Transcript: Technology Leadership with Geoff Quattromani (EP75)
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Brendan: This conversation is talking about technology leadership with Geoff Quattromani.
By day, Geoff is the Digital Transformation Manager on the medical side of Johnson & Johnson.
By night, he’s an international technology commentator and has been a regular on TV shows such as Sunrise, Today and Studio10. He also talks tech on various radio stations and writes for media outlets like The Australian, News.com.au and Men's Health.
He’s also a podcaster with his show, Technology Uncorked where he reviews a tech product over a wine or beer.
He’s also a husband and father to two young children.
I met Geoff at a Stronger than My Excuses event run by my friend Julie Watson. Geoff was one of the panelists.
During the interview, Geoff speaks about the challenges of leading digital transformation at Johnson & Johnson across the Asia Pacific region. He talks about what’s required to lead & influence people within J&J to implement the digital transformation strategy. He also shares some very cool innovations that he’s implemented.
We unpack his technology commentator role where he shares some of the coolest products he’s reviewed. We talk about the mindset needed for his tech commentator role vs his day job and how it can differ. He gives us some behind the scenes insight into doing TV and radio. I also asked him if there was any product he wouldn’t review, and you won’t believe where the conversation ended up!
Have you ever tried to understand Blockchain technology? Geoff gave me a simple analogy that cleared it up for me. As well as some advice for leaders on how they should move forward with embracing technology.
Don’t miss what’s had the greatest impact on Geoff’s leadership journey and how it may relate to your own journey.
Stick around to the end and see if my three key takeaways were the same as yours.
I hope you enjoy the interview. Let’s get into it.
Hello and welcome to The Culture of Things podcast. I'm your host, Brendan Rogers, and this is episode 75. Today I got to talk to Geoff Quattromani. Geoff, how are you, buddy?
Geoff: I'm doing well, Brendan. Thanks for having me.
Brendan: Before we got started, I said hey, Geoff we're on video today. You have to go spruce yourself up a bit, mate. Was that right?
Geoff: I was trying to have a casual Friday at home then all of a sudden I'm doing an audio podcast that turned into a video. Anyway, in five minutes we can turn something around and polish whatever they call it, make myself [...].
Brendan: Mate, you look like a great turd today. I have to say.
Geoff: Thank you.
Brendan: All good. Let's get into this. I just want to ask you the question, who is Geoff Quattromani? Tell us a little bit about yourself, bud.
Geoff: That's a really good question. Father of two kids, happily married, and have had a pretty interesting career in IT. However, I guess before that, I was a really poor student. Parents came to Australia from Malta just after they got married. My path in my life was probably meant to be that I'll be a farmer or I'd be a plumber, and leave school in year 10. I never really had an interest in any of those things.
The first computer we had, I loved to tinker with it, I love to get it going. We didn't have necessarily the money to upgrade our computers very often, so it was hacking and make these things faster and perform better. As a result, I fell in love with technology. Fell in love with what it could do, what it could actually do to people's lives, and how it can enrich people's lives. That was it.
I followed that all the way through year 12. I left year 12 and ended up with a pretty terrible HSC result, nowhere near an idea of going to university at that time, but ended up working for the schools literally the week after the HSC was completed. I was the IT support guy in school.
I just had a very interesting IT career since then and loved it. I absolutely loved technology to the point that it was also a hobby. It's work 9–5 and then in the evenings, sometimes during the day, I turn it into something which I talk about on TV, radio, and on my own podcast. It's just crazy. Yes, I live and breathe this stuff and just love it basically.
Brendan: Absolutely. That's sort of where we're going to get into. Your role at Johnson & Johnson, and we'll get you to speak a bit about your own podcast as well, which is Technology Uncorked, and your nighttime role. You're a creature of the night, mate, this tech commentator. We're going to unpack a few of these things during the course of the conversation.
Let me ask you about Johnson & Johnson. Now, I reckon many times, the mistake that Mark (the producer) and myself made is that we made an assumption before we'd done the real research that in Johnson & Johnson, you're a digital transformation manager of soap, powder, and stuff like that, but you're not. How often do people make that mistake and tell us what you really do?
Geoff: Every time I go to a barbecue, I meet someone new, it doesn't matter what it is. If I say I work for J&J, they think baby powder, band-aids, No More Tears shampoo, that kind of thing. It's funny that there are three divisions in Johnson & Johnson—the consumer division, pharmaceuticals, and where I work which were traditionally called medical devices.
If you think about your hips, your knees, plates and screws, implants of any kind, J&J has a huge arm in that. It's actually one of the biggest sectors of Johnson & Johnson. While the consumer stuff is great and public-facing, not many people actually know about all the big things we do in pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
That's where I sit and it's one of those things I have to explain to people very often that medical devices are my part of J&J. They sometimes lose interest because they think I thought I could get some free shampoo from you and I can’t. I don't need a hip right now so I'll talk to you when I'm 80 years old. It's a tough one.
Brendan: Absolutely. We are an aging population in Australia so I reckon they'll come in pretty handy.
Geoff: They'll come back eventually. I know people will start to care about where I work soon.
Brendan: Digital transformation, I've heard that term spook around quite a bit, especially COVID times. It almost became another buzzword. We've got to do this digital transformation stuff. What is digital transformation?
Geoff: For us at J&J, digital transformation is taking the company which I was mentioning is traditionally about hips, screws, plates, and things like that that go into the body, and actually transferring us from being a digital devices company to a medical technology company.
My role here is to help us shift not just from how we work day to day, but our products, what goes into patients, and what platforms our patients interact with, to make that more technology-facing as well.
My role in digital transformation came in because the whole company is shifting to digital to the point that we are rebranding from being a medical devices to a medical technology company. We are moving into robotics. We're moving into patient journey platforms where we start to give you guidance and care pre-op, during the operation, and after the surgery.
We're really trying to touch all these different platforms but to do that, you need people on the inside to start to change how we think and how we operate as well. COVID is a big example of where companies had to be digitally transformed one way or another, whether they liked it or not. We had an instance where that was it, the pandemic kicked in, everyone was told to go home and work, and it was either you're ready to do that or you weren't. If you weren't, then you probably suffered as a business.
I think at J&J, we're a bit lucky that we were prepared. We were equipped. The technology was there that everyone could work from home within an hour. They drove home, they were online, and things carried on. We probably started our digital transformation journey before COVID really kicked in. COVID really accelerated anybody's plans they would have had of transforming a company.
Every company had to make changes and it was fascinating that suddenly the technology departments could certainly get a lot of leeway when they needed something using that reason of whether or working from home, we need to think about how we will work differently, and so on. Digital transformation can be a buzzword, but I think with us, it really means something because the whole company actually is getting behind it.
Brendan: You were talking to me earlier that it's a reasonably small team in Johnson & Johnson, four people. You don't necessarily have direct reports in your role, but you have a lot of influence over the Asia Pacific region. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but is that one of the most challenging things you find in Johnson & Johnson starting and being on this journey? It's a new area. What's that challenge sit when you don't necessarily control? Have that direct responsibility out of people, but there's a level of influence needed?
Geoff: It's a really good question. For me, I haven't had direct reports for a number of years in different roles. I think you start to learn that you've got projects to do. You've got work that needs to be done. You'll always need to work with other people to make that happen. Not many people can have their career and not actually leverage others or use people's strengths to get the work that they need to be done.
I think one of the things that I've been good at, if anything, is building relationships. The amount of times where I've had to go for a coffee with somebody, sit down with them for a conversation, and get to know them better are all to help me build up a better relationship so that when I needed to work with them, they were more willing to do so.
Honestly, sometimes having that personal interaction, actually caring about the person that they are has meant that I've been able to get my work done and help get their help as well. There is so much influence that you need to do in such a big organization that it's almost like creating your own brand, sometimes. And 144,000 employees, I think, are within J&J.
We’re a big group. You don't know everybody. You need to almost build this brand around yourself to build your own level of influence and your own level of integrity so that when you are working with somebody, there's a level of respect, there's a level of maturity and wanting to work with you as well, especially when you're asking for things that may not be inside their goals and objectives.
