1 December 2021
What attracted you to leave the corporate world and start not one but two companies?
In the corporate world I often found myself struggling with restrictions, the relationship with hierarchy and what that did to my capacities, my innovation, and my productivity. It came down to developing the self-awareness that there were aspects of myself that weren’t flourishing in that environment. I might have been objectively seen as being very successful in the corporate world, but this didn’t resonate with my personal needs.
Joining a smaller agile scaleup has also empowered a diverse workforce in a way you don’t necessarily see in corporate spheres. Untapped AI is now full of people who have left the corporate world to help drive organisational change. There’s something really empowering about being a female founder, with a background in psychology, involved in creating AI. We’re working to bust the myth that it’s young white men that are behind innovation in technology.
What I learnt in the corporate world is that, if change doesn’t start from the bottom up, then it simply doesn’t work – it’s just forced on people from a position of authority and the workforce can’t get behind it or believe in the goals it’s trying to implement. This was the driver behind building Untapped AI. We recognised that many organisations fail to create successful change from the top-down. To have the right impact, change must start with unbiased grassroots data.
What has been the most challenging aspect of creating Untapped AI?
There are companies that do change management on a one-to-one basis and there are companies that look at it from a company-wide, top-down approach through mergers and acquisitions. Our challenge was to find the perfect median which enacts company and industry-wide change from the starting point of one-to-one support – and that’s where the AI comes in. The idea for Untapped AI came about from wanting to mix technology and psychology to democratise people’s capacity to increase self-awareness.
One-to-one support can be effective in driving people to learn about themselves and increase their self-awareness, but AI takes it one step further and allows us to aggregate unfiltered data to find trends within companies, demographics, and even entire industries. We use this data to feed up insights to the people driving the change from the bottom up.
Can you explain how ‘Untapped Al’ aims to drive a genuine culture of innovation, openness and inclusion?
AI is all too often used to sell you more or make us better consumers so businesses can better understand our buying habits. Untapped AI flips that purpose on its head to bring data back to the user so they can learn about themselves without being driven by a commercial agenda.
Bringing AI and psychology together is taking a risk, it’s joining two things that don’t normally go together and using that creative tension to radically innovate. It changes the driver of AI from one focussed on taking, to one focussed on giving. This allows for a more open and trusting two-way relationship between managers and employees, built on an understanding of the self and an inclusive access to support and self-awareness.
You talk about ‘self-awareness being the key to business agility’. Can you explain more?
Businesses rely too heavily on surveys. I created the “100 best companies to work for” methodology for The Sunday Times, and this continues to underpin the many lists that exist today – but it just doesn’t work anymore. There’s nothing self-aware about corporate surveys, in fact, they’re just expensive exercises in unconscious self-censorship.
We’ve found that 75% of change initiatives driven by the results of employee surveys don’t work. Whether from fear of offending, pressure from above or simply a lack of self-awareness: when answering questions, it’s natural to be informed by who is going to read your feedback and what the possible consequences of that might be.
Understandably, when asked, most people would say that they’re self-aware. However, the data that we see demonstrates that only 10-15% of people have a high-level of self-awareness. Consequently, decisions are being made based on intrinsically flawed information. On the contrary, AI doesn’t have a relationship with the people it’s analysing. There’s no agenda it’s following, and it won’t shy away from difficult conversations. It can monitor behaviour and highlight trends before they manifest in endemic problems within the workforce.
Self-awareness is the starting point which enables small cumulative acts of agency to drive that change and make for an agile business model.
Where would you like Untapped AI to be in five years?
We want to be the go-to experts on radical organisational change. We want to see enough success that allows us to build a philanthropic arm through which we can extend the benefits of our technology to people and companies who may not otherwise be able to afford it. This is key in democratising the access to self-awareness needed to drive real and affective change.
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned which have impacted the way you work?
We’ve learnt that the beauty of AI driven data is that it has no agenda, no relationship and, to a certain extent, no bias: it offers the possibility of unfiltered access to self-awareness. Combining the two can unearth things about how we all work, both for ourselves and for our clients. AI has an integrity we must learn to appreciate and accept, which can be kind of difficult.
I like to ask clients where and how they learnt what they know about themselves. Often, for example, it’s your parents who are the first ones to tell you that you were good at maths, were the sociable one or the quiet one in your family. Self-awareness often stems from what you’ve been told about yourself from a third-party like people in your workplace: you’re put in your place and given a path to follow. But it’s important to remember that everyone’s view of you is informed from a biased human perspective because everyone’s got their own agenda – be it personal or professional, good or bad.
That’s why we’ve worked to develop a relationship with AI through the lens of humanity, because what we understand about ourselves grows through personal relationships. We often need a human mediator to give us a way of integrating those hard truths and more difficult aspects of organisational change.
What has been the most challenging and enjoyable part of your career to date?
There are biases within AI and in that way our work is always a learning curve: we must work hard to make sure we’re consciously improving on and maintaining a lack of censorship of technology. This is built into the diverse fabric of Untapped AI.
Part of our early work was to grow an inclusive team with diverse emotional intelligence that raised the voices of those that ordinarily wouldn’t have much input in that process. It’s imperative that we encourage the diversity of the voices involved in every stage of what we do. This challenge has driven some really rewarding and enjoyable innovation in the industry.