Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shai Agassi, Time Magazine Top 100 influential thinker

I was privileged to listen today to Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO of Better Place. He used to be President of the Products and Technology Group at SAP. He resigned from this position to pursue interests in alternative energy and climate change. In October 2007 he founded a company named Project Better Place, focusing on a green transportation infrastructure based on electric cars as an alternative to the current fossil fuel technology.
Agassi has been included in TIME magazine's 100 most influential people list of May 11, 2009 - and with good reason! What a superb speaker and a great mind.

Highlights of his presentation:

1. Shai set off on his journey as a result of a question that was asked to him a financial forum: "How do we make the world a better place?"
He set about tackling ways in which to change humanity and create a sustainable environment for all. He said that the past years of growth have been based on the template of the American Dream and this is not going to assist us as the population grows towards the 9 billion mark.
He sees a sustainable environment being completely linked to a sustainable economy. Questions about the environment relate directly to our own pockets.

2. Shai set about asking questions: How do you run a vehicle with no oil? How do we build an electric car that everyone will want to buy? How do build a car that is convenient and cheap to run? How do you build the car using the science that we have on the shelf? How do you build a car that makes business sense for the manufacturer and the sales people? How do you create a car that stops only 50 times to refuel, equivalent to the approximately 50 times a year that we stop to fill our cars with petrol? How do you build a car without waiting for a bigger battery to be invented? How do you build a car that when it charges it does not take the whole electricity grid of a city down? How do you create a car that when you get back into drive it, it is ready to go? How do you ensure that there is a solid financial model behind the whole design and development? How do you develop a financial model for the car that is based on the mobile phone modeling of a free phone if you sign up to a 2 year contract?

3. Shai developed a very strong vision and did his research to back up what he was saying. He sees his development of the electric car as the future of how we will travel by 2020. Current oil-based cars will be the equivalent of fax machines today. Australia he believes is uniquely placed for this new way of driving as all the raw products for batteries are natural resources in this country. Australia could be selling kilometers to the world as Saudi Arabia is selling oil right now. Shai speaks with absolute conviction when he says:"We will make zero carbon footprint cities. We will abolish petrol. The world will be a great place."

4. From a process perspective, Shai uses unbelievable leadership, influencing and presentation skills. His whole presentation is a story. He speaks of his own journey and his own struggles to find funding and financial backing. He speaks of his growth and determination to never give up until he found solutions.
He sets such a clear vision for himself and can articulate it in a straightforward way. He definitely has the end in mind and works relentlessly towards that point. He knows what he wants the end result to look like and he paints that picture brilliantly so that the audience too can see it as clearly as he does.
He uses creative problem solving techniques by starting his process off with grand questions and big views. He then breaks down smaller problems and works his way through them. He frames his questions according to creative problem solving techniques.
He has high levels of credibility based on his knowledge and his research and his ability to communicate this in plain language.

See Shai's talk on Youtube:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gail Kelly talks strategy

I was lucky enough to listen to Gail Kelly talk at her first major business lunch since she took over as CEO of Westpac - and WOW what an impact she made. She did not speak from carefully scripted notes and captured the audience with words straight from the heart, spoken with passion and conviction.
She summarised her first 18 months in office by using the word 'intensity' and said that she had been required to navigate external economic forces as well as developing and implementing Westpac's new strategy.
She spoke of her determination to ensure that the Westpac goals remain completely customer-centric and that the bank works to earn business from customers and to delight customers through their efforts. She is looking to achieve a high level of customer advocacy and with 10 million customers between St George and Westpac, this is truly an opportunity to delight them!
She believes that the operating environment remains challenging. There are certainly some positive signs and she describes herself as 'cautiously optimistic'.
She also spoke about the importance of reputation particularly for banks at the moment. There is a huge amount of anger and distrust and how does one begin to re-build that? Reputation is like a coconut tree - it takes so long to grow yet is so quick to cut down. Banks would need to be more transparent and show their high level of ethics and strong conduct over time.
Driving an active customer focused culture has had its challenges. Although each employee knows the strategy and can talk the right words, it needs to be "baked" into them. This requires change in all aspects including systems, processes, reward and recognition, traditions and so on. Even as CEO, Gail herself had trouble in getting these changes across the line. She was determined to do this in a systematic, deliberate and ruthless way. She emphasised that this is a journey over many years.
She said that many transformations fail for a number of reasons. Sometimes we underestimate the size of the task. At other times we declare victory too soon. You need to have the commitment to carry on and to have all the champions behind you. Be very clear on where you are going and measure how well you are tracking.
Kelly sees her legacy as having built a customer-centric organisation that is admired for its reputation.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

International Conference on Thinking in Kuala Lumpur

Have just returned from the International Conference on Thinking in Kuala Lumpur. Great to be exposed to so many interesting ideas on creativity, learning, imagination and innovation.

I've brought back lots of fantastic inspirations for our leadership programs and training programs.

Headlining the conference were:
  • Edward De Bono - best known for Six Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking
  • Howard Gardner - creator of Multiple Intelligence Theory
  • Tun Dr Mohamad Mahatir - former Prime Minister of Malaysia
  • Tony Buzan - creator of Mind Mapping
Here's the video blog which I posted to Management Consultancy International's Youtube channel outlining the highlights from the first day of the conference. In particular I outline Howard Gardner's talk about Multiple Intelligence Theory - 25 years after its creation.

What I found particularly interesting was Multiple Intelligence theory's applications in the workplace. As I mention in the video, Gardner's suggestions that understanding the differing intellectual strengths of our team members can help us create more balanced, effective teams. Teams which avoid groupthink by having a healthy mix of perspectives.

I'll be posting more highlights from the conference and sharing the insights gained in the coming days!