HRExaminer Radio Executive Conversations Badge Podcast Logo

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations

Guest: Carl Sanders-Edwards, CEO and Founder of Adeption
Episode: 316
Air Date: March 1, 2019




Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and quite accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation. Thank you for your understanding.

Length: 00:29:05

Host: John Sumser, HRExaminer
Guest: Carl Sanders-Edwards, Founder and CEO of

FULL TRANSCRIPT (with timecode)

00:00:14:16 – 00:00:27:26
Good morning and welcome to HRExaminer’s Executive Conversations, I’m your host John Sumser and today we’re going to be talking with Carl Sanders-Edwards who’s the founder of Good morning Carl. How are you?

00:00:28:06 – 00:00:30:23
Yeah, good John. Thanks, thanks for having me here.

00:00:30:24 – 00:00:40:02
We spend a lovely day together yesterday talking about your business and I’m excited about letting other people know. Why don’t you take a moment and introduce yourself.

00:00:40:11 – 00:01:03:13
Yeah well thanks. Thanks John. It’s Carl, and the accent you’re hearing is a New Zealand one so I grew up in a small town in New Zealand and had a living in the San Francisco Bay area now. Growing out Adeption. And, really just enraptures or fascinated or passionate about this idea of leadership development and in particular really scaling leadership development.

00:01:03:15 – 00:01:17:29
One of the interesting idea but tell me a little bit more, you just want some sort of modesty award. Because you’re a serial entrepreneur you know a lot about the space you’re a Fullbright Scholar.

00:01:18:06 – 00:03:38:14
Thanks John. Well. I guess I’ve got to the space where I am now and what we’re doing with Adeption there was some big shaping experiences that I had I was I studied engineering mechanical engineering. And and really enjoyed that and spent the first part of my career working with Toyota back in New Zealand and. It was it was very formative because the Toyota factory that I was part of went through a transformation that started as one of the worst TKD total lockdown factories in the Toyota network and ended up ranked second in the world. And it’s a good story behind it it’s the only car manufacturing plant in New Zealand that is still operating. Since all tariffs were removed they now take signature. They now take second hand cars from Japan because. In Japan they drive on the same side of the road as is everyone in New Zealand and refit them and sell them with five year warranties a signature class. So I learnt a lot about adaptability and agility of an organization but also transformation. After that I spent a few years with with Accenture building software. So changed state and engineering which changed the track and engineering and it was right when. Accenture went through a very big transformation of their waterfall. Development methodology into an agile. Development methodology. And I just lit up because it was pretty much the same concept. What happened was the transformation at Toyota at Toyota they called it lean and continuous improvement or the deeming clan do X cycle so everyone’s job is to constantly keep getting better. And short cycles age while it was short sprints short plans think big but start small and scale very fast short plans and reflect for a few weeks on how you’re going to create this learning organization the psychology behind them was exactly the same. I had a third experience living in London was a very fast growing ultimately very successful startup and working with a bunch of very smart people there. We did the same thing it was an emergent strategy everyone everyone’s responsibility was to. Grow themselves in the company and it wasn’t done through big grand plans that within executed over a series of months and years it was through lots of short cycle iterations. And reflection and it really left an imprint on me I guess pivoted me from engineering to people because that was the underlying theme and hence my interest in leadership development.

00:03:38:14 – 00:04:01:10
That’s pretty interesting so. So I’ve often wondered whether the short cycle approach to developing things. Makes it really hard to see where you’re drawing. Wonder of. Being worthwhile. Well actually we do a social world that’s evolving as rapidly as fast as you can.

00:04:01:21 – 00:04:56:19
Yeah I think it’s a it’s a fascinating thought. We’ve got some technical things that we try and do about it but. As far as you sort of want to have some. Grand intentions or goals. That you’re working towards. In the short cycles. Should she be making progress towards those that I think what you’re talking about in more general terms is a paradox or a polarity in anything. I think anything really interesting in the world or when you start moving into complex problems there is no simple this or this solution. Everything you do has a downside. And I’ve seen some terrible implementations of agile software development but also with human development because there hasn’t been enough structure. And guidance that you mentioned. So I don’t think it’s about stripping away all planning and all. That picture thinking and direction. It’s just about redressing the balance.

