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As founding members of the Digital Disruption Research Group (DDRG), it is our great pleasure to be involved each year in our annual DISRUPT.SYDNEY™ conference, co-hosted by the University of Sydney Business School and Sydney Business Insights. This year’s conference was held on Friday 20 September 2019 at the University of Sydney Business School campus in Castlereagh St, Sydney, centred around the topic of “rethinking success”.

Throughout the morning talks at Disrupt we heard varying perspectives on the topic:

From Kai Reimer in his opening remarks, a reminder of paradox, perspective and the big picture: what looks like success on the one hand may spell disaster on the other – for example, our drive for economic growth and prosperity often comes with increasing inequality. What does success mean in such a context, and by whose yardstick do we measure it? The rich? The poor? The aspirational middle class? 

From Andrew Baxter in his opening keynote, a move away from defining business success as increasing shareholder value, and toward creating and retaining trust and balancing value for the organisation, their employees, their customers and their communities.

From Connie Henson, a critical need to provide psychological (and physical) safety in order for people to thrive. Once that’s in place, a need to enable and empower connectedness (relationships with others, including those who constructively challenge us), control (autonomy, predictability, and fairness) and contribution (fulfilling needs to give valuable and valued input).

From Paul Farragi, a rejection of the paradigm that success means only money (profit, revenue, income, etc), where resources are deemed infinite in our calculations of success. A sole focus on ‘money’ leads to “corporate myopia”; instead Paul argues we need to find our balance between profit, people and planet. 

From Sandra Peter in her keynote, who says “success is not always what you think” and challenges us to shift our perspective from every angle – the big picture nation states; the organisations; the individuals. From economic policy to regulation to ideas and ‘how we do things’, how we have defined success in the past won’t work in the future – if you even accept that it’s working now.

From Rob Hackett, who found the measures of success in hospitals lacking when it comes to patient safety and patient outcomes and who created movements and a network to shift the dial on these in a hyper-hierarchical, hyper-competitive environment (spoiler alert: it’s very much a work in progress).

From Andrea Myles, who challenges us to rethink our outdated ‘Western’ notions of China and accept that China is already a leader – and soon we’ll all be following their lead. We need to rethink what success means for our nation in the era of China and other huge Asian economies dominating the landscape, and to stop resting on our laurels on the misperception that our geography gives us an advantage we don’t need to work for or work on.

And, to wrap up the day, another chapter in the Disrupt story on digital humans, with a look at “deepfakes and the future of information (arms race)” including how far deepfakes have come (as seen in the below tweet, used in the presentation). Are we more or less successful when we can no longer tell if a video, image or audio file is real or actually a deepfake?

Fittingly, on the day of the global climate strikes, throughout the talks and panel discussions, several of the speakers discussed the need for businesses to play a role in social change, without waiting for governments to take the lead or simply being forced to through regulation. Again, a different perspective on success: developing institutional and corporate trust through supporting communities and employees, and taking a stand on important issues.

The day once again provided great discussion and different perspectives on the conference topic. For businesses and individuals – and, frankly, for societies and governments too – there’s a lot to reflect upon with regards to success in an era of disruption, and while facing large scale issues such as rising inequality, economic slowdown and climate change. There are many hard conversations and few easy answers in moving forward, but as the dial begins to shift on defining and measuring success, businesses who refuse to adapt their thinking may find themselves facing extinction.

It is with the big picture in mind we must think about how we define success for our businesses – balancing people, profit, and planet (and shareholders) – and then look back at our systems, processes, policies and guidelines and determine whether they’re actually supporting success in these terms. Then, are we enabling our employees to thrive through providing psychological (and physical) safety, connectedness, control and contribution? Does our digital workplace have the right tools and systems in place to support employee enablement and effectiveness in order to deliver on success as we’ve defined it? Once we know what success is in our context, then we can define how to measure it – qualitatively as well as quantitatively.

PS: Here are some recent articles aligned with some of what the speakers had to say that you may be interested in for a bit of further reading:


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