Again, being such a big company, so many people will focus on what are my four things that I need to achieve this year. Sometimes everything outside of that is less of a priority. When you're coming in to say I need you to do this, even though it's not in your KPIs, how do you actually convince them to spend their time doing that and not focusing on their own goals and objectives?
It's been fun. It's something I really enjoy. I love building relationships with people. I love to start meetings, not talking about the core of the meeting and actually asking how their day is, and how their family is. If their kids interrupt a zoom call, I'd like to actually talk to them and say good day. You build these relationships and suddenly, things do become much easier.
I guess the other part to your question around digital transformation has been, how do we convince a company that is so traditionally ingrained in face-to-face interactions, selling face-to-face, and having relationships with a surgeon to use our products? How do we convince those people to start thinking about us digitally as a business? That's a whole other level of change. That's when you're starting to change the culture of a company and how you influence what we do day to day, how we sell products, and how we actually make business.
For me, getting projects done is one thing, but how do we influence the business to start engaging with surgeons digitally, that's a big change. That's been a longer journey and something we've really spent a lot more time thinking about proving the benefits of everything we're trying to do almost as a way of convincing people that it can be done.
Brendan: I love the word journey because it is a journey. It's an ongoing relationship, absolutely spot on. I could not agree with you more. Have you got an example that comes to mind where maybe things weren't quite going so well in a project or maybe with a person in a project, and you've been able to change the flavor (so to speak) and move it into the better direction based on the relationship interaction?
Geoff: I think earlier on in my time at J&J. I actually came into Johnson & Johnson because they acquired a company called Synthes. I worked for Synthes as their IT manager there. Through an acquisition, generally, if you're a smaller company being bought by a big company, you're kind of on your knees to just hold on to your position or to maintain your career going forward. They had me lead an element of the integration between the two businesses, mostly around the technology platforms that we use.
Suddenly, I'm talking to people who are acquiring the company that I work for and needing to get things done, so that we could start to have Johnson & Johnson email addresses, J&J computers, and things like that. It was interesting to start interacting with the IT department that was at J&J at the time. So many individuals would not want to spend the time to talk to you or not be interested in what you had to say because we bought you. Your inputs are not important here because we bought you.
That was something that you start to think okay, how am I going to get along with people who don't think that I have merit or don't think that I should have a say because I'm coming at things from an outside lens.
It was interesting that one of the key people that I was working with on the project at J&J, he's not with the company anymore, but building that relationship with him meant I needed to stop talking about work. I need to stop talking about what I needed from him and just said look, can we just catch up? I'd love to meet you for a coffee.
We sat down and I didn't talk about work at all. Bought him a coffee. We talked about coffee to begin with because I do love a good coffee and so did he. It was amazing that as we started to build this relationship, he started to just think about me differently. I suddenly became a human being and not just a person he worked with.
I think when you start to remember or you start to remind people that we are people, that we’re actually human beings trying to just get along here, and we've all got families and things like that. Suddenly, you start to think about them differently. It's no longer just a name coming up in your inbox. It's no longer somebody who's trying to call you and ask for favors. It's just people and we're all just trying to get along. I think we need to take that out of it, you put hearts forward, that really changed things for me. It was amazing.
Obviously, I'm still at J&J, it's been almost seven years since the integration happened and it's good that I have survived and in some cases prospered. It's exactly through those relationships and actually nurturing them to not just get what you want, but actually to make your whole day a lot more enjoyable as well.
Brendan: It's interesting, you just said before about how you've prospered in some of that time and it's almost like reading my mind. I'd love to ask if you could change one thing in that journey of seven years, because it would have been a hell of a lot of learning over that time, what sticks to mind for you given that you are leading that journey?
Geoff: It's been interesting. I've worked in so many different roles at J&J. I started off sort of around the integration piece and changing the way we did IT support at J&J. Eventually, I started to move into data and analytics and that was very left field for me. I had no care or desire to work in D&A.
I always pictured somebody who worked in analytics as someone who was very nerdy. The band-aid around the glasses kind of thing. Someone who just sat in the dark and just coded and started to change my perspective around things.
There was probably a moment there, I probably felt like I wasn't a good fit anymore in the company. It was interesting where you start to think about the role that you've been put in, because in that case it was a restructure. They put me in that role thinking I would be the right one to do it even though I'm saying I'm not the right person for this type of role.
I think my biggest learning was actually taking advantage of the opportunity that was given to me. It turned out that data and analytics was a huge trend that was going on at the time and it definitely still is that if you worked in data and analytics, your value certainly went up in the world.
It also meant that for me, I could learn a new skill. I could also start to think about things differently in terms of how we actually use data and analytics to still be innovative, to still be using the latest and greatest technology. I'm a nerd. I love to play with the new things that come out. When there's a new product, I want to try it. Being put into a role of data and analytics, I thought, I'm going to lose all of that strength, I'm going to lose all those core technologies that I normally wouldn't like to leverage.
It took a good period of time before I started to think about how I could apply data and analytics to the things that I loved. I think that would have been my biggest learning through my time at J&J so far, realizing that there is innovation in everything you can do. It doesn't matter what department you're working for, what area you're in, or where your focus area is. You can apply that and still be quite innovative.
It was very quick that we started to take data analytics and put it into virtual reality, to put it into augmented reality, to put it into a voice assistant that we could talk to and ask questions about our latest sales figures. That has realized pretty quickly that you can actually make data analytics very cool. As a result, the company adopted it further as well.
I've been lucky in that way, that (I think) now that I've been through a number of different roles at J&J, you do learn that if you can embrace them and you can actually focus your strengths on those roles, not trying to necessarily be somebody who isn't you, it's worked out in my favor. I think that would be pretty my biggest learning in that sense.
Brendan: There's this term change agent. You're a leading change agent in Johnson & Johnson in the medical technology division. When we talk about data analytics, how have you used data analytics to influence through your role?
Geoff: It's been interesting.
Brendan: I like that you always say it's been interesting. You have this nice little smirk on your face. I'm glad we've got this on video.
Geoff: You immediately see my brain work in action here and I definitely hold my cards straight out. I would be terrible at poker if I ever had to be. There's a good story where our managing director at the time—when I was working in data and analytics—had an Apple Watch. I always thought that it was interesting that normally a managing director is wearing a Rolex or something a bit more upmarket.
He was wearing an Apple Watch and I thought this is good because I'd been wearing one as well at the time. I thought, what can we do here? I just approached him once, after a drive to work and that's where I get a lot of my thinking done sometimes when I'm on that commute. I was talking to him in the corridor and I said wouldn't it be cool if you could look at your sales figures on your watch?
When you wake up in the morning, you're wearing an Apple Watch, you're probably looking at it to see what emails you've received, and maybe what's happening in the stock market. I don't know what managing directors primarily care about, but wouldn't it be cool if when you woke up, you could see how the business was tracking from yesterday. You can see yesterday's sales, you can see how tracking to a quarter and to a year?
He said you know what? The main reason that I do need to turn my laptop on every morning is to see our daily sales reports, to be able to look at our financial figures. If you can put that on my watch, that means that I could check that over breakfast and not worry about it so much. I could just start to go with my day.
I think we spent $2000 or $3000 to develop an Apple Watch application that did exactly that. I should say we, but the initial design was mine, but I modeled it off the Apple fitness tracking rings. Everyone wants to close their rings and it was simple that we would have a ring for a month, a quarter, and a year. He could track his sales based on whether he closed his rings. If the company hit that target, he knew because the ring was closed, but it was a nice way of visualizing his watch while making it look familiar. That was what we did.
We rolled them out and I guess that to answer your question, not everybody had an Apple Watch at that time. People didn't know whether it was cool or nerdy to have one yet. When we made some videos around the application that we did for the Apple Watch and how the managing director was now speaking in that video given that he was wearing one, suddenly, every sales rep was saying I want to buy an Apple Watch and I want to get that app.
We used, in terms of influence, a very small piece of innovation to try and demonstrate that: (a) the IT department of J&J can come up with new ideas and we can leverage new technology to make something happen, but (b) we can execute on them. So it's not just having an idea. It's actually executing on top of that.
