Is “deciphering deception” the talent skill of the future?

By Sharna Wiblen, The University of Wollongong

This year’s DISRUPT.SYDNEY includes the Australian launch of Digital Mike – a real-time rendered photo-realistic avatar, and in light of my interest in the intersection between talent management and technology, I’m both excited and apprehensive about the role of avatars in the future of work. Numerous questions, queries, concerns and comments arise upon critical reflection of all of the talk about avatars and the implications of these technological innovations for talent management, and more specifically, the skills and capabilities valued in the talent of the future.

Talent management, from a foundational perspective, is a judgement-orientated activity where humans make judgments about other humans. While personal views of “talent” influence strategies, policies and processes, so to do technological innovations. The influence of technological advances on our understanding of the skills and capabilities deemed valuable within operational and strategic contexts is not a new phenomenon. The transition away from proprietary systems to human resource and talent management modules of larger vendor designed enterprise systems led to the reshaping of organisation’s understanding of talent skills whereby technical, rather than contextual, knowledge increased in value.

We have witnessed significant changes in how organisations attract talent since the advent of LinkedIn and are now appreciating the importance of digital footprints and online reputations ( Consequently, there is greater value attributed to skills associated with marketing and personal branding. Transitions to digital workplaces enhance the imperative need for talent with requisite digital and social skills because digital disruption not only influences where and when we work but also the skills required.

Westworld, the TV series,  incited personal and professional reflection about “who” and “what” is talent within the show’s context. Which skill set is more valuable and therefore imperative for talent? Is it the individual’s that “turn on” and/or “fix” the android hosts or those individual’s that possess the skills to shut down and “turn off” the hosts when they go rogue?

While the embodied cognitive agents shown in Westworld are pre-programmed, and “guests” are (largely) aware of their technical status, what if avatars advance to where we are unable to tell the difference between what is real and what is fake?

Digital Mike affords a glimpse into the future, where such judgments about reality may blur.  While I am amazed and impressed by the avatar demonstrated in Digital Mike’s invitation to DISRUPT.SYDNEY, I also start to ponder the extent to which society can accurately distinguish, in real-time, whether the face they see is real or an individual’s avatar.

And this invokes numerous (exciting and daunting) questions about the intersection between this technological innovation and talent management: Will organisations value individuals who create real-time, life-like, computer generated avatars? Will organisations of the future be searching for talent that are to recognise what’s real and what’s fake? Will the ability to decipher deception, such as the use of undeclared real-time and life-like avatars, be a key talent of the future?

Lastly, can we imagine a future where we pronounce that “It’s not what you know – but whether you know that who you know is fake or real?”

If you’re similarly intrigued by technological innovations, sources of disruption, and the changing face of talent management, then join us on Friday 22nd September 2017 in Sydney.

Dr Sharna Wiblen, a foundation DDRG member, researches and advises on the intersection between talent management and technology. Follow Sharna on Twitter: @SharnaWiblen


Reimagining the Digital Workplace

by Natalie Hardwicke

Imagine you want to open the best research and education institution in your city, such as a University. You’ve noticed that existing learning environments do not cater for teacher or student needs in the digital age. As a result, you decide to design and build the most innovative of all office and teaching spaces; one that promotes collaboration using the latest in digital innovation and teaching technology. You outsource to various vendors who will build the institution and its IT infrastructure on your behalf, whilst you get busy hiring academic and non-academic staff and advertise to potential students. Once everything has been built – the faculty offices, lounges, lecture theatres, tutorial rooms, eating locations and learning spaces – you officially ‘open’ the doors to your new facility.

You start enrolling students and the academic faculty start designing courses. At the start of semester, you sit in your office and look down at the institution you have created. You see the students coming and going but soon enough, you start to notice something. The students do not seem to be using the multimillion-dollar collaboration space you built especially for them. Instead, they’re working out of the café across the road. You also notice that your academic staff travel frequently for the partnered research projects they have with industry sponsors, causing you to worry that your school’s knowledge is running out the door free of charge. You see the arts students working at different hours to the business school students, and even though your facilities offer the latest in Apple products, everyone seems to be bringing their own devices. Overall, you realise that the students and teachers are not using your facilities ‘as intended’, so you talk to your administration to discuss what you can do to ‘fix’ this issue. Perhaps you need to train people for how and why to use your facilities, or maybe even introduce a policy in an attempt to get people to use the facilities in specific ways.

