Tech-first companies don’t thrive

Sandy Carter and Kathy Klotz-Guest at SXSW2019

Take innovation, 2 brilliant speakers and mix that with enterprise experience and a large portion of comedy humour — and you have a talk that not only inspires you, but makes you want to take action immediately.

That’s my impression of the SXSW2019 talk: Digital Transformation, AI and an Innovation Mindset, presented by Sandy Carter, VP from Amazon Web Services and Kathy Klotz-Guest, author & Founder of Keeping it Human.

If you have a spare moment (well, hour to be precise) the full-length talk is available on official SXSW website:

But if you only have 3 minutes, carry on reading. I tried to squeeze the essence of the talk that made the biggest impact on me, from the point of view of creative technologist, innovator and digital transformationist.

Your innovation team should be happy with 2 pizzas.

The starting point of any innovation project is to form a team. A small team that if asked to work late, would be satisfied with 2 pizzas. Think about it as a startup: a self-managed, motivated group of people. The team must be diverse. This doesn’t always have to be diversity in gender, religion, culture, race etc, as this is not always possible — diversity of thought is what counts here.

Once we have our team, it’s time for training which should be adequate to the project and technology used moving forward.

Data is the fuel of your project

To innovate successfully you need something substantial. Something that makes sense not only for your team, but also for your manager, and your CEO. Numbers and insights based on data don’t lie. But to be factual, make sure that the quantity and quality of your data is satisfactory. Remember that the data source must be relevant and true. There’s nothing worse than making assumptions based on lies.

Formula 1: During each race, 120 sensors on each car generate 3 GB of data, and 1,500 data points are generated each second. Source: Carter

Innovation is not only a product

When your hear “innovation”, some of the things that pop into your head may be: robots, electric cars, AR headsets, AI powered apps etc. Essentially, products.

But there’s much more to innovate. Operations and Innovation as a Business Model — areas that only recently gained more exposure harness the power of tech, resulting in speed, automation, and better focus on the problem.

Innovation is a mindset

What is your budget? How long will it take? These questions are the typical ones to ruin innovation ideas. Ask instead: What if we did this? How might we? Open your brain for new ways of thinking.

Thinking in an innovative way means breaking the habits of calculating every move on a spreadsheet. Reframe the definition of a failure. Let your team fail. More than that, make sure that they feel safe, if they do, provide psychological safety. When people don’t feel safe, they are less likely to be creative and brave to come up with innovative ideas.

‘Yes, and…’ innovation!

When someone tries to present you with an idea, listen. You then have a decision to make. Accept or reject. To be innovative, you have to say yes. It’s not “yes, but…” though. That’s an idea killer.

“Yes and…” moves ideas forward. Source: © Copyright 2019 Keeping it Human

The way to go is to say “Yes, and… “ — and expand on the idea. Continue the thought in an open way. Make it exciting and elaborate until you’re ready to talk about this idea with another person. That’s how you promote the innovation thinking, and validate ideas at the same time. There’s no need to sign the check, it’s not a commitment — it’s an exploration.

This mindset should be promoted not only by the innovation team, but by every member of your organisation: customer service, product engineers, operations… It’s not easy to change someone else’s way of thinking, but without that, there’s no chance to innovate. It’s time for a revolution in a corporate culture!

Tech-first companies don’t thrive. Customer-first do.

If you stop for a second and think about the most successful companies in the world, you notice that it’s never a product that sells best for them. It’s the customer obsession that drives innovation. Dive into customers’ lives, empathy, data analyse, projection of success. If your ideas are genuinely meant to help people solve their problems, the innovation mindset will provide the best results.

Now go, innovate.

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