How Non-Tech Leaders Can Trust Technology to Create Real Value – Before & After the Crisis
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Episode 171 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio episode 171. How Non-Tech Leaders Can Trust Technology to Create Real Value – Before & After the Crisis. This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth. On the web at businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and sitting right across from me as always is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. It’s always a pleasure to join you for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio, and as always, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders and their companies to accelerate themselves to their next level of game-changing innovation, growth, and success.
Scott Harper: And Pam, as we are recording this episode, the novel coronavirus infection, COVID-19, has spread throughout the world. And to say that the economy is turbulent — that’s an understatement. We’re all, all of us in some way, shape or form impacted by this situation. Now, there aren’t any easy answers to this, but technology can point the way to finding new solutions for effectively coping with this crisis and moving beyond it.
Pam Harper: That’s right. For example, many leadership teams have decided that anyone who doesn’t absolutely need to be in the workplace must work from home, for anything from a few days to a few weeks. And we’ve heard more than one business leader then ask, “Is this increased reliance upon the virtual workplace something that could actually change the game for business models of the future?”
Scott Harper: It all comes down to trusting that you can have and implement the right technology that fits with your strategy, your company, your culture.
Pam Harper: That’s why we’re glad to be speaking today with Graham Binks, CEO of Prime-Fusion Incorporated. He’s a global expert in improving business performance with technology, and he’s author of the new book, Trusting Technology: Mastering Technology for Non-Tech Leaders. A little more about Graham. For over 30 years, he’s been in tech leadership and has worked in Europe, North America and Asia with companies including Nike, Proctor and Gamble, Citigroup, Disney, GM and 250 other large, medium and small businesses. Graham’s work integrates business and technology strategy and drives successful implementation through CEO advisory and team coaching to help organizations dramatically improve their business with technology. To find out more, go to growthignitersradio.com, episode 171, and scroll down to the link for Graham’s bio.
Graham, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio!
Graham Binks: Hi, Pam. Hi, Scott. It’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me on the show, and I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Pam Harper: I’ll tell you, this conversation is very, very timely for sure. This whole area of trusting technology — the title intrigued me. Tell us a little bit about what led you to write this book, and especially why you think it’s relevant right now.
Graham Binks : Yeah. Yeah. Well, thanks again for the introduction.
Graham Binks: I mean, based on the background you’ve given the listeners some detail on, I’ve worked across many industries, many companies, and there’s always been a technology connection with my work, but there’s one common denominator that I’ve really drawn from all of that experience, which is around confidence. In that sense, it’s no different from any other significant change initiative, if you will, in a business. So confidence, I think, is born of trust. Trust is based on a grounding in the right practices, and it’s based on a vision as well. If you have an understanding of the potential for technology, you can translate that into your company’s technology-related vision.
Graham Binks: So I have to say, for years, many years, I’ve been looking for a book that spoke about those topics to non-tech leaders. And what I found is there’s a lot of great, let’s say, aspirational literature out there, books like Good to Great, that inspire people around potential on one end of the scale. On the other end of the scale, there are some fantastic what I would call “deep techie” reference resources; O’Reilly is one of the noted publishers there. But there was a gap in the middle, and particularly a gap in the literature that spoke to non-tech leaders. People who don’t wake up every morning excited about technology. In fact, they may wake up a little scared of it. So I just thought that was wrong, and since I couldn’t find anything, I decided to do something about it, and the result is Trusting Technology.
Scott Harper: So with technology, you can run the gamut, as you implied, from, “Technology is the silver bullet. AI is going to solve all our problems,” to, “My God. Keep this away from me.” What’s one of the more common misconceptions about the potential of technology for growing businesses, making them more productive, whether it’s to respond to an immediate crisis like we’re facing now, or to reimagine a business?
Graham Binks: Yeah. Well, you hit the nail on the head in what you just described there, Scott. Technology does not solve every problem. It’s a tool, and I like to say technology is not smart enough to make mistakes. It will do what we tell it to do, whether that’s conventional software or whether it’s artificial intelligence. In fact, there’s a lot of information out there around an unintentional bias in the way that AI is being used. So we have to be very careful when we say, “There’s a tech solution for this.” I think I like to look at technology as a tool that we can deploy. So I think the misconception really is in picking the technology first. It’s more about understanding your community, your business’s community, and redesigning your business, and then using technology as a tool, as part of your arsenal to do that.
Scott Harper: Absolutely. It really comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish. What need are you trying to fulfill for yourself, for your company, for your customer? And let what’s available out there solve that need, rather than saying, “Oh, we have this great thing. Let’s do something with it.”
