Ambimindedness (Episode 36)

Interview with Chris Mawer, CTO for Asia Pacific at Huawei.

What can we learn about creativity from a CTO? That’s what I wanted to know when I booked a meeting with Chris Mawer, CTO for Asia Pacific at Huawei.

What I learned about was: Ambimindedness.

And yes, that is a made up word – I just made it up – but I love what it means.

The word is a twist on “ambidextrous” the ability to use the right and left hands equally well. Ambimindedness could have been about “right brain and left brain”, but it is not. Instead it is about being able to keep a “deep mind” and “broad mind” at the same time.

And that is, according to Chris Mawer, what makes for a great CTO.

According to Chris there are three types of CTO’s

– The Engineering type, who will geek out on the technology, but perhaps not be so good in client meetings. Let’s call them the deep minded CTO’s. They love to go deep into the technology.

– The Evangelist, who will be able to paint a big, visionary, picture, but only with broad strokes. These CTO’s will be weak on really deep technological understanding. Let’s call them the broad minded CTO’s.

– And then we have the Ambiminded CTO’s who are able to be both broad minded and deep minded at the same time. Chris Mawer is one of those. In his career he has worked both in marketing roles and technical roles, so he has learned how to balance the skills needed in the different fields.

You can spot the different versions easily in a client meeting. The deep minded CTO will have 60 slides, overloaded with technical illustrations in tiny fonts, scattered with a myriad of symbols and acronyms.

The broad minded CTO will have 20 slides full of visionary sales jargon.

And then there are the Ambiminded, who puts together a slick and visionary presentation of 20 slides and has an additional 60 slides all ready to go for any tech questions that might come from the audience. And all those extra 60 slides are both full of technological content and beautifully designed. Or as Chris put it: “It takes me forever to create a master presentation deck, which is always evolving with both visionary and technical content to support varying topics and audiences …”

The Ambiminded CTO both has the ability to switch between the two styles of content, and – and this is important – knows when to switch from a broad, visionary style to a more technical and deep presentation style.

Deep minded vs broad minded is not the same as “specialist” and “generalist”. A generalist knows a little bit of everything. A broad minded person has a visionary view of what could be possible. A specialist knows a lot about a specific topic. A deep minded person can go deep into a number of different technologies.

Dividing people into “left brain/right brain”, “generalist/specialist” and “deep minded/broad minded” risks pigeonholing people, but it can also be a very good way of identifying strengths and weaknesses.

The goals should be to develop Ambiminded CTO’s. The best of both worlds. The perfect example of an Ambiminded person is Elon Musk, who can get people excited about the concept of going to Mars, or buying a weird looking cyber truck, and at the same time can go deep into the technology that is making these innovations work.

According to Chris many companies just assume that a person who is deep minded can not become more broad minded, or the other way around, and if you think that is true you will not try to develop Ambimindedness in your people. But it can be achieved. Deep minded people can embed themselves with marketing people to train up their broad mindedness. Broad minded visionaries can make an effort to become better at understanding the underlying technology.

So what does this have to do with creativity? The ability to see a broad visionary picture while at the same time being able to go deep into technology is a skill that is valuable for all kinds of creative people. And if organisations learned to a) Identify their broad minded vs deep minded people, and then b) made an effort to make them more Ambiminded then a lot more creativity could be unleashed on the planet.




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