The corporate dilemma according to John Maynard Keynes

5 Steps of Corporate Change to Adopting Digital

The corporate dilemma seems so well encapsulated by John Maynard Keynes’ quote: “The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in the letting go of old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds”

In the work I am doing, talking to corporates, the directors, CEO’s and heads of digital know this on one level and yet struggle to let go of the old ones. Talking to them about adopting digital as a ‘new born’ seems to get a similar reaction to suggesting we jump out of a plane with a parachute… fear despite knowing it is possible and probably safe… The reaction is something like

  • “How can we cross the chasm?”
  • “What is our parachute?”
  • “How do we reconcile starting at 20,000ft and landing at ground level?”

To me, the answer is relatively straight forward in some respects, of course it’s not an easy migration – “the opposite of a bird in the hand” – let go and go after the two in the bush, they may, over time be worth more than the one… and if you execute well (read: iterate and learn quickly) one in the bush may be a goose that lays the golden egg!

Look at the ecommerce and mobile trends recently… who were the leading ecommerce players when that started being possible? It was the upstarts who could adopt new business models and methods to do the same thing in new ways. In mobile, the most succesful companies are the new ones who have no legacy of consumer adoption but an insight into how to grab attention…

For corporates today with strong consumer bases, a strong brand and a need to evolve the choices are clear, adapt or die…

Adoption can be done in so many ways I believe and some are low-risk, brand enhancing and can transport the business models along a travellator next to the walking competition. Commercial partnering and innovation incubation are to me the corporate bets that need to be made. At Yahoo we tried to embrace the ‘entrepreneur within’ with our Hack Days which enabled the developers to build test and show off their own ideas, some of which could be included in the Yahoo offering… quite a few companies do this as a means of satisfying the creative developers but why not programatise it, build it into a business model framework?

If you don’t get on the travellator now it will only accelerate and you will have to run faster alongside it to catch up. This means more cost, more risk, more time and a greater chasm.

I firmly believe that in consumer-led sectors especially (i.e. retail banking, media publishing, music, film etc) the corporates who adopt, adapt and test will be the winners in the next 5-10 years.

What are the steps then? I think there is a process to moving from analogue to digital, my 5 Steps of Corporate Change to Adopting Digital

  1. Recognise the need to shift into digital – don’t assume you can do it all
  2. Analyse the start-up trends for relevance and potential overlap – Think outside the box (analyse from outside not inside) & Look for the elements that are the dots you can connect
  3. Connect the dots for your customer offering (this is your IP)
  4. Define the success criteria for digital – it won’t be the same as traditional business as usual!
  5. Build a framework for partnering and internal innovation – test, measure, iterate, test – constant iteration

There are more than enough change management professionals and business coaches to help manage the internal backlash and resistance but there are not enough frameworks to lean on. I think now is the best time to look at Apple or Paddy Power and not Microsoft or William Hill as examples.

As both perfectly ‘normal’ and depressed people, they benefit from the relationship with a therapist to get perspective and support in evaluating their situations, the same exists for Corporates! Get an outside opinion, build the relationship with a trusted advisor – a business shrink & a partner who helps shine the light in the dark and helps you know what you know and shine the light to discover what you don’t know… this de-risking is invaluable.

Learn to start to let go of the old ideas, build the new ones and grow with them. The digital layer is ever-more social and ever-evolving. Now is the best time to ask the audience – get your customers to be part of your evolution.

Innovate with risk. Define new criteria of success and let go of the (dying) bird in the hand – there are plenty in the bush, waiting to be caught!

The corporate dilemma is one of perception and behaviour change – get the corporate shrink, adopt the 5 steps and evolve – resistance is futile.