Graham Binks: Exactly. I mean, some fundamental questions. How best to reach, serve and reward your customers. How best to equip both your customers and colleagues with the information and tools that will give them the insights to take action efficiently. And I view that as operating essentially any business operating inside a community, which includes colleagues and includes customers and includes the greater public. I like to take that view when helping leaders establish a technology vision for that company. So community-wide rather than just inside this little box, which is Acme Inc., our business.
Scott Harper: Right. The richer the inputs, the richer the output. Absolutely.
Graham Binks: You got it. Yup.
Pam Harper: Well, so what is the realistic expectation then? I mean, I understand what we’re talking about, but how should somebody come into this? What should they be thinking about technology if they can’t think that it’s going to be that bullet?
Graham Binks: Yeah. I’m going to go back to the people again. So I’ve been very fortunate to work with hundreds if not thousands of different teams, and I can say without exception any team is capable of harnessing technology as a tool. There’s some reading out there, you’ll say, that suggests for instance, that there are only 10,000 people in the world today who are capable of defining the next generation of artificial intelligence. I think that sort of language is dangerous because it deters people who may already be deterred by technology. You don’t need to be a tech expert to harness technology. That’s the first point I think I would make.
Graham Binks: So I think every business does two things, right? It operates and it upgrades. So when a business operates, it’s the day to day transactions that are being processed. This is what pays the rent. The sales, the orders we take, the shipping. The customer complaints that we address. But when I say a company also needs to upgrade, it’s essentially doing the operation better, and those are investments for the future, right? That’s where I think your team can really, really fly, because if they operate the business on a day to day basis, rest assured they know how it can be done better. And if they know how technology can help them do that better, then they’re also going to make a great upgrade team. The key, I think, is setting the right goals, empower them to succeed, and accept that they’re going to learn as they go. They’re not going to get it right every time, but if you don’t try, you don’t fail, and if you don’t fail, you don’t learn. So really the realistic expectation I think is trust your team. Just equip them to do this.
Pam Harper: And that’s especially true when we’re dealing with a crisis. If you know, have some idea of what’s available, and you’re trusting your team, they’re going to come up with that right response-
Scott Harper: A lot faster.
Pam Harper: And yet at the same time, I will say there’s … You talked about it in the book. This FOMO, the fear of missing out. There’s so much out there, and some of it can be pretty seductive. You know, the lure of the bright, shiny object, whether it’s blockchain or AI. “Oh, this is our time to do this.” And that may not be a strict fit for your company. What’s your feeling about this?
Graham Binks: Yeah. I’ve got a lot to say. I don’t think we have time today, but I’ll-
Pam Harper: Well, let’s go with the headline here.
Graham Binks: Let me hit the highlights. Yeah.
Pam Harper: What’s the real highlight, if you had to just put it into a nugget right now?
Graham Binks: I used to have this attitude, one of my roles, I used to buy a lot of technology for about a decade in my career as a CIO. And I had this annoyance around technology marketing because I knew they were setting expectations that weren’t all achievable. But I’ve changed my view on that now because I think we advance ourselves, humanity, and certainly in technology by rising to challenges. And I think technology marketing plays a role by saying, “Hey, you could do this.” And without that, people are not going to be inspired to try. And if they don’t try, if we never tried, we wouldn’t have put a man on the moon.
Pam Harper: True.
Graham Binks: So I think there is the lure of the potential of technology. Technology marketing can feed that. You just have to take it with a pinch of salt and form your own opinions. Be inspired by the potential, but back to another business 101 basic that any leader knows: it’s about focus. So which of the 500 things you could do with technology are really going to matter? And that’s where you focus.
Pam Harper: So it’s good to know about things, but you still have to sort out what’s best for you. And with that, we’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back we’ll talk more with Graham Binks, author of Trusting Technology, about how non-tech leaders can lead their companies in effectively selecting and adopting the technology that fits best with their needs. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We focus on enabling visionary leaders to ignite, sustain and boost the momentum it takes to achieve game-changing results. We’re on the web at businessadvanced.com.
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Scott Harper: It’s also where you can find unique show notes, bios, and resource links specifically related to each of our individual podcasts. We feature award-winning CEOs, thought leaders and bestselling authors. You can explore more by going to growthignitersradio.com today.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper, that’s me, and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Graham Binks, author of Trusting Technology, about how non-tech leaders can lead their companies in effectively selecting and adopting technology that is best for them. Graham, can you tell us how we can find out more about you and your book?
Graham Binks: Absolutely. Yeah. So I’m at grahambinks.com. I’m an early adopter of the internet, so I was able to buy the domain name that is my name. I mean, it helps that I don’t have a very common name, but you can reach me there, at grahambinks.com. The book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble. Here in Canada, where I’m based, it’s available through Indigo, and of course wherever good books are available.
Pam Harper: And you can access all of this too by visiting growthignitersradio.com episode 171.
