Finding Focus, Awareness, Creativity & Digital Purpose In Iceland
Known for its vast tundra, volcanoes, geysers, lava tunnels, and for being the gender equality leader of the world, Iceland proved to be an invigorating setting for software executives and digital transformation leaders to escape, connect, and explore what it takes to digitally accelerate a G2000 organization. While the sessions of Insight IGNITE’s third Innovation Roundtable of 2019 highlighted the tech and the disruption necessary for companies to instigate change internally, the most common themes that surfaced revolved around focus, awareness, creativity and purpose.
Why is focus important? Keynote speaker and executive coach Justin Milano noted during his presentation that distractions are costing people 238 minutes a daythat could be used for productivity. The recovery time takes to focus after a distraction is 84 minutes per day.
Fear vs. Purpose
Focus is nearly impossible when fear is present, and in business and digital transformation fear runs rampant.
“Underneath that fear is attachment,” says Justin. “The nature of the mind is to want to attach to things being a certain way, like how a product is going to launch. When things don’t show up the way we want, we get reactive and go into the fear response.”
A fear mindset propels people into survival mode, whereas purpose drives them to instigate change. Entrepreneurs can get attached to the historical revenue streams of their company, and leaders can get attached to business performance. When this kind of attachment and control take over they hijack creativity.
In the same vein companies can fall into being constrained by the sacred cow–an idea or institution held above criticism. Sam Yagan, former CEO of Match.com, shared how his team got over the sacred cow, while spinning out Tinder from Match, and then spinning it back into the company.
Embracing & Incentivizing Failure
“You don’t have to succeed all the time. In fact, you can’t.”
– Sam Yagan, former CEO of Match.com
Sam said that letting go of fear of failure was such an important aspect of his team’s productivity that he gave them incentives to fail.
“Infusing failure in the culture started with putting into the compensation plan,” he shares. “People didn’t get their bonus unless they could quantify failures. That made it ok to talk about them.”
At the time, there were three knowns about the online dating industry that were proven to lead to failure. One was that photo-based dating apps don’t work. Another was that logging into an app using a Facebook option wasn’t acceptable to users. The third fact was that no dating business launched locally. They only launched nationally so they could scale. However, as fate would have it, when the team hired to create Tinder, launched the app inside of Match, they implemented all three of those features, and ultimately ended up saving the Match business.
“How do you find the idea that breaks everything you know about the industry and take you to the next level?” Sam asked.
For Match, that idea was Tinder. After launching the app and seeing its tremendous growth, Sam knew when to spin Tinder back into the company.
Starting A Brush Fire
“Digital transformation is not just for Christmas.”
– Louise McCarthy
Adding to the conversation around fear—in this case fear of being disrupted—Louise McCarthy, who has led six digital transformations in her career, including
HSBC, Virgin, European Bank, and Transport of London, shared her journey in finding innovative ways to start a brush fire within large organizations.
When it comes to transformation, she expressed that it is imperative to understand the process, the cost associated with the process, the legacy integration, and finally, choosing which processes to automate.
Tactics that have helped her lead successful transformation include:
- Think about your customer first – (Enable customers to great things through your digital and business strategy.)
- Optimize – (Decide what to do with legacy applications.)
- Modernize – (Design architecture around big data, connecting systems, and into the cloud.)
- Resource – (Make sure you have a team of people running things and driving innovation.)
- Source – (Determine how you’re going to source the change you intend to deliver.)
“There’s no way you can change in IT,” says Louise. “You need to change in the business.”
The Power of Purpose
To get focused, any team or individual needs to let go of fear, as it blocks creativity. The pathway to clearing away fear comes with practicing mindfulness. From this, companies can approach their business with purpose and impact. According to a study by IDEO, teams that use purpose to guide their decision making have 61% more successful product launches than teams that don’t.
Brian Hoff, VP of Innovation at Exelon, expanded on the power of purpose in his presentation, focused on innovation in the enterprise. He emphasized that in order for culture change to take place, leaders have to be aligned, companies need organization, and they have to have a process to learn and communicate failures.
