Staying ahead of the curve

4 June 2018

Andrew Grill

Photo: Andrew Grill

Practical futurist Andrew Grill shares his secrets on navigating the perils of disruptive technology.

In 1974, legendary science fiction author Arthur C Clarke predicted that computers would be found in every home by 2001, and that we’d even be able to work remotely. It seemed far-fetched at the time, but history went on to prove he was undeniably spot-on.

That’s very similar to what UTS alumnus Andrew Grill does. A self-styled “practical futurist”, Andrew Grill has earned a reputation as one of the world’s pre-eminent speakers on technological disruption and how people and business can best react. He delivered just such a presentation to a London UTS alumni reception last month.

“As a practical futurist, I give clients near-term practical advice about what they should be doing,” explains Grill. His philosophy is simple: “Stay ahead of the curve. Don’t wait for things to happen. Don’t wait for innovation. Actually start doing it now.”

It’s not always a case of ‘embrace change or perish’, though – Grill is happy to entertain dissent, especially when it stimulates discussion. And at the end of his presentations, Grill always challenges his audience to “leave this room with two or three things that you’re going to do differently tomorrow or next week.”

Unsurprisingly, they do.

A devoted technologist, the Adelaide native has an uncanny ability to pivot with technology while moving from one role to the next. Grill has been actively online since 1983. He’s been on LinkedIn since 2004; Twitter since 2007. He failed an undergraduate degree in science two years in a row before switching to engineering. A Masters of Business Administration in e-business management at UTS followed, which led to leadership roles at Telstra, Optus, and then Vodafone in the UK (thanks to his connection with UTS academics). He later spent four years at IBM as a Global Partner in Social Business, and then as Global Managing Partner.

The accumulated experience of living and working with technology is what Grill shares now as a practical futurist. For students who are about to enter the workforce, he offers a sobering reality check on technological self-awareness: “You all look exactly the same to me as an employer.” His advice? “Rise above the noise and do something different. Nowadays with social media, it’s just so easy to get known. I would encourage people to have a voice, have an opinion, start a blog, go on social media. – let others know what you know, and they will actually come looking for you.”

“Have a voice, have an opinion, start a blog, go on social media – let others know what you know, and they will actually come looking for you.”

Grill applies a similar philosophy to the business world. “I often say that you need to disrupt yourself, otherwise you’re going to get disrupted,” he says, pointing towards the challenges being faced by BBC in the UK as it competes with Netflix’s on-demand streaming service. Likewise, he observes that Australia’s NBN is very likely to be overtaken by 4G and eventual 5G services because, as he puts very succinctly, people are bound to ask, “Why am I putting up with that?”

Central to Grill’s insights is his understanding of the way people use technology. “I think, unfortunately, we have become addicted to this ‘always-on’ technology,” he says. “Ten years ago, when your phone buzzed, it was probably an SMS and that was it. Now it can be anything – a parcel being delivered, the latest weather update. There’s an expectation that every time your phone buzzes, it could be important.”

That said, Grill doesn’t necessarily believe there is a problem with technology: the problem is often with people. “At the end of the day, human beings are the people that are delivering these services. But organisations that struggle with the introduction of new technologies because their culture isn’t ready for it? That generally happens at the top table. The top table have been there for a long time, they haven’t been able to keep up with the technology, and it has a cultural impact that is holding companies back.”

It is almost impossible to know what the immediate future holds for Grill. Some of the issues currently on his radar include the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the rise of Open Banking. Otherwise, he stays ahead of trending events by reading vigorously through the UK and Australia’s biggest headlines every morning – and that’s before his first cup of coffee.

It’s a constant race to stay ahead of the curve: “Rather than waiting for the Amazons, Googles and Netflixes of the world to come and eat your lunch, what are you doing to stay ahead of what they’re doing?”

To keep up with what’s currently on his mind, his musings are available at londoncalling.co.

 

Byline: Kevin Cheung