Pam Harper: Before the break, we were talking about the fact that it’s so important to be aware of what’s out there, but to also select what’s best for you. Let’s go a little deeper on this. With so much technology available, what is the most critical issue for a non-tech leadership team to consider when deciding which technology could have the biggest impact on return on investment?
Graham Binks: I always ask a question when I’m presented with a strategy or a vision. I always say, “Why will your customer care?” Now, that’s one of those funny questions, right? It’s obvious. We all think that way, but somehow it often gets lost in the noise. So I would look at your technology vision and I would say, “What difference is this going to make to the customer?” Step one, and step two is, “Will they care?” Because if you can’t answer both of those questions in the affirmative, you might not be investing in the right technology. Technology isn’t easy. It’s not as hard as a lot of people think, but it’s not easy. It’s just as hard to do the wrong thing as it is to do the right thing. And for me, the core test is the right thing by the customer. Everything cascades from that question.
Pam Harper: Okay. So just a quick follow-up to that. If we’re talking about, for instance, all of these teams that are working from home, it’s not always connected to the customer per se. How would you think about the customer in that sense?
Graham Binks: Yeah. I think in that sense, as a leader, your customers are your colleagues. They’re your employees. I mean, one of the things, as you said at the top of the show there, it’s a very difficult situation, and our hearts go out to anyone who’s been impacted directly or indirectly by COVID, but we have to recognize, I think, that the opportunity and the challenge here lies as much in how we, and by we, I mean everyone, responds to the virus. The virus is one thing, but it’s triggering a lot of reactions. We need to be sensitive to our colleagues’ feelings around that, and to our customers’ feelings. And if our colleagues prefer to work from home, and their job can be done just as well, then I think it behooves us to equip them to do that.
Graham Binks: Now, I will say a lot of companies are already there. They’re already doing this, but there’s a management hurdle to overcome for a lot of other businesses. A lot of us in my generation grew up managing people in a room, and so we need to be comfortable that they will still perform if they’re not in view all the time. As I said, a lot of businesses have made that leap. There is a way to do it, but this is an opportunity that I think colleagues and customers will actually thank us for if we direct more of these conversations from travel-related, commute-related, face to face time, to digital or video.
Scott Harper: Now, Graham, let’s pull out a little bit and address technology. Technology isn’t just high tech. It’s not just computers and AI and so on, robots. It’s really any practical application of knowledge. It could be how we fight a disease, how we wash dishes – whatever. But in any field, there’s always something new, and many of our clients really want to be pioneers in whatever their industry is, and so they’re reaching for new technologies. But if your strategy is to be a pioneer, how do non-tech leaders who aren’t necessarily on top of everything minimize the risk of being an early adopter so they can get out in front of everybody with their technology but not fall off a cliff?
Graham Binks: Yeah. So I take a couple of different views on the word “pioneer.” Pioneer can be the first person to do something. It could also be the first person to succeed in doing that thing.
Scott Harper: Yeah. You got that right.
Graham Binks: And there’s a distinction. We know companies like Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg did not invent social media, but he mastered it. Bill Gates did not create the first PC operating system, but he mastered it. So I think we have to decide, is our goal literally to be the first? And if so, why? Could be right, or is it to maybe be a fast follower but be the first to master an area. That’s key. Now, whichever of those perspectives is appropriate, I think it’s necessary to take the risk out of guessing the future, and there are various tools available that kind of convert history into the future in a way that we can be reliant. I mentioned some of these in the book, and we won’t go into them in detail right now, but there are things like the Rogers curve of innovation adoption-
Scott Harper: Right.
Graham Binks: … which is an excellent model for anyone to think when they’re trying to change the way a community or an industry operates. There are various other resources that we can put in the show notes perhaps that help a business leader get a little more view and a little more confidence, and I think I know the way this is going to go. I can narrow it down maybe from 100 scenarios to three, place my bets on one of them, but be ready to pivot to one of the others too if that first one does not work out.
Graham Binks: The other key principle, I think, is we have to recognize that being a pioneer, we can have great ideas, but we are not our own customers. If we’re changing our market, we have to change at the customer’s pace. Lots of great innovations have come to market five, 10, 15, 20 years ahead of the market, and they failed. They were the pioneers, but they failed because they were too early. So it’s important to enlist, let’s say, some early adopter customers in this change, and see how it goes with them. If it doesn’t work well with them, don’t go any further. If it does, build into the next group of customers until essentially you’ve taken over the market. So I think being comfortable about where you think the future is going to be in your business, and changing at the pace or slightly ahead of the pace of your market. Those are two key principles in succeeding. Being the first to succeed, not the first to try.
