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TechTalk ep22: Anticipate by design, or how to cope with innovation

Paramita: Hello and a warm welcome to PwC Luxembourg TechTalk. Innovation. We've all heard that it's good for humanity. But is it still the case? On today's episode Isabelle Lunven, a managing director here at PwC explains what should our - the humanity's role be in the face of an innovation tsunami.

Paramita: Hello. Hi Isabelle, thank you so much for being here.

Isabelle: My pleasure.

Paramita: Our topic today... Well when we started talking about our topic, the broader thing was innovation. And I remember our last conversation where you gave me this very mysterious but very interesting phrase. You said that we can probably talk of "anticipate by design". And you know when you say a thing like anticipate by design, I'm already anticipating by design... the best of course.

So first of all why did you think of this? When we thought about innovation, why did "anticipate by design" come to your mind?

Isabelle: I think if I look at the way the world is evolving things are changing many will say very fast and it may be an old person's statement today because it's just a new norm for a younger generation. But beyond this if you look at the acceleration of innovation over the last 10 years it's just massive and it's not only in technology. It has to do also with the environment. The world we are in is changing through pollution etc. and it's changing fast. The society is changing. Many elements that we took for certain are changing.

And in this context, it's difficult to know what to do, what to learn and what to reach at the end of the day. And I've been working on those topics for quite some years. And at the beginning you'd start to think that there is one element that we'll solve which is you will learn a new language or you will learn to code... But actually we need to accept one thing which is if you ask me and same for many people we don't know what the future will be and nobody does for sure.

So this element of uncertainty brought me to think you cannot be ready for everything but you can start having the flexibility and the right skills to anticipate whatever will come. So if you start developing the right mind-set, the right approach on things, the right skills but different skills and different methodology. So if you have a sandbox of solutions for yourself and then if you start being a bit open and we will discuss here I'm sure after around the how... this is the way. It's not to say you have to learn Mandarin you, need to learn Python, you need to learn this or that. Because it may be obsolete in five years from now. And no point in learning it but if you learn the methodology of coding and what it means Python may be obsolete effectively in five years from now but you've got this way of thinking and you know how to address the next thing that would come. So this is more to be flexible and in this notion of adapting to whatever would come. And so that it's by design, it means it's in our DNA. Whatever will come you know how to address it because you know how to learn. You know how to adjust. You know how to be on top of things.

Paramita: So by design really means that getting this anticipation or flexibility into your DNA...

Isabelle: It's an ongoing process. So if we look at the younger generation for example from a work perspective, all the young guys that are coming out from universities their value on the market in terms what they know, what their knowledge is, is probably valid maybe for three - five years whatever and then they will turn out to be obsolete. So this notion of keeping learning, keeping being curious etc. needs to be embedded in what you do. Because if you don't do that, if you don't adjust, if you adapt to your environment you will no longer be relevant and it may be complicated then for you to find a job especially at a time where you have technology then coming in, artificial intelligence, robots now moving into the space of new jobs and new kind of tasks that were not conceivable some years ago because of the calculation and computing capacity right now. So in this anticipate by design is also for us as human how to keep being relevant versus robots and machine. And then as individuals in the human population how also to remain relevant on some topics because if not again we will have some issues to have a work, to find our place in the society.

Paramita: I remember when we were talking in your office you spoke of you know how your ancestors or your parents or grandparents they worked in agriculture and they were quite certain about how their future... as in how my parents or my grandparents their future was kind of you know OK I'm going to go to college study this... study architecture and become an architect. You know that was quite straightforward. What has changed since then?

Isabelle: I think there's some elements... First there's some elements of trust that have changed massively. And if you look at my grandparents who were farmers in the western part of France called Brittany. They were having the security of the State. They knew the state will be stable. They knew the bank even if they were not having a lot of money they could trust. They could trust also a lot the education. The teacher or the professor and the doctor. So if you look at the evolution and they were born about 100 years ago in the meantime some governments went bankrupt. Some banks went bankrupt as well. So in terms of having trust in the long term it's no longer the case. If you look at doctors we all are on the internet to look at which kind of solution we may use and we try to be our own doctors.

And same on the education with e-learning. So there's a lot of things that have changed in having access to information, to education which is a good thing. But on the other side this element of trust and certainty we has massively changed. And if I ask the younger generation or somebody or my kids who do they trust today they will trust the community which is close to them first so friends and families. And then they may trust ratings on the internet or on social media... oh it seems to be a good place or it seems to be a good medicine. And then experts. But the role of governments, the role of institution has massively changed in comparison to a hundred years ago.

And what also changed beyond the mistrust is that the time and space element has changed. So if you take your phone you can go and visit the temple in Angkor and never get there physically. And you will have very nice pictures and you can effectively see it very concretely, not enjoy it physically but you have the whole world accessible without moving. It wasn't possible ten years ago or not in such a broad scale. Same in terms of time if you look at how quickly things are accessible. It wasn't the case five to ten years ago.