00:04:56:26 – 00:05:16:10
What does Adeption do. So. We’re in the business of as I mentioned earlier scaling leadership development. And the problem that we problem that we solve is when it comes to leadership development. It works and good quality leadership development does work for sort of the the jury is no longer out on that that what scales

00:05:16:19 – 00:07:16:21
Does not work. So when you push content people through digital devices in general it doesn’t develop people but what works and doesn’t scale. And so one on one coaching or very intensive six to 12 month cohort groups with multiple touch points so that you can really get people. Developing and thinking in different ways. Is is very un scalable so. Adeption tries to address that challenge and we do it by a digital coaching method. So we take people through a series of workouts that feel like they’re having a conversation with her with a real coach in each workout instead of teaching them content. There is content in there terminates in their person planning a very deliberate action that they’re going to take over the next few weeks in order to improve how they work and lead the things that we when we stop and pause we know we should be doing that we’re generally not die and so they’ve terminated a small digital session on Adeption without a plan and then the platform helps keep them accountable to their plan through accountability partners which are other people you work with and also straight out text message prompts to remind you of what you committed to. So for example I need to have a tough conversation with somebody in my organization it’s easier to say it’s very easy to avoid when I get myself. A text message that I’ve set up personally myself every morning at 10 am to say hey have you had hit tough conversation yet. It’s very hard to avoid and it really works. And so what happens is after you’ve done it you then go back into Adeption and reflect which really deepens the learning and development you get from it maybe your plan didn’t work maybe it did that you reflect and there unlocks the next workout which you can take. So you’re constantly deliberately improving and acting on how you lead through it through a managed process. The super interesting thing is that your plan in reflection becomes content that’s available to other leaders and we find that’s by far the most popular content because it’s like here’s how people like you self challenges you have

00:07:17:24 – 00:07:43:03
That will serve some. Adeption is a leadership development organization toolkit. What you do is you’ve created some sort of set of solutions to their problems. The people in leadership development programs can use as a way of building skills.

00:07:43:26 – 00:08:17:27
Yeah there is fear there is fear. I think one of the one of the interesting things that we have is that the solutions aren’t to the point of saying here’s what you should do in this situation that more thinking pattern solution so they help somebody go through the process learn to learn. And if I go back to a trial or continuous improvement methodologies there are a set of tools to help people come up with smarter actions or solutions to problems they face. This is less about what the particular solution is. So we really help people structure their thinking and do something deliberately.

00:08:18:24 – 00:08:40:08
So I would say I’m a I’m a high potential person in leadership development program and IQ stuff. Is there somebody who’s monitoring my usage of graded on how I’m progressing as the result of. Being a part of a community or the Adeption forum. Yeah good question.

00:08:40:08 – 00:10:15:20
So you’re one up manager has it. There is some interesting research has been done. It has approximately theories that 50 to 50 percent impact on your development on the job regardless of any effects that people like me do. So you’re one up manager Heather has a log to Adeption and can see what you do and they can provide you feedback. There’s also a coach role. So we still have human coaches involved. It just means that one coach can support a lot more people than what they would normally. And they can provide feedback and see how you’re going. And I think I mentioned also your your peers that you’re part of a cohort group that can also see you there’s administration things to say at this. Hour these implementations are. In large corporates where there is a learning and development function they can see how many active actions and reflections of different people taken. So it really helps identify who the strivers are and the organization. Something you mentioned earlier too as far as the. I guess the toolkit. We do focus these workouts on certain challenges that people face. So one might be I’d rather not have this conversation. And so you can see it at enterprise level. How many of your leaders have. Opted to take their particular work out planned a deliberate action gone and had that conversation and then reflected on it. So there is this almost like an element of gamification in the back where. We. Can see how many people are deliberately working on themselves to get better.

00:10:15:21 – 00:10:30:00
That’s interesting. So you make this assumption. That. Everybody in the leadership development program will benefit borrowed the role themselves. This is really. The group

00:10:31:10 – 00:10:37:17
They mean that everyone will will develop what that everyone wants to develop.

00:10:37:27 – 00:11:06:16
I actually know that that they’ll use your tools to do it. Yes. That. That that that becomes a gateway that becomes. It becomes the case. This is the beginning of a large question has to do with Adeption. The Adeption of Adeption. Rules. If the water manager is so important that means we have to leave the option for the system to work. I’m curious about that.

