My name is Stuart A Blair BLang BA Hons Flin and I am a Teacher, Keynote Speaker, and Pop Culture Historian. When I was invited to interview Ilona, I jumped at the opportunity as I had followed Ilona’s amazing journey, and I had a series of questions to pose. For those who are not familiar with Ilona’s work, here is a brief bio.
Ilona is the director of Synergy Consulting Australia; an experienced business growth strategist, keynote speaker and writer. She has coached hundreds of businesses in the area of Marketing, Finance, Legal, Compliance, Operations, Change, and Project Management.
In preparation for her upcoming national speaking tour, Ilona has been putting the final touches to her book on the Fourth Industrial Revolution based on Professor Klaus Schwab’s presentation on the 4IR at the World Economic Forum that was held in Davos, Switzerland in 2016.
Q: What inspired you to start Synergy Consulting Australia?
A lot of information on how to start or grow your business is freely available nowadays. The subject of self-employment is complex, most people shy away from studying the subject, and instead, jump into the big unknown. Sooner or later the reality of operating a business knocks on the door and creates stress and worries. I was there myself, and I know what I am talking about. Considering finishing my business studies with a ‘best student’ Award, I needed advice on how to operate a business, but instead, I was overloaded with information, which left me confused. Years of hardship and cash flow problems followed. Over the years I developed a talent for business diagnostics. I can immediately see how a company can improve their operation or how to grow their enterprise. It makes me happy if I can help people to worry a little bit less than I did when I started up, so I started Synergy Consulting Australia.
Q: Synergy Consulting Australia is a different kind of business. Can you elaborate?
Yes, it is indeed. Like most businesses, SCA was a brick & mortar business, which did cost a lot to operate. With the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, modern technology was the key to cut down on business operations costs. I wanted to create a 24/7 business, which can be operated from anywhere in the world, by employees working at their best suitable days/times. In my opinion, the future of operating a successful business will be to create a healthy work-life balance for employees. Unfortunately, it does not suit every industry sector.
Nowadays the world can be your business playground, the time difference works to your advantage. While I am sleeping, my team member is working on a project report, which I can already look at in the morning when I am waking up. Compare this to a typical 9-5 job with employees under pressure, multitasking to achieve a set deadline, as well as trying to organise a children’s birthday party with clowns, cakes, invitations, etc. all at the same time. Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? The truth is, that most people are doing this on a daily basis. There has to be a better way to live a more balanced life.
It took me 5 years to change SCA into what it is now. All SCA team members work from home or where they are most productive as well as at a time which is suitable for them. All SCA projects are project/time managed, which means that realistic deadlines are set by the team to provide the highest quality output in the shortest possible timeframe for the client.
Q: You are writing a book on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. How did that come about?
By nature, I am a perfectionist with an analytical and logical mind. Lately, I realised that my usual successful business growth strategies take much longer than expected to succeed. I asked myself, what is going on? I started to follow the bread crumbs and realised that the world is changing, and due to that, we are experiencing an interruption in the business world. At the end of my research, I had concluded that the interruption in the business world is due to us entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Curious by nature, I needed to know what this 4IR is and how it affects businesses. During my research, if you allow me to quote a Star Trek phrase, I had often a Mr Spock moment and said “Fascinating.”
Q: Can you tell us if the 4IR is something we need to worry about? Will robots take over the world? Are you able to elaborate on the subject without revealing too much about your book?
Of course! I can confidently say that robots will not take over the planet, nor will Artificial Intelligence bring the world to an end.
They are tools to help humanity and they will stay a tool. Due to the integration between human and Artificial Intelligence/machine, there will be major changes happening in all industry sectors. Our generation is going through the fastest Industrial Revolution we ever had due to the already established computerised world. Professions will disappear and new ones will emerge. What worked in business in the past will no longer be the best way forward. Companies which keep an eye on every new digital development in their industry and adapting to it at light speed will grow very fast. Don’t worry, this will not happen overnight, but it is an unstoppable evolution, which changes how we humans work, live and communicate in the future. More about this topic will be in my book and a national tour.
Q: May I ask a personal question? Is it true that you were involved in a serious car accident, which left you with a minor brain injury?
Yes, that is correct. Before the accident, I was a competitive athlete. The accident happened just days before I was aiming to do a Triathlon. After the accident, I was left with damage to my spine as well as a minor brain injury.
Q: That’s awful but it is also remarkable how you have managed to build your business during this challenging period of your life. How did you do it?
I am asked that same question quite often. I never thought that my sporting career would be over or that it would affect my work. I was not aware or that I ignored the fact that my body was seriously damaged. I was able to walk, think, and do things independently – so it can’t be bad, right? The pain was severe and forced me onto a regime of pain relief which put me out of work, and required me to sleep a lot. Aqua therapy was most helpful and massages provided temporary pain relief, but in my job, I have to sit at my desk, drive my car, and most of all, think fast and have a very good memory. That turned out to be a major, and still ongoing problem.
The first step was to make myself notes – literally everywhere in the house and office. That cut down the forgetting by maybe 30%. The sitting did not go well at all, so I was standing when writing, and I learned to work long hours but took a lot of naps during the day. That way, I still was able to put through the same quantity of work I would usually do in 8 hours, however, taking my napping time into account, I was now working up to 15 hours. In other words, I found ways to succeed. As I was unable to swim or run, I jumped on my bike and gave it a go. That was extremely painful due to the pressure on my neck by tilting my head up on a racing bike as well as feeling every little bump in the road, but it was also fun.
One evening, I attended my cycling club’s weekly individual time trial cycling race, and I had asked the race director if it would be ok for me to just ride the same route as the competitors. He said yes, but I had to take a number and be in the race. I told him that this is a very bad idea, as everybody would have finished, and had eaten their dinner by the time I had finally made it through the finish line. One cannot argue with a race director. I struggled the entire 17kms, and I had to stop multiple times, I had felt sick, thrown up, and I was in much pain. Every competitor who passed me encouraged me on the way. I finished 15 minutes after the last competitor had finished. Every competitor waited for me at the finish line, and they had encouraged me to keep going until I had crossed the line. That time trial season, I won the most improved rider award, which I had followed by winning the silver medal at the age group individual time trial SA Championships.
To come back to your question, the answer is in adapting to circumstances. This is how the human race evolved. My life motto of ‘Quitting is not an option’, has maybe something to do with it too?
Q: What comes next?
Knowing what I know now about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, I will make it my mission to help businesses to adapt and grow in the new digital era. Honestly, I am not joking, but you have to be quick and learn as much as possible about new subjects to keep succeeding in this new world. The key question here is: Do you want to operate a successful business in 10 years? If the answer is YES, then be prepared to study a lot. While you study various aspects of the 4IR, specifically in your industry, you will start seeing the world in a slightly different light. Let it happen – don’t fight it. You may see the same buildings, parks, streets or homes … but trust me, that is the only thing which is still the same.
My upcoming seminar tour is designed to bring clarity to businesses, to find out how the 4IR is affecting their industry, and how to change-manage their organisation into the digital age. The SCA team is ready to research and put digital strategic growth plans into place and assist businesses with the transformation.
There is nothing to worry about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, the key is education. If you know which way to go, you can adapt and succeed. Unfortunately, we all have to learn new ways of thinking and doing. Change is the key to success. Please don’t be afraid of change, but instead look at it like an amazing opportunity you can be part of.
Thank you very much, Ilona for an inspirational interview, and I wish you and your team all the very best.