Sunday, 28 February 2010


Companies thrive on innovation, but the human beings who make up those companies inevitably favour certain ways of working. They also favour working with people like themselves, so they tend to hire people who also like that same way of working. So where is the innovation going to come from?

According to Robert Sutton, professor of management science at Stanford, it comes from hiring people you don't like. Perhaps not people you actively dislike, but certainly people who make you a bit uncomfortable, people who think differently and disagree with you. They probably won't be impressed with the way you do things. Which makes them much more likely to come up with a better way.

This sounds about right to me. As someone who innovates and manages the process of innovation into delivery I regularly study innovation and thinking techniques. I do this because I don't really subscribe to the idea that the ability to create and generate ideas is purely talent based, or something some people have but others do not. I think really good thinking and innovation is a practice or a skill and like all good practices people can develop better ways of thinking and generating ideas. I mention all this because I often feel that one way you can help the innovation process is to be the person who says different things or takes a different perspective. So, along with actively employing people who are different or who you don't exactly like, you can also engender a culture of 'good thinking' and introduce techniques for idea generation that achieve a similar if not the same result.

Thought for the week

I've been talking to a lot of people at the moment about the fact that it is like another boom period for digital at the moment. I'm not entirely sure why it is happening. It could be that digital was the right answer for a lot of the challenges thrown up by the credit crunch. I don't think this is why though. I think it is the fact that people in digital are growing up and everyone else is finally realising it is where they need to focus to succeed.

This weeks thought is based on my feelings about what has stopped certain organisations from really embrassing digital and taking advantage of the opportunities it has presented. And I truly believe it is a fear of failure. I think that fearing failure generally is healthy, but as with any fears you have to balance out the risk i.e. what can we do to work towards the opportunity but plan for the risks effectively? Some organisations get so caught up in the risks and the potential of failure this eventually takes over and the original opportunity is lost.

"There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure." The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1988)

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Thought for the week

"Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Demystify, Democratise and Deliver

For my entire career I've had this three D's principle. Don't worry it won't take long to explain. Basically, I think everyone's role in digital within large corporate environments is to demystify, democratise and deliver (basically, complete their jobs in that order).

So, at first we should make the rule that if something is described in jargon or in a confusing manor then the person describing it should be addressed and told to explain it properly. If digital professionals do this then other (very smart) people can get involved in the conversation and start to make a real contribution.

Whilst this simple approach to demystifying things helps democratise digital a little there are many other things that then need to be addressed. Digital teams have business processes and functions which are unfamiliar to others. They process insight and make decisions in different ways, often a lot faster than other teams. Equally, the test and learn capability of a digital team is far greater as it is a lot easier and cheaper to do this in a digital environment compared to a physical one. This needs to be aligned to the rest of the business and 'educational' seminars held to ensure everyone understands and can be a part of it. Equally, the pace of the digital world and the rate at which opportunities are identified and acted on needs roles that actively ensure these are understood by all relevant parties.

Once this is all happening we can get on with the process of delivery. Here is where the digital world still falls massively short. Delivering is not really about the code or tech. It's about understanding the requirements and needs of customers and business operations & people, completing business practices, like business case development, selling ideas and making sure that innovation coming from all aspects of the business has a voice and a robust change management process to make it happen. It's about research and gaining insight into customers’ needs and behaviours. It's about creating a full multi-channel perspective and P&L representation. The list could go on and on. The digital practice needs to start to mature. By tapping into the entrepreneurial, passionate and enthusiastic characteristics of digital people this doesn't mean these practices are just learnt but they need to be considered, understood and evolved in collaboration. Then digital won't just be an output or production function but one that drives the strategy of organisations and gains the focus and attention its contribution deserves.

This principle still forms the single biggest focus in my career. And if you think about all the really successful projects and the one's that have gone on to turn businesses around they usually have a massive component of business process and function re-engineering or corporate cultural change and/or a massive impact on the business strategy (maybe they have even set a new strategy).