00:11:06:27 – 00:12:03:21
Yeah. No no for sure. And what happens with as far as as far as that goes is that. We’re codifying and capturing what happens a lot or should be happening a lot in conversations with an organization so. Or one that managers are very important to the development of. The people that they support. And. As far as as far as Adeption goes. There is a big difference in different organizations about the level of Adeption which can really get very high levels of engagement when compared with other types of learning tools. That even saying that an organization that values development and has on the agenda that it’s important to keep growing individually as well as collectively for the success of a company have far higher Adeption rates of Adeption. So. There is an underlying assumption that the work that we do is important and that’s got to be played through within the organization.

00:12:03:24 – 00:12:06:08
So do you use a R over group to scrub.

00:12:07:06 – 00:13:36:28
Yeah we do. I mean especially in the broader sense of machine learning the. These workouts that I mentioned start by asking. The use of reflective questions about the situation that they’re currently facing. So if you’d rather not have a conversation that will ask you what is the conversation about and why. And this really helps and not the person’s thinking. Which is which is a good thing. But it also tells us a lot about the unique circumstance that that person’s facing. And just like in a coaching conversation if I was to ask you on a few questions about something you’re finding tricky at the moment I would likely start triggering some resources or ideas for things that you could look at. So it makes me think I’ve seen a I’ve seen an article on something that could might help you here. And I’ll tell you about it. And probably after a conversation I’ve seen it to you. So the way that we use the machine learning algorithms and Adeption is that we learn a lot about a person’s situation. And then we can suggest content to them based on the situation that they face not any predetermined learning objectives or what we teach them in it quantitatively informs a sort of inspiration just like in that coaching conversation I mean they can take it or not. They don’t have to consume it and be tested on it. That helps broaden their thinking and give them a new frame to deal with this situation the way they respond to that and right. Then trains the algorithm further for future uses. It’s constantly constantly learning. We’ve got some other really exciting news cases coming up as well.

00:13:36:28 – 00:14:27:13
Interesting interesting. So one of the big questions that you don’t know the answer to. Well. One of them’s related to where I think we one of them is related to what you were getting at with the Adeption One is that. This idea of deliberately taking actions to plan and improve how you operate through these these iterations. Versus just consuming content and saying yes I’ve done it or I’ve completed this course. We sort of call our broccoli paradox. You can walk into a. Fried food joints say with beautiful rich smelling fried chicken everywhere. And. In the middle of fried food joint there’s a there’s a plate of steaming broccoli. The broccoli is very good for you and most people want to be healthier and

00:14:28:18 – 00:16:21:15
Function function better from a health point of view. But the broccoli is very. But the fried chicken is very tempting. So. We one of the questions that we always work on and and we’re trying to solve is can we get people to eat broccoli. Because it’s a lot harder to deliberately plan an action and invulnerable. Put yourself out there and say this is what I’m going to do. Versus hide behind a computer and say I watched a video. And I took the quiz and therefore I’m good. We take a lot of inspiration from the health sector around there are no accident where there’s been a Fitbit for example hit doesn’t try and teach you too much about health or activity or fitness. It gets you to go and do it. And. That’s what sets the space that we’re in. There’s. Another big big question I guess the biggest one is that. Leaning on the exciting things I mentioned about the idea that we can do is. Can we really. Be better than human coaches. With Adeption. I believe we can because. Each individual coach has only talked to maybe 100 or 200 other people. So your experience is quite limited into how you can reframe things or help the person that you’re coaching. Whereas when we can start understanding individuals. Where they are at the moment in their level of development. And the data that we have is also understood hundreds of thousands of other people who are at different levels. We can start seeing ideas from other users who are just ahead of your own personal developmental cue. So in theory. Adeption can be vastly more powerful than a human coach. The reason it’s a big question though is that it’s very different interacting with a digital device than it is interacting with a human. I’m more than aware of it and so I’m very curious to see whether we can fulfill a promise that is easier in theory and potential in the data. In actual on the ground practical and

00:16:22:20 – 00:16:48:04
So I assume some evidence somewhere globally all of our leadership development programs are actually developed believers. You know. The kind of people who want to be participating in leadership programs. Are the kind of people who become good leaders. They’re just common sense. Or do. Which was designed to do it.

