Feeding Megacities With AI Grown Food, The Future Is Here | TBCY
What is the ideal profile of a CEO in the current board? Someone who is in touch with reality, knows about the big questions of this time and for instance, knows about all the issues that we see at world economic forum but is also in touch with movements in society, so that he knows to bridge. That is an ideal CEO and in the company it is someone who walks the talk and do that together with her or his people and is engaged. Welcome to another episode of the Brand Called You, a podcast and video show which brings you leadership lessons, knowledge, experience and wisdom from hundreds of successful people around the world. If you're new to the channel please subscribe and hit the bell icon. I'm your host Fritz Bussemaker and today I'm delighted and privileged to have a conversation with Professor Annemieke Roobeek. Annemieke, welcome to the show. Thank you very much. Allow me to introduce Annemieke. She's a professor of Strategy and Transformation Management at Nyenrode Business University.
She's also the youngest female professor ever in the Netherlands for technology and economy. Now she does international comparative research such as an EU project on innovation and sustainability. She's a regular speaker with institutes like INSEAD at Fontainebleau, is member of Supervisory Boards like the Dutch ABN AMRO Bank, Royal Dutch Airlines, Energy Company Eneco but is also an Entrepreneur and Founder of companies like MeetingMoreMinds and GrwNxt. So again Annemieke, welcome to the show. Thank you so much Fritz. It's very happy to to be in this program.
Now, in my introduction I mentioned you are the youngest female professor. How did that help you or how did that actually stop you from doing things? A good question, when in 1989 perhaps you can recall but that was really a time when the new technologies came up and I started already in the end of the 70s working on the new techno-economic paradigm and combining technologies and I was very active in writing future scenarios and my background is international relations, economics and political science. So I could see things much more from a systemic point of view and I think that particularly at the end of the 80s there was a time where much more openness came for new insights and I got this first position of a chair of technology and economy in the Netherlands. Although I was 29 but I had done already many things
and I think that it has helped me a lot. I've never been afraid saying what I have as a vision because I always can underpin it with analysis and therefore I'm the researcher but I'm also the woman who is on a mission and wants to put concepts into action and that actual research, that's what I very much started also with my first chair as a professor for technology and economy but later on also as a professor for metropolitan affairs and therefore my love for mega cities but also the complexity part for which I had a chair at the University of Amsterdam. I'm still at Nyenrode for strategy and transformation management and I love to have the combination of, on the one hand thinking and working on the big vision but also to translate that into action, so that entrepreneurs or NGOs or people in society can work with it and therefore I speak a lot as well to sharpen my mind but also to engage with others. Did I just hear you explain what that mission is you alluded to share that experience? Yeah, well I think that if you look at the red current in my career, you can always see that it is on innovation. So don't be afraid of what is new but know what you can do with it and how these new possibilities can fit to big problems and therefore for me innovation and sustainability are two parts of the same coin. So even when I did my PhD in the 80s, I worked on, you know, what are these system problems in terms of sustainability but also is mass production the answer or is it causing so many problems or fossil energy is that an enabler or is that in fact causing more problems as we saw and seen every day right now with climate change. And I think that my mission is indeed
to start a dialogue on these big issues and then to ask the questions because that's the dialogue. To ask the questions and to have the conversation but also because you do research with your teams, also to test out life, potential of the solutions you have in mind and then how to do that with other people because the questions are too big to work on a solution on your own. So what I'm hearing you saying is it's great to have your head in the clouds to be a thinker but you also have to have your feet in the mud. You have to do it. Now, I was wondering as a Professor of Strategy and Transformation Management, at the moment we see the world experiencing quite a big change, the world economic forum calls this the fourth industrial wave. How significant is this change according to you and actually what triggered it, where did it come from? Well I think the trigger is already going on for more than 25 years and in fact we are already in a transition for more than 25 years. You are an expert in digital transformation yourself
and you've seen that, you've experienced that, you've been a catalyzer for that as well but what makes it different right now is that we are now in a period of time where many of let's say transitions that go on already for 20-25 years come together in a very short period of time and corona is only, it is a kind of amplifier but it was there already. All these transitions but when these things come together then you get the big jump and that's the transformation and that's why it is so interesting. From a strategic point of view you can look forward but you know what was behind you.
