Technology and Innovation: The secrets of “visionary” leadership

The CEO’s Journey: Technology and Innovation was a powerful Vistage National CEO Conference on September 24, 2021. Hundreds of Vistage CEO members joined together to explore their role in instilling the change necessary to stay relevant, and soar past competition.

The virtual conference combined big-picture learnings with targeted insights on topics members told us are of critical importance. Below, I’ll capture top takeaways from keynotes Andrew McAfee, co-founder and co-director of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, and Adaora Udoji, media innovator.

**Vistage members, access the complete presentations for a limited time on the Technology and Innovation post-event page.**

ANDREW MCAFEE | The second machine age       

Andrew McAfee began his presentation with a bold claim: The Second Machine Age is upon us. It’s as big as the Industrial Revolution, and it’s power players are geek companies — innovators like Netflix and Amazon. For Andrew, “geek” is not an insult. Geeks are the hero of the Second Machine Age, and here are their three top lessons.

Lesson #1: Build an organization that can get it right, even when the leader gets it wrong.

Steve Jobs. Reed Hastings. Elon Musk. We’ve developed an affinity for “visionary” leaders, but this is an illusion. In reality, Andrew said, these leaders aren’t successful innovators because they are right all the time. They are successful because they are fantastic at NOT being right all the time, and empowering their teams to speak up.

Lesson #2: Learn when not to trust your judgment.

The human brain has many modules for cognitive function, Andrew shared, and not all work in our favor as leaders. One such module is our internal “press secretary.” The press secretary spins facts as hard as possible, in the most favorable way possible, and presents them back to us to increase our confidence. It is imperative for CEOs to be skeptical of their own judgment, and not operate in a vacuum.

Lesson #3: Beat back bureaucracy

Andrew explained today’s most innovative, successful companies offer their people the empowerment and freedom to get things done. Echoing Vistage member Tameryn Hall’s assertion that sometimes, you must “throw out the playbook,” Andrew recommended leaders decentralize to promote autonomy. Or in his words, “Remove the need for people to ask permission!”

In close, Andrew shared the need to bear in mind that people are ultra-social, and therefore attuned to the signals a CEO is sending. As a first step toward fostering the culture ideal for innovation, try organizing a meeting where you’re certain a junior-level team member will dissent — and be open to being challenged. This will impart that you are more interested in getting it right, than being right.

Checklist for enduring innovation:

  • Institutionalize a culture of candor and debate. Even if you have few other policies in place.
  • Farm for dissent. Reach out to the team, rank ideas from +10 to -10.
  • Be willing to admit you are wrong. Always stress test ideas with other viewpoints and data, and be willing to change course.
  • Be skeptical of your own judgment. Beware the press secretary!
  • Decrease dependencies, increase autonomy. Foster a culture of empowerment.

ADAORA UDOJI | There will be winners

At the end of the day, someone in your industry will be winning. Why not you?

That powerful question set the tone for media innovator Adaora Udoji’s presentation. First, she explored the omnipresence of technology in our daily lives, sharing that every minute, the U.S. spends $1M online, there are 42M WhatsApp texts, 350K posts on Instagram, and 69K jobs applied for on LinkedIn. She went on to explain that through innovation, technologies are converging in ways and with speed never seen before — sharing the example of Zoom’s rise to ubiquity in just 10 years.

According to Adaora, 65% of corporate leaders say aligning business strategy with innovation vision is their top strategic challenge. To that point, she went on to share five critical areas for staying on track to success:

Ask yourself and your team


No. 1

Data strategy

How are you collecting data? Where are you storing it? Internally and externally? Devices generate data at the same time data powers devices and applications.


No. 2


Are your strategic goals aligned with an innovation vision? Do they include employee input?


No. 3

Material resources

What do you need? A plan? Talent? Employee engagement and or/adoption? How much are you allocating to innovation relative to revenue?


No. 4



Who is sitting at the table? PEOPLE innovate. Subject matter experts are key. Interdisciplinary collaboration is critical.


No. 5

The future

What tech or innovation strategies are on your mind? How can you make them reality?

Adaora shared, a CEO’s team is at the very center of executing a winning innovation strategy. To start, employees must be onboard with the innovation. Next, they must use it, and use it as intended. They then must develop a habit for using it. Finally, a leader must consider: Are employees in all locations using the innovation in the same way? Is it a sustainable change?

Adaora ended her presentation with an important point: Even the smallest business can and should pursue an innovation strategy.

For those able to attend, we hope you left inspired and informed to make bold decisions for your business, energized to find the “relentless determination” needed to innovate successfully. As Vistage member Jim Schultz shared, innovation is truly about playing the long game.

Special thanks to our Business Resources. And Vistage members, don’t forget you can visit the post-event page for takeaways, keynote presentations, and more.

Category: Technology

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About the Author: Mary Ellen Sheehy

As Chief Member Programs Officer, Mary Ellen Sheehy leads Vistage’s Member Programs team, delivering world-class events, Networks, expert speaker programs and other benefits that provide small and midsize businesses with resources and con

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