Category: The Value of Questions and Curiosity

CES Tour Reveals Trends and Innovations That Will Reshape Business

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Shelly Palmer guides directors through the show floor.

At the conclusion of day two of NACD and Grant Thornton’s board-focused experience at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), my feet are throbbing, my head is spinning, and I have a clearer picture of what the future holds thanks to a much sought-after spot at Shelly Palmer’s breakfast lecture on innovation and future trends, which was followed by an exclusive, small-group tour of this colossal show—some 3,900 exhibitors in all.

According to Palmer, the next-generation automobiles displayed by Mitsubishi, Nissan, Ford, and so many other companies raises the following question: How will we move—or want to be moved—from point A to point B?

“What does it mean to get from here to there? Uber is already self-driving. I push a few buttons and the car shows up,” Palmer said as he took us through the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center—home to what has been dubbed the world’s largest auto show.

Among the flashier electric vehicles on display was the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE Showcar, an electric hybrid Formula 1 race car. While only 275 of these cars will be made, the technology applied in its engineering eventually could end up in your self-driving car. AI might also sneak its way in. (To see more about the implications of AI, watch Erin Essenmacher’s interview with data scientist J.T. Kostman.)

Palmer also highlighted the following provocative insights to the directors in our tour group:

  • Smart speakers are among the fastest-adopted technologies, having achieved 50-percent penetration in U.S. homes in just three years.
  • Any device powered by electricity will be voice-controlled.
  • While Amazon is not exhibiting at this year’s show, its presence was abundantly visible through some 30,000 examples of apps compatible with its Alexa device.
  • Companies that may be considered old-line—Blackberry, Honeywell, ADP—have reinvented themselves through their understanding and embrace of technology that makes us more secure. “Security,” Palmer said, “is the gateway drug to home systems.”
  • At Honda’s booth, spectators were charmed by an adorable three-foot robot. The Japanese automaker discovered after the devastating tsunami in 2011 that children responded to the robot, which is capable of expressing empathy. “Americans have no interest in this,” Palmer said, adding this nugget: “Robotics are way ahead of anthropology and sociology.”
  • Chinese companies are the world’s leader in artificial intelligence. Google and Facebook lead in America. The presence of Chinese companies exhibiting at CES was a quantum leap over last year.
  • Some 15 million American homes have cut the cable cord and instead have roof antennas for TV service. So how can Comcast expect to flourish? The broadband giant will provide its customers the ability to connect various Internet of Things technologies that can be controlled through its voice remote.

More insights from CES and directors’ impressions of the governance implications raised by some of what they experienced will be covered in the January/February 2018 issue of NACD Directorship magazine. You can also watch the video below of NACD Chief Programming Officer Erin Essenmacher discussing AI with data scientist J.T. Kostman.

Isaacson: To Be Like da Vinci, Be Passionately Curious

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In addition to serving as the CEO of the Aspen Institute and having served as the managing editor of Time and as the chair and CEO of CNN, Walter Isaacson is an author and historian who specializes in telling the life stories of the great minds that have fundamentally shaped our world.

From Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein to Henry Kissinger and Steve Jobs, Isaacson has observed that the common denominator among the greatest geniuses in human history is a sense of curiosity that spans multiple disciplines—that and a little rebelliousness. He sat down with NACD Directorship Editor in Chief Judy Warner at the 2017 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit to discuss his latest book, a biography of Leonardo da Vinci, and the relevance of the life and work of the ultimate Renaissance man to the digital age.

For Isaacson, Leonardo’s unquenchable curiosity was one of his defining qualities, observing that the questions that the artist would jot down and explore through the course of his notebooks would never directly result in a larger project, be it a work of art or an invention. But there was value in the process of discovering answers to even the most mundane of questions, be it figuring out why the sky is blue or how they made locks in Milan. The artist developed a heightened understanding of the patterns of the world in which he lived, and this understanding fueled his work.

“Sometimes you wander and you do what any good corporate director would do, which is have a vision of what you’re doing and be tactical and open when something comes up. Especially in the digital age, you have to be open to this,” Isaacson said.