So you know in what kind of transitions you are and from a strategy point of view you know when to jump and now we have to jump. We have to jump in terms of climate change, energy, type of productions, the way we produce things, circularity, healthy society, how we organize education, how we reorganize settings of work, all ways of work. All these things come together yeah and it's on a global scale and that's the transformation you're in right now. That sounds quite scary, you have so much changing. I mean I can imagine that organizations,
CEOs, I know you're a member of a number of advisory boards. I would be quite scared and concerned if I were them with all those changes. So what do you see happening in your environment? Well I think here also leadership comes around the corner and here you see a big shift. On the one hand for instance, I would say the newly appointed CEO of Enaco , the energy company where I'm on the non-executive board and he is someone I would say with a new vision and the creativity to work with partly the existing team to go for a one planet plan that goes much farther than any energy company in the world and at the same time I also see companies and many CEOs who think, oh well perhaps not now, perhaps in a few years. Let's call it a transition and let's postpone. But in times of transformation you can't postpone, then you're out because your people know that you're not doing the right thing. Because CEOs have to rely on their people and the people who are all knowledgeable, you can't say well these were people who know in modern companies, the people who work there have more knowledge than the CEO and they feed the CEO and if the CEO is not taking up all these signals that are there already from a longer time, it's not the right CEO. And if that CEO is not able to make the
jump and oversee the systemic changes that have to occur at the same time, he's not the right leader because he cannot engage with the subject, let alone with these people. If you are a CEO and you're describing this situation how often do you see CEO being honest and realize, look I'm not the right person anymore for this job. Not so often but there we also have responsibility as non-executive members. So the supervisory board also has a role in this, that we have to, we are responsible for the long-term view and we have to see whether the CEO but also members in the board and the executive committee whether they are capable of fulfilling the tasks particularly in this period of time and sometimes then you have to take harsh decisions.
So what does it take, what is the ideal profile of a CEO in the current board? Someone who is in touch with reality, in knows about the big questions of this time and for instance knows about all the issues that we see at world economic forum but is also in touch with movements in society, so that he knows to bridge. That is an ideal CEO and in the company it is someone who walks the talk and do that together with her or his people and is engaged. So it's not only, this is the strategy but let's work on the execution and we need you to make that happen and if that letter part is not there or if the person is not able to connect then it's not the right leader for this transformation of time. So it is about engaged leadership,
that's the future? Yeah and engaged leadership is not only for the CEO, it is in fact engagement is an extremely important capability or skill for which you need to collaborate to network to have an open mind to work across silo to connect people in your company and outside and inside from the different lines. And in fact to do that in a 3D mode and I think that is what we asked. Very often you see that people in the organization particularly knowledge workers and younger people know much better how to do this. Whereas sometimes you think that people in the higher they come the more they have to learn how to do this. Now I read somewhere in the article that you speak of a new role which the organization needs, the Weber. Can you please expand on it? What is a weber, is that what you just described? Well no, the the weber is, I developed the word weber when I worked on networking already in the late 80s and the networks of networks go over into ecosystems and that is something what you see coming up in the 90s and then companies don't want it and now it is extremely in to talk about ecosystems but what is essential in developing networks and networks of networks into ecosystems is that you have people in the organization, doesn't need to be the CEO preferably not the CEO but that you have several people in the organization and sometimes also people from outside who are able to connect, connect content with people with human capacities.
Who connect the ideas with the execution, who can lead not one project but several at the same time much more in a programmatic way so that you can make that systems change. And the weber is someone who is, what I call a horizontal networking leader because it is not a hierarchy, it is someone who needs to work with the different levels in a horizontal way. What makes it special, the role of the weber is that the weber is not only let's say the busy bee from working with a content but also with a strategic view but he or she or the group has direct access to the top because they have a mandate, a mandate to operate and very often when you compare it with just a project leader, then a project leader may do one thing but here you work on big questions with many parties and then you need mandates and not to go back for everything. And a very important role of the weber and that's also why he or she is also a diplomat is that he or she can de-escalate and that means that the top can go on and work with each other but the execution is guaranteed and that is very important certainly if you know that more than 80% of strategy is never executed.
