The inspirations of Shafi Ahmed – surgeon, teacher and futurist

Shafi Ahmed My way

The ‘world’s most watched surgeon’ broadcasts ops for students and advises governments and business on tech. Here are his inspirations

Listen with the ears of an owl is advice that I live by. Experience has taught me that good leadership is about listening intently to the people around you and all your stakeholders. It’s about being able to work with humility.

A book that has inspired me is Muhammad Ali: His life and times by Thomas Hauser. It has views from Ali’s family, friends and opponents. It’s fascinating how he changed over time. It also makes you think about legacy: what will you leave behind and be remembered for?

My favourite quote: “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed” – William Gibson.

I believe that artificial intelligence is the future. Machine learning will power healthcare. It will augment and assist doctors, rather than replacing them. People will access care wherever they are, whenever they need it, without waiting or taking time off work – which will also be good for employers.

A leader I admire is Jacinda Ardern, PM of New Zealand. Leadership is about how you act under pressure. Her response to the Christchurch terror attack – comforting people and facing the issue head on to bring about rapid change – was exemplary.

It’s important to get away for a day to relieve the pressure. For me, it’s about spending time with my family. My son and I go to watch West Ham United – football is a shared passion.

Tech empowers us to teach. The Lancet Commission reported that we need to train 2.2 million more surgeons to perform 143 million more procedures a year by 2030. That got me thinking: how can we disrupt the training of surgeons? Using VR, social media and TV, I shared my surgical skills with millions of people in real time. I hope it’s pushed a boundary of what we imagine learning could be in the future.

Professor Shafi Ahmed is one of 10 futurists to have written a chapter of Fast Forward Files: Change of perspective, to be published in February. For further information, visit

About author

Chris Maxwell

Chris Maxwell

Director’s editor spent nine years interviewing TV and film stars for Sky before joining the IoD in 2011 and turning the microphone on Britain’s business leaders. Since then he’s grilled everyone from Boris to Branson and, away from work, maintains an unhealthy obsession with lower league football.

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