the professionals?
“Gartner predicts that while 1.2-million jobs will be replaced by AI, some 2.3-million new jobs will be created. In fairness, if a machine can do something that you were doing before, maybe it’s a hint to shift to doing something that you are actually better at. Perhaps this revolution, like all the ones before us, is just helping to reflect and rethink what our best talents are and to refocus on that,” Rabana says.
“Progress is a wave and you can either decide to be on the one side, where you are going with the future and letting it take you to new heights, or you’re going to stand your ground, dig in your heals and be drowned.”
Brad Shorkend: Good humaning in a shifting world
“It was Charles Dickens who, over 100-years ago, said, ‘These are the best of times. These are the worst of times’. If you are someone who enjoys change; enjoys uncertainty; you don’t mind new possibilities; you’ve got an open mind – you are having the best of times. But if you’re somebody who doesn’t enjoy change; you get anxious about shift and uncertainty; and the stuff we are hearing about – you are having the worst of times,” says Brad Shorkend, business coach, agitator, though provoker and author.
Regardless of whether or not you are enjoying the lightening-fast pace at which the world is changing, one thing is for certain and that, says Shorkend, “[is that] the things that got us success in the past are not going to be things that are going to get us success in the future. And I’m not just talking about technology. The way we access human beings in the world is different.”
Technology is important but it has changed the way we interact as humans.
“Every time they launch an iPhone, new connectivity, new connection, a new con … because it’s not a connection … what its really doing is disconnecting us,” says Shorkend. And this disconnect comes with consequences.
“Neuroscience, at the moment, is showing more than anything else that the human health condition, in terms of neurological disorder – cancer, muscular disorders and so on, is being caused, more than by food and more than by smoking, by chronic stress caused at work,” says Shorkend.
Humans cannot thrive in an environment where there is a lack of trust and a lack of social safety.
For organisations to thrive, they need to shift their focus from HR (human resources) to RH (resourceful humans). “We need to be accessing human beings completely differently, we need to be accessing them for way more of the potential … our brains are capable of amazing things.
“Research from a Stanford recently found that organisations that are leading well, are accessing about 48% of available intelligence that means that more than half of the available intelligence isn’t being accessed,” says Shorkend. “The only way to stay financially relevant in a fast changing world is accessing people at a higher level of contribution...
“It’s not about letting go of the big objectives it’s about having a better strategy, a human strategy towards achieving and inviting technology to participate where it makes sense. So the big question you need to be asking is: are the people that you lead, or work with, being switched on and grown, or switched off and depleted. Switched on and grown, means they are being inspired, motivated, intellectually accessed for higher levels of contribution.”
Why Food for Thought?
The outcome and learning for Ads24’s Food for Thought is different every year, but what’s becoming apparent is that it’s establishing itself as an annual event for thought leadership and beyond-the-box thinking.
“We all know that the economy and political environments aren’t optimal. We know that the media industry is facing uncertainty; even the planet is in turmoil. We know all these things; the question is what can we do about it? Which is why we initially came up with the concept for Food for Thought,” says Marise van der Lith, Brand Manager for Ads24. “We wanted to create an environment where industry leaders could come together to challenge themselves and each other to find solutions that will empower and uplift our businesses.”
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