The future came knocking faster than anyone could have imagined with the outbreak of COVID-19, thrusting many businesses headfirst into completely digital models and prompting a rethink of their modus operandi.
How the new economy will evolve during and after the pandemic is uncertain, but there is a strong likelihood that trends around robotics and artificial intelligence will continue or even accelerate.
While disruption can be a source of anxiety for professionals and leaders navigating through unchartered waters, it can also present great opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovative businesses, from startups to multinational organisations.
Image: Getty Images / zf L
Image: Getty Images / zf L
Dr Nicole Hartley (pictured) from The University of Queensland (UQ) Business School points out an interesting paradox - as technology transforms businesses, "human skills" will become more valuable attributes for a leader.
If there's one thing that social media has shown the world amidst the current pandemic, it's that human connections and understanding are more important than ever.
"The ability to create, negotiate, use intuition, understand emotions and inspire - all the things machines are not good at - will be critical," says Dr Hartley, who is the Director of the UQ MBA program. UQ's MBA program was ranked #1 worldwide for student quality in The Economist's 2019 international ranking.
"It's about managing people on two fronts: internally in terms of expectations around the future and allaying fears, as well as externally with how you operate in a climate where completely new customer behaviours are being built in a marketplace that looks very different.
"It's not going to be just a year of disruption. It will be a decade of disruption."
Adaptive, flexible and compassionate leaders will be well placed to ride out the challenges ahead and prosper.
Dr Hartley says a lot of time has been spent developing an MBA program with a strong focus on these "human" traits, helping leaders pivot and tap into a high-calibre network with passionate alumni who are across a broad range of industries and sectors at local, national and international levels.
"It's important during a crisis to leverage the experience from networks to help provide new perspectives and ideas to a problem," says Dr Hartley.
"Utilising a global network is really important even beyond the current pandemic, as businesses will still face fast-paced disruption that will really take shape over the next decade from the growing use of AI and even workplace robots.
Image: Getty Images / Luis Alvarez
Hartley believes business leaders must be able to thrive in conditions of uncertainty, and create an environment where people can do their best work in volatile, complex markets.
"Traditional MBA programs give students skills to coordinate resources in their organisations, but that won't be enough in the future," says Hartley.
"Organisations will need leaders who can facilitate collaborations inside and outside their organisations, build and leverage networks, and encourage teams to develop and implement ideas they need an entrepreneurial mentality - which is something technology can't do to the same level as a human.'
"This is where the UQ MBA shines. Our MBA is taught by award-winning teachers with a strong innovation leadership background, connected to industry and venture projects nationally and internationally.
She says the program also offers an entrepreneurial stream that pushes people into lean launchpads and venture capital, but it also teaches students to take that 'startup approach and innovation' into a company of any size.
This education gives graduates the confidence to make important decisions when faced with uncertainty in the broader world, whether it's through their own business or as they rise through the ranks into the C-suite.
Despite the uncertainty at present, the MBA program Director draws on the experience of how so many startups began in the first place as a result of adversity.
"There's still opportunity out there. It's about how to take what we understood from previous models and ecosystems and understandings in business, pivot, and then be able to apply that knowledge in different ways creatively, that actually advances businesses," she says.
"I think the pandemic has reminded us that great leaders are the ones who embrace their 'human skills' and networks, allowing them to pivot and adapt in the face of disruption - they aren't afraid to innovate and embrace challenge as an opportunity to do things differently."
Image: Getty Images / Klaus Vledfelt
This story was written in partnership with Business News Australia.