An Interview with Märtha Rehnberg

“Diversity is at the core of creating new and disruptive solutions” An Interview with Märtha Rehnberg

The fifth and final module of the 2018 Advanced Leadership Program for Women took place earlier this week in the historic surrounds of Kosmopol in central Copenhagen. The module revolved around the theme: ‘Exploring Exponential Growth’ and was led by Märtha Rehnberg, co-founder and partner at Dare Disrupt and Member of the High-Level Industrial Roundtable “Industry 2030” at European Commission. We spoke with her after the module to discuss the business relevance of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the rise of ethical thinking in the tech space and the link between diversity and disruption.


At the start of the day you disrupted the title of your module to re-name it ‘ Your Technological Intuition’ what does this mean?

Although it sounds like a paradox, it means that to create interesting and innovative solutions we need to not only understand what is technologically feasible, but also what is interesting for society. Intuition is about understanding people and society, and tech is about understanding science. To be leaders today we have to be well versed in both languages.


What is the connection between digital, diversity and disruption?

Digital technology decreases the barrier of entry to industries that tend to be secluded. For example, 3D-printing is a production technology that is accessible to more people. Whenever something, or some means of production, becomes free or more accessible it leads to diversity, and diverse ways of thinking, and diversity leads to disruption, in its most positive sense.

Diversity, in all different kinds of elements, is so important here because we need people that think differently. Diversity is at the core of creating new and disruptive solutions.


Gender Equality is Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 5. You spoke a lot about the SDGs – how do these fit with discussions of exponential organisations?

Digital technologies enable us to go after bigger and bigger problems to be solved. They also enable you to scale products and therefore also pursue some customer segments that were too costly for you to go after before. For example, if you have a 3D printer file, you can send it to everyone that has an email access.

When we talk about exponential mindset it is about understanding the exponential tech but, more importantly, it is about understanding the exponential problems that we need to solve. And we’re in a hurry to solve them.


Tell us a little about your involvement with EU vision 2030

The Vice-President of the EU Commission, Jyrki Katainen, as well as the Commissioner for the Internal Market and SMEs, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, put together a group of 20 people from Europe to define the vision for the European Industry by 2030. Basically: ‘where do we want to be by 2030 and how do we get there?’ The SDGs are core to the strategy and the idea is that this vision will inspire, and be a moral compass for, industrial policy. We talk about SDG-driven growth, moving from a volume-driven economy to a value-driven economy, circular economy, ethical artificial intelligence, decarbonization, putting a price on carbon – we talk about all kinds of things that require European industry to create some interesting solutions.


Why is disruption so important for this Advanced Leadership Program, and for ambitious future leaders in particular?

It’s in the words of the question – leadership. For us to solve the biggest issues of our time we need leadership, and leadership is about daring to go after radical solutions that are going to be disruptive – to your existing organization, business model and people. As a leader you need to understand how to manage the disruption.

I provocatively tend to say that if you think that the world is perfectly fine today then disruption is not for you. If you, like me, see that there are some huge problems out there, I don’t think that incremental innovation is enough.

The latest IPCC report came out on the 8th of October and informs us that, while in the Paris Agreement nations agreed not to surpass a 2°C temperature rise and strive for 1.5°C, the exponential difference in the impact going from 1.5°C to 2°C means we absolutely must go for the 1.5°C. We talk about network effects and it’s the same thing with mother earth: the more we tweak the more exponential distribution we create: at 1.5°C we lose 70-90% of our corals, at 2°C degrees we lose all our corals.

Furthermore, for greatest impact we only have 12 years to change – and we must choose “radical solutions”. As part of the Green Growth Team, where I’m sitting with Mads Nipper, the CEO of Grundfos, we are working on the new green growth strategy of the national government of Denmark and we recognise that to get to 1.5°C, it’s not enough to be low-carbon or carbon neutral, you must be carbon capturing.

The report says that the solutions are there, and the technologies are there, but we need radical solutions, and that is what I tried to inspire the Advanced Leadership Program class with today.


At the end of the module, you asked the participants for their ‘best of the day’ – what was yours?

I do these programs a lot and I think the discussion today has been different, but I’m not an expert to say this is solely to do with gender. We have talked a lot about ethics, values and leadership and I’m happy that the link was made between tech and leadership. Technology is not just something that sits in your R&D department or your IT department, but is something we all need to actively engage in. I hope that the participants now feel well-equipped to do that or are at least interested in it.


Why do we have a problem getting more female top leaders?

From a Swedish perspective, I love the debate that’s been going on about exposure and how it inspires girls to choose their career path. And it starts from the very beginning: at the core of how we educate our kids, what you give your kids as parents and how schools talk about jobs.

Tech has some work to do in terms of branding itself as something that is for everyone. Up until now, tech has not had a strong sense of purpose – a big ‘save the world’ kind of purpose. It’s been about creating cool tools. Whereas now, we see that the radical solutions that will solve the big problems will come from tech, and I think that is attracting more women. Going forward I hope that coupling tech with government agenda is what is really going to increase diversity and attract women to the tech space.


Throughout the day you asked: “What do these technologies mean for me?” How do you hope the female talents harness the power of disruption to fulfil their potential?

I hope that they are empowered to be even more visionary and communicate their visions to galvanise changemakers. Tech is a way to make people follow you. If you can become fluent in the tech language, that may help you to find the changemakers you need to grow a team and follow your visions.

I believe that much of this is already in the bag, and not thanks to me, but because the participants in this Advanced Leadership Program are ethical and purpose-driven themselves and their visions are around solving big problems.



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