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Q&A with Jonathan Bridges, Chief Innovation Officer, Exponential-e

What is the best thing about your job?

The variety! I get to engage with such a broad range of customers across multiple sectors every day. It’s really exciting to speak to a variety of different people, and learn about the unique challenges they and their organisations face. Discussing how technology can help them transform, innovate and drive true value is something that gives me huge fulfilment.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

I’ve been working in IT for 23 years, and I’ve been very lucky to have had a mentor at each of the big organisations I’ve worked in during my career: someone that has inspired and coached me toward my next career goal. The best quality in a mentor is the ability to assess what you bring to the table – your biggest strengths – and help you find ways to maximise those talents, progress further and achieve those goals.

Beyond these mentors, Richard Branson has been a huge inspiration in terms of his innovative and ethical approach to business. He is always the face behind his ventures, and he learns from his mistakes rather than hides behind them. He also believes in himself and his ideas, even when he doesn’t necessarily have the same support from others. For example, many questioned the potential success of Virgin Atlantic, but he has driven and built the business to become a global success.

What is your biggest regret?

I don’t think I have any regrets. I’ve made some mistakes and wrong decisions in the past, as everyone has. Professionally, that has meant some of my innovations and concepts for customers haven’t worked as I planned or hoped.

I wouldn’t change my past or those mistakes, though, because they have made me who I am today. Learning from them is the most important thing to me. My focus now is on taking those learnings and passing them on, and encouraging those I coach to push the boundaries, and learn from their own mistakes when things don’t go to plan. It’s all a balancing act.

If you had to work in a different industry, what would it be?

I’d be a surgeon. My role, and the IT world as a whole, is all about working with and helping customers to overcome challenges with innovative technology solutions. That could include anything from working with the public sector to improve probation service to supporting the provision of telemedicine during an unprecedented pandemic, as I have done recently. I love this aspect of the job, but one thing that’s missing is the ability to be hands on with the end users and the people truly benefitting from the technology.

There’s also an interesting crossover between technology and innovation and the world of surgery. Surgeons are integrating and adapting to new technologies which are enhancing healthcare every day, and that’s something I already do in my own line of work.

So, if I could, and if I had the skills and capabilities to become a surgeon, that’s what I would love to do – have a more direct and hands on approach to helping others, while still working with some of the most exciting technologies in the world.

Who was your hero when you were growing up?

I have always loved watching David Attenborough. He has done so much to educate others on the importance of looking after our environment throughout his life’s work. He’s had a huge, transformative impact on our approach to climate, sustainability and pollution, and how we view our planet.

I think the technology industry has a really important role to play in here. While on one hand data centres are proving a drain on energy resources, on the other technology is also helping us overcome some of the main environmental challenges, such as in power generation. My thought process has really changed in recent years when it comes to innovation, especially since reading his book ‘A Life on our planet’, which has made me want to prioritise and use technologies that have a green footprint.

Which rival do you most admire?

I do admire Satya Nadella. I think he’s been a great leader for Microsoft and he’s really helped the company embrace the move from a traditional patching license sale model to a cloud service provider model. And you also have to admire the way he has helped the company not only transition to, but dominate the subscription-based model space.

Which law would you most like to change?

I think something needs to change when it comes to enforcement laws. The more illegal you make something, the more it gives way to increased criminality. This is something Richard Branson has been vocal about. He has long argued that the only solution to reducing drug usage is to prioritise harm reduction and promote decriminalisation by regulating the sale of certain drugs, as they have done with marijuana in the US. As another example, Portugal decriminalised all drug usage in 2001, and it has seen dramatic drops in overdoses, HIV infection and drug-related crime since. We should consider a similar approach.

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