What has essentially happened in this scenario is that technically, and theoretically, you achieved your vision of creating the best teaching and learning environment in the city. Strategically and pragmatically, however, you have failed. In your desire to create something you saw as valuable, you forgot one main ingredient: the people. It is the social and cultural aspects of your institution, not merely its technological environment, for which your vision would ultimately derive its meaning. The technology itself – whether digital or material based – was never going to dictate how and why people worked. As stated by the philosopher Alan Watts:

There is a ‘constant’ called the University in which nothing stays put: students, faculty, administrators, and even buildings come and go, leaving the university itself only as a continuing process, a pattern of behaviour.

Both technology and people change alongside one another, so to favour one element, the technology, is to disregard the other element that both creates and consumes the first. The University analogy is the same for the Digital Workplace in which we expect IT to be used in a specific way which means we often forget to ask basic questions such as ‘How do people use technology?’ or ‘Where does technology come from?’ We can use a self-driving car as an example to illustrate this point. Someone has to program the car to decide whether or not in an accident the car saves the life of the person on the street or the lives of the people inside the car. It is not technology determining this moral dilemma, it is the programmer of the car itself.

When technology ‘works’, we also tend to forget about it as we go about living our lives. When we need an Uber ride, we do not consciously think of ourselves as reaching for a piece of hardware (our phones) and engaging with software. When we go home and watch our favourite TV show on Netflix, we do not tell ourselves we are streaming content from the internet. With Uber, we are trying to get from A to B and with Netflix, we just want something to watch whilst we eat dinner. Technology in both scenarios is seamless and unobtrusive. This is how people engage with technology in the world – it is a somewhat hand-in-glove relationship. We live in buildings, wear clothes, drive cars and cook food in our kitchens. We cannot do any of these everyday tasks without technology, and yet we seldom realise that we are engaging with technology throughout these processes. The same is true for the digital workplace and how employees work.

If organisational decision makers do not understand the unity between people and technology in their workplace, they will continue to experience the unrealised potential of both their employees and their IT. Instead of abiding by the traditional ‘build it and they will come’ mantra, decision makers need to reflect on how they themselves interact with technology in the world. The digital workplace is calling out for more empathy in this regard, so that instead of imposing a world of work on employees, we try and cater for how employees prefer to work, and IT is one solution for this type of accommodation.

For more information about the role of people in the digital workplace, come along to the Ripple Effect Group’s workshop on “The NEW Digital Disruption: Where people matter more than technology”.

Exploring why and what digital means for a company board

by Paul Galland, GAICD

The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) recently published an article entitled, “4 questions directors must ask to lead their organisations through the digital age”. These questions discuss how to define and measure disruptive change, how to fuel the transformation change of the organisation, shifting leadership mindsets, and how to pre-empt the next big change that occurs. Taken together, these questions primarily address the how and what for directors to become more effective in addressing their digital value.

No doubt these questions are of high value to ask any board. However, they assume a fundamental aspect; that directors collectively understand and appreciate the value that digital offers in their organisation. I would like to add a fifth qualifying question: “Why should your board become more active in the digital discussion, and what is the board members doing to educate themselves on the disruptive forces impacting their own industry and society as a whole?”

In my work in strategy, I often meet senior executives and board members who like to jump right into a detailed ‘what’ and ‘how’ analysis. Their passion and confidence in their opinions provide fantastic insights. Yet I also notice how little organisational context and expectation alignment has been done to justify these opinions.

If there is no agreed to context about where the board believe the organisation is on its digital journey, it is then difficult to provide clarity to the 4 key questions mentioned in the article. The alternative is to outsource thought leadership to an advisory or consultancy firm, but that is in essence abdicating individual responsibility to the performance (read strategy / growth) duties of a director.

If you are a board member reading this, challenge yourself (and your board) on your own knowledge of digital disruption. For example, ask yourself if you believe this new digital age is led by technology? If you think it is, question this assumption of why you believe this is so.

If there is one truism I have learned from over 20 years working in the technology sector, it is this. Technology advances are ultimately led by people; their change in buying habits together with changes in how they perceive and rate business value is relative to their purchasing power.

These purchasing habits have significantly changed in the past ten years and are here to stay. They underpin a consumer / customer mega trend that is disrupting the very nature of how we define and prioritise our strategic intent.  Do we innovate into new markets, continue to maximise our price discrimination strategy, or perhaps both in parallel?

