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Artificial Intelligence / Leadership / Philosophy

The Power of Curiosity: A Journey Through Technology and Innovation

In an era where technology rapidly reshapes our lives, understanding the human stories behind innovation becomes crucial. This is a glimpse into my journey, a journey driven by curiosity and focused on solving complex problems through the transformative power of technology.

As Kierkegaard once said, life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards. Here I reflect on the influences that led me to EBO, a London-based healthtech company, where I serve as CEO and lead efforts to enhance patient engagement through AI so as to alleviate the burdens on overworked healthcare professionals. 

This journey is not just about technology but about a playful dance with philosophy and life. I discuss some aspects of the journey with the UnbrandMe podcast host Peter Grech, which you can find here:

A Passion for Problem-Solving

From a young age, I was driven by a curiosity and a desire to solve complex problems. My journey is marked by an illogical degree of perseverance … a deep commitment to harnessing the technology of the day for meaningful, positive changes in people’s lives. Curiosity and perseverance are useful tools for innovation and personal growth.

It Starts with Music: A Universal Language (and the Art of Listening)

Music has played a profound role in shaping my perspective. The truest expression of a people is found in their dance and music, and during my teenage years, playing the guitar taught me the importance of listening—a skill that stuck with me. Deep listening, cultivated through music, enhances empathy and understanding – essential qualities for any business process. Indeed, for me listening is the truest gift of music. And as leaders, we must strive to create an environment where every individual feels heard and valued in a company. This not only fosters a culture of mutual respect and collaboration, but also drives innovation and performance. It allows us to build stronger, more resilient teams that are attuned to the needs of our clients and capable of achieving extraordinary results.

Reflections on Activism and Student Politics

Engaging early-on with student politics, I observed a troubling sense of apathy amongst fellow university students who voiced the common rant that activisms lead nowhere. However, as Einstein said: “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” Every moment is an organising opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world. I jumped into the world of student politics aged sixteen.

Boredom is a largely overlooked yet powerful force shaping our culture. It is intricately entwined with our digital age, creating a vicious cycle that profoundly impacts behaviour and diminishes activism. Let’s delve into this:

  • Firstly, social media, despite its name, is not truly social. It encourages isolated, individualistic activities, diverting people from community or group-based political actions. This shift erodes the social bonds and collective identity essential for effective activism.
  • Secondly, boredom drives the pursuit of immediate and effortless entertainment. This inclination towards passive content consumption saps both time and energy that could be directed towards more meaningful engagements.
  • Lastly, boredom breeds cynicism and disillusionment. The constant exposure to monotonous and uninspiring political rhetoric exacerbates this sense of futility, as the lack of stimulating and engaging opportunities within the political sphere further demotivates individuals.

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer shows a significant shift in public trust towards NGOs and businesses over governments. This shift underscores the need for re-engagement with activism to drive societal change. Businesses and NGOs have a critical role in driving ethical and competent change in our society. My time at the University of Malta was dotted with the splendid gift of dialogue, protest and debate. It provided the best foundation I could have hoped for in the dynamics of political dialectic.

The Value of Storytelling and Collaboration

My first job as a news video-editor taught me invaluable lessons about storytelling, collaboration, and attention to detail. The newsroom environment, much like a busy kitchen, emphasised the importance of teamwork and clear, timely communication. I learned that rigorous standards for accuracy and detail are essential in news editing. Fact-checking and ensuring the reliability of sources are paramount to maintaining journalistic integrity. A commitment to fairness is key. This doesn’t mean the story does not have an editorial viewpoint but it means that it allows space for other viewpoints too. This was a crucial lesson for when I assumed the Chairmanship of Beacon Media Group which runs an online news service. The many philosophical discussions on the matter with our brilliant Editor-in-Chief: Fr. Joe Borg, remain among the fondest memories of my career.

Mastering the art of storytelling and valuing collaboration are essential for effective leadership and communication. These skills are crucial not only in journalism but in any field requiring precise and ethical communication.

Lessons from Photography

The camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without a camera.

Photography has also been a significant influence in my life. It taught me to see and frame the world differently, a skill that parallels cognitive behavioural therapy in re-framing perspectives. Photography exposes one’s view of the world, shaping how we perceive and respond to our environment. The ability to reframe perspectives, learned through photography, is fundamental in addressing and overcoming challenges in both personal and professional contexts. Perspective is everything: when you can look at a problem from some new angle, it loses its power over you.

I have always been interested in details. I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.

Theatre and Martial Arts: Building Discipline and Creativity

My experiences in theatre production (first at St. Aloysius College, and later with Adrian Mamo and Nello Gauci at VOICES) and martial arts underscore the importance of discipline, creative problem-solving, and self-control. Theatre taught me the value of clear oral communication and the discipline of rehearsal. I still rehearse and plan every single presentation I deliver – notwithstanding my familiarity with the subject.