That's what made the IT department look a little bit more innovative than perhaps people thought we were and we did it in about three weeks, which meant we could do things quickly.
Sometimes IT departments, especially in big corporations, are seen as a barrier. They're seen as slow. This thing is difficult to work with. To overcome that kind of reputation, these are the kinds of things that we've used as a huge bar of influence to change that whole way of thinking, especially for new employees.
I think that was the biggest part was I would talk at new employee orientation sometimes and they would have this assumption that the company they worked for, the IT department was terrible, so I'm sure it's going to be the same here because J&J is even bigger. You can try and quickly squash that by demonstrating things that they've done and that's probably one really good example that sticks with me.
Brendan: You call yourself a geek earlier, but that's a really cool example of a cool geek thing to do. That is awesome. I was really interested in your LinkedIn summary. I think it's just that story you've shared. Your LinkedIn summary, let me just read it. “My goal is to lead an IT department to be a trusted business partner by providing innovative solutions and technologies, along with superior services that help organizations satisfy customers' needs in a consistent manner.” How are you going against that goal?
Geoff: I don't think it's something that will stop. I think it doesn't matter where I work or what role I'm in. I think that's always going to stand true. I have had different business partners throughout my whole career that I've had to work with. I'm always trying to think about how we can apply innovative solutions to business problems. I don't really want to do things the other way around.
I think we see that too often where you'll have either a company or a person who would like to get you to start using this piece of technology. Can you please start using this? Here's the way we do things now.
We do things the opposite. My job is to talk to people in the business. You hear about their problems and then match that with a technology-based solution that may not always be technology that needs to be solved it. In many cases, I'll say it's actually a process problem, but that's my job.
My job is to sit between technology and the business, and that's where I like to work. That's my sweet spot where I can hear about business problems, I can think about it, I can come back to them with some ideas. I can say have you tried this? Or can you try this? We can develop something if we have to.
The trust part is important. I know that's in my goal there as well, because being a trusted business partner is so much more different than just being somebody else that people work with. Building that trust means that you're able to do more.
Without trust, when you have an idea and you say you would love to do something new or innovative, that level of trust is what will get you across the line. Not having that will mean that level of skepticism kicks in, especially around technology. This won't work, it'll cost too much, and will be delivered too late. That's one of the things I think we always have to focus on is how we can continue to build that level of trust, especially in IT.
Brendan: I was going to say are you sure you're an IT guy? IT people don't speak like that. [...] every IT listener there ever was in The Culture of Things.
Geoff: It's a genuine problem and it's probably one of the things that I've talked to our development teams a lot about. When I am working with development teams, we need to change their focus a little bit. We don't just develop technology platforms, we're not just making applications. We're impacting patients' lives.
I'm lucky that I work for a company that actually impacts people and we're not selling oil or something like that. When we do things, we're impacting the people that are helping patients. When you put that context into frame and you think, okay, now that I know that if I can make my team's life easier, hopefully, their interaction with a surgeon will be easier, and hopefully, the impact on the patient will be better.
In the same sense that when we start working on applications that our patients will be using, that could be my mom, that could be my neighbor, and you put a heart into the equation then.
I think, unfortunately in IT, we forget about who's actually using our tools or our services sometimes and we need to be reminded of that, especially developers or people who sit behind the scenes because it's not their fault, but they just don't get exposed to it. If they're not interacting with the business, they're certainly not interacting with our customers. How do they know what they're actually doing? Taking them on that journey is really important.
I think one of the things I did when I was working at Synthes which was a medical devices company as well, was I started with the company and I had never worked in the medical industry before. They told me that they put joints into people and they put bars onto your spine to straighten it up. All these crazy things that I'd never heard of before.
I was fortunate that I hadn't had anyone in the family who needed this kind of surgery before but I said I don't understand what's going on here. The warehouse looks like bunnings where there are just plates and screws on shelves and somehow these go into people. The first thing I did was actually say can I go with a sales rep for a day? Can I spend time in other people's shoes to see what this company actually does? They said well, you don't need to because you're in IT so we just need you to make sure that systems are working and things like that. I said, but I don't have context. I don't have context with anything which is happening.
It was interesting, where I spent the day with reps. I went into surgery. I saw patients on tables going through major procedures that would be life-changing for them. Then I could go back to the office.
Suddenly it made sense that when they told me that their BlackBerry didn't work, I knew it was urgent, because if they missed a phone call or they didn't receive an email from that surgeon who had a patient on the table that day, that patient may not be able to get the surgery that they needed to get.
Even though we only work in IT, with that piece of the puzzle that we're actually responsible for can impact a patient's life. That's it. That's all I needed to say, I'm all in. This is now a heart thing. It's not just a brain thing.
Brendan: I have to say you're a man after my own heart because I couldn't think of any better way to say what you've just explained. What do you do each day practically? Again, giving the people that you're collaborating with and having the influence to remind them of those things to give the context continually?
Geoff: For me, at the moment, my role is around digital transformation. For me this year, particularly, there's a big focus on digital marketing. That's one area where we're really struggling with as a company. It’s something we've been doing traditional marketing for such a long time face-to-face, physical brochures, and things like that.
We're moving into the digital marketing space, that means more activity on our website, think about how we do social or LinkedIn, and then also building customer journeys within our marketing platforms.
My role this year has been a little different, in that we're doing some campaigns that go direct-to-patient, and how we are now communicating with our patients through digital means, to try and have them better informed about the choices that they'll make for procedures or the choices that they're going to make for any kind of upcoming surgery, whether it's elective or not.
You've got to really think about yourself as a user, as well as someone who's involved in the building process. This is applications, websites, or tools that we're building that I could be using. When you think about the fact that I might be building this for me, I might be building it for my wife. That changes things again.
That's a very easy conversation to link that kind of activity with the developers that we're working with on that, is that you can visually see the material that's going into this app, this website, this type of content. You can easily connect the dots as to why this is important.
When we worked on tools or applications that were internal, there is a slight difference in how you care about them. You start to think differently about, if it's just internal employees seeing this dashboard that I'm building or this application that I'm building, that the level of risk around that appearance is different to when a customer or a patient could be seeing or just the general public.
It's been interesting to go through that journey, and remind our developers of the work and the role that we play, and actually then demonstrating the results because every digital marketing activity has analytics embedded. Understanding where customers are browsing, what they're clicking on, what they're actually interested in, and then helping build and improve that process, that's so insightful and something that we haven't had inside our medical department for a very long time.
It's very new. It took a lot of convincing to get some people to believe digital marketing is a real thing and that there's some value there. But I guess it was one of those things. I think one of my quotes to one of the execs around digital marketing was, he kept on asking about the ROI. How do we measure the success of a website, or an email that we send to a surgeon, or whatever it is?
How do you measure the success on a piano? If you put it in front of me, it's zero. If you put it in front of Stevie Wonder, it's probably worth something. You start to try and help correlate the fact that there is a lot we could be doing in digital marketing. We're not scratching the surface on it yet.
We're somehow relying on engagement between a sales rep handing a brochure to a surgeon versus him receiving it digitally. I don't see how we can actually measure that conversation, let alone if you don't think we can measure what we can do in digital. I think I've answered your question. I hope I have.
Brendan: I think so. I want to ask about, how easy is it for you to get out of bed in the morning given that you understand that you've got this context that you've just explained and that purpose about helping patients?
Geoff: Easy. For that reason, it's very easy to get out of bed. I have a three-year-old and a six-month-old. I have no choice. I'm getting out of bed.
Brendan: You don't know what [...] though, do you?
Geoff: No. They have complete control of my alarm clock. Whether I set an alarm or not, they might beat me to it. But no and honestly, it's very easy to get out of bed when you work for a company like J&J. I know that's probably a cliche thing to say because I actually work for them, but it's true.
When you believe in the company that you work for, it's very easy to get out of bed and do work for them to the point that it doesn't necessarily always feel like work in some ways, especially if you enjoy what you're doing. You enjoy what you're doing. You believe in the company that you're working for. What else could you want for it? You're paid to do it, which is even better. It's that perfect circle you can ask for.
