Steve Brown, the former chief evangelist and futurist for Intel, can see around the curve on digital evolution to a decade where we’re more productive, more agile and more creative—all with the help of powerful machines. Author of The Innovation Ultimatum, Brown will be the keynote speaker for Chief Executive’s 3rd Annual Disruptive Technology Summit, held virtually, February 2-3, 2021. Chief Executive spoke with Brown recently about how top executives can be ready for the next wave of computing. Excerpts of the conversation, edited for clarity and length, follow.
What’s the next productivity jump technology-wise?
The next era of computing is the spatial computing era, which is bringing connections between the physical and digital worlds much closer together, more intimate. That enables you to solve a whole lot of business problems you couldn’t solve before. Think of it as the coming together of AI; machine learning; 5G and satellite networks; the IoT and sensors, autonomous machines, which is self-driving cars, trucks, robots, drones, passenger drones, all of that; augmented reality, which blends digital information into your field of view and digital objects; and then blockchain technology, which enables you to create self-governing business structures to digitize assets… create smoother moving transactions.
It allows you to start thinking about augmenting your talent—not using technology to automate away labor but actually to elevate your labor and help them be more creative, to make high-quality decisions, to be more intuitive and so on.
How do you lead to this new world?
To be a leader in a world where every company is becoming a technology company, and every company is becoming a data company, you need to understand that world. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think of yourself as a tech company. You are, whether you like it or not. It is now an important part of your job description that you are technology literate… Every executive doesn’t need to understand the bits and bytes, but they do need to understand the potential for solving business problems that these technologies bring.
What are some of the key questions to be asking your team on all of this?
I would ask my HR director and my CIO what they’re doing to partner up because now they preside over a blended workforce of humans and machines working together. Machines are moving from the status of tools, which is subordinate to us, to almost feeling more like teammates that collaborate with us.
I’d require that all of my team get at the same level of technology acumen that I do, as a leader, so that everybody starts to understand what AI might do for them, how they might use blockchain. And I’d put it not on the IT department but on the line of business owners to own understanding what the possibilities are and what kind of problems you might solve. Another thing is to have a serious look at bumping up your IT budget because that’s where you will get the most bang for the buck in terms of competitive advantage.
I think about Walmart’s Doug McMillon having the humility to say, in essence, I don’t know how to do ecommerce and buying Jet.com.
Companies that invested in digital ahead of Covid reaped the rewards. Once Covid is in our rearview mirror, it’s not like we’ll go back to the way the world was in 2019. We have now tasted what the world can be. There were 50,000 telehealth visits in the U.S. in 2019. We’re on track for 1 billion telehealth visits in 2020. That means a lot of people have had a taste of the convenience. For some ailments, it’s the best way to see your doctor. We’re not going back to 50,000 telehealth visits ever again. That’s a microcosm of what we will see everywhere. The world has changed forever.