Using TECHNOLOGY ACROSS the DEVELOPED & DEVELOPING world | Prof Anthony O'Driscoll | TBCY
Welcome to another episode of The Brand Called You. A vodcast and podcast show that brings you leadership lessons, knowledge, experience and wisdom from thousands of successful individuals from around the world. I'm your host, Ashutosh Garg and today I'm delighted to welcome a very, very senior and accomplished educator academic from Duke University, USA, Professor Anthony O'Driscoll. Anthony, welcome to the show. Thanks so much, Ashutosh. Great to be here.
Thank you. Professor Driscoll is a professor, speaker, author and advisor. He's an adjunct professor at Duke University at The Fuqua School of Business. He's published two books on learning and organization performance and achieving desired business performance and hundreds of articles. And he has a new book coming out, titled Everyday Superheroes, and we'll talk
about it, I think this book has already come out. So, Tony, before we get into your key area of Information Technology, your key message emphasizes that the key digital age differentiator is not technology but people. Please help me understand this with some examples. Great, well, my undergraduate is electrical engineering. So I'm no stranger to technology, and was very much of a techno optimist, I would say, until the year 1993. And I was in an airplane, reading an article in Wired Magazine by Bill Joy, who was then the Chief Technology Officer at Sun Microsystems. And he wrote a very influential
article called Why the Future Doesn't Need Us? And essentially, his argument was that if you think about the actual definition of technology, it's about the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. When you say practical purposes, for what? Well, it's not actually for what it's for. Technology should be serving humanity. And that's the purpose that whether that's a language or a hammer, or when we get into information technology, I think over the last two decades, essentially, because of the exponential nature of technology, I'm starting to wonder if the machine is using us more than we are availing ourselves of the affordances of technology. So in one way, none of these technologies would exist without us creating them. In another way,
when you're moving from a world where data is the new oil, and we are the creators of that data, then you start to think about, is technology getting out ahead of us? So that's why I want to bring some more humanity back to technology in my own work. So you're really reinforcing that age old comment that we become slaves to our own whatever devices we use all the time. Yeah. I've taken a little further and said, maybe we're indentured data producing laborers
working for server farm owners. But you know, essentially, if you think about the work that Tristan Harris and others have done. That's a question that we really have to explore. And I think a lot of us are unconsciously tik-toking our way into it, because that actually pausing to question, who's benefiting from having your attention, command. Very well said. So moving on, we are in the middle of the digital age. And I completely agree with, the red flags that you are raising, are we becoming servants or slaves of the technology that we seem to have created? But what are some of the challenges that we are facing? And where does the accountability lie? Yeah, well, I think we might have a case a little bit here of what Belmont called unconscious collusion.
That's where everybody is in a circle thing. They, they, they, they, they, they, they, they. I think everybody has accountability here. Whether that's government regulation, let's just take government regulation. Broadly speaking, there's kind of three different regimes, if you will, in the United States, companies can kind of own your data and take advantage of your data. Of course, you signed some licensing agreement, but you're in such a hurry to download the app. You don't read the 2000 pages. In Europe, obviously,
with GDPR, they're essentially trying to give a little bit more privacy back to the individual through policy. And then I think in more dictatorial regimes, perhaps most notably China, like government has access to that data and canon will do what they choose. So, there's accountability at the government level, but there's different policies and then at the individual level, if I think this is a truism, in any case, if we're waiting around for regulation, and we're not taking proactive steps as a society or as a citizenry, or as an individual, we're also part of the problem. So I really think that accountability and responsibility is at every level. And that we can't just rely on someone else, some other institution or some other organization to take care of it. So it almost has to transcend all those boundaries, in order for us to not just get sucked in to a never ending flow of data and and become untethered and unmoored from what it means to be human and what it means to feel grounded and what it means to feel connected in a very human way. Even now, through this technology,
we are connecting or having a meaningful conversation that's very different than just sitting there and passively consuming material. I had a conversation with my son yesterday. It's finals week here in the United States, final exams. And for AP English, Advanced Placement English, you're supposed to read a book.
And I'm like, if you're watching the movie, you're watching somebody else's interpretation of the words on the page. You're not using your imagination. You're passively consuming. You're not actively engaged. Of course, that argument fell on deaf ears, because I'm in a hurry to do other things. But I think sometimes we just need to pause a little bit. No, no, you're so right. But yet, you know, and I'd love to get your perspective on how the wide disparity in using technology across the developed world, the developing world, it is going to be managed. Because the
developing world this is very aspirational. In the developed world, this is invasion of privacy, and everything that you and I are talking about. How do we manage this imbalance in our world? Well, just as I said, there's the government level, there's the company level, and then there's the individual level, there's the culture, societal level. And then there's the individual level, which is take those four levels. I think that culture really matters. And I know, that's something you talk a lot about on this podcast, kind of just as my good friend, John Davis, chatting about before I came on air. I also, you know, I grew up, I sound American, but I'm actually from Ireland, but I grew up all over Africa and Asia, as a child, because my father worked in the UN. And so I've come to understand that
culture really, really matters. It's the assumptions, you know longer question that are just so wherever you are, and that's fine, if you are wherever you are, but when you move from one place to the other, and you start to look at things say, Well, that's the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Why do they do that? Come up in that culture, we're not assimilated in my culture, and you did not come up in that culture, you were in a similar culture. And one of the very hardest things to do is to embrace that difference.
