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Interview with Steve Wells

Steve Wells is an experienced Strategist whose professional background lies in finance, strategic planning, partnership development, futures research, publishing and facilitation. In this interview he explains why he believes technology can lead to a more human enterprise, as well as how important it is to adapt to change in both your personal life and career.

What first made you believe that technology can lead to a more human enterprise?

This question extends beyond our enterprises and into society more broadly. Two things in particular come to mind. Firstly, a sense of self-preservation in humanity; our collective desire to survive and thrive that should kick in before we let the machines take control. I realise that sounds a somewhat dystopian possible outcome, but maybe consideration of the “do nothing” outcome will galvanise people and governments to prevent the machines from winning. Secondly, I am sensing an increasing realisation that the question about what technology is capable of, is no longer “could we?” but “should we?” The notion of magic and science blurring; of science fact becoming equally as fantastic as science fiction is starting to galvanise debate about the ethics of allowing technology to develop without sensible checks and balances. These same issues play into our businesses; how do we engage our people and re-train them to focus on higher value tasks as the more repetitive tasks and “grunt work” are undertaken by automated systems. How do we develop work processes and experiences that value our people for their uniquely human attributes?


Do you find that working with enabling change has taught you to be more flexible in your personal life as well, or have you always been flexible and this made you ideally positioned to work with the changing workplace and technologies?

I have definitely brought a number of professional insights to change into my personal life. The first thing that comes to mind is that we don’t resist change, we resist being changed, and that when we are leading the change, dialogue and honesty about the change are crucial. These seem to me to be sensible principles in both personal and professional situations. I also believe that an appreciation of our span of control is critical so we focus our energy on what we can change and not what we can’t.

As the world becomes increasingly uncertain and complex, wicked problems – where we are uncertain about the problem and have little or no agreement to the solution – are becoming more prevalent. These issues play into an evolving leadership skills set that have yet to make it into wide-spread common leadership practice, but that will be increasingly vital through the wave of change we are seeing.


Which disruptive technologies do you find particularly interesting?

I find the number of technologies, the scope of the developments, and the combinational potential of many technologies simply mind blowing. But if I had to pick two that fascinate me, they would be artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing.  Both have the potential to radically change our lives and our businesses. AI is showing enormous potential to automate work, automate sense-making, organise our lives, and drive actions from deep analysis, to literally driving autonomous cars. 3D printing could not only radically change our notions of manufacturing across a number of different sectors, but also have a profound impact on related component manufacture and logistics.


How are your keynote presentations unique?

I think I help people see beyond the near term horizon and beyond industry sector or business boundaries. In our ever more complex world, technology is one of the drivers of change and we need to always keep it in context of the others. My objective is always to help leaders make connections, give them some insight, develop a sense of the uncertainty and complexity but also provide some guidance to help them to see a way through. I also like to encourage people to realise that in the midst of exponential science and technology development, the critical issues relate to people.


Who or what inspires you most?

I am always inspired in how I relate to people by my father. I also value highly Stephen Covey’s 7 habits as a guide to relating to people and helping me to be successful in what I do. I am inspired by my colleague and business partner Rohit Talwar. His energy and creativity in our business is amazing.


Do you have a favourite experience from your career?

I don’t have one favourite experience from my career but I have been fortunate to study change and consulting at Ashridge Business School which on the back of a number of leadership interventions at Pfizer (where I worked for 20+ years) have shaped my business and professional approach. I am also fortunate to have traveled to a number of countries around the world and am forever fascinated by the similarities and differences wherever I go. And I always enjoy every speaking opportunity. Each one is a different experience and an opportunity to learn something new.


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