Q3 2018

This Is Your Brain on Technology

This Is Your Brain on Technology

You’re in your office (maybe it’s a hip, airy, open-plan space), sitting in your leather swivel chair (or a hipper Aeron), and you click into your favorite business magazine. There on the home page is a heroic-looking picture of your company’s CEO with a headline proclaiming them as something along the lines of this week’s greatest thing since free Wi-Fi.
Digitalist Magazine Q3 2018

If your reaction isn’t a knee-jerk, coffee-spitting guffaw (hopefully you don’t work at a company like Dunder-Mifflin), you might pause to reflect on your CEO’s true impact. OK, you think, my CEO is pretty impressive. Charismatic. Smart. Tons of experience. Talks a good game at the all-hands. Appears trustworthy to analysts and investors.

But then you think, “Wait, what?! Our market is so complex, our offerings are so good and demand is so strong, could this dude (dude can be unisex, by the way) really be the embodiment of our success?”

And you’d be right to ask the question, because CEO hero worship isn’t what it used to be.

Why? Artificial intelligence (AI). When we think about how AI will alter the fundamental nature of work, we tend to focus—and rightfully so—on the jobs of rank-and-file employees.

But CXOs aren’t immune. In fact, AI will displace much of what passes for C-suite magic today, such as experience, market knowledge, gut instinct, and decisiveness. AI will be able to gather and analyze so much information about the business that C-suite executives will have to pivot from having the answers to knowing the right questions to ask.

Before you tweet me links to your favorite odes to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or some titan of the Industrial Age, read this issue’s feature, “The C-Suite Gets an Upgrade,” to find out why we believe AI will make it less likely that we’ll admire leaders for their hunches in the future.

Digitalist Magazine Q3 2018

The rising tide of Big Data that will wash over the C-suite’s AIs will be powered in large part by technology that is becoming exponentially smaller. Researchers have already managed to get a computer chip down to the size of a red blood cell, with memory storage on protons of light. There are robots that can be measured in millimeters. Soon, we will have assembly lines that operate at the molecular level.

As you’ll discover in our feature “Tiny Tech, Big Bang,” what’s most impressive about small tech is not just that it keeps getting smaller but that it also keeps getting smarter. The Internet of Things implies a certain level of dimwittedness. Nothing could be further from the truth.

At Digitalist, we’re in the technology business because we’re excited about the potential for these advances to improve people’s lives. But navigating rapid change is unquestionably stressful, and leaders at all levels are at risk of burnout. Mindfulness has taken a bad rap—executives of a certain age are prone to dismiss it as some kind of hippie conspiracy. Yet it turns out that the hippies sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed were actually onto something.

Scientific evidence bears out that when we need a break, rest isn’t up to the job. It does nothing to build resilience, which is what executives really need to survive these trying times.

Leadership: It’s All in Your Mindfulness” describes how mindfulness doesn’t just improve resilience but also increases brain function. It’s like pumping up at the gym, except instead of bigger biceps and pecs, we get bigger hippocampi. And that’s good for getting things like raises and promotions while feeling less stress.

How do we know this is true? Data, of course. But as this issue demonstrates, good leadership requires brains and data. Enjoy. D!

About the Author

David Jonker

David Jonker leads the global thought leadership team at SAP, exploring how technology innovation addresses business, economic, and social issues today and tomorrow.