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20 January 2021 | Posted by

Interview with Daria Tataj PhD, founder and CEO of Tataj Innovation

On the next Global Master Class MBA we will have the world expert, influencer and digital leader of the World Economic Forum, Daria Tataj PhD. Daria believes that ‘a small group of committed citizens can change the world.’ She is followed by over 23.000 decision-makers on Linkedin. Know more about her with this interview.

Please, introduce yourself

My name is Daria Tataj. I’m the founder and CEO of Tataj Innovation where we offer practical solutions on how to build digital skills for working in remote or hybrid teams. I also advise the European Commission on the future of innovation, and hold a number of board positions including the most recent appointment to the EIT Manufacturing Board.


You say technology is a beautiful toy but innovation is about people. What role will play human beings in this major change?

Yes, in the interview for the Digital Future Society, a think tank by the Mobile World Congress Barcelona, I said that technology is a beautiful thing and that innovation is about people. What I meant is that technology should not be the goal in itself, that it should serve people and that we should keep the human being at the center of the work done by scientists and engineers.

I often heard in Silicon Valley that technology would solve all our problems. It is not true. These global networked problems that affect each and every of us, such as pollution or climate change, fatal diseases or viruses, persist across borders and continents. 

The current crisis is the historic opportunity for changing the global system. But it is a matter of strategic decisions at the board level of companies as well as political decisions, coordinated across many governments. We can design better systems not because we have technology which can enable them, but because we have leaders who know how to bring networked solutions to networked problems.


Which types of platforms do you think we need to promote collective solutions to complex problems?

The platform economy follows the logic of a network where “the winner takes it all”. Just look at the valuation of tech giants cumulated in a handful of companies. What is common is that they control a networked system be it for social interaction as Facebook, mobility as Uber, or work, such as dynamically spreading labor platforms, where an example can be Glovo, a Spanish delivery company.  Another example of a platform is, for example Decidim, an open-source platform designed to engage Barcelona citizens into participatory democracy to co-create city solutions. This platform has been downloaded by dozens of other cities in the world.

These platforms open doors to promote different collective solutions to complex problems. They allow reaching at scale mass consumers or users real time. What is important is to look at how the users of these platforms are treated: are they consumers, or do they have a right to be also co-creators, co-designers. 


Which type of qualities do you think a digital leader needs to fit in this new innovative ecosystem?

The new digital workplace requires new digital leadership skills. Since all organizations moved to remote or hybrid work, people and teams need to adjust to the new work environment. This adjustment goes beyond mastering the digital tools.

The key qualities of a digital leader are included in the competence framework we have developed for a fully digital work environment. It is called Network IQ and is based on the concept of Network Intelligence. Network Intelligence is a capacity to build networks fit for a purpose. By networks, I mean relations with colleagues, peers, and collaborators, as well as use digital networking to expand the influence across digital ecosystems, such as for example, social media. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been working with a number of organizations in Spain, the UK and The Netherlands. We have been helping them strengthen new digital leadership skills so that team members can grow into leadership positions if needed and when needed. We continue our work building on the individual Network IQ into team Network IQ and four roles we identified leaders need when working in remote or hybrid teams: strategist, networker, orchestrator, and influencer. 

If I were to explain these Network IQ skills deeper, I’d say that in our methodology, a strategist is a person who has a capacity to think in terms of complex systems and build a networks fit for a team’s purpose; a networker is a person who is well connected in many different parts of an organisation or an ecosystem; an orchestrator is a person who has a capacity to manage multiple projects, bring synergies, and share resources; an influencer is a person is connected to other influencers or decision makers.

We witness a dramatic loss of productivity. According to BCG, there is a 56% loss of productivity when it comes to collaborative tasks. Remote work will stay a ‘new normal’ beyond the pandemic in over 40% of organizations, to call on Garter research. 

In this new work environment, building the Network IQ skills of individual team members and of teams, is key. Our research shows that trough our talent innovation programs we could not only build the set of digital skills which are part of the Network IQ assessment process but also build more trust and create a mindset change so that people can work across silos and build new partnerships within their organisation as well as with partners which whom they are connected in their ecosystem.


Can you talk about the innovation projects that are currently being developed in the European Union? 

There are a vast number of different innovation projects developed in the European Union. Some are much more impactful than others. In my view, some of the potential breakthroughs, which will underscore the future, will be connected with the human brain project, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence. 

Not many people know that the EU R&I budgets are the largest public investment programs in the world.  They are planned for 7 years and the last budget was 77 billion EUR. In 2021 starts the new funding program called Horizon Europe. It is the largest to date with 95,5 billion EUR. 

Yet, not only the size of the investment matters when it comes to R&D. It is also about what it funds, what are the priorities, how are research collaborations organised, and what is the capacity in the economy and in the society to absorb the new advances.

Let me draw your attention to one specific EU funded project which makes a tremendous impact today. With 100 million EUR, the EU helped develop the transformative “messenger rna”, a technique behind the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19. Now that vaccination starts in EU Member States, we should know that this was possible because of Europe and none of the states in itself could have come up with the vaccine alone and in such a short time.


Which kind of things, like the man on the moon, will see in the near future?

The Apollo mission which put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon and got them back safely was an unprecedented achievement of human ingenuity and technological progress. We see now the space race driven by visionary Elon Musk and SpaceX collaborating with NASA, as well as  by the enormous investment in R&D in China. As in the past, ‘the man on the moon’ thinking was part of the political global competition. If the NASA space funding program is cut, it is clear who will win this time.

However, we have a beautiful example of the mission-thinking focused on people, planet and prosperity in Europe. 

Over the last years I have worked with a group of experts including Prof. Mariana Mazzucato, for EU Commissioner Carlos Moedas on the mission-oriented policy. This work has led to new funding schemes for five missions - that is large research and innovation collaborations of partners who have a common purpose and ambition - a brave ambition for success. 

For example, one of them is a mission on cities.  The EU funding will help 100 cities become climate-neutral by 2030! It is only in 10 years. I find this example mind-blowing because I know how hard it is to mobilise private and public sector stakeholders, gain the support of citizens and make such a large-scale system transformation happen. Other European missions are on cancer, plastic free oceans, climate change and societal transformation, healthy soil and food.


What will be the challenges that companies will face due to innovation?

We witness a total disruption of global value chains. Such a crisis gives a lot of opportunities for the most entrepreneurial businesses to take advance of this opportunity. I see three main challenges companies will face. 1. Talent 2. Strategy 3. Innovation itself. Let me elaborate. 

The new fully digital work environment requires new digital skills. It is not about using Teams, Zoom or Slack. It is about changing the way of thinking from analogue to digital. And it is a challenge at a personal and team level as people really stop working in a hierarchy which was written on paper but to a larger extent work as a social network. Not everyone has a capacity to work in such an interconnected structure and constant communication.

In terms of strategy, it is about the redefinition of the value chains and building new partnerships. But in many cases it will also be a question of sound financial planning and ultimately of survival. I am sure we will witness a lot of M&A activity. A lot of smaller firms will be bought out unless they quickly understand the new consumer behaviour and develop network-based business models.

Finally, when it comes to innovation, I see many large organizations not very entrepreneurial. And innovation not only about investment in R&D which is very important. Innovation is also about entrepreneurial culture and here we come back to the question of talent and skills. The human factor is the biggest challenge that companies will face due to innovation, because, as we said in the beginning - technology is a beautiful toy, but innovation is about people.


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