And try to comprehend why it is that way, and perhaps even adopt that if it is better, different, more open. So I think culture really matters. And so if you have a culture or a society that is more willing to deal with a strong leader, or more willing to compromise some freedoms for whatever, then you could have a different kind of regime. So I do think that that's the case. Another thing that I think is very important to talk about here, though, is
when the World Wide Web was created, think about what it was called, World Wide Web. The idea was http://TCP/IP protocol. It came from DARPA, we all know that story that it was essentially a flat topological structure that was non hierarchical. That's very interesting. As an engineer, if you think about the fact that you've created a network that's supposed to be a flat topological structure, and now you bolted it on to the bottom of a company, which is built on a hierarchy, a military, which is built on a hierarchy, of a government, which is built on a hierarchy. Essentially, it's flattening the technology, by definition is flattening and opening. Now, what's happening now though, is we're starting to get a splinter net. This has gotten Malcolmson's work. So now we're seeing the different regimes will or won't
allow different technologies. An example might be Huawei and the big argument going on in the United States about that could be a 'security risk'. All right. So now we're starting to see, in India, you have the fantastic work that Nandan Nilekani did with the universal ID program and your infrastructure is probably second to none. In fact, Bill Gates call that the biggest IT project on earth when Nandan took that challenge on after leaving Infosys. So different countries now not only have different philosophies, but they're building different technological stacks that might have different technological role. Now,
if you layer on top of that, there's another very interesting thing that's going on. It used to be if we want to in the old world, when my dad was growing up the UN, we used to call it first world, second world, third world, thankfully we've moved beyond that. But if I say in the old world, I'm referring back to those days, developmental economics, the philosophy was as follows. If you can open up the purse strings, if you can open up the marketplace, you will then eventually open up government. In other words, if disposable income goes up,
individuals who have now built a nice house with a nice view, will not be willing to, for the government to say we're moving your house, because we want to build a highway, you see what I mean? But now, when you're growing up, you have what we call catch up growth, which means you build roads, you build infrastructure, you build reservoirs, you build, that kind of thing. And then you've got cutting edge growth, which is innovation. And the theory used to say, innovation is really messy, and it needs to be like Silicon Valley, and you need to fail and all this kind of stuff. And it's really hard to manage, it's easy to manage catch up growth, how many high speed rails do we need? How many roads and bridges do we need, but when you get to, what's the new form factor for information consumption, you have to do a lot of things before you figure out it's the iPad or the iPhone. So there's a lot of failures before. Now here's the issue though, the issue now is as we're moving into a world where data is the new oil, data becomes the most important resource because it's data that needs to train the machines for autonomous vehicles to work without traction. So now you have a different challenge. The challenge
here, when we start talking about economic growth in a data driven AI/ML world does an autocratic regime that controls the data have actually disproportionate leverage because they can command that resource, and then train. So here's the thought experiment, Xi Jinping already said electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles are on the roadmap. That's another element of those kinds of regimes. America has also said it, so you got the Elon Musk's of the world doing what he's doing in that regime. The truth is, though, if you're going to need to understand how to train an autonomous vehicle to navigate a place like New Delhi, or to navigate places like Shanghai or to navigate a place like Chicago, you're going to need to agree that whatever, the 10 kilometers, right downtown are going to be autonomous only, no other cars are allowed in, they will then we'll know what to do. In a dictatorial regime, autocratic regime will have more control over that particular situation. So the question that's open now is number one, culture. Number two,
kind of regime. Number three, then the role of controls the data. But number four is, in this particular instance, and we're talking about machine learning and artificial intelligence, having control of that data unquestioned. Imagine here's the final thought experiment. Could you actually get this done in Shanghai faster than you could get it done in Chicago? Absolutely faster in China. Chicago would be five layers of government all the way down to
town councils. All of that would have to be kind of, again, I'm not knocking the democratic process. I'm just suggesting that. Oh, you're absolutely right. You're absolutely right. I mean, that's another debate. We can have some other time.
How much democracy is good for every country. I had a very interesting conversation with Nandan Nilekani about this very point. I don't know if we should talk about it now. But we'll talk about it. Maybe we'll try and get you on one of our show together and talk about democracy. But I'm gonna keep moving on. I'd like to move now to your book, Everyday superheroes.
