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Why adaptability is so important for your organisations

Ross Thornley, Co-founder and CEO, AQai


It’s more important than ever to demonstrate adaptability to be successful in this ever-changing new era of work. Therefore, business leaders must support their teams in building this skill.

So today we’re joined by Ross Thornley, Co-Founder and CEO of adaptability assessments business AQai. Ross is here to share his expert insights on how leaders can build adaptability within their organisations.


1. Now, before we begin, it would be great if you could introduce yourself to our listeners and also tell us a little bit about your organisation AQai?


(01:02) So, I’ve been an entrepreneur for over twenty years, and that’s seen me in a couple of different chapters of my life from my first business that I set up in 2000 which was a branding marketing agency which I led for nearly 18 years, employed about a hundred people over that period and the full rollercoaster of everything that that entails, of all the adaptions that we had to make internally to be relevant for the external market and for us in what we wanted to change inside.

And that led me to a lot of work in innovation, and it was there where it burst the organisation that I’ve started now in terms of AQai. It was trying to help companies innovate at the edge, it was the imagination innovation. And the main barrier we were coming across time and time again was an inability of people and teams to adapt. The immune system of the company would rear its ugly head and it would just frustrate us externally looking in and saying, “Oh, there’s all these great things, these great opportunities that you can take hold of”.

And that’s when we went deep into adaptability to start to understand what makes people change, why they change, how they adapt. And that led us to develop an assessment platform and learning and development platform to help individuals, teams, and organisations adapt to make sure that they’re relevant and they thrive in uncertainty.

Great, well we’re definitely speaking to the right person today in discussing why adaptability is so important to organisations.

2. To properly kick off our conversation today, please could you explain what we mean by adaptability? And could you perhaps give us some examples of adaptability in action within the world of work?


(02:55) Yes, it’s interesting when I talk to people and you say the word adaptability, lots of things come up in their own head be it mindset, fixed growth or flexibility. And there’s a great example in National Institutes for Health, where they talk about it. And I’m glad you opened up early by saying this skill because we see adaptability as a skill and it’s one that’s essential to an individual’s psychological health, their social success and their academic and workplace achievement. So, it’s in every area of our lives.

What we’ve then been looking at is AQ. So, you might be familiar with IQ of cognitive intelligence and EQ of our emotional intelligence, but AQ is our adaptability quotient and that intelligence and that’s where we’ve been focusing. And if I give you an example it can be a proposition, it can be a behaviour, it can be a variety of things of adaptability at work.

One example is an organisation, a printing firm that used to do an awful lot of their work for the restaurant and entertainment industry. COVID, as we know, has decimated that whole sector and a lot of other competitors and printers that were in the same kind of marketplace furloughed their staff, closed up and said, “Okay, our market shifted, let’s just hunker down and hope that it’s over quickly”. With this one in particular, they asked their workforce and asked their team, “Well, we have these skills, capabilities, and competencies, but how might we be able to adapt and be relevant in the way in which everyone around us is and everything has changed”. And they ended up retooling and repositioning a lot of their equipment to print and cut out face masks with the plastic shields and within about 48 hours, they’d re-equipped their entire production line to create the plastic face shields that we can now see. And it became an entirely new proposition that they’d never even envisaged before. So, this is an example of how adaption can be brought about by an external factor that wow, what we used to do is no longer relevant. What can we do? What can we change in order to provide something that might be of need? That’s a great example of it in terms of it from one individual’s idea through to then a proposition that ensured that that company is now thriving, where many others are at the nasty precipice.

Thanks Ross, that’s a very concise definition of what it means, but also some great examples there.

3. Now you’ve just touched on this, but do you think that the need for adaptability in workforces has increased specifically since the COVID-19 pandemic began and will this trend continue to increase in the new era of work?


(06:02) That’s a great question, and there are a few aspects and a few lenses to think about that because we were coming and hitting this challenge pre-COVID in our observations of organisations, failing to take advantage of exponential technologies. So, these are things like AI, sensors, robotics, quantum computing, automation, all of these things that are evolving, the tasks, the careers, and the futures of everyone, and then COVID hit.

And I think what’s happened is we’ve perhaps fast-forwarded to maybe one vision of what the world of work might have looked like perhaps five years in the future. Many of us are working remotely, we’re using different technologies which were there, Zoom was already there, we’re doing this interview via Teams, these technologies were there, but they weren’t perhaps as widely adopted.

