Hsiu Mei Wong, innovation expert at PA Consulting, discusses her path to PA and the new leadership agenda in a Q&A with Lindsay Gearheart from HubWeek.
Lindsay: I’d like to start off by asking about your background and how you found your way to PA Consulting.
Hsiu Mei: I’m actually an accidental consultant! My career started in banking. I found my way into an internal consulting team for the bank, we worked on improving processes and making the company more efficient. From there I caught the consulting bug. I joined PA Consulting 20 years ago to work with companies who are passionate about changing the world. I think I’ve got one of the greatest jobs in the world because every day I’m given the freedom to dream, explore, and create – to be ingenious. As part of the process, I get to work with incredible people on exciting things that make the world a better place.
Lindsay: You recently spoke at the 2019 Fall Festival in October about achieving a positive human future through a new type of leadership. For our readers who were not in attendance, can you share how positivity in leadership impacts success?
Hsiu Mei: Optimism isn’t about always wearing a smile. Optimism releases serotonin, a potent neuro-transmitter that inspires creative thinking, to make connections between that which would otherwise not be seen as relevant. Optimists see constraints as a catalyst for creativity, and believe they can find a solution. Optimistic leaders are the ones best positioned to unlock human ingenuity. Leaders should also encourage a variety of skills, experiences, and viewpoints in order to uncover uncommon breakthroughs. Diversity can spark more innovative ideas.
Lindsay: How can today’s business leaders learn to embrace the unknown as an opportunity rather than something to be feared?
Hsiu Mei: I think today’s business leaders should embrace their inner 5-year-old self. Curiosity is key. Too many of today’s leaders are overly focused on tasks and targets, and they create organizations that steer us to conformity. But it doesn’t have to be this way, there is a new way to lead. Leaders need to seek inspiration and inspire others. They should fold in words like “explore”, “imagine”, “find”, “what if?!” into day-to-day conversations. When there is momentum around an opportunity, fear falls away. It is natural to experience fear of the unknown, but remember that fear is the sign that a growth inducing opportunity might lie ahead!
Lindsay: In a technology-driven world that can often feel more automated than personal, where can innovators seek creative inspiration?
Hsiu Mei: At PA, we believe in the power of ingenuity to build a positive human future in a technology-driven world. For example, ingenuity means exploring new ways of learning for nurses. We worked with the Emergency Nurses Association to use digital technologies to deliver training and help nurses provide excellent care. Human ingenuity is not about the technology but what humans do with the technology. There is a curious dynamic tension that is emerging with technology. It gives us reach beyond that which we have ever had. It collapses time (I can record something today that will live on in 100 years), collapses space (I can speak to someone on the other side of the world and interact with them as if we were in the same room) and creates scale (I can reach millions of people with just one Tweet or LinkedIn post)! Thanks to technology we are more networked and connected than ever before. As Steve Jobs said, “creativity is just connecting things,” and I believe technology allows us to enter a new era of creativity…driven by human connection. That’s the irony!
Lindsay: After 20 years advising companies and delivering major transformation and change initiatives, what is one of the most common problems with a simple solution that you’ve helped address?
Hsiu Mei: Many organizations want help with change management or transformation programs, and many believe that change is hard because it requires a shift in trajectory. In my experience, the simple solution is to change the narrative and create a new momentum. We need to create organizations that are responsive and agile – that can experiment to learn, and move from idea to launch at warp speed. Leaders need to understand that conversations matter, optimism matters, adaptability is key, and diversity of thought is a catalyst. This is the new way to lead.
The HubWeek Change Maker series showcases the most innovative minds in art, science, and technology making an impact in Boston and around the world. Click here to read the interview in The Boston Globe.
The opportunity's never been greater for leaders of organisations large and small to create a positive human future