If you are anything like me, you’ve probably settled into some well-grooved techniques for setting direction and solving business problems: We form hypotheses on the basis of frameworks and mental models that simplify the world; we test them through a combination of facts, analysis, pattern recognition, and experience; and then, informed by the results of those tests, we chart a course. There’s a lot to be said for this approach, which has its roots in the scientific-inquiry method that helped create our modern world, and which isn’t going away.
But it also isn’t enough. Leaders today can let go of their hypotheses and let the data speak through the application of artificial intelligence and advanced analytics. They can pursue radical change through human-centered design techniques aimed at rising expectations and unmet needs. They can undertake rapid prototyping to test, learn, and pursue initiatives that once might have required months or years of study and planning. All of this requires fresh skills and mind-sets that many leaders lack.
The individual challenge is multiplied many times for the enterprise as a whole, and so is the prize: activating the organization to identify new business opportunities and to disrupt before being disrupted. This issue of the Quarterly lays out three critical priorities for seizing that prize. In “The cornerstones of large-scale technology transformation,” my colleagues Michael Bender, Nicolaus Henke, and Eric Lamarre provide a road map for companies struggling to make the most of the advanced technologies and analytics at their disposal today. The challenges, they suggest, are less about technology per se than they are about integrating multiple technologies with one another and stretching the last mile to derive value from them, and from the data associated with them.
“The business value of design” also focuses on the importance of integration—of design and the user with a company’s business priorities, and of multiple perspectives, on cross-functional teams, pursuing iterative development processes. My coauthors and I describe how to stretch toward this ideal and show that reaching it isn’t just a nice-to-have these days; it’s a critical enabler of financial success in just about any physical, service, and digital setting.
Building the skills and organizational alignment needed to deliver on the promise of advanced analytics, technologies, and design is hard work and can be unnerving for people at all levels. In “Digital strategy: The four fights you have to win,” Tanguy Catlin, Laura LaBerge, and Shannon Varney explain how to fight the fear, ignorance, guesswork, and diffusion of effort that can be debilitating.
Together, these articles paint a picture of the changing corporate organism. Offering further food for thought are leaders at Koç Holding in Turkey, Ping An in China, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and SAP in Germany—all of whom are redefining their organizations and the skills they need. Their insights and experience underscore the degree to which a business isn’t just a system for delivering value; it’s a bundle of capabilities that must continuously evolve if the business is to thrive over the long haul.