Now COVID has for sure increased the need to adapt for survival instincts. We’ve had to adapt our behaviours, some of our processes to stay safe and take advantage of some of the opportunities that have happened for us. So, I think it has increased the need to adapt. I don’t think it’s a flash in the pan but I think it’s a glimpse to the new reality that we’re going to be hit by many external influences that require us to adapt on terms that we’ve not been used to and at a speed that we haven’t been used to before.

So, I think that’s a definite indicator for people to really focus in. It hasn’t been more real than right now to adapt the way in which we think the way we behave and the way we act in work to ensure that we have abundant futures and career paths that leads us to a bright future.

4. With organisations continuing to invest in new technologies since the pandemic began, I’d imagine this has also impacted the need for adaptable skills in their people too.


(08:07) I’m a tech geek, I enjoy technology. I spent some time at Singularity University over in the States where it’s just a wonderful playground to learn all about these exponential technologies that we might read about or hear or experience at the fringe, but to really understand what’s driving behind them and what the new business models and new opportunities exist behind them. And that requires very different skills for individuals and teams to leverage them.

So, when we look at adaptability, we’ve created a model under the acronym of ACE; Ability, Character, and Environment. And it’s looking at how, and to what degree do I adapt, who adapts and why, and when does somebody adapt and to what degree?

So, in terms of those skills, when there’s all these technologies that are coming along, there’s one skill that we, we talk about, which is called unlearn and unlearning. And that’s something that we need to develop, we need to develop when to let go of something because new information has come in, new data, we might have learned a technology. I learned a technology of holding a pen and writing on a piece of paper when I was at school. That was a great piece of technology that provided an advantage to communicate. Then computers come along, and we start to learn about the QWERTY keyboard, and we do all of those things, whereas now we can have conversations and it automatically converts through AI pretty accurately into text. Gone are the days when you’re trying to train the language and it never really dictates properly. Now we have technologies where it will be in real-time, it will go back and course-correct old text just through conversation. So, that skill of unlearning to say, what served me yesterday might not be what serves me tomorrow. It’s the what got me here won’t get me there approach, so that is a key skill.

One other skill I just would like to mention is one of resilience and many organisations are talking now about resilience and perhaps interchanging it with grit and things like this. For us, the dimension of resilience is not about enduring, it’s not about necessarily coping or overcoming. For us, resilience is a skill of how quickly you can bounce back from a setback. So, if a door is closed in your face in the world of work, let’s say you used to run meetings in this way that’s been closed, how resilient are you to bounce back very quickly and find new solutions? These are skills that leaders need to really leverage and enhance, whether that’s brought about by a technological opportunity or by a human behaviour, one of stress or anxiety or wellbeing issues. These skills are going to be critical to help us thrive.

Yes, I completely agree with you. And I would say it’s been such an unpredictable year that resilience as you describe it, seems more important than ever before.

5. Now we’ve discussed the importance of workplace adaptability, but how can organisations go about creating a workplace culture that enables their employees to become more adaptable?


(11:29) I think this balance and where’s the responsibility. Is it the individuals? Is it one of the team or is it one of the organisations and how do you create as you described this culture that can foster and be a springboard to adaptability? And I think that’s what we recognise when we were looking at building our assessment and building our platform, is the impact of our environment. When does somebody actually adapt and how can we create an environment in which that doesn’t inhibit, and it actually accelerates it?

So, these are components and dimensions about what is the support that’s there:

  • Have we created a place that’s got psychological safety?
  • Can people turn to their colleagues and team when they’re at points of uncertainty, when they face a setback or challenge, and they’re looking for solutions?
  • Do we encourage mental flexibility by actually stimulating alternative solutions?
  • Have we got a work environment that is one of experimentation?
  • Do we reward curiosity, doing things for the first time?
  • What’s the balance between exploit and explore?
  • Have we created an environment where there is a team looking after, should we say the business as usual, that can look for innovations and exploiting about how to extend how long it’s going to be a valuable proposition? How efficient it can be, how productive it can be.

