Aidan Connolly, CEO of Cainthus: 'Books and Reading Will Continue to Be Fundamental to the Survival of Humanity'
Aidan Connolly is an agribusiness leader with nearly 30 years of experience. He’s the CEO of Cainthus, a company that brings measurability to the farming industry, by combining computer vision with artificial intelligence.
Using a smart camera system, Cainthus is changing the way farmers monitor livestock. Through passive, non-invasive and non-disruptive monitoring 24/7, it analyzes cows’ well-being, productivity and performance, and alerts the farmers when most needed, ensuring that their health and comfort is always a priority.
Aidan join as CEO at the beginning of this year, but he’s been involved since its inception. Cainthus was founded in 2015, in Ireland, by David and Ross Hunt, who have a background in agriculture and grew up in a family that owns Ireland’s largest grain importer and exporter. The company is now based in Dublin, California and Ottawa.
Prior to this, Aidan was Chief Innovation Officer of Alltech, where he worked for 25+ years, in over 100 countries, and lived in six of them (he speaks five languages!). He is also the president of AgriTech Capital.
Aidan is specialized in International Business (holds a Master’s in International Marketing from University College Dublin) and holds positions as adjunct professor of marketing at the Smurfit School of Business, University College Dublin, and the China Agricultural University in Beijing.
Earlier this year, Aidan released a strategic business planning book called “2-1-4-3“. With the traditional business plan becoming useless, he explains an innovative workflow for teams that are looking for a new and successful approach to planning, since the traditional business plan is dead. The book also includes proven case studies of companies across the globe, from many sectors, that implemented the model with success, and actionable steps to guide you through planning.
In our interview, Aidan talks about the books that have changed his worldview, what skills will be critical in the future, new challenges we face with the arrival of AI, why books and reading will continue to be fundamental to the survival of humanity, and more.
What books had the biggest impact on you? Perhaps changed the way you see things or dramatically changed your career path. (Business and non-business, if possible.)
In Search of Excellence at the age of 16 while on vacation and it convinced me that I had a passion for management, leadership and strategy. Prior to that I had planned to be an Engineer. I still have the copied I read three times in a row, and the key sentences are highlighted. Probably good that I read it then! I was an early reader of Tolkien, and a wide range of fiction. I really appreciate and always have on my shelf different books of quotations, so much to learn in short phrases.
Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell us about it?
Many books have changed my view of the world, even when I don’t agree with everything an author says. I have enjoyed Yuval Noah Harari’s books Sapiens & Homo Deus and how humanity might evolve in the presence of AI, Robots and super humans. AI Superpowers by Kai-Fu Lee made me think a lot about the future world and the US vs. China influence on artificial intelligence & the next developments in it.
We’re interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How do you make time for reading? What format do you prefer? Do you have a note-taking system or any other techniques to retain information?
I still prefer books in the paper version but of course it is less practical for travel. I have read books recently on my Kindle but also find it less practical for marking up the parts I want to go back to. Magazines such as The Economist, newspapers like The Times and Financial Times I enjoy on an iPad.
What five books would you recommend to young people who are just starting their career & why?
Of course I would recommend most 2-1-4-3 – Plan your Explosive Business Growth. It is my own first book and published in Feb but already with launches in New York, Singapore, Dublin, Kentucky, Omaha, Cork and London next. I wrote it to be a framework for business, startups, institutions and for life planning.
I would suggest Hans, Anna, and Ola Rosling’s Factfulness on the real world of statistics. Gladwell/Pink both write really interesting books but I like Freakonomics as being the best of its kind; Quirky insights on humanity. Bad Blood has become the book on what not to do in a startup. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a very old book that could be republished today and all of the lessons would be just as relevant.
With the jobs market more and more unstable and insecure, lifelong education is key. At the same time, learning resources are becoming increasingly commoditized and know-how also becomes obsolete faster. What fundamental skills, those that will always matter, do you believe should be learned in schools?
In reality reading will be increasingly a tough skill to learn, because free time is more limited, more is filled with social media and the internet, people don’t take the time to read longer arguments, discussions, points. This will be critical to the ability to write well. I have noticed a considerable deterioration in the people I am interviewing and employing in their writing skills compared to ten or twenty years ago. So many things today however, Blogs, Vlogs, even well written tweets can benefit from these skills. I would recommend any young person to read widely, both for pleasure and business, both literature, poetry, great speeches, books of quotes and use those reading skills to hone their own ability to analyse, critique, formulate thoughts and translate them into words and actions.
There’s such an abundance of information and sources available at our fingertips, that we risk becoming “digitally obese”, and even be paralyzed by the extra information. Is there any way that you try to handle information overwhelm or manage social media? For example: are there any things that other people spend way too much time doing that you generally stay away from.
No. I have too many email accounts and have chosen to favor certain social media over others. I am very active on Linkedin and Twitter but not on the others. I don’t have an easy way to avoid it all, and while it’s wonderful I know how much time it sucks up.
Last question: What business challenges currently keep you up at night?
The arrival of AI seems to challenge the traditional view of what it means to be human. What work will we do? How do we contribute, use our knowledge and brains to continue to advance the world. What can we do that digital technology cannot. Harari says continuous learning is the key. If so that means books and reading will continue to be fundamental to the survival of humanity.
Links where you can follow Aidan Connolly or find out more about his projects:
- 2-1-4-3 book
- AgriTech Capital
- Connect with Aidan on LinkedIn | Twitter
- The Sifted article where we learned about Cainthus: 30 tech innovators to watch in Europe in 2019
All books mentioned by Aidan in our interview:
- His book: 2-1-4-3 – Plan Your Explosive Business Growth!
- In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies, by Tom Peters, Robert H. Waterman
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
- Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari
- AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, by Kai-Fu Lee
- Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Ronnlund, Ola Rosling
- Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
- Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou
- How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie