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Damien Cummings on AI on the future of work

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Podcast with Damien Part 3 


ai, people, job, damien, companies, business, digital,retrenchment, organization, podcast, startup, world, roles, experts, digitaltransformation, nus, develop, upskill, ideal candidate, big 


Damien, Liew Wei Da Andrew  

Show outline: 

Section 1: About the show 

Section 2: About the guest 

Section 3: Guest telling his story 

Section 4: AI onthe future of work (FOW) 

Section 5: The transition effect of AI 

Section 6: 2 speeds of digital transformation in deploying AI   


Damien mentioned that AI is going to enable significant changes in the way jobs are being lookedat. He referred to the previously mentioned Coca cola story. He believed that the best leaders are the one that is going to be more empathetic. These leaders want to develop their people rather than hire and fire. Companies are going to develop internal center of excellence around AI. However, Andrew pointed out that there is a practical aspect of developing people’s skills. He asked about how do companies assess their returns in developing skills in their people. He gives the chicken rice hawker example and asked Damien how long does it takes for the chicken rice hawker to be a coder? How long does it take for the chicken rice hawker to be a people manager to enable change management? Damien acknowledged that there has not been a definite way to assess that at the moment and a lot of leaders are making those decisions based on trust and their gut feel. However, he believed that by laws of large number, if a company reskill 10,000 people, there will be some workers/employees/talents that will eventually be reskilled and redeployed. Hence he mentioned that it is key to note that leaders will eventually find themselves transforming the company in 2 speed. The first speed is the rate as which companies bring in a team of external experts/consultants/gigsters on AI, digital transformation and change management. They come in to set the stage and get some early wins to prove the case for digital transformation, so that people in the organization can change their mindset and behavior and that new culture becomes part of the company’s DNA. The second speed is the rate at which the business leaders develop the skills of their people and grow the capabilities that these experts that help them setup.    

Section 1: About the show 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 00:17 

Hi, everyone. Welcome to the AI of mankind show where I shareanything interesting about mankind. I'm your host for the season. My name isAndrew Liew. I've worked across 4 continents and 12 international cities. Also, I work in tech startups across a range of roles from selling products, making customer happies, figuring out fundraising, making finance tick, buildingteams, and developing sticky products. Apart from building startups, I've also worked in Fortune 500 companies as a chief data scientist or technologist, or people leader. You can call me Jack of all trades or master of learning. I hope to make this podcast show a great learning experience for us. And each season there is a series of interesting things, where I invite guests to share theirviews about their life and interests. Now, let the show begin.   

Section 2: About the guest 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 01:26 

Today's guest is Damien. Damien is one of Asia Pacific recognizeddigital transformation leaders. He is currently the chief lecturer for thedigital strategy and leadership practice at the National University of Singapore Institute of systems science. Prior to that, he was the founder andCEO of HR tech, a software as a servicecompany PeopleWave. Before entrepreneurship, he was the Global Head of digital marketing at the Standard Chartered Bank, and the Chief Marketing Officer at Philips Asia Pacific. Damien has also worked at major global brands, such as Samsung, Dell, Ogilvy Marther, Coca Cola, and McKinsey & co. Let's welcome our guest Damien.     

Section 3: Guest telling his story 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 02:2

Hi Damien   

Damien 02:2

Thank you very much. You look very interactive. You've got somefruits and cactus behind you.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 02:3


Damien 02:3

Very good.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 02:3


Damien 02:3

I love it.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 02:3

So the show is to enable the audience to learn more about AI,digital transformation and the guests.   

Damien 02:4

Okay, for problem.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 02:46  

Cool. Tell me about how doyou get to where you are, from the day that you did your first startup?   

Damien 02:5

That's a great question. And my first startup was actually back inthe 1990s. So actually, my first job was at McKinsey, and then back in the 90s.And it was alot of fun. things what most of the other consultants were doing there: they left during the original .com boom. Now, at the time, I was verypoor. I was living with flatmates. So my flatmate, my girlfriend got together, and did what we did is we can actually found a company that actually build websites back in the day. Now that feels very commoditized now, but we actually, you know, became Yahoo's ecommerce partner, we're building a new typical connect like the early days of what would have been cloud software with email marketing and CRM tools. And we're doing some really cool stuff. We became a top 20 web development company back in those days in Australia. But of course, with, boom, came the .com crash, and the company wound down and I ended up losing everything. Of course, that was my first experience of startup. And that was about four years of doing that was, it was the equivalent of at least doing an MBA or a master's degree. It was, you know, great. kind of actually, doing this in my 20s was was amazing. Lots to learn despite the fact that it didn't work. But my most recent startup was my most recent job. So I, after that, first business kind of fell over, I had to go get a real job. And I built a career over 20 years as a digital person. So the digital guide looked after E commerce or in sales or marketing. So you know, I hit the top of the C suite, I became a chief marketing officer and head of digital in different companies. And my last corporate job was the Global Head of digital at Standard Chartered bank then it was a great job and a fantastic people there and a big ambition. But in a big companies like that there's not a lot of stability. And what happened is that I ended up getting laid off. So I went through a retrenchment process and it made me very angry, not because it wasn't because I did a bad job and it wasn't because the team weren't performing. We actually were hitting stellar runs everywhere. But the reality is, that seems very political. So the reasons they kind of chose to actually defend this team and you know, choose to actually get rid of some people versus others really frustrated me. I've always been more of a data driven guy. So, you know, I took my little bit of retrenchment money, and I formed my last business called Peoplewave. There are two aspects of that. 1, how do I make work fair? Youknow, I've just been through a very unfair retrenchment and I hated it. And 2, you know, could we use data to make better decisions as a manager, and the people in some of the kinds of people, so you know, I did that until COVID. So that was great raised a million dollars brought two products to market, we have hundreds of SMEs using our product, then later, but three years in, we realized we had a bigger ambition, we signed an 11 million USD term sheet to go big at the end of 2019. But then COVID hit. So COVID killed our core business of HR technology, because no one's hiring, and no one's buying our software. But also the people we trusted actually put that money to business end up, you know, not delivering, so that was catastrophic. So actually, it's pretty fresh for me. So that kind of business just went down at the beginning of 2021. And listen to whatever change in reflection about where I am in life.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 05:56 

Ah that was how eventually you gotta yourself to be the chiefofficer, or Principal Lecturer at the NUS Institute of system and science.   

Damien 06:05 

Yeah, I'm currently at the National University of Singapore in theInstitute of system science. So I'm chief of Digital Strategy and leadershipthere, what that means is, you know, applied my 20 plus years of knowledge, actually, now I'm actually giving it back. So I teach programs like the mastersof technology and digital leadership, doing obviously, business development, looking at actually grown capability for NUS. And also, it's fun actually going to be giving back into corporate group. So we do executive education, around things like cybersecurity, AI, digital transformation, digital strategy, and so on. So a lot of fun, it's early days, but certainly very different change of pace in the corporate jobs in the startups I've worked at before.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 06:44 

Yeah, it sounds very fun. I mean, like, your whole story is likeadventure, right? Where you started out running a startup, and then you end updoing C suite, doing digital transformation. And then you went going back to the startup again. And then now coming back to giving back to the society, as an educator.    

Section 4: AI onthe future of work (FOW) 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 07:03 

There's always two schools of thought, you know. One schools ofthought is, well, you know, Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Ma, will say, "youknow, AI is good, you know, AI creates a lot more jobs." And then Elon Musk, with another school of thought say. "Yes, yes, good. AI also creates a lot of jobs. But it also makes a lot of jobs redundant, you know, because the jobs that's very simple, repetitive, will be made redundant." So my question to you is, you know, what do you think about the impact of AI development on the future of work?   

Damien 07:33 

Yeah, I mean, you, I think you're right with that both comments areright so AI is going to change everything, but it's also going to actuallychange the shaping and roles. I mean, the Coke story examples, are probably typical of what we're going to see with AI, Someone's going to be impacted. I mean, if you think in the financial services world, retail branches are going to close, you know, that's happening. Already, AI is going to accelerate that. We're seeing payment apps kind of developing, you know, onto your phone, we're seeing AI kind of replacing customer service, we're going to see significant changes in the way that jobs are being looked at. 

But I think, you know, the best leaders are going to be the ones that are a little bit empathetic, and actually want to actually develop their people rather than slash and burn. So if we can actually put in a process that says, "Okay, we're going to develop an internal center of excellence around AI. We're going to take the people who are most impacted, and actually who've been understand the processes so well, and make those the people who are the change agents around AI. You effectively go through a process of making them AI experts." Now, of course, I know AI requires, you know, coding expertise, and data science, all the rest of it. 

But again, anyone can learn anything in my book. So it might be worth actually taking those generally lower paid employees, upskilling them and making them , you know, a cohort of highly invested, highly engaged AI experts. But that's on the internal side of things. Externally, for what we're going to see some big changes. So I think the challenges at the moment, from performance to recruitment, and you know, from engagements, everything is hidden. 

I mean, it's all about basically kind of small networks at the moments and like it or not, likeability and relationships are the number 1 determinant of success in an organization. So if a manager actually sees the kind of loud talking "Ang Mo", for example, talk talk talk, that person, just because they are more vocal extroverted, might actually be perceived as a better employee than the Malaysian guy who doesn't say anything, but just quietly get some of the job. Now, the reality is AI and data around that will prove that the Malaysian guy is quiet is probably working five to 10 times more efficiently than the guy is the talker. So what we're going to see I think, is AI is going to level the playing field in terms of unbiased decision making. It's going to help us identify talent in a different way. 

And again, the way we hired the moment is not based on the best person. It's based on risk. If I was working as a marketing director, I wouldn't hire a marketing manager. I'm not going to hire a great marketing manager, the best marketing manager in the world to grow my business. I would rather go and get a hire as an average marketing manager who's a low risk approach. So I'm going to get OCBC, I'm going to get a UOB and get a hire someone who's done that job before pay them as little as I can, and actually get them into that job for as long as possible. Not because they're great, not because they're going to grow the business. It's just because they're a fairly safe pair of hands. 

So what I think AI is going to do for us is start to surface, maybe the person who works at Starbucks is the ideal candidate for this role. Maybe someone who's actually working in a hawker center, who's got this amazing experience in growing a business tenfold, who would be the ideal candidate for this. It's not just from a growth perspective of hitting sales targets, but also being a safe pair of hands. He'll be in a different industry. 

So I think it's going to actually get rid of a lot of biases people have towards hiring people based on risk, it's going to uncover the hidden gems in your organization, good versus bad performance. And it's going to help you with one spot that managers have at the moment are managing their teams.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 11:01 

I really like the way that you're talking about two points. One wasabout you know, as AI is going to create disruption in terms of creation of newjobs, more complex jobs, and also destruction of simple jobs. And leaders who are able to develop the empathy will so call utilize existing workforce to enable them or encourage them to upgrade themselves to upskill themselves, as we have seen around the whole world.    

Section 5: The transition effect of AI 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 11:28 

But, you know, there's a practical fact that, you know, it takesfrom, it takes time, and effort to move from point A to point B. So, like youmentioned, you know, the future of AI could be in 2 paradigms: those that develop AI using data, software engineering, data science engineering, or artificial intelligence engineering. And then we have the, those are the people side of things, you know, the soft side of things, getting them to use new technology, getting people to change, getting them to see the light of day. And so these two extreme spectrum that we're going to see, and in either spectrum, it is very skewed towards those specific domains. And for somebody who, like you say, like a hawker, like, let's say, You're the guy who make chicken rice, you know, how would he, he will definitely get to either the of this spectrum? But the question to any companies or any business leader is, how long does it take for this chicken rice hawker to become a coder? Or how long does it take for this chicken rice hawker to become a, you know, people manager for to enable change management? What do you have to say about that? You know, to the C suite, you know.    