Most organisations have been pretty good at that. What they might be less good at but being forced to right now is exploring, the curiosity, the ability to pioneer and invent and that art of invention is around curiosity. So, creating that culture and environment by positively feeding what we call the neural net of the organisation. So, the brain, are you giving it positive information? Are you giving it diverse information, or are you looking just to confirm the echo chamber the biases that exist?

The opportunity for companies is to provide an environment and culture that encourages experimentation, doing things for the first time and to reflect on them and celebrate the reflection act itself. We hear a lot about all fail fast but to me, it’s more about learning fast. So just that small switch from all fail fast to learn fast is an important part of a cultural shift and cultural change.

I can’t imagine a world where lifelong learning doesn’t exist, because the moment we stop learning we’re then at risk of becoming irrelevant. If we’ve been in a linear world where change is perhaps slow, we might’ve got away with a period of learning potentially when we’re younger at university in the first few years, and then have a period at which we can exploit that before it becomes redundant learning or piece of knowledge.

What we’re seeing now in an exponential period is that the half-life of certain skills is rapidly accelerating the ‘how quickly they become redundant’ skills, particularly when they’re technical skills. It’s why now, these soft skills, behavioural skills, more human skills are far more in need. Certainly, in leadership is the soft skills and abilities of creativity, of collaboration, not necessarily the hard-technical skills that have been sought after in the past. So, to come to this point of lifelong learning, absolutely, we need to build that, that it’s not about “Ah that’s where you go to learn at school or continue professional development”. How do we provide it, that it becomes an opportunity of, of joy to connect on a personal level of how different people want to learn? And it’s all linked to their future vision of themselves. So, giving them an environment where their future looks bigger than their current, and then give them the roadmap, the space and the equipment, to be able to create the pathways and learn the skills to achieve that bigger vision.

Thank you. That’s some really interesting and thought-provoking examples of how organisations can really and practically build adaptability in their workplace culture there.

6. Following on from that, which skills should leaders be supporting their employees to develop, to ensure that their organisation is able to adapt in this new era of what?


(16:14) Well, I think there’s a couple of pieces linked to what I was saying before about this curiosity and firsts, and one of the dimensions we look at is mental flexibility.

If you remember back to perhaps your school days when there were debate teams, could you sit on the debate team of something and articulate a good representation of that viewpoint, whether you believed it or not, whether you had a bias to it being your state of values or not. Can you go after a potential solution when you don’t know whether it’s going to work or not? And I think one of the challenges linked to grit, is do we have grit, which is passion and perseverance of something? Are we gritty about a solution or about the problem?

And for me, a great quote that was shared with me many years ago, was

“Fall in love with the problem, not the solution, because the solution could be transcendent at the moment”.

So, what I mean by that is; Am I holding on to the fact that the best way of doing this is using this technology? So, the best way of cleaning my teeth is with a toothbrush where I move my hand and I move it around as I used to, when I was little. Then I came across electric toothbrushes that do all the work for you. Am I flexible enough to let go of the past thing that I perhaps have used so much to then be able to make use of something that is a better way of doing something? So the skills that you need to be supporting is having mental flexibility to be open to new solutions and to actively unlearn so that you give this space for this curiosity, that becomes a muscle because the more you use it, the more the company and the teams are able to adopt and take on new information and new opportunities quicker to leverage that. And that’s what I think is super important right now for leaders is to develop those skills that allow mental flexibility allow unlearning and allow experimentation to happen.

7. And how can leader’s role model adaptability themselves in order to incentivise their teams to adapt too?


(18:48) So I think leaders in terms of being role models, there’s a couple of aspects to that and incentivise to me is about connecting to that individual on their terms, in their language. And that’s about understanding. So, if a leader starts by understanding themselves, what is it that motivates them and recognising that that might be something very different to what motivates another. And there’s countless surveys, pieces about motivation, is it money? Is it incentives? Is it learning? Is it free time? Is it flexibility? All of these things that might motivate our personality or characteristic. What we look at in terms of motivation is the motivation style to adapt or change. So, this might be around, is it somebody that’s motivated by playing not to lose? So, they’re in defence, it’s about security, it’s about protecting what they currently have, or are they motivated by playing to win? In terms of the game, the opportunity of growth.

Just that one example of how we can be role models as leaders is to recognise that motivation styles in adapting differ and equally, one of the other pieces that we measure is hope. Now hope is the outcome of a couple of things.

