Messages from Eddie Obeng, a Man Living the Future: News From Best of Leap 2017

May 19, 2017 Shelbi Gomez

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“I live in the future … and that means I can bring you news,” said Professor Eddie Obeng as he unleashed an inspirational whirlwind of ideas about change and the future of life and work.

The closing keynote speaker at this year’s Best of Leap user conference in London, Eddie led delegates through stories, questions and exercises that challenged ways of thinking about engagement and collaboration.

How does he live in the future? He teaches students via virtual classrooms. He manages devices with wearable tech, with one overly-energetic wave activating the wearable mouse on his forearm.

Eddie, TED speaker, Founder Director of the Pentacle Business School, and Professor of Entrepreneurship at the UK’s Henley Business School, started by asking the audience to describe what they hoped and feared about his speech.

What did they want to know? What did they want to avoid?

“Maths!” came the cry from the audience, both for and against.

He then painted a picture of his home village—Beaconsfield between London and Oxford. Or rather, he sketched it on an interactive pad.

It was a town “populated with time-travellers”: families who lived connected 21st-Century lives in their own homes but travelled to 20th-Century offices to work on 20th-Century technology.

“There’s a difference between understanding the future and living it—and many organizations are anchors against living in the future,” Eddie said.

“Some of what you are going to read out there is just words and noise. And if you hear something about what the future is going to be and it kind of makes sense, it’s probably not right.”

The professor explained that in the past “you could learn faster than the pace of change.”

Today, the pace of change outstrips the ability of humans to keep track. Managers sitting at the top of 20th-Century organizational hierarchies cannot keep track of what is happening or what needs to happen in future.

“When information is moving at thousands of megabits per second, it’s impossible for the person at the top to really understand what’s going on.”

The professor added, “We’ve gone from projects working by painting by numbers, to projects getting lost in the fog.”

“Agile can help with this. But what you really need is to send people out to work on things in parallel then bring them back together and see what you’ve learned.”

Human Nature 101, he said, was that “people and change is like oil and water: they don’t mix well. Particularly change that people do to you.”

Eddie advised delegates to consider not just their actions and behavior when trying to engage people in change—but their emotions and how they illustrate excitement about the change.

And he suggested a sequential approach to introducing and implementing change with colleagues:

  • Issue: introduce the issue or problem that needs to be solved by reference to something familiar, even through a story, anecdote or analogy.
  • Data: give information and data that flashes out the issue.
  • Question: ask “how could we work differently; how could we make this work?”
  • Build: collaborate on a solution.

Eddie’s talk was an object lesson—a masterclass in both style and substance of how to lead people to accept new ways of thinking and acting.

And that was his final challenge. It’s now for us all to think, act, and engage more effectively than before. What will you do?


Get caught up on all of the stories coming out of Best of Leap 2017 with these posts:

"Get Ready For The 4 Challenges Shaping The Future Of Work" with Workfront CEO Alex Shootman

"8 Attitude Tools To Overcome Every Challenge, From The Woman Who Rowed Solo Across The Atlantic" with Debra Searle

"Send Spreadsheets Back To The 1980s And Unlock Right-First-Time Creativity" with Glenn Joyce at Boden

eddie obeng workfront leap

About the Author

Shelbi Gomez

Shelbi is an experienced public relations professional with experience in both agency and corporate marketing environments. She currently guides brand awareness, market research, analyst relations, and customer content. She has nearly a decade of BtoB and BtoC experience helping companies tell their stories in the changing media landscape — in traditional media outlets, social media, and now through content marketing.

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