“Vision is the art of seeing the invisible” — Jonathan Swift
I was listening to the excellent Cloud Computing Podcast the other day and really enjoyed a discussion by @DavidLinthicum and Chris Dailey @cjdailey . The questions it made me think about were:
How do you get corporate leaders to embrace new trends in technology like the Cloud or Big Data? How do you get the executive stack to think strategically around new technology? How must leaders lead so that appropriate innovation is a normative corporate value?
The answer is to develop the skill of vision sharing. Sharing your vision about transformational technology in a way that causes people to embrace that vision is the key leadership skill to harness. Yes, astutely laying out the technical particulars is important but it doesn’t often win the day. Can your leaders share their vision in a way that motivates people to embrace the advantages of the new technology? Or will your people react to the shared vision by anchoring themselves in the present because change threatens their comfort and security?
In most companies, people have built up their teams around existing processes, technologies, structures and capabilities. New technology is threatening. It threatens people’s existing fiefdoms and it threatens their perception of their own success. But success based on existing technology can’t sustain itself long term. Your competitors are not sitting still and the new kids on the block are there because they’re making hay with the new technology. Leaders must realize that the technology they have today and the processes they have today will not continue to serve them equally in the future.
If your current leadership is sitting on their hands, if they’re not understanding both the existing profit model but also the technology needed for the future profit model, you have the wrong leader mentality. You need to groom or hire visionary leaders, people who are capable of sharing a vision, of inspiring a team of people, not just with existing capabilities and doing more, better, faster, but with utilizing new technology, new capabilities, new processes. But vision sharing is risky, especially by technologists. It’s common for brilliant technologists to get pushed aside just because they shared a bigger vision. And that vision scared or threatened people who were more interested in maintaining the status quo, who were more interested in self-preservation, who are more comfortable with the familiar. You need to build teams that are capable of sharing visions and embracing visions.
Your leaders also need to understand the contrast between reformation and revolution. In short, the status quo must consistently be challenged. If you don’t embrace perpetual reformation, you’re headed for revolution instead. Reformation means regularly evaluating, addressing challenges within the organization, looking at new ways of thinking and new technology to keep the organization moving forward. Revolution means you’ve hit a crisis, you need a major overhaul to compete and even to survive. Revolutions are rarely safe and comfortable.
Vision sharing involves getting the teams together and helping people understand the outcomes of new major initiatives and understanding why these outcomes are a positive event for them and their teams. The outcomes are coming anyways. You can either embrace change now as you consistently reform your systems and your approach, or you can suffer the effects of a revolution as you and your entire team feel the effects as wholesale change is initiated.
We can think of examples in the past of emerging technology that was embraced slowly. The LAN, SOA, the web, mobile. Today technologies that come to mind are the Cloud, Big Data and Social Media. These are technologies that have documented positive impact. Even if people are protecting their fiefdoms, the change will come eventually. Take the case of Big Data. Of course the relational database zealots will come out in force against it. It’s not comfortable, it’s not secure, it’s not familiar, it’s not “how we do things.” But you know and I know that they’re going to lose that battle eventually. In forward thinking organizations, that’s going to be sooner rather than later.
The message here is that your leaders can’t just be good at technology. They need to be good at sharing their vision forthrightly and effectively and in a way where people passionately embrace that vision. This is not easy if they come up against entrenched forces that perceive new technology as a threat. The real key is to build a team of people that are not only eager to work together, but who understand that innovation and transformation are a regular part of the rhythm of the organization. The leadership challenge then, is to create a culture that embraces change, innovation, reformation and transformation. Better that than a slow hedge against the future where a revolt becomes necessary to get back in the game and make up for lost time.
 This post borrows greatly from a brief discussion by Chris Dailey from the Cloud Computing Podcast, Dailey, Chris, and David Linthicum. “Changing Corporate Strategy with the Cloud.” Cloud Computing Podcast. N.p., 10 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2013. http://cloudcomputingpodcast.libsyn.com/i-have-a-cloud-and-i-m-not-afraid-to-use-it.