  • We must have a vision, a goal for the future.

And then there’s two other components:

  • One is the agency, so do I have the skills and competencies to achieve that vision?
  • And the other is a pathway. Do I have some strategies in order to achieve that vision?

Without any strategies is unlikely to achieve the vision with some strategies, but without the skills to accomplish them without that roadmap and path, it’s finding evidence proactively of where things are possible.

And I’ll give a quick tip to something called So Future Loop is an area where you can go and see all these amazing stories of where technology is having real impact, not Sci-Fi stories, but where it’s having impact on challenges and problems, whether that’s in healthcare, whether that’s in manufacturing, so food scarcity, all of these areas that from a leader’s perspective, they should absolutely be supporting their employees by showing what is possible and building that hope and building the belief that anything can be achieved if we imagine it.

8. Now, once leaders have incentivised their employees to think a little more about adapting to this new era of work, I’m sure it will then be the case of being open and gathering new ideas from their teams. Of course, as you’ve just touched upon just now within any business, there will understandably be a range of personalities and characters. Some may be more naturally adaptable than others. As a result, do you think organisations need to take a personalised approach to building adaptability in their workforces? And if so, how can they go about doing this?


(21:48) I think it’s absolutely critically that organisations take a personalised approach to anything that they can. For example, if I have five grandchildren, every one of them is different. The way I interact with them, you try and treat them all the same, but they’re human beings. They have different visions of who they want to become, they have different characteristics or personalities, and our belief is they’re not fixed, they’re not permanent. We don’t put them in boxes in terms of someone can adapt or can’t adapt or is more naturally adaptable than others. Our view is if we can connect to understand, if we have that information and data, we can unlock adaptability on the terms of each person. We like to think of this about co-elevation. So, it’s the all boats in the rising tide of a harbour do elevate.

So, adaption, instead of judging this against each other, judge it between one person and their future, can they adapt to a point in which they have become more relevant, that they have more opportunity? So, for us, absolutely organisations need to approach it for their workforces, personalised. Now the big challenges are how to do that at scale with limited resources, how can you get a true understanding of the characteristics of why they might adapt? What are the challenges that they’re facing? What kind of stresses are they under? So that’s why we built the assessment, is to build some of that data so that it can connect with people rather than, as I mentioned in the opening, this immune system and the friction, “Oh, I’m going to hold onto what I’ve currently got. The processes that I like, or the software that I’m used to using, and I’m not going to change to this other piece,” but yet the company is trying to adapt its practices to make sure that they don’t go bust.

What we need to do is leverage technology to reach more people in a personalised way and connect with them on a personalised way, their own learning journeys. And that’s where we’ve been developing digital twins so that coaching can be and learning can happen in microlearning moments, in a personalised way, which will completely disrupt our current version of how we learn from it being centralised or it’s been digitised.

9. What are the benefits to this tailored approach to adaptability?


(24:23) The benefits of a tailored approach to adaptability is less of cope, collapse and friction and more of thriving, smiles and the light stuff. When we can tailor things, we all feel loved, cared for and we feel brought in and part of it, and the challenge when often the initiatives of needing to do it fast and at scale that’s lost. We lose a lot of the humanity and human elements of those things.

For me, I want a world where every human still has their heart and their best version of themselves, able to become realised and technology isn’t about creating them numbers about making them obsolete and about being in conflict. It’s about being augmented to that. So for me, the benefits are wider spread abundance and a wider spread opportunity for growth and development on the terms of each individual, not necessarily on the terms of an arbitrary index to get to, it’s about each individual, having a brighter future. That’s my personal view and belief.

Thanks, Ross. And of course, I agree, everyone is different and learns differently. So, it just makes sense for senior leaders in the organisation to personalise their approach, to building adaptability too wherever possible.

10. Now, how important do you think it is for business leaders to effectively share a vision or long-term strategic direction of the organisation for employees to better understand the importance of adaptability?


(26:07) I think it’s essential for leaders to share a vision and I think in all honesty, that to me is one of the top roles of leaders, to create, articulate and expand the vision so that it inspires people to figure out how can they contribute to that vision? And it’s up to the individuals to decide whether that vision resonates with them or not, whether that is something they’re passionate about or not, whether they can contribute and connect to it and hopefully be involved in the vision creation as well because a leader that collaborates in the vision making knows that that’s far more likely to be manifest.