The ever-rising force of technology innovation is a result of this purchasing mega trend. Both these forces are now creating a closer and closer bond we generally call, digital disruption.

This bond has in turn cemented a significant change in the business-to-customer paradigm. Customers are for the first time (in a long while) able to dictate the terms and value to which technology investments are made by companies. In response, companies are becoming more agile to ensure these technologies that customers expect, become supported by their organisations.

This is quite the opposite approach to the more traditional product-to-market view of competition. It has somewhat flipped to more of a market-to-product view, as companies race to roll-out their support of technologies that customers trial first.

So, if a board (and their management team) is simply reacting to this market-to-product view by racing to roll-out technologies their customers ask for, they are not truly engaging in a proactive discussion of digital disruption. They are instead seeing digital disruption from only a technology lens and missing the people equation all-together.

What I’ve described above is just the tip of the iceberg to addressing the fifth question I posed earlier. What will enable the board to better experience the digital disruption in ways that accentuate this technology-people bond unique to their organisation?

One approach to accelerate a board becoming active digital participants is to establish their own digital platform in which to conduct their board affairs. A platform with the sole purpose of identifying, recording and analysing digital value for the organisation.

Working in collaboration with their management team, a digital platform can deliver significant governance improvement between board and management. Better governance, in turn, increases the chances that the digital strategy will be delivered successfully. Conversely if directors are not on that digital journey with management, and to borrow words from the article, “[technology] has the capability to destroy your business if you do not do anything.”

This year’s Disrupt Sydney is exploring digital disruption from the angle of board governance. There’s both a presentation and workshop that will cover this subject in greater detail. We hope to see many of you there participating with us.

And if you like this read, I describe more of this concept within my blog, “Why a digital role for company boards is a game changer

Have you ever caught an Uber with a puppy?

by Ella Hafermalz

I’ve tried and failed to catch an Uber with my puppy. You have to quickly message your driver to ask if they’ll accept you with your pet. My pup and I were rejected repeatedly before giving up and going home. The next time we had to get somewhere I booked a taxi in advance. The taxi driver arrived on time and was happy to help.

Getting around town with a puppy is a pretty niche problem, but what about people who have other requirements, like a child seat or space for a wheelchair?

Taxi companies are required to provide a solution for customers with these needs. But Uber with its slippery relationship to regulation has no such obligations inflating its costs.

Why should the puppyless bear the cost of cleaning Ubers? Fair question…but applying this logic to other kinds of needs reveals a gloomy step backwards in how we treat one another.

For example when you stay at a hotel you pay a little extra to fund a wheelchair ramp that only a few guests need. Airbnb properties don’t have to offer this kind of access. That represents a saving that Airbnb passes on to you in the name of innovation.

Now imagine a future where Airbnb is so successful that hotels go out of business. No properties are required to provide wheelchair access. They only have to uphold a general commitment to inclusion and respect.

Of course there are still a handful of properties in every city that are wheelchair accessible. Low supply plus a captive market equals higher prices – and a niche market is born.

Perhaps a new business starts up to cater specifically to customers with wheelchairs, or guide dogs, or babies, or puppies. In this future everyone is catered to…for a price. The user pays, or stays home.

Distributing the cost of accessibility seems like an achievement that we should be proud of. We need to continue to protect transport and accommodation options for those who don’t fit a standardised mould. Getting around with specific needs shouldn’t be a luxury.

Regulations are not just a ball and chain holding back innovation. Sometimes they can make it easier for us to look out for one another. As we build the future let’s not forget past battles hard won.

Dr Ella Hafermalz is a postdoctoral researcher in Business Information Systems at the University of Sydney Business School.

Are you really encouraging your employees to think innovatively?

by Ella Hafermalz (Postdoctoral Researcher in Business Information Systems and Sessional Lecturer in Talent Management, The University of Sydney Business School)

Managers across Australia recognize that innovative thinking is increasingly a key to competitive advantage. Even our Prime Minister is on board with the innovation ideal. But how can we encourage employees to think more innovatively?