Brendan: Let's say you had that magic wand. Unfortunately, there's no perfect business. You got their magic magic wand. If you could change one thing at J&J which impacts your role, what would that be?
Geoff: That's a really tough question to answer. I'm a little bit lucky. I may come up with an answer as I'm answering this differently. I'm a little bit lucky that I'm very well supported at J&J. At the moment, I'm reporting to the IT director, and she is my biggest supporter.
She's on the executive board. That means that if I need anything amplified or if I need any level of extra support, I can count on her to help me with that. Probably one of the biggest supporters in my corner is her and she's amazing. As a result, I don't necessarily find things difficult that I'd want to change too much.
I'm a little bit lucky in that way that things are working well. I think the only part, and I kind of touched on it before is, if you could wave a magic wand and change something, it would be to quickly change people's mindsets. That's very hard to do quickly.
When we are moving from a traditional medical devices company to a med tech company, you can change the brand and logo overnight—you can easily do that—but you can't change the mindsets and the culture of the company overnight. We are going through a long process. It does take time to tell people to work differently or to act differently in how they work. But if you could make that an overnight thing, then sure, who wouldn't want that?
That would be the thing I would pick if I had to. It would be just to take as fast forward as five years where we're all doing everything digitally. There's no more paper. We're not working off spreadsheets. A dream come true. That would be an amazing thing to happen.
Brendan: Great answer, mate. You told it really well. Mindset is fantastic. With regards to your own mindset, we've talked a bit already around your role at J&J and digital transformation manager. We haven't yet gone into the tech commentator role.
What mindset do you need? Do you need a different mindset for your day job versus your night job? If so, what is that? And if not, just explain a bit about the mindset you need as a digital transformation management leading into a tech commentator.
Geoff: I've been playing as a tech commentator for more than a decade now, well before I was at J&J. It stemmed from being an IT guy. Being in IT support, particularly, you will have people coming up to you saying, Geoff, can you fix this, Geoff, what phone should I buy?
I even had people bringing their home computers and say, can you fix this for me? A lot of people were asking for advice. It was interesting that after a while, I started giving people advice and I thought, I'm repeating myself.
Someone would come to my desk and ask about a new laptop that they should buy for their kids. Then someone else would do it an hour later. Maybe not an hour, but I'm exaggerating.
Eventually, I thought, maybe I'll just write about this. Maybe I'll just talk about this so I can just create it once. Then if somebody asked the question, I could just email them the link. Maybe that's just a way of being lazy or avoiding contact with people, but it wasn't necessarily my intention.
I started to do that. I started off with YouTube and started making YouTube videos. It's very time-consuming, very difficult. I eventually moved into community radio, which stemmed into more large mainstream radio stations and then newspapers, my own websites. Now it's around TV and everything else.
The biggest difference between then to get back to your question is the amount of imposter syndrome that you feel going into a room of technology journalists at a tech event when there's a product being launched or something being announced and you're just a guy who's come after finishing work to come to this event because it's something you just want to do and something that you've just genuinely passionate about, big difference.
For me, feeling this small is when I'm a technology commentator. When I was especially first starting out, you walked into these events and you've got the big brands, CNET, Gizmodo, Sydney Morning Herald, and all these big companies that you know. Wow, I read their work and I read their stories. Suddenly you're just standing next to them hearing the same news that they're hearing at the same time.
If you start to think, I shouldn't be here. They deserve this more than I do. They get paid to be here. I'm just here because I'm going to make a YouTube video about it later. That's a very weird situation to be in.
I feel very comfortable at work. I feel very comfortable talking to executives in our office, especially at J&J. It's a very comfortable place to be. I didn't have that feeling of imposter syndrome when I'm there. It's a different level of support I belong. Whereas I don't necessarily feel like I always belong when it comes to that world.
That external tech commentator world is a little bit dog eat dog sometimes, as well it's a bit competitive, especially when you're there as someone who's not in it for the money, just enjoys it and wanting to just do the job compared to somebody who's making a living out of covering technology in that way. You might be stepping on their territory.
There's been some interesting times of imposter syndrome, but also where people have been quite upset that I am there because I maybe shouldn't be. Yeah, a totally different world.
Brendan: As you said, you've been in that space for a little while now. How is the imposter syndrome level, the meter?
Geoff: It's definitely still there. I think it gets different when it's more international events now. I think locally, people know who I am. When I met with different journalists in Australia, we all interact and follow each other on Twitter and things like that. There's a relationship.
I would say there's still a lot of animosity around if I do a television spot, if I do a radio spot, that I could be taking work from somebody else. There've been instances where I've had people message me or slide into my DMs quite angry that I appeared on a TV show that they're normally appearing on. But I got the phone call and I appeared the next day.
Not everyone appreciates that. But I think the other part to your question is when I do international events, if I fly overseas like we once used to do pre-Covid, when you start to get into the room with larger publications—The Verge, BBC—and you think, well, now I'm sitting next to a guy who's reporting for a global publication not just a local publication.
That's another feeling, where they start to look at you as, who are you? Why is your hand up to ask a question of the CEO of this company when you're not one of us? You're a small guy. There's always going to be that feeling of imposter syndrome.
I think what I've just learned to do is put blinkers on and I need to get what I need out of those events or I need to build a story as much as they need to build a story as well and you just get on with it. You realize that not every situation is about building relationships. Sometimes you need to, sometimes you don't. In most cases, you kind of have to take your emotion out of it a little bit.
Brendan: Relationships are a two-way street, mate, as we know. What's your grand plan for the tech commentator side of things?
Geoff: It's one of the hardest questions to answer. I never had a plan to begin with. It was always a hobby. It continues to be a hobby. I won't say I don't make money off it because there is a level of financial support through sponsorships of the podcast and things like that. It's all very disclosed.
There is definitely not a pivoting point financially, where I could make the switch. I don't think that I could actually see myself doing it full time because I don't see how I could live the way I live or support my family if I did that.
I think the other part to it as well is, I don't know if I could actually do it every day. I will probably do five or six radio spots a week. I'll podcast once a week, and I'll do TV whenever I get called to do it. And then I'll write. The other part is I'll write for maybe the Australian, men's health, or somebody else. I do that my evenings it's a hobby. I have the time to do it.
The biggest thing is at the moment, I don't need to make a choice. At work, we've had this conversation as well. I've spoken openly with my manager about my external life, and my changed A life, and whether the two would actually clash or whether I would need to pick one or the other.
The way it's going, I have good flexibility at J&J that I can be interviewed for a TV spot in the middle of the day if I need to. I can easily step out and there's flexibility around that.
The other part to it is that I'll do my 9–5. It's never 9–5, but I'll do my work. I'll come home or I'll walk down the hallway as this now working from home and spend time with the family, have dinner, the kids will go to bed. There's nothing to watch on TV. I'm sorry if I don't know much about maths or other shows that might be popular at the moment.
I'll walk down into my office and I might get in here at nine o’clock. I call it off. I have a sort of a solid shutdown at midnight. I say midnight's my last click of the mouse. That's it, three hours. If you think about it, Sunday night up to Thursday night. Three hours every night, that's 15 hours. That's a lot of time to do damage.
That's me writing articles, planning radio segments, recording podcasts, whatever it is that I'm doing. That's an incredible amount of time. For that reason, I don't feel like I need to make a choice yet. I haven't got opportunities that are really pulling me away from work for too long.
If I can quickly do a radio spot for half an hour or whatever it is, then who cares? I can get back to my work and catch up on things. I'm not on the operating table. I'm not doing the surgery, so I have got some flexibility in that way.
Brendan: What's the coolest thing you've reviewed in your tech commentator role, mate?
Geoff: At the moment, I would say robots. I'm really fascinated by robots. We've got one in the hallway, which are mops and vacuums. We got two in the yard that do the mowing. I think at the moment, I'm pretty fascinated that just...
Brendan: Are you serious?
Geoff: Of course.
Brendan: I got to come to your place, mate. I've got to see this in action.
Geoff: Yeah. The one at the bank is a Husqvarna. It handles about 800 square meters of grass and it does a pretty good job of that. At the front, there's another one from Worx. That's doing a good job of the front yard.
