Interview with Dr. Annika Steiber about complexity

In our upcoming Leading Complexity program this fall, we are honored to host Dr. Annika Steiber as a speaker. With years of dedicated research into the success stories of Silicon Valley companies, Annika has delved deep into the common managerial models that drive their achievements.

I recently had an enlightening conversation with Annika, gaining insights into her perspective on complexity and the lessons she has drawn from Silicon Valley’s leading firms.

If you want to hear more about how successful companies like Facebook, Google, Netflix, Tesla, and GE Appliances thrive in complexity, please sign up for the Leading Complexity program.

Short summary:
In the “Leading Complexity” program, Annika Steiber, a researcher with a focus on the evolution of management, discussed the challenges managers face in today’s tech-driven, globalized world filled with uncertainties. She emphasized the need for continuous innovation, adaptability, and a decentralized, trust-based approach to management in such a dynamic environment. Drawing from her vast research, including over 11 books, Steiber will share key capabilities businesses need in the digital age, highlighting leadership principles and showcasing real-world transformation examples in her upcoming session.

Below is a transcription of the interview with Dr. Annika Steiber:

Hi and welcome to this interview. With me I have Annika Steiber. It’s a pleasure to have you in the program Leading Complexity. Annika. For those that don’t know you, could you please present yourself?

Absolutely. I’m Swedish and American. I lived almost 40 years in Sweden, and I’ve been living now 14 years in Silicon Valley. I’m an entrepreneur and I’m also a researcher and what is maybe of most interest to this program is my passion for the evolution of management. For three decades, I’ve been trying to understand this Holy Grail on how management is changing due to technology and evolving over time. I’ve been chasing leading role models in the world and trying to describe why they do things very differently and how they do things in order to increase the learning process and speed up the learning pros for everyone else.

Sounds very interesting. The name of the program is Leading Complexity. Why is it important for managers to change, to find the Holy Grail, so to speak, as you said, and maneuver in a good way in complexity why do they need to care?

It’s a lot of things changing and one of the drivers is of course the technology advancement that is just going fast and faster. One example is artificial intelligence which has come and has changed the mindset of people much faster than anyone ever thought would happen. That is one extremely important driver. Another one is the globalization that has been going on for a while and of course this sustainability discussion. Adding to that all this kind of uncertainty around geopolitical questions and tensions between countries and wars going on. We end up in a world where company leaders and managers need to make decisions under extreme uncertainty. We separate risk from uncertainty. Risk is where you can calculate. Risk is where you can use data, you can calculate the risk and you can calculate the return on investment. In uncertainty, you can not do that. It’s absolutely impossible so you need to work in a very different way. One new way of working that, I think most of our listeners here is a familiar with, would be the importance of experimentation. So because you don’t know, you need to be extremely sensitive to what’s going on around you and you need to be extremely good at experimenting. And then be able as a company to move on with that opportunity if it turned out to be a good one for your company. It also demands the company to question your business model over and over again. We’ve seen many of the Silicon Valley companies that almost every 5th year or so go out and say okay now it’s mobile-first. Five years later it’s AI first. Five years later something else. It’s changing and you could almost say that every 5th year most probably you have to definitely question your business model if you haven’t done that before. This complexity is of course a result of that you don’t really know and the uncertainty is so high. You need to change your way of working with innovation, as I mentioned. But you also need to depend so much more on every person in your organization as a sensor and a neighbor to catch opportunities that are important for the company. Otherwise, you will just get too slow, and you will not be intelligent enough as an organization to move and I think that is something that is perceived as an increased complexity. You cannot control this anymore. You need to work in a different way that you cannot control. You cannot manage to control. You need to manage through decentralization, delegation, and trust and be sure that you have the right competence and talents and the environment for those people to actually work for the future of the firm.

I definitely agree with you. It’s one of the points I’m always rising when talking about the importance of having an Agile mindset. That is what I call “mobilizing brain power”. You need to really utilize all the intelligence that you have at your company so I definitely agree with you. I know that you’re very passionate about innovation and you have a lot of skills from that. Your session has the name “Leading for innovation in a complex uncertain world”. Can you tell us a little bit more about innovation and what your session will be about?

Innovation is extremely important because, as it turns out in this kind of uncertain world you need to innovate all the time. It’s not just something you do every 5th or every 2nd year and you don’t have four to five years to do it. You need to be extremely efficient and effective in your innovation processes. What I will talk about is some key capabilities that I found out that companies in a digital sustainable world need. I’ve been proving those capabilities “right” over and over and over again in a number of studies. Now I have done more than 11 books and I test them over and over again and they turn out to be extremely relevant and valid and also very useful. I want to share those with the audience. I also want to share some new leadership principles and where we’re heading. The pillars of the new management model and how you need to run companies that we see are converging towards certain pillars.

I also want to illustrate those with some real examples because now we have many organizations around the world that have actually done it and are pretty far into the transformation.

Hopefully, this will help some companies that are true believers in the need for change in Sweden as well as other places.

Sounds like it will be very valuable for companies that are stuck or at least don’t want to get stuck which I guess is most of the companies. Thank you very much for sharing that and I’m really looking forward to your session because I think it will be extremely valuable for almost anyone in the corporate world.

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