Managers often say they want more innovative thinking, but then inadvertently reinforce the status quo. To explore this contradiction further, I’ll introduce you to a maturity framework from psychology that has been used in education. The “Six Levels” in this model show different reasons for why we behave the way we do. Level 1 is the most simplistic reasoning for behavior and Level 6 is the most complex:

“The Six Levels”

  1. Level: I Don’t Want to Get in Trouble
  2. Level: I Want a Reward
  3. Level: I Want to Please Somebody
  4. Level: I Follow the Rules
  5. Level: I Am Considerate of Other People
  6. Level: I Have a Personal Code of Behaviour and I Follow It (the Atticus Finch level)

(From Esquith, 2007 based on Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development)

This model is used to get teachers to reflect on what kind of thinking they are encouraging in the classroom. Teachers can (inadvertently) encourage students to follow Level 1-4 thinking. For example: “be quiet or you’ll get detention” (Level 1) “we’ll have cake if you all do your homework” (Level 2) “I agree with your argument, good work” (Level 3) or “sorry, those are the rules” (Level 4). While the reasoning captured in these statements is inevitably going to play some role in our education, this lower-level reasoning can be problematic when we are faced with ambiguity and uncertainty – hallmarks of today’s fast moving business environment.

What does this model have to do with management practice? I’ve heard managers complain that their workers should behave more like adults. At the same time, they tell me about where workers are “allowed” to sit, when they should work and rest, and even how they should dress. The point is, perhaps it’s not fair to expect employees to act like adults when they are treated like children. Managers need to think about what kind of reasoning they are encouraging in the workplace.

Similarly, if workers are treated in such a way that they learn to motivate their actions through a fear of punishment, the expectation of reward, the need to please, or in blind obedience of rules, can we expect their actions to coincide with the free contribution of ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting, innovative ideas? To create a change, we need to reconsider how we motivate behaviour at work.

An inspirational teacher called Rafe Esquith advocates for a life spent in pursuit of Level 6. The Level 6 reasoning for behaviour is that: I have a personal code of behaviour and I follow it. This might sound individualistic, but the point is that operating on Level 6 requires constant self-reflection and learning. There isn’t a formula for Level 6. Unique situations need to be responded to according to wider principles and a vision for the future, rather than knee-jerk reactions or compliance with general expectations.

Atticus Finch, the lawyer from To Kill a Mockingbird, is put forward as the exemplar of someone who operates on Level 6. Atticus Finch operates on Level 6 because he works to bring about a new kind of future, even if it is unpopular with many. He rejects conformity, and his actions are deeply disruptive. In the book and even beyond, this non-conformity is celebrated and has been influential in the legal profession.

What can managers take away from this? The model I have introduced here can provoke critical reflection on management practice. What “Level” do you and your organisation encourage employees to operate on? Are people free to make up their own minds, or are they motivated by fear and rewards; praise and procedures?

Traditional management practice thrives on risk-avoidance, incentive structures, charismatic leadership, and clear policies. These mechanisms can however all reinforce level 1-4 thinking. That’s not automatically a bad thing, but innovation is not easily generated through these mechanisms.

True disruption, as the name would imply, is uncomfortable. It unsettles the ground that many depend upon for security. Encouraging innovative thinking therefore requires a level of reasoning that embraces the fallibility of the status quo. Managers who are ready to embrace this disruption, and are really looking to encourage innovative thinking, need to reflect on what they are reinforcing on a daily basis. What Level are you asking your team to operate on?


Esquith, R. (2007). Teach like your hair’s on fire: The methods and madness inside room 56: Penguin


Interested in Participating in the Disruption of the $17billion Business Intelligence Market?

by Laurence Lock Lee (SWOOP Analytics)

DISRUPT.SYDNEY™ has led the conversation on digital disruption to a point now that virtually all industry sectors can expect to face at least some degree of digital disruption in the not too distant future. Interestingly, there is one digital business sector, that consumes a significant proportion of corporate IT spend, that to date has experienced little change since first established in the 1970s. This sector is called “Business Intelligence” (BI), but should more accurately called “Business Reporting”.  With a catch cry of “one version of the truth”, the major part of the investment has been on trying to build reporting data warehouses across increasingly diverse sources of business operational data. The downside of adopting an aspiration term like “Business Intelligence” is that it provides a false impression that real intelligence gathering of the predictive type is happening, when mostly it is not.