And openness to exploring new possibilities has been a guiding principle in Isaacson’s own career. “I began with print, and now dabble in everything from films to podcasts to television and books,” Isaacson reflected. “Each time, I say, ‘Hey, that’s a new opportunity.’ Leonardo was fascinated by everything, and that’s the best advice you can give someone: always be passionately curious.”

Isaacson also identified diversity as a critical factor to innovation. Looking at the Florence, Italy, of the 1400s, he observed that an influx of immigrant populations allowed for people of different background to mingle and exchange ideas. He also sees similar social conditions as being the impetus for the creation of jazz, which some have hailed as America’s greatest art form. “If there are people with different viewpoints and backgrounds, the edginess produces a creativity that uniformity doesn’t produce,” Isaacson said.

Thanks in part to the edginess of his environment, Leonardo helped to redefine art—as did his rival, fellow master painter Michelangelo. For Isaacson, the competition between these two men was paralleled in the late twentieth century by the competition between technology titans Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. But where Jobs focused on end-to-end control of his products and emphasized elegant design, Gates focused on creating software and letting other companies create the hardware that would serve as vehicles for his products. “And each model works well,” Isaacson said. “There’s no right answer. Jobs believed that beauty mattered, but Bill Gates produced a better business model.”

Jobs and Gates also helped to usher in the digital age, which, like the Renaissance, has completely reshaped how we think about and orient ourselves to our world. This new environment—driven by machines, machine learning, and artificial intelligence—has made some wonder how people will fit in to it. “I hear people say you have to learn coding. That’s ridiculous. We’ve learned that machines will learn how to code better than us, but they can’t learn creativity. What will matter in the future is getting people to connect the arts and technology. We need to be like Leonardo, which is to make no distinctions. Love the beauty of an equation as much as you love the beauty of a brush stroke.”

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The Pillars of Courageous Leadership

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According to acclaimed researcher and author Brené Brown, being vulnerable can be a strategic asset to any organization. Although this may sound counterintuitive to some, Brown made the case for how vulnerability cultivates innovation to a rapt audience of directors and corporate-governance professionals gathered at the 2017 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit.

Brown became an Internet sensation after she discussed her academic research on these themes at a TEDxHouston event in 2010. Although her presentation was enthusiastically received by her in-person audience, she was frustrated by negative online comments left on the video. But soon after, she discovered a quote by President Theodore Roosevelt that not only has reframed how she viewed her experience, but also has guided her subsequent work:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Brown then identified the following four qualities that, when operationalized within an organization, will create a culture of courageous leadership:

  1. Vulnerability. Based on Brown’s research, there is no job where a person is not vulnerable. She noted that vulnerability is not the same as cowardice. Rather, it’s the willingness to expose your new ideas to public scrutiny. Without trying to do something new, and risking the possibility of failing horribly, progress can never happen.
  2. Courage. It takes courage to compete in business. Luckily, Brown’s research into the behaviors of 80 senior leaders and more than 300 MBA students demonstrates that courage is a skill that can be taught and measured. She recommends four practices to instill a culture of bravery in an organization: (1) encouraging vulnerability, (2) defining the organization’s values and operationalizing those values, (3) inculcating trust between individuals and teams, and (4) empowering people with “rising skills,” or the skills to pick one’s self up and brush one’s self off after failing. Regarding rising skills, Brown pointed out that if your employees cannot recover from and learn from their failures, they will begin to feel that they need to be on the defensive—a mind-set that can hinder creativity and innovation.
  3. Ethics. One of the most difficult situations a person can encounter in a business setting is standing up to someone who is making unethical choices. According to Brown, ethics should be the grounding framework that drives behavior. When someone acts outside the set of ethics that the organization adopts or outside the law, leaders must be brave enough to call out that person’s missteps. Her point holds particular relevance to directors and executives who are responsible for overseeing business ethics and promoting a culture of ethical performance.
  4. Trust. Brown asked the audience, “If you can’t see a person’s vulnerability, will you ever be able to trust them?” Vulnerability is a key to building trust, and top-performing teams rate trust in their coworkers as the deciding factor for success.

Brown noted that people who lack trust in one another are likely to avoid confronting their fears and anxieties. Trust makes workers brave enough to develop and share their ideas, and allows them to discuss failures in a respectful manner.

“Can innovation come without exposure?” Brown asked. “Can you have innovation without vulnerability? No. It doesn’t exist.”