How to become an “experience business” was the key theme at last week’s Adobe Summit in Las Vegas. Doing so requires an organization to foster engagement with both its customers and employees. The “Women In Technology” panel focused on the latter, with a discussion centered on best practices for creating the right workplace DNA.
- Mitra Best, new ventures principal, innovation leader, PwC
- Cindy Springsteel, VP, global people resources business partners, Adobe
- Cynthia Stoddard, SVP, CIO, Adobe
- Lynn Teo, VP, digital marketing, CA Technologies
Let’s listen in on the panelists’ advice.
Pearl: How do you define innovation, and what role does technology play in facilitating innovation?
Best: Most people think about innovation as “moon shots”—geniuses trying to accomplish things that are big and complicated. I think about innovation as anything new and different that adds new value. At PwC, we define innovation as “incremental” and “disruptive.” “Incremental” is what we all do every day—improving customer experiences, employee experiences, driving revenue, increasing efficiencies, doing things to drive competitive advantage. If you think about innovation in this way, then every employee becomes an innovator. This then democratizes innovation and you can ask for this every day from everyone.
Then we have “disruptive” innovations that don’t happen every day, but when they do, they break the incumbent system and introduce new value, experiences, revenue, and other important value proposition components.
We live in such a tech-driven world now that it is easy to assume that every innovation will be tech-based. But it’s not. There are innovations that can happen without tech.
Stoddard: At Adobe, we look at innovation the same way that Mitra described it. But we focus more on disruptive innovation. We try to anticipate what people, our customers, will need before they need it, and look for ideas and inventions and bring those to the table.
We also have another type of innovation around the DNA of the Adobe organization. We’ve done this through acquisitions where we’ve brought in not only new tech, but we’ve also brought in new people. We believe while tech is an enabler, the real ideas come from people. We put people first and tech second as our ways to innovate.
From a leadership standpoint, it is very important to have the right culture. Encourage people that it is truly OK to make mistakes and to learn from them. It is OK to question what people are doing. This keeps the juices flowing and the thoughts going. It is also important for leadership to enable the right process for innovation to happen.
Pearl: How important is it that innovation is part of the fabric of your company’s DNA? How do you embed it?
Springsteel: At Adobe, we are very lucky because innovation is at the core of everything we do. It is the backbone of the company since Adobe was founded in 1982. We encourage every employee to innovate, take risks, and think differently. We think about disruption a lot. We want to be the very best place to work, where the very best people can join a very diverse team to innovate. We’ve also redesigned our office space, eliminating offices and creating open spaces to make it easier and more comfortable for people to come together to collaborate and get work done.
Teo: At CA, we are pushing on what marketing can be and do. We are marrying marketing and sales more closely. We believe that innovation starts with people. Creativity, customer-centricity, collaboration, results-focused metrics, and agility are critical ingredients and behaviors to have in your DNA to enable an innovative culture. We challenge assumptions as we do this and don’t assume that just because we’ve done things a certain way in the past that we will continue to do them the same way in the future.
Best: Traditionally, PwC has not been known for innovation and creativity. We are known for trust and integrity. But because business has become so complex and multidimensional, we needed to innovate our DNA several years ago. We are changing our office spaces from closed offices to more collaborative spaces. We’ve created “experience centers” where the whole space is smart and designed for multiple collaborative experiences. We bring in our clients and co-create solutions in these spaces designed to encourage people to create and share. We are also building out our DNA through acquisition.
Pearl: Innovation comes from many avenues. How do you source innovation? What are your thoughts on how diversity of talent helps?
Best: Innovation happens at the nexus of diverse ideas. If you put a bunch of people who think alike in the same room, the likelihood of new ideas emerging is reduced. The diversity of perspective comes from a lot of attributes, not just which department you are working in or gender or race, but how you grew up, where you grew up, what you studied, what other activities you engage in. These all create a lens of how you see the world.
Pearl: In Silicon Valley, we live by the mantra, “Move fast and break things.” What role does failure play in innovation and learning?
Best: If you ask any innovator, they’ll tell you that failure is an important ingredient for success, how you learn, how you journey. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t accept failure as part of the business process. PwC is not exempt from this. We are on a journey to become more accepting of failure. We are trying to get our organization to respect failure more and not be so conservative and risk-adverse.
Some of the ways PwC thinks about failure are:
- We need to deconstruct failures, extract the learning, and scale this learning. It’s OK to fail once. But you can’t fail on the same thing again and again. That’s not learning.
- CFOs need to budget for failed experiments when they think about overall ROI. Failure needs to be factored in to ROI calculations.
- Incentive models and compensation models cannot punish failure.
Teo: Test, experiment, iterate, learn, do, and then figure out what do we do less of that failed and what do we do more of that was successful. That will help you become more innovative.
Stoddard: You need to give people time to grow, time to experiment, time to fail, and time to learn. People really need to know that it’s OK to fail. They need to see the organization embracing failure and learning from failure. This will help the organization embrace a more innovative DNA.