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Strategies, advice and opinions helping to define and develop the role of IT leaders and their staffs.

How to Defeat the Innovation Con Game

I watch an inappropriate amount of television.

Whenever I have free time, I am in front of the TV consuming content. It’s not always streaming, as is the dominate form for my kids, but a variety of content across an array of subscription services. My love of television, established and nurtured as a child and enduring over a lifetime, creates a welcome distraction to the media consumption during my working hours.

My role as a technology executive and CTO includes seemingly endless hours of reading analyst opinions, influencer summaries, blogger perspectives, and practitioner examples of innovative technology trends. Hundreds of blogs, reports, articles, interviews, and TED Talks, create wild swings in my impressions of the trends and the implications to the world around me and the organization I directly control.  I am sure that there is a cabal of content creators and opinion-makers determined to overwhelm readers with a tsunami of competing opinions.

Internally, my executive, marketing, operations, finance, and IT/Engineering teams all have their own point-of-views and applicability of these technological disrupters to the business. My job as a CIO/CTO is to assimilate all of the information to make key platform decisions. At times, I find it overwhelming to sift through all of the disparate content. I’m sure it’s the same for you.

The assimilation and application of diverse innovation and trend perspectives is a unique skillset; one that I fear requires far more mistakes than necessary before becoming second nature. Going down the wrong innovation path or choosing the wrong architectural model can have negative consequences for your career and for your organization. I have made my fair share of mistakes, including aligning to a single vendor or analyst organization, jumping too quickly into bleeding edge architectures, and presuming massive shifts in the business would occur simply because technology innovation was implemented.

It’s my suspicion that the competing information overload is an example of “the long game” confidence trick perpetrated by a cabal of experts.

Firstly, let’s dissect my belief of the trends and innovation collection swindle by applying the established stages of a con:

  • Foundation Work (preparation in advance): “Experts” develop a following by being engaged in the technology community, usually at the knifes edge of invention (versus innovation), by creating foundational and educational content to be consumed by the malnourished executive masses.
  • Approach (the target is contacted): Consumer executives are teased with attention-grabbing headlines of business innovation and business outcomes produced, and become seduced by numbers of followers and eloquent writing styles or visual heroics.
  • Build-up (the target is given a small opportunity to profit): “You too” can obtain the same business or technological leaping results, if you only harnessed these simple steps applied to almost any general situation.
  • Convincer (the target gains a small reward): The expert provides summary planning material, economic analyses, or competitive summaries as a reward for reading or listening to the point-of-view.
  • The Hurrah (a change of events forces the target to act now): If your plans and strategies don’t change today to implement this amazing innovation, the whole organization won’t be able to keep up with digital disrupters!
  • The In-and-In (another executive legitimizes): Executives from other companies who have achieved these amazing new revenue opportunities are quoted and keynoted.

And you believe it, so you buy it.

Okay, okay. We know that’s the game and we willingly play our part. We have a real need to discover new ideas and new ways of thinking. It’s the only way to truly develop our personal experience and expertise to drive meaningful change.

Secondly, let’s look at the last part of the long game by examining innovation application confidence tricks. This will help you to defeat the potential mistakes made when there are competing opinions:

  • Get-rich-quick schemes (creating money from nothing): Considering it is highly unlikely that any one trend or business innovation will immediately grow the top line in orders of magnitude within the same quarter, measuring innovation should be incremental, and not always necessarily financial in scope. Consider innovation to deliver varying degrees of operational efficiency (faster time to deliver a service), customer experience (matching how customers buy with how you sell), and business model changes (diversifying the buyer).
  • Persuasion tricks (convincing the ill-informed): The best way to be informed is to consider research as the primary activity for IT strategy and innovation. Specifically, target a variety of sources with competing opinions. Look outside of your direct industry for innovations that might seem adjacent to your problem. Be aware that your internal team is just as valuable as external perspectives. Their perspectives, especially when applying real-world constraints of the existing platforms, should provide a significant contribution to your go-forward strategy.
  • Gold brick scams (wrapping lack of content in a bow): Deliberately and purposely deep dive into a topic and its source. Wikipedia, while a valuable source of definitions, is not the source of detail. Additionally, when it comes to innovation partners, look past the marketing material. Look for real-life delivery of innovative ideas. Talk to previous clients to understand not just the outcome, but the process used to achieve the results.
  • False-injury tricks (failure without change): The application of innovation is almost always both experimental and agile. It’s a “mode 2” activity, which can be more valuable when separated from the daily delivery of your operational environments. Innovation activity should have the luxury to fail quickly. You must be able to experiment constantly and frequently without the risk of impacting production. Additionally, innovation doesn’t necessary mean change, it might simply mean diversifying your services portfolio to include multiple ways to consume or sell your offerings. Consider adding innovation versus replacing with innovation.
  • Gambling tricks (the shell game): What’s under the hood needs to be far more valuable than what the car looks like. It’s very easy to create a business case for innovation, which on the surface using even conservative figures, produces amazing results. The first business case should be used to justify an experiment for creating the innovation (proving out a theory, or justifying a change). The second business case requires a much more detailed appreciation of the costs and unimaginable risks to implementing this innovation with real customers, suppliers, revenue, and expenses. It’s the real-world implications and detailed financial modelling that ultimately determines where the organization should invest.

Implementing innovation is a high-pressure situation that comes with extraordinary expectations. This can lead you to believing in the confidence of others. Don’t underestimate the importance of your own research and professional experience. By using all of the tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to make the right decisions and avoid the innovation con game.

I didn’t mean to get all Oceans 11, or 12, or 13, or the upcoming 8 on you.

Now back to my show.

Paul Lewis is the CTO of Hitachi Americas and an advisory board member with The IT Media Group. Hitachi focuses on enhancing Digital Transformation initiatives by combining innovative technology and a deep understanding of their customers’ business.


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