Yeah. Tell me a little bit. But before we get into the book, is the book available on Amazon and all the other platforms? Yes, it sure is. It's on Amazon right now. It's available. It's been out, I think a month or so. Yeah, just a month and a half. Show us a copy, that would be very nice.
So I'm gonna definitely order my copy and I'm going to ask all our viewers and listeners to go to Amazon and check out Professor O'Driscoll's book. But now tell me a little bit about the book, your hypothesis in the book? Yeah. So the book came about by doing actual detailed research for an institution called the Project Management Institute, which a lot of people know about. Project Management Institute
is essentially a very large kind of body that essentially trains Project Managers. And it's a fungible credential, if your PMI certified, you could move from GlaxoSmithKline to IBM to across industries, because it's like the basic blocking and tackling of on time, on budget, in scope. And they recognized, as many of us have that 70% of the time, the Express strategy, the strategy that a company says they want to pursue, in order to create value doesn't get realized, it doesn't come to fruition. Now, that could be because of an external variable, like some kind of disruption of COVID. Or largely because of internal variables, culture, I'll come back to culture, we're just talking about culture at the kind of macro level. But now let's talk about culture. And you've run many companies yourself. So I'm sure you probably agree. I had the great fortune, I think one of the things in life is
is I think your life is determined by the amount of mentors you've had in moments. And so I had at one point in time, when I worked at IBM, I worked for a gentleman named Larry Prusak. And Larry Prusak was the founder of Knowledge Management. And he wrote a very influential article in Harvard Business Review, called People Make Organizations Stop or Go. And I think that's true. I think that if you can have all the technology and all the process and all of the kind of metrics and all of the measures, but if people don't believe in the change that's being imposed upon them, they won't behave in a way that makes the organization change. So one of the premises of the book is belief before behavior, that people don't resist change, per se. That's why we're still here and Dinosaurs aren't. We are adaptive species. But they resist being changed.
Don't tell me what to do. All right. So the premise of the book is essentially, everyday superhero. Everybody in an organization can be a superhero. But in order for them to be so you need to unlock their discretionary effort. Now, what is discretionary effort? Discretionary Effort is what they want to do, because they want to, not because they're told to. Another way to say that is what's their source of meaning or purpose. And if you can tap into each individual source of meaning or purpose and create autonomy, plus accountability, you unleash the capability for an organization to be adaptable, to be responsible. When I say responsible,
I'm saying response. Organizations have to be far more agile, and responsible, response able than they were before, because the world's far more unpredictable given everything we've just dealt with between COVID, Ukraine, 2008 financial crisis, the year 2000. Remember y2k, we thought every machine was going to stop. And by the way, unfortunately, this is just the beginning of what we're going to see in terms of things we didn't anticipate that would happen that are actually happening. Wonderful. So I've got time for two more questions, and I'm going to move back to technology and Everyday Superheroes and how technology seems to be impacting everyone with the advent of the metaverse where everybody seems to be now talking about the metaverse without really understanding what the implications are. I'd love to get your perspective. Now, I'm not sure if you know this or not,
but when I worked at IBM Research, I actually spent three years deeply researching the metaverse last time, a decade ago. In fact, my last book Learning in 3D was all about this. And so I think the metaverse it's one of those things. If something is truly transformational, there's this real paradox about it. It happens slowly, then suddenly. It's everything's stable. And then there's a shock. It's overhyped in the short term, but underhyped in the long term. So this is where I
would categorize the metaverse, if you're familiar with the Gartner's hype cycle, or what? The Metaverse right now, it's become a vernacular and when something becomes a vernacular, then it can mean anything that it means to anyone and anytime and that's a problem. But I do believe and this is based on my prior research when I was at IBM research that this time around, this is going to be truly a differentiator. I felt 10 years ago, it could be I think, there were two key barrier there were both technical. Well, it was a cultural barrier and a technological barrier. But the technological barrier was bigger. The capacity in each client and each computer to actually render out the graphics was a problem.
