Leading in an Unpredictable World

We are entering a period in which “there will be no long-term predictability” in business, according to Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme. “Leaders will need to learn to manage chaos and to do it in a highly disciplined way.”

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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Pierre Nanterme, chairman and CEO of the global professional services firm Accenture, has his hands full. He has set an ambitious agenda for his $31 billion enterprise to at once undertake its own digital transformation while also bringing a new set of digital capabilities to market in service of the firm’s thousands of clients. As Nanterme describes it, Accenture is its own case study in digitization. The Accenture chief recently sat down with MIT Sloan Management Review editor in chief Paul Michelman for a conversation about the challenges of digital transformation: for Nanterme’s own organization, for leaders of the organizations he counsels, and for society. Edited and condensed highlights of that in-person conversation, as well as subsequent exchanges via email, are captured here.

MIT Sloan Management Review: You’ve written that leaders need to be both business savvy and technology savvy. On its surface, that’s a statement that’s very easy to agree with. But when we’re thinking about senior leaders who may have come up at a time when technology did not loom nearly as large, what do we mean by “technology savvy?” What’s the level of skills, the level of knowledge that a senior executive needs now?

NANTERME: The point is to have the right level of understanding. The future of the organization and the business model will involve combining business and technology opportunities. Digital technologies are becoming absolutely pervasive enablers of any new business model.

Now, the point is not for CEOs and other top leaders to be tech experts. The point is that you need to have a basic understanding of technology capabilities to figure out your new business models. This is certainly why many CEOs are spending time in Silicon Valley as an educational experience — to see use cases in action and to meet the next generation of leaders. And many of these tech leaders are already running the companies that are going to enable the CEO’s next business model, which is going to be more facile, more global, cheaper, and more scalable.

And there’s another important point here — and this is what’s unique with the current wave of digital technologies — they can massively rationalize your operations.

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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muriel schulz
Thank you for this insightfull article.  Indeed18 months has always been a good cycle of time  to conduct action plans that were just intermediate steps of a larger strategic plan. Considering pace of change, and necessity of more agile management and governance within companies,  it is interesting to see how much Time and - Mind Spirit-  is still spent In designing 5 years plan! Leading teams have To face a great challenge to abandon practices conducted for decades and start new ones.  From a financial point of view, I agree that western companies probably have enough resources to conduct these changes coming ahead. Nethertheless, from a Human point of view, the key question is how people and organizations will developp the capacity to absorb this constant changes and short term management cycle. When the art of navigation is not under Control, you get severely sea sick! In order to avoid another Human  disaster - far worth than those ones experimented yet- companies urgently need to re invest in the role of intermediate managers, and massively train them to deal with this new complex environment. Right now, companies are much more focusing on understanding impact of digital revolution on their core business. Currently IT and technological issues require major attention, leading to a large underestimation of the means To implement in order to manage Human transformation at the same time. Another interesting article of Prof. Linda Gratton to read on this subject. CEOs should investigate more in the new role of HR function to support the Human capital transformation.