00:16:48:06 – 00:18:24:18
Yeah there’s a lot of data about the impacts that leadership development initiatives can have on people. I think the bigger question behind what you’re asking is how you define leadership. And. Certainly the way that we are leaning towards and giving a lot of a lot of interest then is that leadership is in a post-industrial era is not about hierarchy. And so it’s not about leadership positions as we. Traditionally think of them. It’s about. Taking leadership in the moment. And responsibility and proactivity for. The work that we do. If you sort of think of an analogy and. I watch the Mad Men series for a while and then in the mad mean world you know you hear a small group of of executives who are making all the decisions and doing all of the creative work and it was being executed within the organization. Those decisions may have impacted a few million people with the advertising campaigns they ran. We see organizations today like here in the Bay Area. You have. Groups of individual contributors who aren’t in any formal leadership roles making decisions and doing things that can actually impact millions of people. And so that’s why I’m so interested in this idea of scaling leadership development. Not necessarily creating people who want to be. Executive leaders that bringing closer and more accessible. Those skills have confidence and proactivity. And consciousness really about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it rather than just going through life in an unconscious state. And allowing it to shape you. Rather than you have some agency over it.

00:18:25:26 – 00:19:25:00
That’s an interesting idea. It seems to me that it’s pretty hard to separate leadership and money. For example or leadership a place in the hierarchy. And so you’re suggesting. A world in which those things are separate. That. Somebody. Can be a leader but that’s not indicative of some service to organizational status. Or a bigger paycheck. It’s that the moment leadership is required in this area and somehow. The person. Who needs to do the leading gets a dollop of opportunity to provide leadership. Then when the moment is over. Somebody else gets position is more like a dance of some kind. It’s like a hierarchy. Yeah absolutely and I mean I do I do suggest in. The field of organizational network analysis has got some interesting. E C interesting. Network charts of how decisions and work.

00:19:25:14 – 00:20:58:01
Actually is done in organizations today even if they have a traditional hierarchical structure and a kind of organized that way. Yeah. The opportunities for leadership and people taking those moments and being more proactive exist everywhere. So that’s that’s interesting when you think about the development of your. Progress and your business overall do you imagine moving closer to the original network analysis or is that just simply forums the system server side the. Nerds. Yeah it’s a very good question. I do. I. Guess the. Dilemmas that we face. In growing though is just the practicalities of. You mentioned the dollar. So. Who wants to pay for these efforts. And where is the where is the investment and people going. So I would love a future where organizational network analysis informs who gets the most investment in formal leadership development. And a tool like ours is a great is a great way of actually getting the assets to do good organizational network analysis so you can. You can put. A leadership development initiative and a really good high quality experience in the hands of ultimately all of your company. And then in Adeption and then use the outcomes effect to see who the real people are influencing things and who have got the real potential to grow further and become your executives. And then you can invest. In. Far more intensive experiential exercises for those people.

00:20:58:02 – 00:21:53:22
Fascinating. So that suggests my experience of leadership is. It is one of the primary. Features of leadership is I am the leader in Myanmar. There’s some sort of. Opaque nature to the relationship. Which which always I believe is read. Because it’s a power relationship as. There’s something that the leader knows that I don’t know. And those two things I am the leader of your novel. I know that you go. Are the foundation of a lot of the leadership. I see. Up the hierarchy. Implies. Implies knowledge of your and you’re talking about a kind of leadership that doesn’t behave that way. It must be heads square for some of your clients. It is it is. It

00:21:53:27 – 00:23:47:23
It is. It also surprises me with how receipt of people are to it. Because of I guess the. The transformation that is happening in so many organizations. A lot of the head scratching is coming from those. Formal leadership positions. That. Are realizing that by the time information gets to them. To make. Decisions that are based on I know something you don’t know. It’s just not the case. The. People who are doing the work. And who are experiencing. Customers and. Scientists on a daily basis know things far faster. So. This is I’ll go back again to the. Toyota Production System as an example and we’ve taken this a lot broader but also Agile is one of the principal theories to push decision making as close as possible to the information. So if you sort of think about wanting people to make decisions in the moment. It’s those people that are closest to the information. A great example as a bank teller there’s nothing more frustrating as a customer. To have a bank teller. Feel like they have to go and get permission before they can solve your problem. To me that’s just a leadership challenge. If somebody is well-prepared and confident. There is no difference between. Your ability to solve. In fact there is a big difference between their ability to solve a problem. And their one or two up managers ability to solve the problem. Better position because they know what’s going on in the moment far better than somebody else does. And so ultimately you get a better outcome. The military has got a lot of examples from this as well as that. In many ways the. Old plans after the things that are happening on the ground are are out. There. The formal senior roles of leadership have only got limited ability to influence what’s happening in the moment. So this is

