The importance of ‘being beta’

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 4, 2017 – 12:00am

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The author Jim Paredes with Randi Zuckerberg, founder of Zuckerberg Media and sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; and Daniel Goleman at the World Business Forum in Sydney

SYDNEY — My good friend, Michelle Baltazar, called to ask if I wanted to attend the World Business Forum in Sydney last week (May 31 to June 1). She said I could apply for a media pass to get in free. The entrance was $AUD2700 per person. I scanned the list of speakers and I knew it was a must-attend affair. I wrote the organizers and managed to get a media pass.

The mantra of the conference was intriguing. Everywhere, you could see the phrase, “BE BETA,” which declared that the world, everything and everyone, is in a state of flux. Rather than simply dominating, one must constantly adjust, reinvent, recreate to remain competitive and relevant. It was a full house at the Star Events venue. I listened to every speaker who was a world-renowned expert in his/her own field.

Ken Segall, the creative director who had played a major role in Apple’s resurrection after 1997 and who authored the book Insanely Simple, talked about how people will always choose the simpler path. It was the way Steve Jobs thought. His was the mind behind putting the “i” before iPhone, and every winning creation that followed.

Rosabeth Moth Kanter, a Harvard professor, wowed the crowd with her talk on business strategies, how to lead organizations and companies. She spoke of openness and creativity and advised everyone to not just think outside of the box, but outside of the building — to get out and meet their customers and find out what they really need. She exhorted her audience to expose their companies to new ideas. To get a company to function effectively, she suggested that the leader form a multi-cross-section stakeholders coalition. Build an ecosystem. Think viral. Take risks. “Think of your worst nightmare and invest in it.”

Mohanbir Sawhney is a scholar and teacher in technology, marketing and new media. He talked about businesses needing to be agile, ambidextrous and collaborative. They must not only be opportunity-focused but also execution-focused, going beyond customer satisfaction to customer delight.

The last speaker for Day One was the founder of Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, who talked via video conference from California. She got everyone to think about redefining success and how power and wealth alone do not define it. She expounded on quality of life for people in businesses, pointing out that people who are happy and healthy are more productive.

She narrated an incident where one day she just collapsed from sheer exhaustion, breaking her jaw during the fall. She knew she had to change things. She talked about changing habits by taking micro-steps. She advised everyone to prioritize getting enough sleep, to stop being “on” all the time. A bank in the US actually rewards employees by giving them US$300 if they complete the 28-day challenge of getting enough sleep. They are monitored through their fitbit gadgets which record sleep data, among other things.

She warned against too much social media and technology messing up sleep and physical recovery, and about burnout and fatigue. She pointed out that “the worst decisions of our lives happen when we are tired.”

For greater productivity, she suggested creating groups within the company that care for each other. She warned CEOs that “your eulogy is different from your résumé,” and spoke about compassion and meaning. After all, “people are not products.”

Day Two started with Daniel Goleman, the world’s authority on emotional intelligence who expounded on the value of a high EQ in running a business. He said that self-awareness is an important state a leader must always be in. “If you are tuned-out of yourself, you can’t manage others.” He further explained that contrary to popular notion, the brain does not multi-task. It turns on and off quickly. He emphasized the importance of human interaction. The brain is designed for face-to-face human meetings and so a leader must go beyond merely sending memos but must actually connect in person. He said emotional intelligence is more important than intellectual capabilities.

Ian Williamson, from the Melbourne Business School, talked about adapting, surviving and thriving in an atmosphere of external disruptions. He suggested practical strategies for organizations in times of changes in technology, customer preferences and demographics, competitive actions and new regulations. Awareness of the new ecosystem, motivation and capability to respond to them are key.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, explained how his passion led to the creation of one of the Top 100 websites and how it thrives even without commercial help. He receives no salary. The entries on Wikipedia come from the community. Anyone can edit them.
He also talked about threats and opportunities for business in a globally connected world, and how adapting is so crucial to survival. He emphasized the need for synergy with employees, distributors, suppliers and the public.

The last speaker in the forum was Randi Zuckerberg, founder of Zuckerberg Media that caters to Fortune 500 companies. Yes, she is the sister of Mark, the founder of Facebook. She recently came out with two books: Dot Com, and a children’s book called Dot which encourages girls to be more interested in technology. The second book is now a TV show in the US.

She spoke about her eight years working with Facebook, the lessons she learned there and her contributions to its growth. She was totally engaging with her wit, self-deprecating humor and enthusiasm — she even threw in some singing!

Her years on FB taught her that great ideas can come from anyone. And, yes, it is okay to fail, to appear ridiculous. From failure can emerge success. Her idea of adding the FB Live app seemed like a disaster at first. She tried it and only two people watched — her mom and dad, so it was pulled out immediately. But, out of the blue, pop artist Katy Perry called to say she wanted to launch her new album through FB Live. Her co-workers at FB were thrilled. They relaunched the app, and before she knew it, it became a roaring success. Facebook Live is now available to 1.5 billion users.

She pointed out how technology has completely engaged practically every aspect of our lives, but she also warned that we must take control of it lest it overwhelms us completely. She ended her talk by indulging in a passion she said she has had since she was three years old, but never got to do in public. She sang Part of My World from the Disney movie The Little Mermaid, changing the lyrics to close her speech.

This was an opportunity I just had to grab, even if I had no idea how much I would enjoy the World Business Forum. I learned so much about business, a topic I thought I was not interested in. The brilliance of the speakers won me over. And I can see how some of their lessons can be applied to life in general. Words like “agile,” “open,” “flexible,” “experimental,” “networked,” “curious,” “human,” “personal,” etc., are still swimming in my head as I write this. It’s a changing world and it’s changing faster than ever. So, no matter how old we are, let’s “BE BETA!”