CIO Day speaker says leaders going deeper will keep great ideas alive


Jos Dirkx says during times of disruptions, leaders have an opportunity to be a hero.

In her CIO Day keynote address, “Why great ideas die: A how-to guide for 21st century innovation”, author and World Economic Forum technology pioneer Jos Dirkx discussed ways to create a working environment in which actionable and innovative ideas can flourish. She was addressing a packed Leonardo plenary room in the heart of Sandton.

Referring to the disruption caused by AI, Jos said: “We’re in the middle of a massive crash, and for CIOs today, this is not an easy time to be doing what you’re doing. You’re synthesising across a variety of exponential changes in technology, and trying to make sense of them and pull them together for your businesses.”

Yet she said, it’s at times like these that you get to be a real leader, a real hero. “Leadership today is about that consistent synthesis and connection.” You need to ask what you’re making better, easier and more efficient for South Africa today and five years from now. In that context, ask yourself how you’re showing up as a leader, what kind of mindset you’re operating with and inspiring in your team.

“What are you showing up with so your team doesn’t leave? What makes your team unique and how are they bringing out their individual X factors?” she asked those present. While she said that when it comes to having and implementing good ideas, timing is half the battle, it’s also about recognising opportunities, seeing if they align with your intention and providing a safe space for your team to explore and experiment.

With the rise and disruptive force of AI, we’re going through a revolution in the way we work and in the skills we require in the workplace. Jos argued that the skills we’ll need in the workplace are evolving, saying that she employs a chief AI strategist, who plays with the thousands of tools that come out each day. “We need to give our people the space to explore the tools that are out there by hiring people who have the freedom to understand what’s happening,” she noted.

Jos also stressed the importance of creating an environment where ideas can thrive. As leaders, we need to ask how good we are listening to what’s potentially out there. “As a parent, how many chances will you give your baby to learn to walk?” she asked, by way of example. “The answer: as many chances as he or she needs. We need to consistently allow for idea generation.”

Yes, we all must put out fires in our positions, but there also needs to be the required space to come up with new ideas. When it comes to executing new ideas and building both linear and exponential capabilities, she continued, we need to access both innovation and the discipline needed for its execution.

She stressed the need to employ people with a variety of skills – both the skills of top performers that we traditionally seek, and more creative and colourful ones that allow for a more diverse and well-rounded way of looking at things. This enables teams to perform better.
Yet, what’s vital in such teams is promoting confidence and security, letting our people know that it’s okay to disagree. “If leaders are unable to make their teams feel safe, they’re less likely to bring an idea to fruition and to repeatedly foster innovation,” said Jos. This is why creating a safe space is critical.

In the face of AI, CIOs need to need to become better at being human and making sense of a rapidly changing world, she continued. “Get out of the way of your and your people’s genius. What will make a huge difference is how you show up and focus on what makes your team great. Empower others to do jobs that they can do better than you and open more space for creative genius. Build systems that make it easier for your people to reach their full potential.”

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