The one inside the vacuums and mops is nicely advanced, enough that it does a reasonable job of it. Now I don't have to chase it and catch up with it. I think robots are an amazing thing. I think if I look back at all the stuff that I've had the chance of reviewing and sending back, I think the first time I sent in a Tesla was pretty, pretty amazing. Now it's become more of a normal thing to have one if people do.
I think the first time I experienced what its capabilities were was pretty impressive. I'm also a car guy. While that was exciting, I think the most exciting car I've had are Lamborghinis and Ferraris, which I've had the chance to drive in or McLarens. They've been amazing because I think, how did I get here? How did this happen?
How did I go from answering questions about which phone they should buy to getting a call from McLaren saying they're launching a car and they want me to come on a drive day? It blows your mind and it doesn't make a lot of sense. Even more so, those overseas trips are just crazy. It's crazy the amount of opportunities that a little hobby can open up.
Brendan: Absolutely. I have to share something there. I've got to preface this with, it is extremely not politically correct. Myself, my wife, and my family, we bought one of those first robots, Hoover's cleaner for the hard floors. I wind my wife up because I named it Auto Tracy.
My wife's name is Tracy. Can we set the Auto Tracy? It's just a fun thing between myself my wife. She's okay with it. It's just a joke thing, but I could not resist.
Geoff: It's funny you say that because at the moment, Mother's Day is coming up. I'm inundated with Mother's Day gift guides suggestions from companies saying I should say that people should go buy robot vacuums for Mother's Day. And I'm thinking, did they understand the damage that would do to anybody's relationship?
It makes me laugh that if I was to buy my wife a robot vacuum for Mother's Day, you and I might just have to talk because I'll be in your house. I'll just be sitting there a lot more.
Brendan: Classic, mate. That's a good thing. I did not buy it for Mother's Day, her birthday, or anything. We bought it together. We thought it'd be a useful thing when we're out and about. Everyone has busy lives nowadays.
This tech commentator thing, one thing I did mention to you even off-recording is that, when I was doing some of this research and just learning more about you so I felt reasonably educated talking to you, I asked myself the question, what is technology? It's something that I couldn't answer. You're a technology commentator. It seems like a simple question, but what's your definition of technology?
Geoff: Right, it is a hard question to answer. I almost drummed it down to anything that has been, in some ways, reinvented. I think if there was a way that we used to do something and we now do it differently, you could probably put that next to technology. It doesn't have to be that it's an electronic product. I think technology can be applied in other ways.
I always think that it's the reinvention of something. I think that when something has gone through a reinvention process, that's really a good example of technology in action. I don't think technology is a thing. I think it's more of a process. I hope that's coming across.
The other part, when you first asked me the question, what's technology, I used to ask myself that question when I worked in IT as a little IT support guy. I remember so often, that always came around every time daylight savings kicked in. The IT support guy sitting in the corner of the office would have somebody walk up to them and say, Geoff, the time on the microwave isn't correct. It was my job, go and change the time on the microwave.
I don't think that was necessarily technology. But because it had an electronic pulse and it had a button, as people thought, it was IT's problem. What's technology? Sometimes it could just be anything with a pulse. I don't really know. Now I've had some time. I think it is the reinvention.
Brendan: I've done a number of business improvement roles across various countries, regions, and things like that. It's sounds like IT is very much like business improvement. You can link it in any way to IT or link it to be all of a sudden, this bucket that was supposed to be so big, is now 10 times bigger if you don't control the scope of things.
Geoff: It is so true. It's probably a good thing in some ways as well. A career in IT can be so many different things. Telling somebody working in IT is just like saying you work for a company. It doesn't tell you anything, which is why I've been lucky spending so much time at J&J.
Not many people spend a long time working at a company, especially if you work in tech. But when you've got such a broad reach of technology, you could be in the same company for 10 years and do 6 different roles. That's one of the beauties of IT, I think.
Brendan: When we take IT, you've used the word technology numerous times. You've also used the word innovation quite a bit. You haven't used the word adoption at all that I recall. Let's put this in context of leading in the technology space you're in. What's the difference between leading in technology innovation, versus leading in technology, versus adoption?
Geoff: I think you've got innovation wrong if you're not doing it for somebody. I think when it comes to adoption, the adoption will always be there if it's something that people need. Very often, we'll see innovation for the sake of innovation. It's people who sat at home and thought, I think I can make this product or I can make this service. They go ahead and they spend time and money building that service without actually talking to anybody about who might need it, use it, or why they're actually doing the work.
That's probably the only way I can probably answer that. We have been lucky or we've learned along the way around adoption because we actually have those conversations. We actually engaged with the business. We know the business.
We're not just a technology department for the sake of technology. We're actually trying to solve problems. As a result, adoption is there because you're answering business needs or you're coming up with innovative ways to do something, not innovation for the sake of hoping someone wants to use it. That's wasteful.
Brendan: The example you used earlier, the Apple Watch in the rings. To me, that's innovation. Does that put that in context that is innovation?
Geoff: I think it is. There was another example. I think I can talk about all these examples that we've had in chain.
Brendan: Before you go into that, I hope you've got bloody affiliate links for Apple Watches if all these executives went out and bought Apple watches.
Geoff: I don't. I don't know. It's not something I've ever thought about, but probably a good tip.
Brendan: What sort of bloody tech guy are you?
Geoff: Just one who doesn't care about money.
Brendan: You're the best one.
Geoff: Maybe. One of the other examples is because the Apple Watch one is a good one. It was my way of trying to make something like data analytics more exciting. The other area that we did, it was through smart speakers. A long time ago, no one had one. It was a thing you could only buy in the US. Amazon were the first ones to really do it and put a speaker in people's homes.
We bought one on a US website. We had it shipped to Australia. I had it on my desk in the office. I remember just looking at it thinking, this is amazing. I can ask the weather, it's going to tell me the response.
Again, tying it back to the department that I sat in. I thought, wouldn't it be cool if instead of our managing director looking at his watch, what if while he's making a cup of tea or a coffee, he could just yell out to the speaker and say, what were the sales yesterday or how is John Smith tracking on his sales this month? It's easy when you think about it.
We're just asking questions and you're asking a system to look into maybe a cell of a spreadsheet, whether you draw your parallels on time, and department, and what else? You can actually get that answer. Again, we developed it and I put it in his office. It became one of those things, where he could be in a meeting with somebody.
If he had a thought or a question, he could just look over his shoulder and ask Alexa to tell him whatever sales measure or figure that he needed and he could get that through a quick voice command rather than looking it up on his phone or on his computer.
For us, that's what innovation is. That's just trying to think about really cool ways to get a look at the next greatest thing, but how you can apply it to what's real. When you can do that, then it's fun and it makes sense.
Brendan: You work for Johnson & Johnson and we said that numerous times. I would say there's a reasonable budget to work with given the size of the business and multinational. How would you sort of scale that down to a small business mindset? What's your advice to them about how they should think in regards to technology, innovation, adoption of technology, given the budget variances that will be in place?
Geoff: It's an important question. To be very clear as well, I don't necessarily work with a budget. Most of the time, we'll work on ideas and putting them forward. Generally, my projects are funded through individual means rather than having a bucket that I can just throw money towards projects.
I think for a small business or anybody, even an individual who wants to do something, especially tech-related, I think it's important to look at so many different ways you can do things without cost. A lot of the things that we've spoken about, but just a lot of technology in general, has become free. There are so many things that you can actually do at a low cost if you do the research.
One of the quick examples is here. It's podcasting. This kind of medium, a lot of people think you need to spend thousands, or big bucks, or have a proper studio to be a podcaster. The reality is you don't have to to start.
This is one of the important things, especially for small businesses. When the pandemic hit, a lot of businesses had a choice to just simply close their doors because they had a storefront or to think about how they could take their storefront and move it online. That might sound impossible because they're not web developers. They don't know how to build an ecommerce platform without necessarily knowing that there are so many platforms you can sign up for. You can list your products, you can sell, and you can keep your business going.
It's up to everybody to think about technology now. A small business, whoever you are, I don't think anyone can think that technology is something you have to have an IT department for. I think it's become accessible to a point now that, yeah, not everyone grew up with technology. I didn't grow up on a bike, but I learned how to ride it.
