“The work of humans is increasingly becoming to collaborate with other humans to design work for machines.”
What is the most surprising thing about you that most people don’t know?
Probably that I find it so difficult to write, especially considering I publish about 100 articles a year. Some people can just bang stuff out constantly, with few mistakes. I’m horrible with typos and other mistakes, so I constantly have to review and edit to come up with something halfway readable.
What are the most important decisions you made in your career?
The most important professional decision was to go overseas. It really expanded my boundaries and forced me to think differently.
When you grow up in a particular culture, you don’t realise how much you’re affected by tacit assumptions. Most of the time you don’t even notice them. It’s only when you go to live in another culture and you say, “well everybody knows this is the way things work” and basically nobody around shares those beliefs, you have to revisit and rethink a bunch of stuff you thought you knew.
What will be the most valuable skill for your profession in the next 3 years and how are you keeping on top of it?
Collaboration. No question. And I think that’s true for every profession. Today, tasks are being automated at an absolutely incredible pace. So the work of humans is increasingly becoming to collaborate with other humans to design work for machines. It also means that everybody is going to have to work and collaborate across skill domains, so it’s important to be open to learning how other people do their jobs, what constraints they have and how best to sync up working styles. All of this requires a lot more openness and a lot less certainty.
I regularly talk with highly placed people with an enormous amount of expertise in areas as diverse as cancer research, quantum physics and materials science. So it’s really important to ask questions and listen carefully to the answers and not try to impose your own outlook, because the whole point is to understand a vastly different perspective.
What’s your worst mistake and how did you overcome it?
My worst mistake was not learning technical skills, especially advanced math, in college. I had to go back and bone up on a lot of stuff mid-career.
At one point, I took formal math classes in areas such as calculus and statistics, which I also found enormously helpful.
When I worked with a digital media company, I took time out to get a number of briefings from our CTO as well as subject area experts when we began incubating new capabilities, such as UX and SEO. These weren’t on any particular business issue, but general briefings and they helped me to understand the issues that came up later and helped me act much more quickly and decisively.
Well, I think you need to constantly keep stretching yourself. So that includes reading widely, but also taking advantage of resources that are close to you.
What’s your biggest ambition now?
To make my upcoming book, Mapping Innovation, a bestseller. Also to be able to say things like that and not look like I’m plugging it (which, of course, I am).
What is the most interesting book you have read and why did it impress you?
Hard to say, because there are so many. The one that comes to mind at the moment is A Mathematician's Apology, by G.H. Hardy. So humble, interesting and showing such a romantic devotion to his work. It's also just a great, short read. Less than 100 pages I think.
What industry websites, blogs or influencers should I bookmark right now?
One guy I can highly recommend is Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who ran e-business for IBM in the 1990’s and blogs regularly about emerging technology issues. He’s super smart and really plugged in, so if you want to understand the fundamentals of something like Blockchain or AI, reading his posts are just enormously helpful.
Another guy is Steve Blank, who is largely responsible for the Lean Startup movement.
It sounds like a shameless plug, but my blog DigitalTonto gives you a good idea on key trends in innovation, technology and marketing.
What are you going to read, watch and learn in 2017?
I never know in advance. I just explore and see what I find.I’m always reading several books. Right now it is “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly, “Peak” by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool and“Blueprint for Revolution” by Srdja Popovic.