1. Success accelerates as negative judgments dissolve

The first and most important rule of leadership is also the most difficult. Most companies have a range of filters and assumptions than live deep in the culture. Most of these are unspoken and unconscious and most have a negative impact on innovation. Look at a few examples and it’s not difficult to see how these things take root in businesses.


So where do these negative judgements come from? All judgements come from values, which are unconscious motivators. Negative judgements are based in fear.

What is the fear?

There is a fear of failure. Most organisations talk about being accepting of failure but it’s almost never true. Everything is expected to be a winner and failure is almost always punished. There is often no learning because there is more effort directed towards “who” failed than “what” failed.

Fear of losing position, face and money is a key issue. No one will do something that will impact their status and bonus so innovation projects need to be structured differently.

We have a model that helps companies structure effectively around digital innovation and our process help resolve these issues at the beginning of the journey.

Finally innovation often stalls because stakeholders say no to the future based on the experiences of the past. This thinking kills digital innovation.

2. Be the Change You Seek in Others

No innovation project ever started with a CEO whose secretary prints his emails! Technology is now so pervasive that todays leaders have to be comfortable using technology. Senior executives need to get out of their comfort zone and start to learn new technology. You can’t have an opinion on what makes sense until you have actually used some of this technology.

You don’t need to be a power user but if you have not used Tumblr, Snapchat, Tinder, Uber, Facebook it’s impossible to really understand the full potential of the digital age.

One of the banks implemented an internal social network simply because the senior manager refused to communicate with staff in any other way. While it may have been an extreme approach, it quickly gained momentum and now represents an effective and powerful internal communication tool.

Using these tools is the start for building a culture that fosters acceptance, curiosity and openness – all hallmarks of innovative companies.

This also means senior managers have to listen, observe and accept that ideas can come from anywhere. Sometimes there is just no substitute for time and experimentation. Facebook and Google both had years of experimentation before they became the success they are today. If fact Google had reached the end of their funding just before they discovered Adwords as a tool to commercialise search. The rest is history.

There also needs to be a willingness to let go of a preconceived outcome. Experimentation is incremental but the final outcome is often unclear. Strengthening the organisation’s comfort with ambiguity and confidence in uncertainty enables innovation.

3. Everyone is a Genius

The digital solution is not always obvious. In fact it’s hardly ever obvious. Who would have thought Facebook would come from a student, Alibaba would be founded by a teacher. Ideas come from anywhere and it’s the enablement of these ideas that delivers innovation.

The challenge for organisations now is that the solution is almost never obvious. All the easy solutions are well and truly in place. Everyone has their own perspective on complex issues and uncovering these perspectives in order to inform the full picture is the challenge of modern day leadership.

4. The Universe is of Infinite Abundance

Digital has removed all traditional constraints from business and innovation. A business currency in the future is not based on the currency today. The limitations of the past don’t constrain the future. Jack Mar, a 50 year old Chinese teacher, founded Alibaba in his flat without massive resources. His net worth is $22 billion. Atlassian, one of Australia’s most successful businesses, was started by two students with a credit card debt.

Ideas and information are free and accessible to all. The sum total of human knowledge is now online. The constraints of access to information have gone. The constraints of access to markets are going. Every business can be global.

Your competitor may not be on your current list, it may not even be in your country and it may not come from your industry. AirBNB has created a new class of accommodation and a new class of business. People are making money renting rooms in their homes and funding other activities. Hundreds of businesses were built off the back of eBay.

Digital innovation is a never ending process of refinement and testing.

5. People are not their Behaviour

People are not their mistakes and innovation requires many mistakes. People have to be separated from their behaviour both internally and externally.

  • It’s about uncovering the unarticulated needs. People are not capable of saying what they want if they have never seen what is possible. A deep understanding of unmet and unexpressed needs helps make the impossible possible.
  • Behaviour does not define a person or their needs. Demographics are no longer useful as a means to define a target.
  • Old paradigms of customer segmentation are not based on a real understanding of needs.

Separate the behaviour from the person.

6. The Message is the Feedback

Digital leadership is about putting yourself in your customers shoes. The feedback you are getting is the result of the message you are putting out. So if you think your digital initiatives are engaging and useable but your customers think they are not then you have to give some thought to the experience for your customers.