Current Status Quo

We now know that the most prospective targets for digital disruption are areas where processes and technologies have been locked into a mature business and technical infrastructure. While incremental improvements are being made it is too little too late for the demands of a rapidly changing business environment. Gartner has recently flagged this emerging opportunity by differentiating a required “Modern BI and Analytics Platform” from the existing “IT Centric Reporting and Analysis Platform” as:

Table 1: High-Level Comparison of Traditional and Modern BI and Analytics Platforms

Analytics Workflow Component IT-Centric Reporting and Analysis Platform Modern BI and Analytics Platform
Data Source Upfront dimensional modeling required (IT-built star schemas) Upfront modeling not required (flat files/flat tables)
Data Ingestion and Preparation IT-produced IT-enabled
Content Authoring Primarily IT staff, but also some power users Business users
Analysis Structured ad hoc reporting and analysis based on a predefined model Free-form exploration
Insight Delivery Distribution and notifications via scheduled reports or a portal Delivery via sharing and collaboration, storytelling, and open APIs

Source: Gartner (February 2016)

Gartner’s characterization of Modern BI promotes a simpler business created intelligence gathering and use. Gartner speaks of democratizing analytics away from specialist IT departments and to the “owning” business units themselves. This is an admirable development, with IT specialists likely being replaced by specialist data analysts working in, rather than for the business. However, we believe the ‘real disruption’ needs to go beyond this. While moving the responsibility for BI closer to the consuming business is a positive change, it does not remove the need to employ specialist data analysts, especially if predictive analytics is desired. The proposed changes are unlikely to match the sorts of digital disruptive changes we have seen elsewhere and now become accustomed to.

The Digital Disruption Opportunity

We think that the fundamental opportunity for disrupting BI is not just simply moving the responsibilities from IT to the business. The current models for BI were established in an industrial age when manufacturing businesses and operational hierarchies dictated a like BI process of data capture, data cleansing, data filtering, data reporting and finally recommendations and actions. With the more dynamic and human-centered business structures of today, each stage of the current BI process potentially requires collaboration and shared judgement. With the explosion of data availability (big data), questions like which data should we aim to capture? how should we filter it? what can we infer from our analyses? and finally how can we execute the agreed actions?, can no longer be left to the ‘selected few’. We present here two potential disruption opportunities as a lead into workshopping what a disrupted BI marketplace might look like.

Disruptive Social Analytics Opportunity

One proposed model for a disruptive change to BI is to move the focus from the process to the people. Today the focus is on operational data with a secondary acknowledgement that exploiting insights will require sharing and collaboration (Gartner’s Insight Delivery stage). A people focus places conversations at the centre, with operational data simply an input. As data sources explode, it will be left to humans to collectively decide on what data and data quality is sufficient. Business outcomes are predicted more by the quality of the conversations, rather than the quality of the operational data they draw from. Importantly, insight delivery is not simply the last step in a linear BI process, but a continuous occurrence, as staff embed themselves in business and data centred conversations, on a day to day basis. Actions flow incrementally and continuously from such conversations. Learning and improvement is achieved through analyzing conversational data i.e. social analytics and resultant business outcomes.


‘Platform’ Business Disruptive Opportunity

A second and more common approach to digital disruption is the use of the ‘Platform Business’ model, commonly associated with businesses like Amazon, Uber and Airbnb. In a BI context, the Enterprise opens its data sources to an open community of potential data consumers. In essence we would not only be democratizing the consumers of data but also providers. The BI ‘Budget’ would initially be distributed to Enterprise consumers who would be free to use these funds to ‘pay’ for both internal or external data providers. Over time BI purchases would be absorbed into operational budgets, with data providers being able to earn their funds by servicing potential data/intelligence consumers. To do this they would have to market their data services on the platform. The platform itself would be configured to optimize the matching of data owners to data consumers. Providers would have the opportunity to provide value added services like data cleansing/filtering as demand dictates.


The platform would not only facilitate connections between providers and consumers, but also facilitate collaboration and co-operation between data providers themselves and data consumers themselves. In this way economies of re-use and sharing can effectively be achieved.

Other Ideas and Opportunities?

BI systems are arguably one of the last bastions for legacy industrial style thinking in IT. The explosion in data availability (Big Data) will ensure that the pressure for change can only accelerate. This is a $17 Billion market opportunity. Join this workshop to help shape the BI of the future.

If you are interested in discussing the future of BI in a world of social data come and join our workshop at DISRUPT.SYDNEY.