The status quo is dangerous so don’t get comfortable, says DeloitteJackie Gill - August 23, 2019
In Canada’s deepest mine, just outside of Timmins, Ont., tunnels plunge over three kilometers into Earth’s crust.
Extracting the copper and zinc down there is tough work that involves heavy-duty drills, explosives and hauling equipment, and a highly trained crew to make sure it all goes off without a hitch.
Mining in places like that is dangerous work, says Terry Stuart, Chief Innovation Officer at Deloitte Canada. “They may hit a gas main or gas vein and it actually knocks them out,” he explains. Or, when they’re blasting underground, “If they miss somebody that’s a bad day, because when they start blasting, people die.”
For a long time, mining operations had no way to tell where their crew was, if they were vertical or horizontal, or even if they were breathing once they entered the tunnels. Until recently, that is, when Deloitte teamed up with startups specializing in 3D printing, AI and wearable devices to track miners and their vitals.
“We had our first minimum viable prototype in six weeks, and it was actually measuring your heart rate, your breathing and where you are,” Stuart says, describing a small device that fits snugly into a mining helmet. (After all, “Everybody has to wear a helmet.”)
If you want to try it on, you can find a version on display at Deloitte’s downtown Toronto Greenhouse, which Stuart describes as a place where business and cutting-edge tech collide in a hands-on, experiential way.
And when clients see this kind of tech, Stuart wants them to think about how it can impact their business – or the “art of the possible” – whether it’s an opportunity, a disruption or a threat.
Innovation’s uncomfortable truths
It’s not all protective headgear inside the Greenhouse Discovery Zone. There’s a humanoid robot named Pepper that can read emotions, a hat that measures brain activity and lights up when the wearer’s paying attention, an Alexa-enabled system that alerts nurses to patients’ needs before ever visiting a bedside, and even a series of AR-enriched wine bottles that dole out the history of British convicts transported to Australia in the 1700 and 1800s.
While the tech is exciting, Stuart and his team don’t pull any punches when it comes to having open and honest dialogue about it.
“You’re taking clients into emotional territories of the future of their business and what could go wrong,” he says. “They have to admit that they really don’t know much about AI, or robotics or whatever. And those technologies could disrupt their business.”
Those can be hard conversations, he says. “It’s an uncomfortable kind of space.”
“You’re taking clients into emotional territories of the future of their business and what could go wrong.”
– Terry Stuart, Chief Innovation Officer at Deloitte Canada
But without thinking about disruption, without talking about those fears, they won’t get ahead, Stuart adds. “Our job is not to alleviate the fear of change. Our job is to help them be educated to make smart, risk-taking decisions.
“I think the biggest risk that most of our clients have and we have is inaction. The status quo will burn you.”
Education starts with experience
While most clients have heard of the underlying technology, Stuart noticed they didn’t always have experience with it. That shaped how the Greenhouse developed its program – specifically the Discovery Zone located in Toronto where their tech is on display.
“As we were talking about exponential technologies – so artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, IoT, all of those kinds of capabilities that are on an exponential curve – our clients were nodding their heads and they kind of understood it. But they didn’t really get it at a visceral, personal level,” he says.
“We could talk to our clients about the technologies and how they were both disrupting them and also presenting great opportunities, but we really needed to have them see it, feel it, touch it.”
And at the end of each session, there’s a “so what?” and a “now what?” to help visitors develop a bias for action, a sense of urgency and a thoughtful approach.
“We really needed to have them see it, feel it, touch it.”
– Terry Stuart
That’s why the Greenhouse started seven years ago. Since then, Deloitte has opened Greenhouse locations in 12 countries, including five right here in Canada. They operate like a startup, alongside startups, backed by the resources of a 290,000-employee strong multi-national company.
And over the past year, they’ve hosted 27,000 executives in over 1,400 different lab sessions nation-wide, all in the name of disrupting ordinary thinking, finding new opportunities and inciting action.
Disruption by design, from within
Stuart’s team asks itself the same questions they ask their clients. It’s what they call “disruption by design” – in other words, they try to disrupt themselves – and it started with the presentations they gave to their partners internally.
“Change is hard for a lot of people – and I’ll be honest, even inside our organization,” says Stuart. So they started making change approachable in the meetings they held by ditching the prepared PowerPoint presentations and shifting focus to experience. After all, “we curate experiences here. Legendary experiences.”
They built their own team with disruption in mind, too.
Gone are the days when they’d skew toward hiring computer scientists and engineers. “We’re hiring a ton of artists and psychologists,” he says. “We’ve got a whole offering around continuous learning and can see diversity, inclusion and ethics center to how we actually think.”
“Change is hard for a lot of people – and I’ll be honest, even inside our organization.”
– Terry Stuart
When they’re not developing new products or working with startups and clients, they’re scanning and sensing for the next big disruption.
They use social media and forums to find new opportunities, attend conferences and have established relationships with organizations like Singularity University, a think tank in California that explores the opportunities and implications of tech, along with tech incubators and large corporations like Salesforce, Google and Apple.
And just like their clients, they need to ask themselves the hard questions, like how to make sure their innovations are used for good purposes. That means taking a hard look at AI algorithms that unintentionally discriminate against gender or ethnicity, and considering whether their tech could be used for things like warfare or espionage.
“We can’t guarantee that somebody doesn’t take some learnings that they get from us and do something bad with it. I wish I could do that,” says Stuart. “But it’s about how you pick the right clients, pick the right kind of problems that you solve, and how you actually leverage the technology for them.”
A change junkie among change junkies
Change is the name of the game at the Greenhouse – and Stuart is a bit of a change junkie himself. From jumping to new jobs every co-op term in university to his rise to chief innovation officer at Deloitte Canada, he never lets himself get too comfortable.
“I call myself a constructive disruptor. The other thing I would say is a constructive paranoid,” he says. “The most dangerous thing that we as Canadian leaders or even individual leaders in the world can do is get comfortable in what we’re doing, because the world is changing that fast.”
But despite the change and discomfort, his end goal – and the end goal of the Greenhouse he built – is the same, whether they’re designing for mental health, human potential or miner safety.
“The most dangerous thing that we as Canadian leaders or even individual leaders in the world can do is get comfortable.”
– Terry Stuart
“My mom and dad raised me to leave the campfire better than when you got there,” he says. “We’re fans of technology, let’s be clear. But we also want to make sure that we’re doing it in such a way that it’s sustainable and it’s delivering value for society.”
- Name: Deloitte
- Solution: Professional service firm offering audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk management, tax and related services
- Owners: Punit Renjen
- Employees: 290,000+
- Headquarters: New York, N.Y. (Canadian headquarters: Toronto, Ont.)
- Founded: 1845
- Revenue: US$43.2 billion (2018)
- Contact: https://www2.deloitte.com/ca/en/get-connected/contact-us.html