The chores of building scenery, hanging lights, making props, running the show, and so on, became a particularly good way to learn how to think on my feet. Things go wrong in the live show and you need to become comfortable with that. That was a perfect primer for life!

My time in martial arts emphasised the mind-body connection and the control of impulses—skills relevant for navigating complex business scenarios. I realised that the mind is the primary “weapon”. It’s as if the actual action is less significant than the mindset behind it. What truly matters is the state of mind from which we approach our actions. This mental framework is absolutely fundamental, as life is not defined by what happens to us, but by how we react to those events.

Law as a Springboard

Law provides a strong foundation for combined academic studies, offering an invaluable introduction to logic, critical thinking, reasoning, and analytical skills. These disciplines are essential for developing the structured and meticulous approach necessary for running a technology business. Moreover, law instills a strong sense of justice and an unwavering drive for improvement, which are crucial for ethical leadership and continuous innovation. The cognitive rigour demanded by legal studies aligns seamlessly with the mental acuity required to navigate the complexities of the tech industry. The other aspects needed to run a technology business: whether that be finance, or deeply understanding code are specialised fields that can be mastered through dedicated learning. I found that the foundational skills honed through legal education underpin the strategic and operational excellence vital to success in technology entrepreneurship.

Embracing Adversity

Too many people think that great wins come from a flash of sudden luck. In fact, it is always the opposite: the slow pressure, repeated from many different angles, the hundreds of small decisions taken each week, the elimination of so many other more promising options… these are what slowly and surely develop a solution to success.

Embracing adversity as an ally is crucial, as the toughest challenges often lead to the most significant breakthroughs. My experiences with various startups taught me the necessity of self-confidence and continuous learning. Resilience and a willingness to learn from failure are essential for sustained success and innovation.

Education and AI: Preparing for the Future

I advocate for a reimagined approach to education, focusing on developing complete individuals who can thrive in a volatile world. This includes fostering critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability. My running buddy, Becky Gera, is an educator and she has observed that the most significant contributor to success is giving children confidence. Because confidence leads to courage. And that’s what you need in an uncertain world: the courage to be kind , the courage to stand-up and be counted, the courage to oppose short-termism. And as AI continues to evolve, it is vital to promote AI literacy and ethical considerations in integrating AI into society, ensuring it augments rather than replaces human creativity and decision-making. Preparing for the future involves fostering critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability, alongside promoting AI literacy and ethical considerations.

Reflections on Product Company Culture vs Service Company Culture

I have had the privilege of leading a number of fantastic companies, two of which sit on opposite sides of the solution spectrum.

In a product company like EBO, the focus must be on falling in love with the problem rather than the solution. This problem-centric approach naturally leads to a customer-centric mindset. By deeply understanding the problem, we gain insight into our customers’ pain points, ensuring that efforts are truly aligned with their needs. 

Conversely, in a services company like ICON, the emphasis should be on the solution and its quality. Excellence in execution is paramount in this context. Delivering a high-quality solution consistently is the cornerstone of success in a service-oriented environment. This requires meticulous attention to detail and a commitment to meeting or exceeding client expectations.

Lessons On Leadership (which I mostly learned from my Dad)

My Dad taught me that seeking the truth isn’t about validating the story in your head but rigorously vetting and accepting the story that aligns with reality… no matter how painful that might be. No matter how certain you are in your head, that you have a winning ticket, the ticket itself doesn’t care !

This stoic approach is a nod to the reality that one will always come across obstacles in life – fair and unfair. And what will matter most is not what these obstacles are, but that we see them clearly, react to them appropriately and keep our composure. 

Many leaders focus too much on having all the answers and not enough on asking the right questions. I learned that effective leadership requires a shift towards inquisitiveness and open-ended inquiry and that is why forming the right company culture matters: as it creates a ‘safe space’ to explore, disagree and build. And a company’s culture is ultimately defined by its hiring and firing practices. Being careless in these decisions can have far-reaching consequences, impacting countless other decisions down the line. 

I learned that leading is different from simply being the leader. Holding the highest rank, whether earned, through good fortune, or internal politics, isn’t the same as leading. True leadership means others willingly follow you—not because they have to or are paid to, but because they want to. As Seth Godin puts it, enrollment is one of the most important jobs of a CEO.

Another lesson I learned from observing leaders in my Dad’s generation, was that the decisions that reach a leader’s desk are never easy or straightforward. Simple, black-and-white issues are usually resolved by other members in a team. Tough decisions are probabilistic rather than certain. So, to avoid paralysis at the helm of the organisation, I learned to develop a sound decision-making process: look at the data, quiz the experts, follow the facts, consider your goals, and weigh all of these against sound principles.

This reminds me of that passage from the lovely book: “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy. There’s this passage where the boy asks the horse: “What is the bravest thing you ever said?” The horse answers: “I asked for help. Asking for help isn’t giving up. It’s refusing to give up“.

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