Technology has enabled this. The iPhone has been created in 2008. So we've lived without having a smartphone. So it has massively changed the time and space environment we have. And it does generate many opportunities as a consequence. But it also generates all sorts and a number of threats. And if you look back a long time ago in the history of human being the evolution is a continuous process and in that sense it hasn't changed from the past.

But many years ago you had somebody who was talking, you had somebody who had learned by heart and was talking what he learned. It could be philosophy for example and you were listening to this person who had absorbed all the knowledge and could remember it in his memory. It was very much a one-to-one or one-to-a-few communication. And then books and print were invented and then you were having a broader group of people who knew who could share this knowledge with a lot more people. And then you had computers that have been created where this knowledge have been embedded. If you take Wikipedia you've got the whole memory or of, not mankind, but quite a lot that is accessible on your phone. So and doing this we've deployed and developed this many-to-many education, information, access to knowledge. And by doing this also we've outsourced quite a lot of the human element. So and what makes us going back to human versus machine what makes us human. We have started outsourcing our memory also. How many telephone numbers do you remember, how many birthdays you remember. You've got them in your phone. But we've said instead of remembering it... There were the books first that were helping us to remember and now we've got the computer or the smartphone that help us in stocking the memory.

Paramita: So the most important question is how do we anticipate...

Isabelle: Human nature has evolved and adapted all along. So if you look at Darwin's philosophy this is our nature and we will be and keep evolving. Then I think what is more complex now and because of this mistrust and trust change and uncertainty, if you look at the younger generation and all of us actually we have quite a complexity to manage. So what is important to anticipate and keep being relevant is first I think is to be open on what is happening outside. So the curiosity element. It's to look at what is happening in technology, what is happening in behavioural things. What is happening outside in the world generally speaking. Just be aware and just absorb and listen to... I think is one thing.

Second thing is to keep learning whatever your age keep learning. Learn new skills, learn new capabilities, learn new languages. In adapting it's not so much that you learn Mandarin that is key. It's just the fact that you can learn a new language. So by keeping learning is building this capability of adapting to whatever comes next. You're doing a job today like the one you're doing in interviewing me. But tomorrow it may be something different that will leverage your empathy, your capability to build a good relationship. It may no longer be in the studio here but you've got the capability and you build the capability just to adapt and adjust to whatever will come. So and I think what is important also there's two other things that are important. Another one is critical thinking. So there will be a lot of information and a lot of things that will come up. So what makes sense for me, for the society. What is relevant again. Should I buy everything that people are telling me. No. So how to keep again thinking about things... Is it a fake new actually? Is it realistic?

I see something that I cannot trust. Then don't trust. Ask why why why, how. So it's bringing this mental assertiveness that will be critical. And the last one I think to anticipate by design is to take care of yourself. So as an individual the work life balance, the stress that you have and that we will all have to cope with because the uncertainty and the constant evolution that will require us also just to be able to step back and take some distance from them... the day to day. So shall it be leveraging meditation? Shall it be leveraging healthy food or a combination of all of this. I don't know but it will nevertheless be critical otherwise the whole thing will collapse because it would be too much stimulation at one point in time for the individual.

Paramita: If I give you two cases for example one a young student who's going to study literature in the university now and someone who is middle aged and working in a disruptive business of some sort. What kind of concrete advice can you give to those two so that they don't feel threatened?

Isabelle: It's interesting so I would have probably answered differently two - three years ago. On the literature piece in AI right now you've got a lot of... one of the key things that is on top of different topics but one of the key things that is semantics and ontology which relate to words and then to literature and linguistics. So two or three years ago I would have thought you'll become a journalist or an author or a teacher. But right now you can go and move into artificial intelligence because of the semantics, because of the link between languages. And also because of the structure of the learning you're adopting in literature. So around analysis, around context and again the methodology of learning will be used and makes sense in any case.

So first keep learning and I think key is just to be on top of his own topic or her own topic, literature in this case. For me I think what will be interesting to learn first is "to learn to learn" and "to learn to unlearn". So we all are formatted with the education we had whether it be at school but also at home. We all have preconceived ideas and I think the key thing is to have your humility and I think it's a very important word in the future. The humility to say that we don't know everything and to keep learning just again to adjust and to adapt. And there are actually some trainings around "learn to learn" and "learn to unlearn" to help people also go beyond what they think is right and go to the next step. And then in any case in both cases and I will come back to the second one after is just to keep learning, keep interested, being curious about things, discuss with others, share, collaborate. And again in this discussion or in this challenge with the machine, collaboration and corporation is something that is still very human. So building relationship in any case will be something that will bring added value and that will be critical in the future. So this will be more for the second case.