We just need to get a little bit better and a bit more accepting of the technology that is available to us. It's definitely everyone's job to be on top of it these days, especially if you're on a small business because there are a lot of nice tools out there. There are a lot that you can be doing.
The first time you and I met, Brendan, I spoke to an audience about Google Maps. I recently went on a road trip and I needed a coffee. I opened up Google Maps. I looked up the local cafes that are near where I'm standing. If they didn't have a menu, opening hours, or anything listed on Google Maps, which is a free thing to do, they were missed.
I'm just one guy buying a cup of coffee, but it could be anybody. I just don't think that that's a thing anymore. I don't think cost is necessarily the barrier for innovation or technology sometimes. I think it's everyone's responsibility.
Brendan: I certainly remember that example. It was a fantastic example to use and very, very practical. Mark's going to love you, our producer, because he's a Google man, Google My Business man, and all that sort of stuff.
I just want to talk about messaging as a leader of technology for you in that tech commentary space. The reason I want to talk about that is television, specifically in radio. It's a life of sound bites, isn't it? Sound bites can be taken out of context.
How do you think, if anyway differently, around the information you're sharing around products, reviews, and all those sorts of things in that tech commentary space when you've got this sound bite thing hanging over you?
Geoff: It's fascinating. To give people some some understanding, when a TV crew turns up here and they want to talk to me about sound bars—sound bars was yesterday—I might spend an hour talking to camera answering questions. I might see 10 seconds of it used in the segment.
When you know that, you start to realize that you're actually part of a narrative that's already been decided. You're really just providing the pieces that they needed somebody else to say. If you're a journalist building a story, you kind of have an idea of where you want that story to go or where you think it's going to go. You might talk to a number of people to get the expert commentary or the third-party commentary to fit towards the story that you've been building.
Sometimes I will answer questions five different ways because they weren't quite happy with the exact words that I said. Sometimes I will not change a single word of that because that's exactly the answer that I've got for people. It's important for me to be very, very true to everything that I say.
Anybody who is listening to my podcast, reading my articles, whatever it is, I care so much about everybody's dollar that sits in their pocket because they've had to work hard to get it, that I can't let a brand that has sent me overseas for a trip, or who sponsors the podcast, or anything like that get in the way of what I say because you've worked hard for your money.
If you're going to spend any money based on a recommendation of mine or something that I'm doing, then I want to make sure that I can stand behind that. That if I met you in the street that you will say thank you for the recommendation, not the opposite. I'm very conscious of what I say. I know this much can be taken out of it and things can be skewed against you, but I try my hardest to be consistent.
If my opinion does change on something, I work hard to unpack and explain why that's happened. I do feel a level of responsibility sometimes with everything that I do and say. I want to make sure it's clear and concise. If someone's going to spend money, especially if we're talking about cars or we're talking about big investments, new TV, I don't want everyone just to believe marketing hype. I want people to actually hear real thoughts. Hopefully that means a better buying decision.
Brendan: Flowing that into your own podcasts—a fantastic podcast, Technology Uncorked; I really enjoyed listening to some of those episodes as part of the research today—how does that mindset differ when you've got your own media space (the podcast, Technology Uncorked) versus the other media space you're doing which you don't control?
Geoff: That was actually the main reason why I started the podcast. I realized that with radio, you're stuck on time. With TV, you're stuck behind an editing box. With articles, there's a word count. You've always got constraints with every other platform, especially one that you don't own. So I thought, I need to do the podcast.
It's not necessarily something I had aspirations of doing or time towards doing because it was now me having to build an audience because I'm speaking on another platform that already has a developed audience. But it was an opportunity where I wasn't against a clock. I could say whatever I wanted. That was my medium to make sure I explained things properly.
I love it. It's me literally sitting where I am today, just talking into this microphone, usually with a glass of wine. We'll talk through tech news, I give my opinions. I don't hold back on things. I call things the way it is, generally, but I find that really important.
At the same time, I'm always conscious of the fact that this does go out. This does get heard by people. When you do have a brand, you're always thinking about not necessarily holding yourself back, but making sure that you don't damage your reputation, that you don't do the wrong thing by yourself, by your family, or anything like that.
Unfortunately, online harassment these days is pretty out of control. There's a lot of drama around that. The last thing I need is negative attention either towards my career or towards my family. Even though it's just tech, it can get pretty heated sometimes, depending on which camp you live in and all these other things. Yeah, it's an interesting space.
Brendan: Some of it and some of the brands can be pretty tribal, can't they?
Geoff: Yeah. I mean, Apple. This is amazing, so why not talk about it? As a person in technology, you need to build relationships with brands so that you can either get a hold of product to review. Not everyone will send you a product if they don't like you. Or if you want to get invited to press events, you need a relationship. They need to know who you are.
Apple is one that is so well-guarded, so well-protected. The negative word against them can mean that you're off their press list tomorrow. Whether it's a real factual opinion based on experience and you're not hurting the brand on purpose, you're actually talking about something they've done that you don't agree with or whatever the case may be, you can be blacklisted tomorrow.
I worked hard to get onto Apple's PR list. I don't know what it was particularly that got me off it. Then recently, I'm kind of back in their camp. I'm starting to have conversations again. Every brand is different, but you don't forget the ones that worked with you first when you were just a little YouTuber. There is something special there that you remember that they cared about you when you were nobody.
It's amazing that I could be on (say) Sunrise talking about the latest iPhone but Apple still won't talk to you. I could be writing for a national newspaper about the latest iPhone, yet Apple won't respond to an email. If you don't have a good relationship with them, you can be completely cut off no matter how big your audience is. Yeah, relationships exist in that world as well.
Brendan: Is there any product you wouldn't review?
Geoff: I've tried a lot of things. I don't think there's a product I wouldn't review as long as it's got a technology bent to it. I think as long as I can do something with it, I will probably say yes to having it sent here or to try and get out.
I have turned down products recently where I say, look, it's just a waste of your time. If you send me this product, I can look at it, but I'm pretty sure it's just another me-too–type product or it hasn't got anything unique about it that makes it special, where it's just not a good use of anyone's time or money to send it over. But I've tried a lot of things.
I remember, someone sent me vitamins once that were some super complex vitamin that was very expensive. I think it was like $7 a pill. I thought it was going to make me turn into Superman. It didn't, but I'll try anything, usually once.
Brendan: You've just walked into it. I'm going to contact the local adult shop and get some stuff sent to you. You let me know how that goes, mate.
Geoff: I didn't think that's where you're going to go with it.
Brendan: I wasn't, but then you've walked straight into it. I'm going to review anything.
Geoff: I walked you into it by saying vitamins, too. I'm going to have all sorts of pills shop, I'm sure.
Brendan: Is it a Maltese thing? You said you got Maltese heritage. You'll try anything.
Geoff: Honestly, that is a big part of my influence, I think. Even just going back to where my career started, my aspirations in technology, it is heavily influenced by not just my heritage, but also the fact that when my parents coming here to this literally amazing country, I couldn't be more fortunate to have been born here.
To give me these opportunities, we talked about putting nitrous in your fuel, that's the stuff that I run off. They can hear nothing. They hoped that we would just figure it out, and that we would go to school, and things like that. That's really what drives me to make the most out of that every second of every day. It's why people look surprised when I say I'm happy to work between 9:00 PM and midnight every night, because I'm just constantly driven to do more and to do something else.
That's probably why I will try anything because if I wasn't born here, I may not have that opportunity. I may not have had that opportunity to do those things. The opportunities I get now, who knows if that would actually exist if I was born somewhere else. Yeah, it's a big driver, massive.
Brendan: What does your poor wife do when you're in your man cave for three hours every night or most nights of the week, five nights of the week? What's her passion? What is she getting to?
Geoff: Sleeping? At the moment, because we've got the two kids and especially one that's seven months, six months old, I don't blame her for wanting to be sleeping by 9:00 as well.
Brendan: The next thing is how do you get away with locking yourself away for three hours, five nights a week? Whatever you're doing, please share it with the world.
