Top Learnings from Columbia Business School’s Pan-European Forum

I am delighted to have recently attended Columbia Business School’s Pan European Forum in Paris. Aside from connecting with old friends and a fantastic community of over 700 attendees (!), the pure richness of learning experiences and stimulating keynote and panel speakers, including Carlos Ghosn, Dil Sidhu and Joseph Stiglitz, pushed my thinking and re-energized me on so many levels.

There were so many take-aways from the conference, but for right now, here are my top three:

1) Leadership and Culture change are still major drivers of organizational transformation….and some of the toughest nuts to crack. Almost all the speakers, regardless of the specific industry or topic they were addressing, focused on how vital it is for leaders to renew their own capabilities and styles and to create cultures where people, at all levels of the organization, are truly connecting with each other and with new ideas. Given the chance, people will bend over backwards to contribute their best to organizations who make them winners, so the job of leaders is to engage as many people as possible.

There were also lots of discussions on the importance of developing a leader’s ability to re-invent him/herself – to take the time to reflect, develop self-awareness and be ready and nimble in adapting and updating based on changing needs.

2) Get comfortable with holding opposing ideas at the same time. Instability and rapid change means complexity and constant evolution of what is required from leaders. Smart leaders learn to handle ideas that appear to be paradoxes: concentrating on short term and long term results at the same time or focusing on set targets and developing deep competencies while being ready to change quickly. Ambiguity is now one of the defining features of the workplace, therefore being able to stand strong in the midst of this uncertainty is crucial to success.

3) AI is growing…and it will augment, not substitute, human capabilities. A fascinating panel discussion with Tim Campos, Marc Bousquet and Jean-Philippe Desbiolles challenged the audience to view AI as Augmented Intelligence, not ArtificialIntelligence. As machines get better at even “soft skills” through progress in visual recognition, language, empathy, and experience, it can be nerve wrecking to think what they will be capable of. However, humans are unique, and have an innate ability to make complex decisions on far less data than machines. So the question is how do we challenge ourselves to interact with machines? How can they help us perform more better? The obvious answers are in tasks that require repetitive, routine work and detailed data analysis. However, machines can also help in other ways. For example, since machines have no biases, they can provide options human decision makers might not even have thought of (out of our comfort zone, prevailing corporate culture etc.). Machines are evidence based – they can provide alternative best options, then allowing humans to use their skills to make a decision. This type of AI is already starting to be used in areas such as recruiting and even interviewing, where by identifying key words and micro expressions, machines are already helping humans make better decisions.

In the end, I am deeply grateful to be part of such a vibrant community of business leaders and for the generosity of the many experts and leaders who shared their key learnings and insights on steering and growing organizations through difficult times. And of course, Kudos and huge Thank you to the fantastic team who worked very hard to put this together!


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