So, the long-term direction and the long-term vision is a hard one, especially when we’re in such unpredictable times. The difference between exponential change and linear change is so hard for us to comprehend, so hard for the human mind and human brain to really comprehend what exponential truly means. So, therefore, if we’re living in that world long term, it’s trying to envisage a hundred years’ worth of development, say from 1900 to 2000, the same amount of change is going to happen in the next 10 years.

So, I think the challenge for leaders about sharing a vision is to have some imagination about that but put milestones along the way that are perhaps shorter-term visions and that’s different now. Having shorter-term milestones means something totally different to shorter-term milestones, just three or four years ago because our society, the technology in every environment is changing so quickly, a vision for say, one year now would have been equivalent to say a three-year vision just five years ago. So, I think that timing must shift for leaders of what visions they’re trying to create so that we can be more adaptable to opportunity. So, when things happen, we can explore those and be able to pivot.

11. Now, on the other hand, how important is it for business leaders to listen to new ideas from their teams, if they are to successfully adapt to forthcoming changes?


(28:32) I think a lot of this comes down to different teams, sectors and cultures of what have they done so far, because if we suddenly change something so dramatically, that will have fallout and whilst I’m a proponent of exponential and we have to speed up and the risk of not doing this is collapse. We are seeing the highest level of unemployment and bankruptcies and organisations going out of business and I expect that to continue.

Now to counter that is what do we put in place to listen to those new ideas? How do we give the environment that allows us to go, “Okay, we’re going to experiment in that very quickly? We’re not going to take the 18 months it might’ve taken on average to get a new proposition to market as of the stats of a few years ago, how might we get something within seven days? How might we test that idea if that’s too much in one month? What would the key bits of information we’d need to do for that idea that’s being presented to say, we’re going to give it more resources or less resources”. So, this opportunity to give trust, autonomy, and freedom, but not necessarily force it, if that isn’t the way in which that team or group are used to. So, identifying through the data and information ones that will thrive in that kind of environment and that they can provide the bridge and the pathway for the others to follow afterwards.

So, I think some of it is this balance between output and outcome. Lots of businesses and lots of leaders and teams focus a lot on the outputs. That’s what a lot of the measures and the OKR’s and the KPIs are on outputs. We need to be far more orientated around outcomes. And so when we’re listening to new ideas, if we are open-minded and not bias to the root, and we are, as I mentioned before in love with the challenge or the problem and the opportunity, we can be far more flexible in the route that we get to there. And that’s what we need to connect and unlock within teams.

And I’d like to see an expansion of this definition of teams from one perhaps that is currently viewed as an internal thing to what’s the team on an external basis. How might we make a team with collaborations of other teams, sectors, maybe even our competitors, how could we radically collaborate in a wider team against that problem rather than what we thought of historically, a competitive advantage was who could we recruit? Who could we put that borders around, incentivise them so they don’t go anywhere and then leverage those assets as our teams? How can we create the ideas from a wider team from industries, from the crowd so that we can listen to that?

How are we setting up those systems to me would be a wonderful end result, but let’s just start with creating this opportunity for experimentation firsts, and that we can build this space in which people can experiment and be given some room for autonomy to do so.

12. And how can this be done effectively if leaders are managing hybrid teams where their employees are divided between the office and remote working on a part-time and a full-time basis as is quite common in this pandemic world?


(33:12) I think this is a reality for every business and every leader is that they have teams that are in so many different areas, whether that was historically departmentally or geographically, or now, as you mentioned, in terms of in the same physical space, or we use the transport rotation network now called Zoom and Microsoft Teams to get together.

I think the push for leaders now, and one of the biggest challenges is it’s far harder when we have remote teams and disconnected teams to treat them as human beings and not just task avatars going from one Zoom to the next Zoom, from one meeting to the next meeting and just going straight into work and straight into this task avatar to get things done and forgetting the connections of human beings to have those sort of serendipity moments, the opportunities of a conversation that wasn’t planned.

