Skip to content

APM Conference: AI, digital transformation and the need for a growth mindset

Added to your CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Only APM members have access to CPD features Become a member Already added to CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Added to your Saved Content Go to my Saved Content
Gettyimages 1084168408

On day two of the 2024 APM Conference, keynote speaker Thimon de Jong, a Dutch behavioural expert, got the packed audience so involved in his conversation on mental health that it took a wolf whistle from someone to quieten everyone down.

The question he’d got everyone to consider was what they do to keep themselves mentally healthy (for him, it’s wild swimming, mountain biking and playing bass guitar in a rock band).

Mental health is the one thing everyone needs to look after as we live through the ‘polycrisis’, he explained. (Listen to his interview with the APM Podcast for more.)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one aspect of the polycrisis that businesses are trying to get to grips with, he said. He explained that we are in the hype phase of a technology that is only just emerging — a bit like being back in 1997 and trying to work out what the World Wide Web might mean.

But while the web’s creators were optimistic and passionate about the good it might bring, with AI, its very inventors are cautioning us on the dangers it might unleash.

How to encourage AI experimentation

“We are in the experimental phase of AI,” said de Jong, and it’s too early to say whether its potential is overblown or not.

“People are saying yes to AI, but emotionally, everyone is saying ‘no’. We don’t trust it, we don’t want it, we don’t like it. People resist new technology. To embrace it is hard work,” he said.

An effective psychological trick to increase the uptake for new technology is to put people onto the change team who would normally be least likely to get involved (rather than the obvious candidates). Using this kind of reverse psychology changes behaviour.

De Jong explained that what hinders the adoption of new technology is a lack of mental energy and the inability to let go of the past to make room for the new.

“But you need to do this the proper way,” he said. This means not talking down old ways of working that people have used for years and that worked for them. If you do, then you will be “crushing peoples’ souls”, warned de Jong.

“How can we say goodbye in a nice way? Be respectful about the old. The old way of doing things shouldn’t be bashed.”

New research findings on digital transformation

‘Digital Transformation in Project Management: Navigating the AI Economy’ is the subject of new research conducted in collaboration with APM and led by Dr Nicholas Dacre of the Advanced Project Management Research Centre, Dr David Baxter of Southampton Business School and Dr Al Mhdawi of Teeside University.

Mhdawi revealed the initial findings of the second phase of the research, which was a survey questionnaire to measure the perceived impact and consequences of digital transformation on project success, and to rank the required skills and the methodological approaches needed by project managers to assure the successful implementation of digital innovation.

He explained that while researchers are still collecting data, most respondents indicated that digital transformation has:

  • enhanced the digital competencies within project management teams
  • aided knowledge management and knowledge sharing
  • supported the integration of multiple strategic approaches
  • helped to identify the key challenges facing project management
  • supported informed decision-making processes

The early survey results also showed that digital transformation has increased data security risks and the need for additional training, made project management too dependent on technology, and created significant knowledge gaps.

According to the survey findings, the key skills and approaches needed by project managers are:

  • the application of effective risk management to identify the risks related to new technologies
  • the need to integrate sustainability and agile practices into project management
  • the need to practice cognitive flexibility and emotional intelligence when managing multicultural teams

The 10-minute survey is still open, so please give your insights here.

Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE on the future

Closing keynote speaker Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, mathematician and STEM advocate, works with the Stemettes — girls, young women and non-binary people aged 5 to 25 who are given the opportunity to explore science, technology, engineering and maths (and most recently art and design). As part of her work, Imafidon considers what the world might be like 50 years into the future.

“If you go back a couple of decades, a lot of what we were doing was seen as very niche. That now very quickly has become world changing. It's become the fabric of society as we know it.

“We're joining all these technologies together to do incredible and exciting projects. At the moment we're still in our early stages. There are so many things that we've got promised and that folks are working on and exploring, and so we know tomorrow at least if not 50 years down the line what will be happening and how we might prepare ourselves as project management professionals,” she said.

AI meets work

Imafidon is also Chair of the Institute for the Future of Work, which looks specifically at what happens when fourth industrial revolution technologies are deployed in the workplace, for example in job advertising, hiring, talent management, pay and promotion, and particularly around any bias that is built into the processes being used.

“We're already beginning to see some of the things that maybe we're building that we shouldn't be building and unintended [consequences] when we don't pay attention to those small details. This isn't just about now, about getting to the end of this part of the project life cycle or this phase of the project — we're laying foundations for what is going to happen next,” she cautioned.

Lean into opportunity

Imafidon urged the audience not to be fearful of change, but to lean into the opportunity that we have in working with these technologies and the change in relationship we might have with work.

“We have this concept of good work at the Institute for the Future of Work, and if we set guidelines then this doesn't have to be a disruptive change. This can be something that can be really good for all of us if we're intentional about it from the beginning.”

A growth mindset — and share your learnings

She encouraged the audience to assume a growth mindset.

“There's always something new on the horizon… the point is just to know more this week than you knew last week… just be heading in that direction. Continually grow in that knowledge, go just outside your comfort zone because that's where the magic happens.

“There are a lot of folks who know or proclaim to know quite a lot about the technology itself, but they don't know about… the projects, what's going around it, where that technology is going to be deployed — and that information is just as important as the core of that technology itself.

The second mindset is to share what you’re learning — both within your organisation and beyond. “Find a way to view all these lessons learned. What you're exploring internally in your organisation, but also for the wider practice, is really important.”


You may also be interested in:


Join the conversation!

Log in to post a comment, or create an account if you don't have one already.