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Reality Check: Figure.NZ's Lillian Grace

Reality Check: Figure.NZ's Lillian Grace

As part of Idealog's ongoing celebration of the technology sector, we've picked the brains of some of the movers and shakers in the industry to find out their favourite tech-related things, their biggest fears for the future and what other companies and individuals inspire their work. Here's Figure.NZ's founder and CEO Lillian Grace. 

What's your favourite...

Technology you can’t live without?

Soda Stream machine for making sparkling water.

Underrated or old technology?

Computers are starting to feel like old tech!

New Zealand tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

Te Aroha Morehu who is creating virtual reality experiences for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei to connect whānau and others back to history and community... they’re hands-down the most impactful VR experiences I’ve tried. (disclaimer: he’s my partner)

Global tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

Tash Lampard, one of the wonderstars behind Webstock. It’s a NZ-based tech conference with global appeal that high-flying international speakers consider it an absolute privilege to be invited to speak at; because of the standard and brilliant curation. I went for the first time earlier this year, and it was completely inspiring and delivered real and practical value for those with their hands on shaping the technology of the future. It is a total credit to the Webstock team that the international attendees were blown away by the whole thing.

Tech project or product you’ve had a hand in?

Figure.NZ where I’m Founder and CEO - we’re here to make figures something everyone can use in their thinking, not just the experts. We see numbers as a language that hold our stories, and believe everyone should be able to understand those stories to better navigate and make decisions. Before that, Massive Software - artificial intelligence-based 3D animation software used in visual effects, we won an Academy Award for the technology that changed how crowd scenes could be rendered.

Tech project or product that isn’t yours, but you’re envious of?

I don’t get envious of what others are doing - there’s too much to do in the world to be anything other than delighted when others invent something cool!

What first drew you to this industry?

Serendipity! I started my career as a high-school PE teacher, then met the CEO of Massive Software socially and she asked me to come and work with her. I knew absolutely nothing about technology when I said yes, and have since fallen in love with the impact it can have when focused in the right direction.

What do you enjoy the most about working in tech?

The ability to completely reimagine how we can do things, both to create delight and to solve problems.

How would you describe New Zealand’s tech culture?

Not focused on the things that matter most. We still have people who are cold, hungry, and disconnected in our country – until we’ve solved that, I think we’re failing.

Where does inspiration come from for you?

Most of my inspiration comes from Aotearoa – I feel really connected to our country and responsible for it, and that fuels and inspires me every day.

How has tech impacted on your work? How will it impact on it in the future?

The biggest impact has been remote-first working, which our team has written all the detail of here in case it’s useful for others.

What’s been the most concerning change that technology has made to human behaviour, in your experience?

The sense that we can somehow outsource our problems to technology.

How would you describe your relationship with technology? Do you think you’re addicted to any form of it?

Technology is absolutely embedded throughout my life. I invest time into setting up delightful systems and processes using tech that serve me and my goals and free me up for thinking. I’m pretty addicted to having my phone with me, although it makes me feel free to roam rather than trapped.

Do you think social media is a blessing or a curse?

Neither, it’s a tool for humans and we get to decide when and how to use it.

Do you think technology needs more laws surrounding it, or a form of resource consent regulation?

Because of the fast pace of change we see with technology, it is really hard for our laws to keep up in a way that provides safe operating environments for people inventing and using it. I think we’d be better off looking at a set of principles to govern behaviour than specific legislation on specific technologies.

What needs to be done to tackle the diversity issue in tech?

I think we need to stop trying to create diversity within frameworks that weren’t created by or for diversity – and build new ways of operating, by diverse groups of people. For example – the hierarchical structure of most companies, the methodology used by most boards, or the win-lose types of partnerships and deals that are common are not aligned with how many people naturally operate. We need to be brave and dedicated enough to change those things.

What worries you the most about technology?

That it’s so sparkly that we forget it’s just a tool to serve bigger aspirations. It feels like we think we can outsource the solving of our problems to technology, rather than realising it’s still our responsibility.

What’s your scariest prediction for the future? Will the robots kill us all?

That we forget to be human first, that we put technology or data in the centre of our world-view rather than living beings and our environment.

What will New Zealand look like as a country in 2037?

That’s best summed up in the opening of my TEDxAuckland talk a few years ago… 'We have everything we need to be a country that is cohesive, wealthy, filled with smart, healthy people who enjoy a variety of lifestyles surrounded by a gorgeous environment. We have everything we need to be a country that is fragmented and poor, filled with uneducated and unhealthy people who struggle each day, surrounded by a damaged environment. I believe to make the best future – we need to get to know our country, and we need to feel responsible for it.'