 I think the biggest challenge that leaders have is those beautiful, poetic moments where creativity happens in the unexpected times, not in the meeting, not in the room, but it’s often over the lunch, over the coffee, what was called the water cooler moments. So for me, that opportunity for leaders to connect, not just to get work done, but just to connect, to share, to share experiences, to make space for communicating on a human level, sharing stories about humans, what they’re working on, not necessarily just to achieve a task or a result, because my fear is without that we will lose so much innovation. We’ll lose so much collaboration where it is cross-functional just because you heard a whisper and with remote and disconnected teams, I think the whispers get lost and that’s where often the innovations and the transformations are hiding and lurking. So, tips for doing that is set these things up. It takes effort, be proactive far more than you ever have before, so connect with people, talk with them without it having a need to deliver a work-related task. And it’s just about giving that space for people to connect on a human level, especially when disconnected and remote.

13. And how should leaders go about addressing any suggestions for change?


(34:48) I think it’s contextual in terms of have they set up the environment correctly? Have they framed what they’re looking, the ideas for change for? Because if someone comes up with an idea for change, that’s unexpected to that leader, it’s unlikely unless they’re really advanced leaders that they would have all ears and not be biased and have the time to give it and the space to give it to live and breathe.

So, I think a lot of it is in the setup of expectations of where are you looking for change? That’s your starting 101. So, when they come up with suggestions, you’ve already primed yourself to be welcoming and accepting. The hard ones and often where the most valuable ones are is when the leaders weren’t expecting that change and it’s not in line with what they had either envisioned or planned.

And so, what I encourage them to do is give the freedom for that opportunity to be – a good science experiment is you don’t know the result yet. You have a hypothesis. Perhaps giving room and an environment in which, for that change suggestion, how could you pilot it? How could you test it within 24 hours that would help make a decision on giving it more resources or not? So, making it more towards the person with that change, who might they be able to cajole into that team? How might they be able to get another data point or a little piece of evidence that might give this change requirement, I.E. I see this new technology as creating an opportunity, we should do it, it’s called AI, whatever it may be.

Make it specific, make it quick to lean on from that person who’s initiated it. Get them used to collaborating with others, to provide evidence and what I learned from a chap called Astro Teller, it was called Google X, and a lot of their moon-shot innovation provided me some evidence of the learning, not to keep the project or idea alive, but to kill it. So how quickly could we find information to make this change, not the right one that we should do? What bit of information, what experiment would we do that would say it’s not the right thing for us?

That’s where to focus in and it’s that flip. It’s very counter-intuitive to think like that, especially when you’re passionate about the change you want. You want to say, this is why it’s all good. What would be the thing that would derail it? Go and find out if that’s true or not early on and I think that opportunity. I think there’s a website called Killed by Google. And it’s all their projects, it’s all their ideas live online, that they celebrate all of the ideas, all of the change suggestions, and they celebrate why they killed them. And that’s a huge opportunity that we can learn from is give the opportunity for them to kill it themselves. And then it is a very different relationship they’d have with that leader than the leader, hitting it with the hammer and saying not on my watch.

Thanks, Ross. That’s some interesting considerations for business leaders to bear in mind.

14. Now, how important is it for business leaders to push their teams out of their comfort zone and take risks to drive adaptability? Could it be beneficial in the long-term to let their teams experience failure to achieve this do you think?

(38:28): The phrase no pain, no gain comes to mind in the gym and things. And I like to think of it differently to that. Yes, this is a muscle, adaptability is a muscle.

Dan Sullivan is my coach. He’s my mentor and he runs an organisation called Strategic Coach. And he has a model called the Four C’s and it’s;

  • Commitment
  • Courage
  • Capability
  • and confidence.

And it’s in that order. So, if we’re making a commitment to something that we’ve already got the capability of, we don’t need courage and that’s inside our comfort zone. It’s unlikely to give us much confidence boost because it’s already a capability we have and we’re making a commitment in our safe place. When we make a commitment outside of that, when we don’t have the current capability of doing it, such as inside our comfort zone, if we step out of that, what we need is courage, because we need to learn something new. When we then gain that capability, it might be we’re gaining it individually, or we’re gaining it on loan, by collaborating with somebody else who has that capability. It increases our confidence either that we’ve gained it or by proxy.

