The Leadership Lattice – a Leadership Interview Series presents: Tom Frey, Executive Director, The DaVinci Institute

The Leadership Lattice, an interview series designed to cultivate conversation on building strong leadership in the public and private sector, presents:  Tom Frey, Executive Director of the DaVinci Institute, a Futurist Think tank in Boulder CO.

This interview was conducted, edited and summarized by Ann Spoor, Founder of Executive Lattice, in Denver Colorado. 


  1. 1.      What is the future of leadership?

We are backwards looking society.  The past is knowable. As a Futurist, it’s my role to turn leaders around and have them look into the future.  The future will happen whether we like it or not.  If the projects we’re working on today aren’t aligned to the future, the future will kill that project. The future is unforgiving.  We need to orient our thinking to the problems, needs and desires of the future.  A leader has to create the future in the minds of everyone around them. The future creates the present. The leader has to communicate their vision of the future in order to influence and claim ownership of the future. We have to create the tools to monitor, measure and monetize the future and that is part of what we are working on at the DaVinci Institute.

2.      How has technology impacted how leaders lead?

Leaders must have their fingers on the pulse of what is going on- right now. Technology allows for the speed of feedback to be much greater. Leaders must have greater access to technology in order to be able to react to the speed of the marketplace. Technology has also enabled greater flexibility for both the company and the individual.  Examples would be telecommuting and virtual officing.  Companies that hire virtual employees are able to focus more on accomplishments and results vs. old social norms.  Entire business operations have been built around the virtual office. Oracle is an example of an organization where 80% of its employees work virtually.  Another is Alpine Access, a call center company where all of their call center operators work remotely.  Technology has been the enabler and the result has been a flexible and loyal employee base.

3.      How do you lead in a more virtual environment?

We are becoming a more fluid and project oriented society. The cost of hiring continues to rise and employers have an obligation to keep costs down. I predict that companies will more and more hire project oriented workers. The new generation of worker finds security and satisfaction in project based work.  They have been witness to their parents getting laid off after years of service and they don’t want the same thing to happen to themselves.  We predict the formation of business colonies organized around themes much like what happens in Hollywood. Themes like nanotech, biotech, etc. In Hollywood, project teams are formed organically around a film and when the film is completed, the project team disbands. As business colonies form, companies will do the same thing. The leaders of the future will have to lead more diverse teams comprised of these project workers in a business colony model.

4.      How do you lead in this increasingly hyper-individualized society?

There is a battle between the digital and physical world where the digital world is sucking talent from the physical world.  We need a way to interface and the trend is to do this using apps and this has been a bottom up approach. The number of apps has exploded.  This bottom up approach is utilizing global intelligence to build solutions and products. Apple’s iPod is just a ripple in the forest. We are talking about building apps into many products; the list goes on and on.  For example, what kind of apps could we build into a car if there were an open framework?   This bottom up approach requires more experimentation, acceptance of more risk, and less control. The leaders of the future will have to constantly experiment with new approaches, tools and technologies.  There is a great quote- Power is about what you can control and freedom is about what you can unleash. Companies who try to control will be less innovative.

5.     How does Social Media impact leadership?

At the heart of the Social Media revolution is the notion of crowds. Organizations and leaders are going to have to figure out how to tap into crowds and monetize. Working with crowds is a challenge because of the level of noise out there. If you look at the Super Bowl this last Sunday for example, there were 2 radically different approaches to ad creation.  Doritos used a bottom up approach.  Users created advertisements which were quite effective and clever.  The ads themselves cost nothing, but sifting through them, there were probably thousands, was a big undertaking.  Budweiser used a more tradition top down approach – a commercially created and produced Ad.  The leadership of each company took a very different approach.  Both were effective. 

In Social Media, when you are fielding advice from a large community- you have to sift through all of the data and decide who to listen to.  Leaders, organizations, and individuals are experimenting.  For every experiment that yields positive results, there are 2-3 that don’t.  There is no clear answer.  In the business world, we like things that are repeatable.  Social media isn’t there yet.  Social media continues to morph and change.

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