What does it take to be a smart leader in an age of smart technology?

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When I teach innovation culture and mindset, I often include a section on the impact of smart technologies, digital infrastructure, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc.

No matter what you call it, we know that the bots are impacting life on Earth profoundly, completely, and very rapidly. Leaders at all levels need to keep their footing and master the skills that matter in today’s world.

Notice I didn’t say tomorrow’s world. Or the “future” of anything. It’s here and now.

Here’s a very simple example that has been a popular conversation-starter when I’m talking and teaching about the evolution of “smart cities:”

What’s still happening: We’re designing our water treatment facilities around a range of estimated “design flows” and learning how to apply smart technologies to optimize different aspects of construction and operations.
What is starting to happen: We’ll design and implement even more flexible solutions based on knowing the outcomes we want and using data to monitor and predict a vast range of specific conditions.

Do you see the flip here? It’s no longer “a water plant with some smart technologies added on.” It’s a “smart” system designed around real-time data and conditions, and it will treat water as one (of many) outcomes. In the not very far future, we’ll be applying data analytics and machine learning to a much broader set of problems and circumstances – and generating solutions and outcomes that will evolve quickly from how we work today.

Our leaders need to be agile, resilient, and brave. There is no “normal” or “status quo” condition to base decisions on. We don’t plan based on what we know from simple history as much as on complex patterns and the predictive abilities of algorithms. We must defuse a minefield of stressful changes as the growing power of machine learning and related technology continues to change the very structure of our lives: jobs, workplaces, home, and play. The leadership that is emerging for today and tomorrow is not based on hierarchies, job descriptions, and old definitions. It’s based on who can see where we need to go and has the deep skills to lead us there.

This isn’t a world that we all know how to navigate yet.

Pro tip: If you haven’t made best friends with a data scientist, data engineer, or data policy expert… or hired them onto your team, waste no more time.


Whether you find this post to be far-fetched, intimidating, or fascinating, pop on over to the original blog post for links and recommendations for more learning and innovation leadership development.

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