So, I think to take those risks, doing it collaboratively because we can benefit from seeing others and being involved in others, commitments, and new capabilities in the courage that we see. If I flip that question to the other side, in terms of, if we stay inside our comfort zone, what does the world look like in a linear world? Again, staying in our comfort zone, the risks were low. We could probably still hang on for a while before we became irrelevant, irrelevant of our current career work task. I remind some of our listeners that a computer was the name of a job, that was a title up until the seventies you’d see a job ad for a computer, a mathematician.

Now that definition of that word is not about a job and a career role. It’s a physical object. How many current jobs are going to become a physical object or in fact, a piece of software? So if we aren’t encouraging and I’d say not necessarily push, I’d say, give the environment in which they want to come out of their comfort zone and connect into them individually because other than that if they don’t, it’s going to be a death of their careers, their propositions, and their organisation, unless we take the courage and the steps to develop new capabilities and new opportunities for ourselves.

15. Thank you very much, Ross. Now I’d like to finish with a question that we ask all of our guests. In this very uncertain environment that we’re all experiencing right now. What do you think are the three qualities that make a good leader? And do you think that these qualities have changed because of the pandemic?


(41:23) My first book, which took me two years to write, was called MoonShot Innovation. And in there I talk about exponential leadership and I’ve used that term and word throughout this conversation of exponential. And I came across five core attributes of an exponential leader. So, if I was to focus on three and how that might help organisations plan and adapt to the future that’s coming, there’s three aspects:

One to me is a collaborative innovator. So, a leadership quality historically might have been collaborative in the way in which they manage their teams. They may or may not have been innovative or being even in the innovation area. I think every leader now has to be they must be. So collaborative innovation and an innovator provides the environment for that, provides the inspiration for it, provides the challenge and the permission. So, they look for opportunities to collaborate outside of the norm and they look for innovation opportunities to do that. So, I think that’s one way to adapt to future changes, is expand your collaborative team and to drive innovation inside collaborative endeavours, whatever you’re trying to collaborate around.

The second aspect is a futurist. And some think it’s a made-up term of a person. In fact, my strengths finder for any of your listeners that might be familiar with that, futurist is one of mine but what I think of this in terms of a leadership trait and how it might help us and organisations plan ahead is to be actively informed. Have you created space for you to stop looking at the navel, stop looking at the next two steps in front of you when you’re walking on this path and that you take time to look at the horizon? What is going on at that horizon in all aspects of your industry, in other industries and in technology? And the point of this is so that you can then have a court sense.

In sports, somebody who has a good court sense knows where that ball or where the puck is going to be, not where it is right now. They anticipate it and they intercept. So, for me, a futurist is one that can anticipate an intercept what is coming. And they do that from looking at the data with an exponential timeline, not a linear one. They might look at technologies, predict where it might be and look for where can we intercept it. A bit like Siri, for example. The creators of Siri knew the technology didn’t exist when they started their endeavour. But what they knew is that they would intercept it four or five years out. They didn’t have to create some of those things. They just anticipated and predicted those technologies would be in place that they could then take advantage of when they were there. So, for me, a futurist is one that looks for those opportunities to intercept as they move forward.

And the last one that I’ll end on in terms of the future changes in the world of work is a question about what are we adapting for and to? What’s the vision that we all want, is it the Terminator vision? Is it a utopian one? And so, leaders to me must be humanitarian in their viewpoint. And what my definition is in that is that, we’re living in a technology-fuelled world and there are challenges in every corner.

Sustainable development goals are a great to do list for the planet of all these challenges that we’ve got. For me, a humanitarian looks out for the welfare and wellbeing of humans and the planet. So put people at the heart of what you’re thinking and what you’re doing, what you’re believing and what you’re envisaging as a leader. So that gives us an opportunity to create the future world that we’d like to live in.

So, for me, a humanitarian is aware of those things because we have numerous pandemics, not just COVID, but we have an epidemic of anxiety, of stress, of mental health, and they’re not helping. So, a humanitarian will look out for the welfare and well-being of those around them and put the environment in place in which they can move from a collapse into growth and into a thriving future. That for me is the world I’d like to live in anyway.



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Ross Thornley is the CEO and Co-Founder of adaptability assessments business AQai.

His organisation are building an AI powered AQ* assessment and personalised coaching platform to help people, teams and organisations thrive in an increasingly uncertain world.

His forthcoming book ‘Decoding AQ – Your greatest superpower’ is available to pre-order now.



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