In this episode, we meet Greg Dickason, Managing Director Pacific of LexisNexis on career opportunities, getting out of your comfort zone and the future of technology in business.
In July 2019, Greg took on the role of Managing Director Pacific of LexisNexis, the leading provider of Content, Analytics and Software solutions for Legal, Risk and Compliance.
His previous positions were as CTO with CoreLogic RP Data, while earlier in his career, Greg held senior management positions at Virgin Mobile UK and Unisys.
In this episode we talk about:
- Taking career-defining opportunities by getting out of his comfort zone and moving countries;
- His top 3 tips for getting out of a stalling career;
- How he gets his executive team and their teams to focus on the most important tasks; and
- The future of technology, particularly AI and big data, and what this means for business.
Connecting with Greg Dickason
Books and resources mentioned in the episode
- All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten – by Robert Fulghum
- Maybe (Maybe Not) – by Robert Fulghum
“Trust yourself. Your gut, almost always, will tell you the right thing and don’t make a decision out of fear. So you’ve got to limit your fear.”
On what Nelson Mandela taught him
- At the time, there was a strong mix of fear and hope in South Africa. So there were days in which there would be a violent episode that would really make you scared and you’d think, “Okay, we’re going bad”.
- And then almost the next week something happens which would give you real hope and Mandela was a big part of that. The hope that he gave the nation and that unbending sort of guiding light as to where he was going. It’s a great way to see how a leader can really embrace things. Not even doing anything just by being who he was and having a consistent message. So it was a really interesting time.
- I think looking at Mandela, I think you realise that being a leader can sometimes just being a symbol. That’s what he is. He was a symbol and he was like, “I’m going to be this and you can essentially build your new country on me.” And so I think sometimes that sort of quiet strength that he had, but also the ability to have joy. He used to dance, I don’t know if you’d seen him dancing, he’s just a great dancer and you know that ability to actually to have fun, I think… That’s shaped a bit of where I think I can go.
On taking career opportunities through big leaps
- My career has taken off, I’d say by then taking leaps. So, essentially what I was prepared to do was, I left and went to the UK, I left and went to Australia. And then as a result, when opportunities arose, I had a wife who pushed me hard, to be fair. It wasn’t always my own risk-taking, it was hers as well.
- But that is really been the big jumps. Is that there’s a lot of opportunities in technology and there weren’t in the earlier parts of the century. But actually even now, which you should be able to… If you jump onto your career can move very quickly. But you’ve got to be prepared to move the family or do what needs to be done.
- I think it’s more important that you have multi-business experience. So you’ve seen how business is done in different places. I do think international adds an extra flavour to that because you realise that some of the norms that you take for granted are not the same in other countries. Even countries that are superficially very similar to us, like the UK there, are different ways in which people think and influence your business.
- Taking a risk is important and moving is important, but not doing that too often is also important. When I look at resumes of people who changed jobs every two years, I’m like, “Well you actually haven’t got tenure. You haven’t worked out. You haven’t learned about yourself in a business for long enough.” Because two years, you make might make an impact and then move on, but you haven’t had time to say, “Well actually, is that impact really longterm positive or not?”
On redundancies and moments of realisation
- And it was one of those like, “Whoa, okay, you just made the cut.” And then for me it was a, “Hang on, what the hell?” I’ve been doing well in everything I’ve done. I’m now working for somewhat mediocre company. I’ve been sitting on security. I wasn’t being paid a lot to either, but the security of, I’ve got a young family, I need to earn breadwinners wage, and that was a real wake up call. So that was a real setback. So it’s very much just recognising that you’re thinking too small.
- It wasn’t a setback in the sense as made redundant, but maybe, I should’ve been made redundant to be fair. But it gave me that impetus of, “Hang on, this is not who I want to be, this is not where I should be. I need to get going.” And the result of then going out and finding another job, then opened up just so much and within a year and a half of leaving them, I was running development for Virgin Mobile in South Africa and my job, my career had taken off.