In addition to purpose and CEO support, Brian stressed the power of innovating at the core and why more companies need to shift to a lean startup mindset. He says that ultimately to succeed and implement digital transformation, organizations must create a culture where everyone is allowed to innovate.
It’s Going To Take All Of Us
The First Lady of Iceland, Eliza Reid, shares similar sentiments. During a fireside chat at Iceland’s Perlan Planetarium, she relayed that because there are only 350,000 people in Iceland, businesses have small teams and therefore, many people have to play multiple roles. She attributed Iceland’s gender equality stats to this aspect of the nation’s culture. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, Iceland has now closed more than 87% of its overall gender gap.
With regard to global organizations making diversity and gender equality a priority, the First Lady said: “It’s everyone’s responsibility to save these large companies.”
That’s the team spirit of Iceland.
Cleaning Data And Cutting Through The Noise
So what does all this mindfulness have to do with data? Data can be noisy. Jean-Luc Chatelain, CTO at Accenture Applied Intelligence, discussed the power of putting models and AI inside the business process, and using AI to clean a company’s data. Doing this allows you to find a signal amid all the noise of machine data, and potentially use the data to unlock new revenue streams.
A Late Stage Investor’s View
“Deploy fast or die.”
– Thomas Krane, VP at Insight Partners
Thomas Krane, Vice President at Insight Partners, gave the firm’s late stage investor view on DevOps, the cloud, and cybersecurity. He noted that legacy vendors are in secular decline, and 76 percent of cyber spend is on next-get providers.
From his perspective, agile and DevOps have gone mainstream, and every company in Insight Partners view is a software company. As for digital transformation, he says that if there’s one change a CEO is going to personally lead it’s cloud transformation.
Humanizing The Machine
Carl Ryden, founder of PrecisionLender, led a session on the importance of humanizing the machine, something his company has done with Andi®, the company’s intelligent virtual assistant. One of his key points was that context is king. Because humans are the future source of creativity, asking the right questions is everything. While AI has been thought to be the holy grail from a machine standpoint, machine and man working together will be crucial.
Creativity At The Last Mile
“Creativity isn’t magic; it’s a muscle.”
– Perry Hewitt, former Chief Digital Officer at Harvard University.
While most of the speakers stressed that innovation needs to happen from the top down, Perry Hewitt, former Chief Digital Officer at Harvard University, led a session on driving digital change in equal part from the bottom up. She talked about ways that organizational culture can foster creativity and autonomy to drive results at all levels. One helpful concept is the The Creative Curve, which is the optimal tension between things that are familiar and things that are novel. A second is recognizing New Power – ways digital connectivity has shifted our longstanding power dynamics, and unleashed opportunity.
Additionally, Perry talked about practices and proven paths to creativity she’s seen work in the field from Harvard to Lincoln Center to her work across the museum sector setting up a new SaaS product.
These include the following:
- Fostering psychological safety. Leaders can promote growth mindsets versus fixed mindsets. A growth mindset thrives on challenge and new opportunities.
- Thinking big while placing small bets. Leaders must keep an eye on the big picture, while promoting creativity through placing small bets.
- Reevaluating longstanding collaboration (or Soiled!) practices. Change-friendly cultures often embrace new practices like a discipline of dailies and reverse brainstorming.
- Driving toward diversity in all its forms. Different perspectives around the table are critical, but don't forget cognitive diversity, encapsulating differences in perspective or information processing styles.
Digital transformation is never easy. Finding ways to incorporate creativity into both top-down thinking and bottom-up processes is a critical component for future-proof organizations.
At the end of the day, creativity and transformation go hand in hand, and they require focus, awareness, and purpose. This can be achieved through mindfulness. Where business is concerned, mindfulness starts at the top. If someone wants to be a mindful leader, the process starts with practicing mindfulness exercises, seeing if there’s value in them, and then introducing the practice to the rest of an organization. While some employees may adopt mindfulness sooner than others, the ones who do will inevitably see their fears subside.