Rich Corbridge (CIO Boots UK & Ireland) and Jawaz Illavia (CIO No7 Beauty Company, Global Sourcing, International Retail and Healthcare Futures) are two CIOs who have led technology and transformation at very different organisations until coming to WBA as senior leaders outside of the US.

Published initially by Jawaz in late March now published here to reach a wider audience.

Following on from the last article, Rich and Jawaz discuss the mindset needed to be successful in today’s changing world.

Jawaz – I often hear statements such as ‘in this new world’ or ‘we need to setup digital tech functions’ and I’ve always wondered a) when did this so-called ‘new world’ suddenly land upon us and b) while I’m no spring-chicken, I can’t remember the whole analog tech that we apparently were running prior to all this new digital tech stuff.

And while organisations are still wrestling with term “digital transformation” and focusing on digital marketing, technology and ecommerce, I strongly believe that this shift starts with the mindset.

While we are surrounded by data, apps, notifications and bits and bytes being streamed to us 24 hours on multiple devices, it’s even more important to have an analog mindset. Let me explain.

Today we can wake up to find our company’s share price has dived because a start-up has managed to disrupt the industry or that Amazon has decided to enter a new category. Three year roadmaps are no longer that but more of a North Star. How do you plan for the incredible pace of change that is happening.

Even after dusting off my crystal ball, I find that looking one year ahead is directional – and so while we can’t predict the future, we need to build the capabilities to be able to react and even get in front of the disruption.

 Rich – The fallacy that technology is the disruption is something that we need to get our head around more than we care to admit as CIOs of big recognisable brands. Its not the tech that will make the change successful but the mindset that you are able to distil into the teams, into the organisation and even into the customer perception of you and yours! Andrew Grove, one of the founders of Intel, warned us many years ago that we needed a healthy dose of paranoia if we were to survive in a disrupted and transformed world, for it’s a paranoia of the change you didn’t see coming that will enable you to react quickly at a people level and get the most from the next giant leap in disruptive technology.

Bringing the paranoia to the forefront isn’t just a C-Suite thing though. The transformation agent in the C-Suite may well need to set a bold new vision that can swing and change as the next morning brings something new that nobody thought of. The project manager buried in the depths of a specific change they are trying to make also needs to adapt to the speed of change in our new world, creating an operating environment that is conducive to change day by day, maybe hour by hour.

Senior leaders in successful changing and evolving organisations don’t delegate responsibility for digital change to ‘just’ the technology leaders and teams.

To lead from the front means to be the fulcrum point of the change now a days, and I pick that word carefully as to lead now we need to be at the centre of the change, keeping it steady and orchestrated around you.

Jawaz – Today is not binary, it’s not black or white – it’s unpredictable, it’s grey, it’s ambiguous – so it’s even more important to adopt a flexible mindset that helps our thinking, our ways of working, our strategies and roadmaps. Embracing the grey, thriving in ambiguity and getting satisfaction from finding a path through is key to be able to successfully navigate this world. 

And this flexibility of thought, this acceptance that we ‘just don’t know’ also needs to translate to our strategies, our budgets, our ways of working, our hiring policies. The cliche of being comfortable with uncomfortable is what it’s about. Will an organisation be comfortable in hearing and budgeting for a ‘we don’t know if this will be a thing, but I need some budget to start and we’ll figure out as we progress’. Organisations love to pepper their hyperbole with terms such as agile, squads, digital, data-driven, ‘new ways of working’ and yet when it comes to accepting a budget is fluid or a team size could be unknown, the natural tendency is to resist and plan to the nth degree. Clearly there is a need for frame lines, but adopting a freedom within a framework can still be too loose for many organisations.

Rich: The growth mindset that Satya Nadella, the Microsoft CEO so eloquently describes in his book ‘Hit Refresh’ I think is at least a blue print we could try to enable a change in what we accept. Should we plan as normal, put in place the guard rails that are expected and the governance hoops that the system wants us to have in place, or should we challenge each time to understand the value these things give us in the change we are trying to make. Jawaz mentions the trendy words we see proliferating the excuses for not planning, agile and product mindset are not reasons to not have a plan, in fact quite the opposite they are ways of creating a plan in a different way that facilitates catalyst driven reaction to business change. 

We want and need a ‘freedom framework’ if we are to be sure that we can react quickly, our paranoia needs to be for the unobserved challenge and change rather than for failure of what we are trying to do, that is how we will learn to be different in the way we react, that’s how we can adopt a more analog approach to disruption and change, one that starts with our people and finishes with our people.

In a digital world, be analog.