Four Fundamental Lessons for Building a Culture of Innovation and Success
I have been the VP and Corporate CIO at Carnival Corporation since 2013. Managing the IT organization and helping to steer our technology initiatives and investments within the organization has been both challenging, and fulfilling. Throughout my journey, I have had the great fortune to work with a talented team of professionals who not only challenge themselves, they challenge me to continue my pursuit of knowledge, and push myself beyond what I previously thought was possible.
“It is not technology for technology sake - it has to improve the customer's life, and make it more enjoyable”
Although I have gained a wealth of knowledge and experience throughout this journey, there are four key ideas which stand above my other lessons and takeaways; focusing on the customer, planning and anticipating change, persistence, and resilience. Those ideas, layered on the Three C’s: communication, collaboration, and coordination, are what I use as my foundation blocks to building a culture which nourishes innovation and creativity.
It is about the customer.
If they are not enlightened, there is a good chance they won't remember your company when they need your product or service again. It is about exceeding their expectations in ways they cannot even imagine or describe in words. True innovation is not about asking what customers want. It is about anticipating their needs and fulfilling their desires before they were even thought of by them. Simplify processes and make it really, really easy to use products and services. And more importantly, create an emotional connection; something that the competition will not be able to quickly copy. It is not technology for technology sake, - it has to improve the customer's life, and make it more enjoyable.
Plan for change.
Do not underestimate how challenging it can be to change people's behavior. Many a project has failed, not because the technology was bad. If you fail to engage people and give the big picture, to clearly demonstrate "what is in it for me", there is a big chance that a solution will not be adopted by your colleagues. Many good solutions can get buried because the organization may lack a solid change management and communications plan. It is not always easy, and it is usually the activity pushed to the bottom drawer, but it is ultimately the big mistake that can lead to failure. To avoid this, one must identify the opinion makers and the ambassadors. Engage them early and keep them in the loop. Ask for their help and listen to their feedback. Adjust your change and communications plan constantly, and incorporate their ideas and suggestions.
Be patient and persistent.
Every project has a change aspect and most people don't like change. It’s just a fact of life. You have to tell the same story many times, and often to the same person! Pay attention to body language, and frequently check if the story makes sense. I had ideas which took several long (and I mean long) conversations with key people to get them educated about concepts, and to give them time to digest them. In this process, they came back with a slew of new questions, until they finally felt comfortable with the concepts I was presenting. If they can make sense out of the concepts, they can logically accept the ideas in early stages. After they logically accept the ideas, you will also need to win their hearts - that may take more time. If you are "lucky," they may “own" the idea and become your point ambassadors. Don't let vanity get the best of you... Share and give credit. Let them run with the idea.
Not everything runs as we would like them to. Not all ideas will see their implementation. You can't make everybody happy (and believe me, I have tried... and failed miserably...). You won't get everything right, and you will have your share of disappointments. Unforeseen circumstances can blow a project. But, oh, my friend, the fight is worthy, and the more you try, the more you will succeed. You need to build resilience. Breathe... And breathe again... Brush off the dust and stand up. One step at a time, start again. And again. Reflect on what you can do differently next time, and work on making little changes in your behavior. Small changes are easier to become habits. Strive for the best, enjoy the journey, and be mindful that setbacks are a part of it. Learn from them and move on. Life only likes those who like her.
As with many of my CIO counterparts, my journey has had its share of success and failures. I do, however, maintain that my foundation blocks (the aforementioned lessons and takeaways) have helped me become a better leader, along with enabling me to nurture a culture of innovation.
These lessons and ideas are shared in hope that they may be useful to other CIOs and to perhaps inspire the next generation of rising CIOs.