For the more experience profile it's more complicated because as we said it's the "learn to unlearn". So when you have been doing the same job for the last 25 years, changing mind-sets, changing ways of working is complex and in there again it goes back to the humility. But if you don't want, it's complicated. So it's accepting also to be in the situation that even with your experience, you don't know everything. And you need to accept this matter of fact and identify which strengths you can leverage and which topic you like and you can build up on. Looking at the variety of jobs that we don't know today that will come... there will be a lot of jobs around relationship, around managing older people, managing young people, education, sharing empathy that technology and robots will never take. So will it be very different from being a clerk and moving to a human care environment. Yes. Will it require flexibility. Yes. Will it be an easy path. No. In any case.

But this is for all of us and me including how to remain relevant in what we do and how to bring added value.

Paramita: How to bring these you know these people who... I can't call them stubborn but you know who have their reservations, who have had their lives, their entire lives working in a certain way. What's first of all what's the role of businesses? What's the role of governments in bringing these people along? And of course finally what's the role of technology?

Isabelle: So here first I would say this is our responsibility as individuals to also take our future in our hand. So it starts with us, with each of us. Governments, corporations may help. And technology also. But if you don't want to do it yourself it would be very complicated in any case. So it starts with each of us in putting us in this mode of constant innovation, constant curiosity and in this anticipate by design mind-set. Nevertheless you're completely right in saying that corporations need and will have to also adjust this. And you see that corporations themselves are challenged in not becoming obsolete. If you take Nokia, if you look at key brands and it's the same for many banks or institutions and incumbents. So they equally need to go through the same route and support this upskill approach. Because if they don't do it then they will themselves become obsolete and then they will disappear potentially. So supporting upskilling programmes by making sure that people in their organisation can progress and evolve, not only in terms of technology, but also on the rest which is to learn to learn, the system thinking approach, the fact that humans are really key in your organisation and find their place versus machine is a key element of the investment of corporations. I was having a discussion with a guy I was working with in Asia who said that in the company he's working with, and he is a top leader in a 200.000 people firm, he said that when they did this change programme and upskill programme people didn't come back with "I need to be trained in AI" or "I need to be trained in digital". It was taken as a granted and as a given. It was more around how to manage ambiguity. How to manage the unknown. How to manage the fact that I need to keep learning which is a soft skill, a lot more than just making sure that I can reach the next technology element. And I think this is what is important. It's not only the hard skill. It's very much also the soft skills. So how do we work as a team. How to work collaboratively. How to be more creative. How to be more curious.

What is key is also to enable people to take the time to evolve through trainings, through innovation contest and reward which again is just a beginning of many thinking. And as far as governments are concerned it's the same problem. Governments right now are facing such a mistrust in many countries that they need to reposition their purpose. Why are they there. Governments are here to build a safe and sustainable society. So if you look at all the challenges represented by new technology, they will need also to work on what is responsible AI, what is responsible data management, what is right for the people at the end and start building the regulation to also protect or slow down some of the evolution that will be too dramatic for the citizens. Do they have right now the skills and are they all fully aware. Do they have the technology to support? Not necessarily. And they need to build it pretty quickly as well same as corporations just to remain relevant regarding the expectations of individuals. They need to align within their country but equally within the world. So AI is not a topic that is just for Luxembourg. It's a topic that needs... responsible AI is for the whole world. Data management will be a topic for the whole world and you cannot have rules applied in one country and the opposite in the country next to it. So it needs to be managed same as the environment and sustainability. It all needs to be managed at universal or an international level which makes it complex.

Paramita: And technology will be an enabler in all this?

Isabelle: There is always the good and the bad side of technology I believe. So there is always a good thing we say yes it could be an enabler and will facilitate a lot of the things. But on the other side there are so many threats that that could be also occurring as a consequence that you have to manage both. So I think technology can help humanity if it is well managed. It if it's badly managed then you got all the horror stories that we can see in movies like Terminator or things like that. So I think many books and many movies have shown things that we would have thought were just inconceivable many years ago.

If you look at 1984, if you read anticipation books from Asimov etc. it has all been written somehow which is a worrying piece in this. But I do believe... I'm an optimistic. I try to be an optimistic in this. I do believe that we all have the skills and the energy to make it right. It's just up to us to solve our own future and how we want to bloom and develop in this context and build the society and the world of the future where our kids can live and develop themselves in a positive way.

Paramita: Well on that optimistic note, we'll end our conversation here Isabelle. Thank you so much.

Isabelle: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Paramita: And see you soon.

Paramita: So that's all we have time for today. My thanks to Isabelle. I hope you enjoyed the show. I'll see you next week with a very special message about our podcast's future.

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