Damien 12:33 

yes. It's interesting. So generally, people don't believe youunless they can see it. Right. So and here's the challenge. So what value do wetry to put on soft skills? What value do we try to put on things like the ability to present, the ability to kind of pull people together and collaborate? Right now, those are kind of generally kind of seen as not worthless, but so indefinable. So you know, that even things like probation reviews, and it's going through that first 3 or 6 months into a job. It's more about: Did you tick the boxes, A, B, and C. But actually, what they're reallysaying is, "Are you a good culture fit? It also means "Do I like you?" "Have you built the right kind of relationships and so on?" Again, not a lot of that's quantifiable in today's world. It comesdown to trust. And these C level executives, when they're looking at things like AI and data solutions, see if you know, a hawker centre worker can become an AI expert. It's kind of a gut feel. The reality is: I don't think they're going to trust a hawker center person to become an expert overnight. What they will do is to look at their internal organization and think, "Okay, well, I've got to cut 10,000 people, surely some of those can be reskilled, and redeployed."      

Section 6: 2 speed of digital transformation in deploying AI   

Damien 13:33 

And I think the critical thing here is that things like AI anddigital, they work at 2 speed: the things that you have to get done now, whichis, you know, bring in external experts to formulate the strategy, get the early quick wins and prove the case, then it becomes part of the fabric of yourorganization. It becomes part of the DNA. And that's where you can spend a lot more time getting your differently skilled roles as you are getting them to train up to speed quite quickly, but over the course of months and years, and that's not necessarily, it's being done in weeks. So you know, bringing your experts to kind of get the big bang, get the ball rolling, take your time to actually kind of upskill and reskill your organization to actually support everything into the future. Because the reality is, you know: And I've been this person as well: External digital people come and go. They will come in, they'll command a high pay packet, they'll tell you what to do that make somesignificant changes. You know what. That skillset is unique in itself. You get poached by the next big company. And the next company will say, "Okay, I want you to for this particular kind of project, come in and be my AI guy, my data guy, my digital guy, do that job for a year, two years." Done, okay. Where do I go next? But actually, you're unlikely to go somewhere else. Next because that skillset moving to the governance aspect becomes less valuable to them. What you are great at is actually helping them to uncover the issues and putting a plan together to solve it. There are million other companies need that same skillset. So you kind of wonder from job to job. And actually someone has to be left behind to the gardening.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 15:00 

As companies couldn't get their people to overnight, you know,either be a very good soft skill guy or a hard skill guy. And they needexternal people like they need, you know, vendors or educators like yourself, or geeks like myself to come in to enable that transition.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 15:18 

So, last but not least, what is your request? For those who arelistening to this podcast? Do you have a shout out? Do you have anything thatyou want from your audience? You know.    

Damien 15:27 

I guess 2 things. 

Number 1, if you're interested, actually, infurther education, please check out the NUS ISS. There's a lot of fantastic executive education, short courses. And of course, if you want to actually take up the masters of technology and digital leadership, I'll be working with you in some of the courses there. So we'd love to actually see you there. 

2nd is: I believe in the power of networking, I believe in the power of connecting to people so hook me up at Damien Cummings on LinkedIn, I'd love to connect with you. So send a connection request through to me mentioned the podcast and I'll see if we can catch up for a coffee or at least have a cheer and yard around what's happening in the world with digital. I love to connect.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 16:00 

Oh, yeah, definitely I'll pin down on the podcast page. So anybodywho's listening to this, do refer back to that podcast page. Thank you verymuch, Damien.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 16:11 

Hi, guys. Thanks for listening to this podcast. If this is thefirst time you are tuning in, remember to subscribe to this show. If you havesubscribed to this show, and love this episode, please share it with your friends, family and acquaintances. See you later and see you soon.