And you learn this or is this more an attitude, part of somebody's character. Well, it's an interesting question Fritz because when I explained it for instance, during my lectures at Nyenrode then there are always people so happy when they say, oh but that's what I do but I didn't know the word for it. So it is something that people do who already are in that mindset of networking and ecosystems and organizing the big changes. And I can imagine by giving it the label you empower people, hey
I'm being recognized for what I do. Yeah but at the same time you have to learn some of the skills and for instance, for one very large international financial player based in the Netherlands, we did a program where we learned the skills for engagement leaders but they are partly based on what do you need as a weber. So what is the networking? Networking is not just giving your business card but working with each other on something that has a meaning and collaboration inside outside, sinking beyond the silos and not to be afraid to do something where you work together with others, where your manager has nothing to say about. So that's the empowerment you addressed earlier but also being the connection between the often very general lines of strategy put on paper often by external advisors and then reproduced by the CEO and then doing the execution and what we did there was empower people throughout the world. It
was a worldwide project we did in the past three quarter years but we empower the people with management on my side as a co-host, as a real kind of session just as we do now. But as a course to engage people to come up with those let's say, strategic projects that could be executed in the different regions of the world but that would add up to the execution of the entire strategy and that was fantastic and it still is fantastic. Already a question I had, I think you answered it. No worries. In a sense I was wondering about cultural differences you see around the world different leadership styles. How does culture play an impact?
Yes, a good question because it's not one size fits all, at the same time what we did is that all the participants and these were about 200 in this project from all over the world, they got regional assessments. So assessments where 80% of what we tested was more or less the same. The 20% was specific for those parts of the world taking into account the cultural differences but also to award that and not to say well everything is equal. We think that it's important. So for instance, for the asia-pacific, it is very important to think less in hierarchies and really to open up for collaboration but they are so good in innovation and when you then stress the innovative part then the other elements come as well. Whereas for instance, in the Americas you touch up other elements and in Europe, the EMEA part we know that collaboration is easier. It is more or less a thing what we easier can do
and in the U.S. it's really the top says that we think in tasks whereas innovation is not a task, it is a collective, a challenge and these kind of things you can test before and that's also what we did, so that we were sure that we had the right people in the project as the future engagement leaders. Knowing the futures of this show probably very interested in results of this research. Is anything where people can read up online? Yeah, well we are now writing some articles but also some interviews are done and I would say look at our website MeetingMoreMinds and you will certainly learn more from it. Great and that's actually a nice bridge to another part of your background because so far we've talked about your role as a professor, as an academic supervisory role but you're also an entrepreneur yourself and well we happen to know each other from years ago, when you founded MeetingMoreMinds and I was found that a fascinating company because it was so ahead of its time. Can
you explain to the answer a little bit what MeetingMoreMinds is? Yeah, well MeetingMoreMinds is, it's a smaller organization, an advisory but it's specialized in developing networks around innovative or novel activities with more than one business. So it really is about networking and going beyond your own because the underlying thought is innovation is a collaborative action and you can learn from each other when you work with each other, when you invest into each other. So MeetingMoreMinds was indeed having that open mind and work with each other and that's also what we still do today. So we were founded in 1999 and we see that our ideas and also the evidence we produced in the past decades is really paying off right now because it seems that the majority of let's say business or even public sector things, this is really what we need now, yes. But I think MeetingMoreMinds was really the frontrunner for networking and developing ecosystems long before it became on folk. But we know how and why and what you need to do and I think putting things in practice and not only staying in the ivory tower is really what I am and what I would like to keep doing. But also what I hear you
say advising any entrepreneur out there, any academic out there do both stupid and practice. I think that's what I very much like about Nyenrode that they very much want us not only to thinking and lecture about academic concepts but also to be active in the fields. Feet in the mud. Now I know you've set up a number of organizations. What was the latest endeavor, what is the latest endeavor? That's GrwNxt and GrwNxt is in fact reinventing plant science with artificial intelligence, machine learning and image recognition and doing that with the latest technologies and we develop beautiful growth modules that are really a duel when you have the princes in your hotel reception or in your hospital when people come in or in an office building and what you see is that extremely, in fact a new a novel kind of greens with many vitamins, minerals and proteins are growing there just in front of your eyes and then within meters you will get it on your plate and then the nice thing is you don't need to eat much of it because it is so rich that you get all the natural nutrients inside your body without any pesticide or anything else. It's pure nature but grown in the most digital way as possible.