00:23:48:09 – 00:24:33:14
I think we’re sort of dancing around this. This world’s central question to what you describe. Is a great way to do cars. Well it’s a great way to do. Military burials of both of those cases. There. Is. This complication. Of clarity of the objective sort of repeatability of the terrorist group. So. Driving decision making to the lowest possible level makes our sense of the world. But when you get to the. Which or recording to fight. Which car are we going to make. Kinds of decision making does the same kind of leadership apply. More so. More so because what we’re talking about. Is

00:24:33:24 – 00:26:15:18
Areas of extreme uncertainty and complexity. So you’ve got situations where. The next car that gets made. Changes the playing field. You’ve got a situation where. Any move that one person does in an organization. Disrupts the existing. The existing playing field. And so. We can’t predict the outcomes of those things. So the idea that a few leaders who are in a position to know more and have more wisdom can. Can say. This is what’s going to happen. Let’s go there. Is fraught. And I think Silicon Valley is a great example. There have been groups of countries and organizations all over the world that have tried to. Seed entrepreneurial ecosystems with particular. Ideas and saying we’re good at agriculture. So we should support businesses that do good in agriculture. It generally doesn’t work. The reason is that because in these areas of extreme uncertainty. And complexity. You want lots of experiments. We really don’t know what’s going to work until you get people out there taking action and learning through doing and creating. We take a lot of inspiration from the field of design thinking too which is sort of like you know you can only think so far you want to go out and start running these experiments. So this agile method that I’m talking about for leadership you’re essentially unlocking. A large number of experiments that can find out very quickly far quicker than what two or three people in a traditional leadership role. Can. Which other rich veins to go down and you then need a way of being able to. See those rich veins and quickly pile on behind them when you see a trend here.

00:26:15:26 – 00:26:26:05
Interesting. So what are the ethical issues. We’ve talked we’ve talked around a few I think there’s a. Big one that I’ve got is really as I wrote about this

00:26:26:12 – 00:27:12:17
Quite a while ago about we will look back at the way we used digital tools today in 50 years and sort of shake our heads in the same ways we shake our heads now when we see with the doctors talking about the benefits of cigarette smoking. Because. In. What do you know I’ve created another digital tool. So. There is one one that I sort of think about a lot. And the way way we resolve it is in many ways we’re trying to use the digital tool to have people become more conscious about what they’re doing and how they’re operating rather than less conscious. We really want it to inspire them to. Get off the tools as quick as possible and go and do something. But in saying that it is still it’s still a dilemma that personally I face as an organization we talk about quite a lot.

00:27:12:17 – 00:27:23:15
This is such a wonderful conversation. Record your four hours or. So. Is there a single thing or two that you’d like a listener to take away from.

00:27:24:07 – 00:28:05:20
Yeah. One of the one of the biggest ones is that. People. Don’t develop through content. They develop through action and experience an effect. Full stop. People don’t learn through content. And I guess it frustrates me that. Content consumption is still the measure of success. When it comes to whether people have learnt something or are in the process of developing. Its experiences. And. One thing that we really focus on and provide is that we get people doing things. Experiencing things and reflecting on what they’ve learned in the process and being more conscious about it. And. It sounds really simple but it’s not very common at all. It’s hard work. It’s really worthwhile work.

00:28:05:25 – 00:28:09:12
Great. So please reintroduce yourself and tell people how they might get a hold of you.

00:28:10:04 – 00:28:29:25
Yes, so it’s Carl Sanders-Edwards. It’s. The easiest way to get hold of me is via LinkedIn on Carl Sanders-Edwards at My email addresses Carl, C, A, R, L, S like Sally at, A, D, E, P, T, I, O, N dot I, O. Perfect.

00:28:30:09 – 00:28:50:29
Perfect. Thanks for doing this today Carl it’s been great to have a chance to talk with you. You’ve been listening to HRExaminer Executive Conversations and we’ve been talking with Carl Sanders-Edwards, who is founder and CEO of Thanks for listening in and we will see you back here same time next week. Bye bye now.

Thanks very much John.


Read previous post:
Working Emotions

"All emotions are powerful energy that bring us important information. It’s time to bring our humanity to work." - Heather...