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What Place Does Innovation Have in Digital Transformation?

OK, so I admit, I asked a dumb question in the title. Innovation has a huge play in Digital Transformation.  That said, could you answer the deeper implied question, “How exactly will you make your company innovative as you move deeper into the digital world?”

Honestly, that’s a better and a much more difficult question. Innovation is hard.  It doesn’t come magically.  It requires attitude and effort.

Attitude

Let me tell you about a company I was working with a few years ago.  During a workshop, I suggested we let people collaborate and comment via comments in a new tool.  I knew I had stepped into dangerous waters when everyone became silent and started looking at each other nervously. After a few moments of silence, one participant looked at me and said, “Mike, we don’t do that here.  Our culture frowns on that.” After recovering from shock, we looked at alternative and less collaborative methods. But that and many other examples I’m sure you could tell me, belie the fact that you can’t become innovative without the correct attitude.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean by attitude

  • Apple launches a new phone that changes the game.  Steve Jobs fostered an attitude of innovation……even if he personally was exacting in his expectations
  • Google lets employees dedicate a part of their time to personal projects
  • 7-11 launched a successful mobile app through a skunkworks initiative.  Employees put time in and launched it without worrying about losing their jobs.
  • Some of IBM’s most coveted titles include “Distinguished Engineer”  Now for those of you who say IBM isn’t innovative, think about how many years in the past 20, IBM has led the number of patent awards.

In some ways, attitude also suggests culture but ultimately, if a company’s employees don’t feel empowered or they feel as if any innovation they push will not be heard then they will react.  So ultimately, executive attitude has a huge impact on innovation.

Effort

Even with a good attitude that allows innovation to come from within and without a company, you still have to time and money into it.  Time needs to come from everyone in the organization to innovate. Frankly, I’m good at recognizing what’s happening and defining how to get to there.   Just don’t ask me to define that exciting new widget or offering. So if I own a company, I had better be setting up ways to solicit ideas, let the cream rise to the top, and then fund it in a way that doesn’t break the bank.

In a recent engagement with a client, we talked about what that means from an effort standpoint.

innovation

I like the idea implied here because in your digital transformation, you can’t ignore everyday realities to become ‘hipster’ innovative. You still need to set a foundation and you still need to address the simple and basic realities of a great customer experience.  But if you follow this model then your plan will include more time, effort, and funding towards things that will disrupt your business for the better.

What It Means to Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation Strategy ends with a plan.  That plan had better include concrete and actionable activities that highlight innovation.  Each company will have their own unique needs but here are some common ones:

  • Executive support. Emails, changes in policy, and other communication methods that say, “we want good ideas that make us better and potentially even change the game.  This includes being open to things that destroy your current business while opening up new possibilities.
  • Governance. What!!!  I just said governance in an innovation conversation?  Yes, and heres why.  Governance is a framework that helps define the way in which you innovate. People, processes, measurement, and tools will help. Executives won’t invest in innovative ideas unless you have some discipline around it.  So setup that discipline and make it easier on everyone.
  • Tools.  In the grand scheme of things, this is relatively minor but the right tools make innovation easier
    • Ideation tool to gather and rank ideas.
    • DevOps tools and processes to make it easier to get the good ideas out the door
    • Testing and targeting tools to innovate from a marketing standpoint, fail quickly and move on
  • Budget. yes, you need to fund those ideas.  Not everything can be skunkworks. I’m not saying spend your wad or break the bank.  I am saying that over time, you need to mature as a digital organization, get away from the basics, and invest in what will yield true results.

One thought on “What Place Does Innovation Have in Digital Transformation?

  1. Hi Michael . Your views on Digital Transformation are relevant & contemporary. It was an interesting read. We have posted a blog on ‘Is Implementing Digital Transformation an ‘Olympic’ task? ’ and would like to get your views. The recent Olympic games in Rio have been quite exciting for viewers around the globe. We thought of understanding the ‘digital transformation’ aspect in detail. Readers of your blog might like reading it too. Here’s the link http://bit.ly/2c7CU6r

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