I have to get my head around this, using AI to grow plants. Can you explain to the answer just a little bit and also to me, how do you use AI to grow a plant? Well with AI, we can detect much better what the growth phases are a plant goes through. Very often in traditional plant science you say well there are four growth phases and with AI you have a lens where you see things much better closer and why is that important because there are dozens of growth faces and what we can do with the latest led technology for lighting combined with the nutrients to feed the water in these hydroponic systems. We can make what we call dynamic digital recipes, therefore we need AI but we also have to learn the computer to work with the input of the AI about the growth of the plant and with the image recognition what we do is that, we also can more or less virtually see the growing of the plants and the health of the plants and the happiness of the plants. When you combine these technologies, you have a new core to redefine plant science and that's what we do in an integrated IOT system and that IOT system is of course connected to the cloud and in the coming decade you will see many thousands of places where you have these beautiful growth rooms, these growth modules, looks nice and people get their food in a very healthy way without distribution, without damaging the earth with a very low food imprints. It's very sustainable but it's also
an answer to safety and security and that is new and that was not possible 10 years ago because now we can make the combinations of the technologies from AI to light but we see also that, I just got a email before we had this talk of someone working at airports, catering for airports and he said this is so important but now we can feed mega cities and we can show people all over the world that healthy food is just available, accessible and I think that's extremely interesting to work on. It's one of the big questions I had where I combined many of the areas of science where I worked in and this is feeding mega cities. It's combining my knowledge about metropolitan affairs, my technology part, my societal part and the complexity part. It all comes together and we do it with
in an ecosystem with many parties from the green tech up to finance from the hospitality up to the AI community and this is really the collaborative action to give the world something, I think we need. This is where MeetingMoreMinds came that comes to life. Well MeetingMoreMinds was in fact the incubator for codex and granex is the spit out of MeetingMoreMinds yeah but we could never do this. If we could not think big and if we could not connect to so many parties and if we could not get the opportunity to speak and to go on stage and to have the dialogues and to sharpen the mind but we got as I said, we got the AI for good award for the food track. The AI for good, that's been set up by the ITU, the International Telecom Union of the United Nations. Yeah, exactly. Congratulations, well done. Yeah and it was a fantastic experience for the GrwNxt team because we got a lot of support from all these experts, from the universities but also from the big companies, from the unknowns to the Google's, the Microsoft's, also the Johns Hopkins University, really very interesting and also challenging but we also got rewards for our R&D efforts for the dynamic digital recipes and for a totally new kind of robotic arm we are now developing for our modules and we call her the Ballerina and I think that's also the feminization of technology. I am certain you have touched upon so many topics where I'm certain people want to know much much more about.
We're at the end of the show. So Annemieke, I'm really really honored and want to thank you for sharing your insights as an academic we need engaged leadership, companies should look at what a weber can do for their organization and you've demonstrated some great examples as an entrepreneur, helping to improve the world. So Annemieke, thank you so much for being on the show. Thank you. Thank you for listening to the Brand Called You, videocast and podcast. A platform that brings you knowledge, experience and wisdom of hundreds of successful individuals from around the world. Do visit our website www.tbcy.com to watch and listen to the stories of many more individuals. You
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