- One of the more big insights, is you generally never get promoted straight up, right? You get promoted diagonally. So you will get picked up from where you are and pulled into something else. So that means, if you’re building your career purely to replace your boss, one, you’re way too narrow, you’re not thinking peripherally. And as a result you’re also not visible peripherally.
- And that is also how you don’t get made redundant. If you are actively helping other people, other leaders, but not just other leaders, other peers, in what they do and creating outcomes for the business that is not just about what you do. You know, what your current narrow role definition is, then you are immediately useful for everybody else.
- And the reality is that in a redundancy, it’s not just your boss to makes a decision. It’s a round of people who sit in a room and they say, “We need to save X million dollars.” And there’s a spreadsheet with everybody’s name on it, and they go through those and somebody is going to say, “No, so-and-so helped me with this, or no, I think you’re wrong about so and so.” And that’s what you want. You want that voice in the room.
3 tips on how to get out of a career rut
- Just look at your business. Your business exists for a reason. Are you part of that reason or are you simply on the treadmill? So every business is delivering something to a customer. Who is that customer? How good is that delivery? And can you get more involved in that purpose? Can you make a difference in your business?
- Make sure you’re exercising. I’m a real great believer that if you’re not fit and you’re not actually able to make clear decisions. Or maybe that’s not just exercising, but time for yourself in which you can reflect. And for me that’s on the bicycle. But it could be meditation or yoga.
- I’m a curious person and so to learn gives me a new view of the world. So reading the right books or even studying an MBA or something. Bettering yourself, if you like. Those for me give you motivation.
- Tom Panos, who’s a great real estate speaker, says, “First motion, then emotion.” So essentially, get your emotion out of it. Ignore what you think, just go and do and then what you think will change.
On the future of technology in business
- Ultimately, data analytics really just means, “Can I help you, my customer, make a decision, the right decision at the right time, wherever you are?” That’s all it is. But it means that as a lawyer, do I choose to litigate or do I choose to settle. In property data, do I choose to buy or do I choose to rent or do I choose not to proceed with a deal. As a bank, do I choose to finance?
- Behind that, you’re pulling all this data and you run analytics and AI and machine learning over the top of it. But ultimately what you’re doing is you’re coming up with an indicator as to which way the decision should fall, while at the same time you’re balancing all the risks.
- Data analytics, like any new technology, is agnostic as to how it’s used, whether it’s used for good or bad. Therefore, we’ve got to be aware of the bad ways in which it can be used, in which you can predict people’s behaviours, potentially manipulate people’s behaviours.
- Things like AI and machine learning where you can do mass surveillance and those are the, if you like, the nefarious areas of the world in which you could go. The really good side is that deep machine learning can start to find trends and patterns that we don’t pick up as humans. Essentially become more intelligent than us. Like cancer diagnosis, like understanding weather patterns.
On kanban boards
- Businesses more often than not have too many things to do in any given timeframe and sometimes the biggest reason why things don’t get done is because of competing priorities. So to help people focus, rather than move 100 things a quarter of an inch, move 10 things to “done”. What a kanban board does is it forces myself and my executive team to prioritise tasks.
- The definition of “done” is something that’s highly measurable. Every week, we stand up as a team, in front of the whole company, and we move the epic (the main task) or the sub-tasks. So you have visible movement of these tasks, with a high focus on how you are going to achieve your definition of done, and if you can’t, what can people do to help move it to “done”.
- You can then link the epic through to your yearly plan and your five-year plan, meaning you also have strategic alignment.
- Give yourself to meetings ie. make sure that when you’re in meetings, you’re completely there and present.
- I make my meetings shorter, so rather than a half-hour meeting, I make it 20 minutes, which gives me 10 minutes to write the notes afterwards. Likewise, rather than an hour meeting, I make it 45 minutes.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- Be excited about your career. Don’t be scared. And take the leaps when they come. Take those opportunities, they will come and just jump on them.