Geoff: Honestly, everyone's usually asleep. There are always going to be interruptions. I am very clear about what I do have on my agenda and what kind of things I'm actually going to be working on. I'm not just coming in here to spend time scrolling on Facebook. It's actually with work that I've got in mind.
The other part is I've got strict rules that Friday night, Saturday night, not a single second will be spent in this office. That's even during the day on weekends. It's something I just don't do. I'm usually even reluctant to take radio calls if I can avoid them on weekends. It's just family time.
It's the one time where I want to just pin down, Friday nights on the couch relaxing with the family. Even if they do go to sleep, maybe I'll go to bed too. It's not a bad thing to get more than five hours a night, for example.
Brendan: That's awesome, mate. What time do you wake up?
Geoff: Usually around five, six o’clock. Usually when I look at my Fitbit, I'm getting around between five and six hours per night. Weekends, it can be more. Again, I'm usually dictated by the kids, but I might get to bed earlier.
I know that I should get more sleep. I certainly know that I could be healthier as a result. I'm just sort of waiting for that time where it all gets a little bit too hard, where I need to start going to bed earlier. I'm sure we'll make some adjustments when I have to.
Brendan: I want to go on to your technology degree, the MIT study that you did. Why did you feel your head to do this degree in digital transformation?
Geoff: For me, going into a new role as a digital transformation manager, especially when it is kind of a buzzword. I felt this discomfort when I worked in data and analytics as well. I don't like being in a role where I don't have any form of credibility to stand on.
Again, it's a bit rich coming from me when I left year 12 and went straight into work without a university degree. But I wanted to start having more study behind me. It actually came later in life that I started to care more about this. I didn't care about education as much when I was much younger. Going into MIT was a bit of a dream come true.
I remember I went to Boston with Sonos for a product launch once. I had a day off and I went walking. My goal was to go to Harvard. It started snowing. I ended up in MIT for a tour. I fell in love with the way that they thought at MIT and their thinking around innovation.
I enjoyed being there. But when the opportunity came up to study there as well, I thought, well, absolutely. I'll take the opportunity to do a course there. That was digital transformation at the time. What a course, because suddenly, these kinds of courses that are being run by technology-based universities, it's not about theory. It's about practical applications of what you're learning.
When you're working in the space, as well as learning about it, you marry the two together and it feels nice and real. I think that's why I was a poor student. I don't like memorizing things for the sake of memorizing things or to recite them in a test.
When I can actually see the stuff that we're learning about is going to apply to my job, or to Johnson & Johnson, or whatever it is, suddenly the gears start to work for me. An amazing course at MIT and I'm doing another one at the moment around cybersecurity at MIT as well, which has been so far so good.
Brendan: Was there any link back to that imposter syndrome? Something it had to do?
Geoff: Yeah, potentially. I don't have business cards anymore. But if I had to put digital transformation manager on a business card and I had to give it to somebody, I think I would like to be able to define what that is. It is a real problem sometimes when you are changing roles. Whatever role you've decided to pick up, if you haven't got anything to back it up with, it can be an uncomfortable situation.
When we're trying to lead a whole organization to go from medical devices to medical technology and we say we're going through a big transformation exercise, it's probably worth going to do a course around it. It helps your credibility, especially around people you haven't met before. It helps reinforce what you think you know with actually the way things are as well. You might think you're an expert in something, but it's not really until you start to learn about it that you realize that you were nowhere near an expert and you've got a lot to learn.
The same thing happened with me and wine. I started to enjoy wine. People like wine. Then I went and did a wine course. I sat through a weekend of this course around wine and there was an exam. It's incredible how much you don't know about something until you really start learning about it.
It's one of those things. Now it's just become a habit for me, continuous learning, continuous improvement. I'm on that train. I read a lot more than I ever used to. 'll do at least one or two courses a year where I can.
Brendan: Does Malta have a winery? I was supposed to go to Malta many, many years ago. We were at the bottom of Sicily and we missed the ferry, so we never got to Malta. I've never been there, a place I still love to go. Are wines part of their culture?
Geoff: Definitely wine drinkers. Not a lot of space for vineyards though. If you've got some acres to put vines on, you must be very wealthy in Malta because you'd be owning a good chunk of the island.
Brendan: How many Maltas fit into Australia. Can you tell me that?
Geoff: How many Maltas fit on my thumb? It's a very small place. It's funny because traffic is so bad there.
Brendan: My wife's been there and I've seen photos. It's beautiful.
Geoff: It is beautiful. But because the roads are so bad, traffic is so bad, it can feel like a very big place because it takes forever to get from one side to another. But yeah, an amazing place and somewhere I wish I had spent more time.
Brendan: I also have to say, I can't hear it now, but I'm pretty sure your seven-month-old is getting a bit cranky in the background somewhere. Is she okay?
Geoff: If she's not, then I'll be very disappointed. No, I'm sure she's in good hands. I'm hoping so.
Brendan: She just wants daddy. A daddy's little girl?
Geoff: A little bit.
Brendan: Enjoy it while it last, buddy.
Geoff: I know.
Brendan: I've seen your seven-month-old, but [...] is 2½ , 3½. Was that right?
Geoff: Three-and-a-half, yeah.
Brendan: How do you use the technology gig to toys for the 3 ½ year old? How does that work?
Geoff: Not much, actually. I don't know why it is. I've been resistant with technology around him as much as possible. He doesn't have an iPad. He doesn't engage on a smartphone or anything like that. He never touches my phone. He watches TV from time to time, but he's quite off technology in some ways.
At the same time, he is extremely fascinated and loves to be part of the robot stuff. If we're playing with the robot mower, the robot vacuums, he loves it. I'm not going to stop him from any of that kind of thing. It's more been screen time and just managing that in the early stages of his life. I don't know when the right time is to introduce an iPad.
As much as I will probably talk about this kind of stuff on TV and radio and give everyone else advice, when it comes to putting it in practice for myself, I'm a little bit hesitant at the moment. As a tech guy, it is an uncomfortable or weird position to be in. But it will come. I know it will come. He'll need to get good at it and better at it.
Brendan: It is interesting as a co-leader of the family—yourself and your wife—and managing things with the young ones. Being a tech guy and playing with all this stuff, but you've got some caution around your own children being involved in that space too much. Why?
Geoff: It's just one of those interesting situations. I can tell you even in this house, most of the tech that I'm playing with lives in this office. A lot of it will stay in here because if I had to spread it out, there would just be too much of it. It would be crazy.
At the same time, it's more just giving us a normal life, which isn't overburdened by technology that isn't surrounded by gadgets, where we get to spend more time talking to one another, spending time together, rather than engaging with the latest gadget that I've been sent. I try and keep it here as much as possible.
In the past, I used to actually keep things in the office, which was very weird that my desk at work would just be full of gadgets and I bring less home. Now I've had to separate things a little bit and think about where we put them.
Brendan: I know through the conversations as well in your MIT training or degree, the blockchain was an element of that. Again, we're not going to go down some rabbit hole around blockchain. I'll do an episode on that some other time.
I'm very much a novice. What's before a novice in technology? Whatever that is, I'm that with blockchain. Can you help me, in a short space of time, understand if that's possible, blockchain and blockchain technology?
Geoff: The best way of explaining it is it's effectively an open ledger. If you think about a very large record, it's one that is shared, one that isn't centrally owned, and one that can be contributed to by anybody.
Basically, that means that if you and I wanted to make a transaction on the blockchain, it would be a line in a ledger that would say, X has passed on Y to yourself. Completely anonymous, not identifiable in that way. But if you and I wanted to put together a contract that existed on the blockchain, that's really what it is. It's a record of a transaction and not much else.
I think we may be glorifying the blockchain a little too much, but effectively we're talking about record keeping. Without having a computer on my desk that I can switch off, the blockchain is something you can't necessarily turn off because it's not centralized.
Brendan: That is cool. Many, many years ago, I was a trainee accountant, so I understand ledgers. That's helped me a lot. Thank you very much, great analogy.
With blockchain technology and thinking about leading in the technology space, it already has an impact, I get that, but what impact do you see in the future for blockchain technology and around being a leader in the technology space?
