When association CEOs and executive-level leaders gathered at the Fairmont in Austin, Texas for digitalNow this week, the audience expected a conversation with plenty of chatter about VR, AR, AI, and a range of other acronyms that are reshaping membership models and monetization strategies. However, David Rogers, professor at Columbia Business School, kicked off his opening session with a somewhat surprising philosophy.
“Digital transformation is not about technology,” Rogers said. “It’s about strategy, leadership, and new ways of thinking about who you are, why you exist, and how you serve the greater world around you.”
Sure, technology plays a role in this transformation, but the digitalNow program proves that there are a number of other essential lessons to learn. As you focus on the future, consider these three key questions from some of the expert speakers in Austin.
1) Are You Too Focused on Short-Term Results?
Quarterly earnings reports are ingrained in American culture. Every three months, leaders offer an update on revenues, expenses, and growth forecasts for their businesses. However, the regular 90-day check-ins might actually be hindering the ability to experiment with new technologies, explore new ideas, and make decisions that will drive the profits that could start to flow many, many quarters from today.
“Worry less about next quarter,” John Frémont, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Hypergiant, said. “Worry about the next five years.”
Looking for proof that immediate profitability can take a backseat? If you’ve recently ordered from Amazon Prime or asked Amazon’s Alexa to retrieve an answer, you’ve already found the answer. Frémont reminded the audience that Amazon failed to turn a profit for the first six years of the company’s existence. While it wasn’t an invitation to completely forget about the financial statements ahead, Frémont does believe in the importance of thinking about the distant horizon to shape a company’s plans. “We’re so focused on the quarter,” he said, “that it has completely stifled innovation.”
2) Are You Thinking Like a Start-Up?
If you’ve been to any conference on creativity and innovation in the past five years, you’ve most likely heard references to two of the most popular start-up success stories: Uber and Airbnb. The companies have landed in the pockets of millions of customers and soared to massive private valuations. Rather than talking about how an organization can be the Uber of “insert word here,” it’s more important to start thinking like a nimble, just-launched company.
“In today’s world, we are all working at a start-up,” said William Hurley, founder of Strangeworks. The former managing director at Goldman Sachs — who goes by the name whurley — is one of Austin’s most-recognized entrepreneurs. “You’re all at a start-up, and start-ups are always in one of two phases: struggling or out of business,” he said. “So if you’re not struggling, you’re not paying attention.”
3) Is That New Technology Actually Going to Do Anything for Your Organization?
There are plenty of possibilities from emerging technologies, according to whurley. In fact, he even wrote a children’s book about quantum computing. However, don’t let that enthusiasm fool you: whurley doesn’t believe all technology will change the world. “Question all the technology,” whurley told participants. “Just because artificial intelligence or augmented reality exist, does it mean that you should use them?”
For example, he referenced blockchain. The term is dominating countless conversations among business leaders, but whurley is quite skeptical of the value of the model. “Okay, let’s think about blockchain for what it actually is: a white paper written by someone you don’t know that someone found on the dark web,” he joked. “That sounds pretty dumb now, doesn’t it?”
Instead of jumping on every tech bandwagon, whurley told the digitalNow audience that they should all think about the actual needs of their organizations with one question in mind: “What is the technology doing to advance your business?”