And the capacity to actually do that over the air was one. Both of those are no longer problems. We've been through five different generations of technology inside the client laptop. And also gaming has really driven this so. So if my kid wants to play fortnight or Halo, they're using the kind of computer that you would have spent 10s of 1000s of dollars 10 years ago, so that's not a problem. And with 5G, we're done. So there's no latency. And there's the processing power of computers is there and the rendering is full. So I
think there's no technological hurdle anymore. The other thing I'll say is, I think there's a really, really, really big gulf here in that the Generation Z. They are quite familiar with navigating meta versus and having multiple identities and popping into whatever Instagram with their avatar, so on so forth into TikTok and creating their own kind of content into fortnight and doing what they have to do in fortnight. So they're quite facile and comfortable moving into different contexts that are not just oh, I'm in PowerPoint and now I'm in work with user different meta versus. Now, if you're a technologist, which I am, what you got to do is you got to look at what makes the metaverse different. And I've
got seven sensibilities that I talked about that make the metaverse difference. One is the sense of self. When you are inside a Metaverse, your avatar is your cursor. So you have agency inside the environment. That's very different than just observing because you're actually now in the space. At a distance means you and I could both be in a room, I still
feel like we're someone at a distance here because I see your screen and now you're in New Delhi. The power of presence, when you're co present, we're together right now. But we're split screen. When you're co-present even with your two avatars. We know this from research, that co-presence really brings the possibility of creativity together. Sense of space, you can now not just be anthropomorphize as a human being, you could go in and be a ribosome in a cell or you could go be a planet, you could experience what it's like to be something other than yourself to get a better understanding of cellular biology or planetary ecosystems. The capability to co-create, this is one of the things that all other companies IBM, Cisco, everyone back then was looking at is can we actually have aha moments eureka moments, Archimedes moments at a distance? Can we facilitate innovative, co-creative thinking at a distance? We can teach people stuff at a distance. But can
we actually have that? I firmly believe you can. This is what all of the games where the Warcraft fortnight, my son, they go watch videos of what they've done to try to make it better. So you're only limited by how much practice and then the enrichment of experience that you can have truly transformative experience inside the virtual world just as you can inside the physical world. Let me give an example. At Duke, we don't anymore, but we had one of 10 things called DiVE, Duke Immersive Virtual Environment. I am Irish. I have a phobia. It is a phobia about snakes. That's St. Patrick's fault. He banished all
the snakes from Ireland, and now live in America, lots of snakes, they freak me out. So there's a phobia treatment where they put you into this DiVE, Immersive Virtual Environment. And then they say, Okay, you are now standing in a white room. And you look around, yes, I'm in a white room. And then they hit a button, and all of a sudden, it's like, you're Indiana
Jones in the snake pit. And your whole body just freaks out. But the therapist is saying, Now listen, you were just in a white room. But the point is, your mind doesn't know the difference. You see. And so the enrichment of experience, the use of VR technology, even back then, when I was doing the research, for post traumatic stress disorder, is very, very powerful. So I think if you understand those seven sensibilities, then you get freedom,
you can create experiences where you have flow, repetition, experimentation, engagement, doing observing and motivation, freedom. And so I think if we design the metaverse correctly, and we don't fall prey to something I call the utilization trap, which is if I see another classroom with a whiteboard and and desks and avatars sitting in the classroom, shoot me because we then we've just recreated the old paradigm in a new world where we can have something completely different and that's just an education. So that's my two points. This is fantastic. And someday I'll reach out to you for a longer conversation on the metaverse given that you worked on it 10 years ago. But my last question to you, and I'm going to ask you to wear your professor hat all over again. And this is for the thousands of people who will listen to our conversation in India and the US. What would you say are
three lessons you would want our young viewers and listeners to take away from our conversation? Well, the first lesson I will say, because the audience, I teach in the Masters of Engineering Program and the MBA program at Duke University. And this is more drawing from experience to the Masters of Engineering students, because I was one. Those students come in to do an MEM program, Master of Engineering Management. And I guess my first lesson, if you're a student it's not about the grade, it's about the learning. So I often ask my students at the end of class, what class did you learn the most? And they'll say, Oh, it was this class or that class. So what grad did you earn? Oh, I earned this grade. But I should have gotten a higher grade of that. I said, that doesn't matter.
When you are educating at a collegiate level or a master's level, particularly. It's not about the grade. It's about how much you've learned. And unfortunately, those two things don't necessarily correlate. So that's one. So one is, it's about the learning, not the measurement. The second, I would say is, follow your curiosity. For me,
I think if you following your curiosity, you're always going to be motivated intrinsically to figure things out. And so I think that will be the second one. And the third would be, listen with humility. Because none of us is as smart as all of us. And if you encounter someone or something that's at odds with what you currently believe, don't assume that what you believe. I'm a big fan of having strong opinions weekly held, does that makes sense? So I'd say those things learning, curiosity and humility. Fantastic. Tony, on that note, and your amazing three lessons of learning, curiosity and humility.
Thank you so much for speaking to me. Thank you for talking to me about your journey. And thank you for talking about information technology, and all that's happening in the digital age. And I think we've just began to start talking about it when we run out of time, but I could have many, many, many conversations, because I know our audience will love it.
And thank you for talking to me about Everyday Superheroes. I mean, I think that is a very, very powerful communication that I think you're making through your book. One thing about the book just very quickly, it's not actually a book. It's a graphic novel. 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.
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