How to embrace risks and change the world as a leader
Being a start-up founder and tech entrepreneur is not for the faint-of-heart. In fact, for AgriDigital Co-Founder and CEO Emma Weston, the journey has involved growing through a zig zagging career that she says looks more like an ECG scan than a linear career path.
But it’s been a journey well worth the occasional detour.
Now at the helm of a AgTech firm that’s shaking up the global grain supply chain, Emma has become an inspiration to agriculture and tech industries alike. She’s become a sought after thought leader on everything from starting up a tech firm, to the potential of blockchain.
Oh, and after growing up in the Melbourne suburbs, she's also now a farmer.
In the latest episode of the Ready Podcast, ReadyTech CEO Marc Washbourne asks her about taking risks, and facing challenges. We learn how Emma has approached change, and how she’s leading a company and herself towards growth and change into the future.
Here’s a few key insights from Emma, or listen to more on the podcast episode here.
1. Linear careers are rare
Emma describes her career as more like a patchwork quilt than a blanket.
Though she has ended up as the successful CEO and Co-founder of AgriDigital, her career has bounced from an initial stint in law (both in private practice and in-house), to the world of agriculture and technology, and both in and out of start-ups and business opportunities.
This ‘patchwork’ though, is what has led to her eventual success in the tech industry.
"I have no patience for the idea success is a straight line all the way up. I don’t think that’s the reality for most people. I also think patchwork quilts can be much stronger than just a blanket - it’s the stitching together that gives it its strength. I’d be proud if my career was a patchwork quilt of experience, relationships, efforts, failures, things that I’ve tried and done well in.”
2. Love problems, not technologies
Emma first took a look at blockchain in 2015, with a lot of excitement about the implications.
What she and her team have learned since is that, while a new technology might show a lot of promise, what is important is to focus on the problem that needs to be solved, and bring the mix of technologies to bear that might be required to address those problems
In other words, it's not about technology for the sake of it. It's about outcomes.
“We went pretty deep on blockchain in the early days…what we soon realised was that no technology, blockchain included, will alone solve what is a systems problem. Rather than go deep on one technology, we needed to get clear about the problem we wanted to solve and how to bring to bear tech, tools and people into the solutions space,” Emma says.
3. De-risk your ideas with others
Emma advises anyone looking to pursue a big change to ‘share it with someone’ first.
For Emma, the people around her have been crucial in supporting her personal and professional success, whether that’s her management team at AgriDigital, her parents, or her husband, who she says has given her another way to look at the issue of taking new risks.
She advises that it’s best not to do things alone – often because it keeps you accountable.
"Having people around me has made me able to do things that would have been seen as too risky. I think the thing is not to be by yourself. Do it as part of team - it’s riskier when you are alone. Having capable people around you de-risks the situation," Emma says.
4. Embrace applied learning
Learning that can be applied immediately is more useful in later years, according to Emma.
In her own business, Emma has seen how a combination of personal OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) for the development of the management team really supports other business OKRs, in that they are things that can be applied by the individual in a work context right now.
“As we get older there's also a bias to think we know stuff because we are older. What if we took the approach that we don’t really know anything? What would we focus on? It would mean being equally comfortable in a class with a 16-year-old as a 106 year-old," Emma says.
5. Know who you are well
Emma has been a trailblazer for women in both agriculture and technology industries.
While she has often failed to notice she was the only woman in the room – and never saw this as the challenge others might – Emma says knowing who you are can support your business and professional success regardless of context, including admitting you don’t know.
“If you can be confident about who you are, not necessarily in every context, you can be OK with having a heap of stuff you don’t know and not being scared to admit it. You are not pretending to be anyone you aren’t. My experiences have shown me the things that are scary are mostly in your head, and being different can be an advantage if you play it that way.”
To listen to the full conversation when it is released and many more, subscribe to the Ready Podcast.