Thinking Differently is Showing Up as an Astronaut, Not Wearing Black

Most organisations say they do things differently and deliver great customer experience. Customers disagree. Here's why...

Thinking differently looks like showing up as an astronaut, it’s not wearing black.

Remember the kids at school who were "alternative"? I do. I was one. Maybe you were too. And yet we all dressed alternatively in exactly the same way. Otherwise how would you know we weren’t conforming?

This is the problem with the way everyone’s innovating at the moment. Everyone’s doing employee and customer initiatives, or something like them, in the way that you’d expect. 20% time. Idea markets. Side projects. Entrepreneurial management. These are table stakes, and they’re not going to be enough to help you compete, whether you’re an incumbent or a start-up.

If you take nothing else away from this, or if you skipped to the end for the good stuff, here’s what you need to know and do:

  1. Focus on pushing your brand first, and short-term marketing second
  2. Build small teams of capable individuals, with high levels of autonomy
  3. Diagnosis, then strategy, then execution, is the way to tackle all customer experience problems
  4. Give support at senior levels to try things and experiment, and stop outside interference

This means you, as a member of your organisation, need to cultivate and inculcate some new behaviours.

Make Failing OK

Firstly, you need to make sure that failure is not seen as being something either personally or politically damaging. If your people don’t feel like it’s OK to fail, then they aren’t going to experiment and innovate, because that means things can go wrong.

Follow Evidence

Secondly, stop believing that you have to have the answer, and start running tests on your digital properties, and on your organisation. The aim here is to learn and develop, not know and declaim.

Observe, create hypotheses, run the simplest possible test, measure and observe the outcomes, and then act based on the data. Be led by the evidence, not by what you want to be true. Lead by asking questions and finding answers.

Promote Psychological Safety

The most striking finding in managerial and team research for the last ten years has been that each person's individual abilities have surprisingly little effect on the performance of a team. Instead, what matters is having a group of people who feel they can be open and honest with each other, who trust each other, and perform consistently.

People who show up, do the work, and support each other, will beat a team of superstars every day.

Decentralise Decision Making

You can only have a culture which can innovate and self-optimise if decision making is devolved down to the lowest possible level. At the same time, the responsibility wedded to that decision making should be equal. In most companies, decision-making still follows the hierarchy of the organisation. This creates a stable, but stagnant system.

Instead, teams need autonomy, to ensure they can move rapidly, and follow where the evidence of their testing leads. The most interesting, valuable new ways of doing business in whatever you do will come from an inventive, creative team, with a patient, relentless DCXD focus, driving to deliver what your users need better than anyone else.

Have High Standards

And one more thing... Great organisations happen because the people involved are focused on making them so. They have high standards, and expect everyone else to as well.

In a world where everything is comparable with a single search, any organisation going to last has to demonstrably be better than the competition. That means having people who are smart, capable, empowered and supported to do their best work. That starts with recognising what great looks like, planning how to get there, and relentlessly, day after day, working towards it.