Geoff: I think it's going to impact the industry in a huge way. I think it's going to impact supply chain first, where if you think about what I just discussed that it is a ledger, it's a record of everything that something has gone through, if the peanut butter in my kitchen exists on the blockchain, that means that I'll be able to trace it back through every courier that it sat on every truck from the grocery store.
Before the grocery store to the warehouse, from the warehouse back to where it was manufactured, I could potentially look at that on a ledger. That way, I can really do product traceability better than anybody else.
If I think about where J&J could potentially even use the blockchain, we talked about implants that go into patients. Wouldn't it be amazing if I could use the blockchain to completely understand where that product was from A to B because I've recorded every step along the way in the blockchain?
Because it is public and available to anybody to look at, it means that you could always do product traceability. You don't have to contact J&J. You don't have to go back to the patient. That record would exist in perpetuity.
Anybody who wants to consider the blockchain for industry purposes, I think that's going to be one of the areas where anybody can contribute to a record, anybody could contribute to a contract that's formed on the blockchain, and that makes things very transparent and very accessible, which is probably the biggest part.
Brendan: Thank you for that clarification and that thought there. There's certainly much to come in that space, isn't there? In regards to people out there, leaders out there that whether you're in IT leadership roles and digital transformation like yourself or whether you're in a leadership role outside of that—because all leaders are going to have some impact with technology, their lives are going to be impacted with technology—what advice do you give them to embrace things moving? It's that whole change process. What advice do you give leaders out there around embracing technology?
Geoff: I really encourage it. The way that I usually try and get people to embrace technology or to embrace what's coming is the risk of not doing it. Unfortunately, one of the saddest ways to have to encourage people is by telling them that if you don't, something bad may happen.
It is important to remind people around Blockbuster, Blackberry, Borders, bookstores, and so many other companies that just didn't pay attention to where the market was actually going and making changes to embrace what was new and to move forward with it.
At the same time, you don't necessarily need to be the first one to do something. You don't have to be the first innovator, but you do need to adopt innovation eventually. Those who completely refuse or completely decided to stay where they are, they're the ones most at risk.
It's not just companies. I remember talking a lot to developers who made apps for Blackberry. I spoke a lot to those developers and I said, what are your plans? Are you going to start developing apps for Apple and Android given that they were rising ecosystems at the time?
They said, of course not. I happy here. I know how to code for Blackberry. I don't want to learn or pivot to learn how to do that because this is my thing. I imagine by now, they have either learned how to do that thing or they've found another way of working, maybe working at Walmart or something like that. I'm not sure.
I think you have to be paying attention to what's happening. In the same way with my IT career, I could have easily ignored any other profession, any other skill set. But I may have actually been made redundant a lot earlier, for example.
Brendan: Great point. I wanted to ask you this question at the start of the interview, but I thought it was a bit risky. I didn't want to end the interview too early. You're a football fanatic, as well. What team do you follow?
Geoff: Football fanatic in what way? Do you mean soccer?
Geoff: Okay, good. I thought we're on the right page there.
Brendan: The real football, mate. It is only football, right?
Geoff: It's important to check when I'm talking on an Australian show.
Brendan: I get you.
Geoff: I'm a massive Wanderers fan. I have been for a number of years. I can't say it's always a successful relationship to have, but I love catching a game of football. It's just something that's so amazing that there's no real technology involved.
It's just a bunch of guys or girls kicking a ball around and I love it. It's real skill. It's not influenced by a gadget that can help make them better at it. It's just people on the field trying to work it out. It's a great sport.
Brendan: Absolutely. Who's your overseas team if you have one?
Geoff: I don't pay enough attention to overseas football as much as I should, because I know that the quality of the game is better. As much as I should, I don't. The only other sport I really pay attention to or maybe two other sports would be Formula One and the UFC.
Again, both for very different reasons. I do love my motor sport. I'm a big Ferrari fan. I have been for a very long time. The UFC is just such a brutal sport that it's one of those things that I can watch and just think I'm glad I'm never going to do that. I'm happy to watch it, though.
Brendan: That's interesting. You're a more softly-spoken guy and a caring nature around you from my interactions. How does the UFC do it? It is brutal. I couldn't watch it. I've watched some of it and I couldn't watch it.
Geoff: I think it might be just a car crash sport. It could be one of those sports that people watch because you can't bear to look away sometimes. It's unbelievable that it's an allowed sport. Sometimes when I watch, I think, surely this has to stop. But it's the rawest kind of a fighting that you could do.
Maybe it's something that takes you back to those ages when they fought in the Colosseum. People love to get around to watch that. Maybe it's something in my blood. I'm sure there's some Italian heritage in there somewhere. I don't know.
Brendan: They are unbelievable athletes. There's no question about that. Let's start wrapping this up a bit. We've got through that. I could have asked you that football question earlier. The Wanderers are okay. They're not my team, but I'm not going to hang you up about it. What has had the greatest impact on your own leadership journey?
Geoff: The greatest impact on my leadership journey, I think it would be just a sum of the people that I've worked for. I've been really lucky. I've been really, really lucky, not just at J&J but through other jobs that I've held, where I've been able to report to people who inspire the heck out of me. Not just with how they work, but how they live, how they talk about their family, how they prioritize certain things as well.
I've been really lucky to engage with those kinds of people. I don't think I could ever put it on one person. The one thing I will probably put on one person is the fact that I do this tech commentary stuff. I was probably pushed, in a way, to do that by a gentleman not many people have heard about. His name is Gary Vaynerchuk.
He's now a marketer in the US, but he was producing videos about wine. He was making very basic and fun videos to watch about you open a bottle of wine and talk about it. I started to get inspired by that thinking, well, I could do that with technology. I could probably take it out of the package and talk about that on video.
What really stemmed my tech commentator career was this need to answer people's questions, but I've found an avenue that felt right to do it. I credit a lot of my tech commentator stuff to him. Everything else, especially around my career, definitely just some of the amazing managers that I've had. Obviously, there have been some bad ones as well. I've been very lucky to work with some good leaders.
Brendan: We take something from everyone, good, bad, or ugly, don't we? Yeah, fantastic to understand that.
We're going to finish off there. I really want to say a massive thank you to you. It's great to have a chat. It's been a bit of fun. Absolutely, really great to understand your mindset, and impacts around leadership, and the journey you're on through Johnson & Johnson. You take the commentator's side of things.
I can't wait to get you some blue pills and a few toys from the adult shop. I'll make sure that I can find it. Maybe I have to find a sponsor or somebody to be able to send something out. You let me know how that goes. It's been a real pleasure. Thanks for being a guest on The Culture of Things podcast.
Geoff: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
Brendan: Would you love to have a robot lawn mower? Or a robot cleaner that mops and vacuums? These are just some of the toys and cool gadgets Geoff gets to play with. He’s a tech leader having loads of fun doing what he’s doing.
Are you having as much fun as Geoff in the work you do?
These were my 3 key takeaways from my conversation with Geoff. My first key takeaway: Leaders lead through influence. If you have people report to you, it doesn’t automatically make you a leader. Your title doesn’t automatically make you a leader. Your ability to influence people, irrespective of whether they report to you directly, or your title, is a sign of real leadership. Your ability to influence others is a measure of your leadership.
My second key takeaway: Leaders overcome imposter syndrome. Have you ever suffered from imposter syndrome? If you said no, you're telling fibs! We all suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in our lives. Do you give in to it and fall away, or do you overcome it and rise up? Real leaders will rise up and overcome imposter syndrome.
My third key takeaway: Leaders embrace technology. It’s not just tech guys who should embrace technology. It’s also not about embracing technology for the sake of it. Or to try the next shiny technology gadget. Embracing technology to improve workflow, product development and customer experience. These are some of the reasons why the best leaders embrace technology
So in summary, my three key takeaways were: Leaders lead through influence, Leaders overcome imposter syndrome, Leaders embrace technology.
If you want to talk culture, leadership or teamwork, or have any questions or feedback about the episode, leave me a comment on the socials, or you can leave me a voice message at thecultureofthings.com.
Thanks for joining me.
And remember, the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation!
Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.