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Ray Wang at NILF 2017 – When STEM Becomes STEAM

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Mritunjay Singh from Persistent – our session moderator – did a fine job by setting the context. The discussion was themed on: Future of work – Implications for leadership. He was in conversation with Ray Wang, CEO Constellation.  

Arguably, fewer jobs are getting created due to automation. In future, this trend will continue and extend to areas that may not be in the radar right now. If you look at the IT workforce today, the median age would be 25 – 26 years, which is among the lowest across industry verticals. On the other hand, geopolitical headwinds has brought in its wake, a sense of anti-globalisation. Nations have started to look inwards and adopt protectionist measures. These may be nervous times to be in, but alongside, the new opportunities are unmistakable. The session moderator drew parallels from 1600s, when humankind faced new set of challenges which were eventually converted into opportunities.

Inevitable as these shifts are, it will result in an altered landscape. Here’s why. 52% of Fortune 500 companies in year 2000, do not even exist today. In 2015, 55% of Fortune 500 lost money. Studies also reveal that the top 5 – 7 customers account for 40 – 70 % of the total revenue. That’s a sizeable chunk! Moreover, hiring the best talent to remain competitive remains a challenging ask. It’s often touted as the “Attention Economy” in which companies vie for 24/7 mindshare from customers. It is common enough knowledge that acquiring new customers is much more expensive than retaining old ones.

Imagine the kind of work life balance humans can have once driverless cars become a viable option. Commuting time will cease to be a matter of concern, as people choose to work even as they commute. This may induce more people to live away from the cities, which in turn will ease the burden on infrastructure which cities currently face. Or think about the people (very few of them) who work in Tesla’s highly automated factories. What kind of conversations are they likely to have in an environment which is proliferated by machines? The way we work has changed in a very big way – today, 61% of global 2000 companies have a digital strategy in place. Yet another example: Sensors are omnipresent and capturing live data 24 /7 which is later being put to use to improve on revenue streams. This brings us to the big idea, how are the new business models going to be?

He likes to call skilled digital professionals as “digital artisans”, and humanize the whole thing. These are the kind of people who can predict 8 – 10 days before the transmission lines are likely to go down in a power plant (for instance), using Analytical tools & techniques. Ray added, “Design thinking is a methodology to unlock solutions to questions you never asked.” On Millennials and Gen X, he had an interesting thought to share. Never judge people on their digital adaptability based on age. There will be millennials as well, who will show reluctance to adopt digital, and such others from Gen X who will be totally comfortable in this space. The type of digital adopters that are likely to be are: Digital immigrants, Digital Voyeurs, Digital Dis-engaged and Digital Hold-outs.

In a dynamic environment, leadership will play a critical role marked by some key attributes: Integrity, Inspiration, Inclusiveness, Authenticity and Transparency. A responsible leader will also have to be responsive. In future, machines and humans may not be necessarily fighting for the same roles. Through STEM education (Science, Engineering, Tech & Mathematics), the bulwark of a digital future, humans will learn new skills and adapt to newer roles. Change is the only constant.

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