Being a learn-it-all is how you adapt, being a know-it-all is how you die (Part 1)

Deloitte's Valter Adão says the way we gain knowledge has to change from something we do to how we behave.

Deloitte chief digital and innovation officer Valter Adão explains that the term “Adapt or die” means that executives need to embrace the mindset that being a know-it-all is of less value than being a learn-it-all. 

CFO Day, which takes place on 23 July at Marble restaurant, is the most important event on the calendar for South African CFOs. Supported by Workday, CFOs will look at the various angles of the theme Adapt or Die, with a range of world-class speakers, including Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko, EOH CEO Stephen van Coller, South African comedian Pieter-Dirk Uys and health and stress expert Richard Sutton

Valter says that firstly, we need to change how we view knowledge. “We’re in a point in time where our knowledge is declining at an ever-increasing rate. It’s estimated that about 30 percent of our knowledge becomes irrelevant on an annual basis.” 

Because of this, Valter believes that knowledge needs to change from a destination we want to get to, to becoming something we do continuously - the journey. He explains that we need to have a cultural mindset around continuous learning. 

“We have to realise that our deep expertise and our experience may be a limiting factor in a time like this,” Valter says. “We also have to embrace the fact that in this new world, hybrid skills are being seen as more valuable and are receiving higher wages than deep specialised skills.”

He clarifies that “hybrid skills” doesn’t refer to generic knowledge, but the deep knowledge of a variety of subjects or topics. “Imagine having deep knowledge about an old skill, combined with deep knowledge around a new skill.”

Secondly, Valter believes that leaders have to allow more curiosity into teams and allow them to explore and experiment. “This doesn’t mean taking a risk,” Valter explains. “If it’s done in a well-governed structure, there is actually a way to do a lot more with a lot less risk and a lot less investment.

“We have been taught through our education system to be very critical and as we’ve developed our careers, we’ve learnt to become very cynical and sceptical around the stuff that we don’t understand,” Valter say. “But the reality is that we’re dealing more and more with topics, technologies and value propositions that we don’t understand.”

He explains that leaders have to embrace an open and interrogative mindset to say “just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong” and “I’m going to learn about this before I say it is not possible”. 

In line with this is that CFOs can and should be playing a significant role in leveraging the advantage that these new technologies bring in a very difficult economic environment, including reducing the cost of business. 

“When I say ‘reduce the cost of business’, I’m not saying try to get those done cheaper, cut heads, etc,” Valter explains. 

“The implementation of digital solutions in a CFO’s office can be used to surface information that currently the financial leadership of the organisation doesn’t have access to. By surfacing this additional information about the operations of the organisation, that additional information can certainly assist in unlocking efficiencies and uplifting productivity inside the organisation. Through that investment, we are able to run our businesses far more efficiently. Essentially increasing the intelligence of the CFO's office.”

From a broader organisational perspective, the CFO should encourage all parts of the business to leverage this exponential and digital thinking and say “how can we use these technologies to, for example, unlock exponential productivity and growth in the business by enabling the innovation of new products and services and to optimise customer experiences”.

The CFO also needs to ensure that the organisation invests in the right opportunities. “It’s important that every single digital opportunity is an economically led opportunity and not a technology-led one that is looking for value,” Valter explains. “We should not be investing into technologies for technology’s sake, because it’s cool, because it’s gimmicky, because our competitors are doing it, or because it’s modern and then desperately try to look for the value that they create.”

In Part 2, Valter will discuss developing staff to take on future roles