Pam Harper: Interesting. I think also building on that is we have to think about our suppliers as well, because a lot of the technology now involves partnering with other companies to have it be in service of that customer. So there’s a chain there, but one of the risks is how culture plays out in all of this. So let’s say that we think strategically that this technology really could be a good fit, could be a good fit for our customer, could be a good fit for us. Even the outsource provider or a supplier would fit into it, but there’s a cultural resistance to it. Should it play an undue kind of emphasis?
Graham Binks: Interesting. I think part resistance, part litmus test. So what I mean by that is, I think getting comfortable with building the future, however you do that, low tech, high tech, it doesn’t matter, you have to get confident as an organization that you can change in the way that you should, so when you’re faced with adverse circumstances, if you have a confident team, they will take that on. If you have an unconfident team, they will shy away from it. So I think being comfortable, you can be adaptable is key, and that means being comfortable that you don’t know everything and you never will, particularly about the future, so you need to be ready for learning, and sometimes you’ve got to design your projects in order to learn before you can decide what to do next. So I think the cultural element here is building confidence, encouraging learning, which implies some failure and some success, and just being ready to turn on a dime.
Graham Binks: I’ve been inspired these last 10 days, two weeks, as more and more of the companies that I’m familiar with, my clients or people that I’m connected on my network to, they’ve really dug deep and said, “We’ve got to do something about this.” It’s inspiring. I mean, these situations like COVID are terrible, but they do tend to bring the best out in organizations, and I’m really pleased to see how companies are responding to that. I’m confident we’ll overcome it, but if this had not happened, I would have not been confident. So I’m inspired by that. But again, it’s taking it on. It’s forced on us. Let’s face it head-on with confidence.
Pam Harper: Yes; embracing and accepting a crisis can bring us to new levels. Well, we’re going to take another quick break, and when we come back we’ll talk more with Graham Binks, author of Trusting Technology, about how you can create real value in your company through technology, and we’ll do it with some immediately useful ideas. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated and we’re on the web at businessadvanced.com. Now, since you’re listening to our conversation with Graham Binks about how non-tech leaders can trust technology to create real value, here’s a suggestion for a related resource.
Pam Harper: Download our Five Questions to Ask When You Need to Move Even Faster. It’s a perspective builder for fast-moving top leaders who need to meet current commitments and move fast enough to respond to new opportunities as well. Our questionnaire will help you find out where to begin to focus your energy and resources so you can have confidence that what should be happening really is happening as fast as it needs to happen.
Scott Harper: For a link to this critical questionnaire, go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 171, and scroll down to resources.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been talking with Graham Binks, author of Trusting Technology, about how non-tech leaders can lead their companies in effectively selecting and adopting technology that’s best for them, whether it’s for responding to crises or to reimagine what’s possible in business. Graham, how can people find out more about you and your book?
Graham Binks: So I can be found at www.grahambinks.com, and we’ll put that in the show notes obviously. My book is available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, and wherever good books are sold. But if you hit my webpage, there are all kinds of resources there and you can reach out to me and contact me, and I love to hear back from listeners.
Scott Harper: Great.
Pam Harper: Yes, and we will say that we have really found this book to be a real resource.
Scott Harper: Practical tools and insights.
Pam Harper: And you can access this by visiting growthignitersradio.com episode 171. So, Graham, this is the part of our podcast when we discuss the practical ways to bring the ideas we’ve been talking about to life. What is one immediately useful idea for creating real value through technology?
Graham Binks: I like to start with a question that I find is very powerful, and it’s to just ask the simple question, “What if we could?” So, “What if our business could do what that business over there is doing? What would that mean for how well we can execute on our strategy, and what would it mean perhaps potentially if it’s transformational? We might even change our business strategy.” Don’t worry about how we could at this point. Just ask what. So that’s kind of idea one, is think big, inspired by what you’ve seen others do.
So, Scott, we talked about being a pioneer earlier, and talking about the pioneers that are the first to succeed, and they’ve kind of proven a certain thing will work. Probably we go back a decade and we say, well, some businesses started to operate on the iPhone, and then others jumped on board. That’s a prime example, looking backwards.
Scott Harper: Right. And building on that, it’s, “What if we could?” And if you put that into context, “What if we could bring new benefits to our customers, or new customers? What is it they need that they don’t have yet? What if we could do that?” And that puts the context around it and helps really focus.
Graham Binks: It sure does. And there’s an even further stress testing question. “What if we could put ourselves out of business?”
Scott Harper: Yeah.
Graham Binks: Because if we don’t, one day, sooner or later, someone else will. Better to be that person. That’s a bigger challenge. It’s certainly a harder emotional conversation, but I think start with, “What if we could?” And it really triggers off some great thinking. I have to tell you, I’ve encouraged leaders to spend five or 10 minutes a day thinking about this. “What if we could?” Sounds like a huge question, but you know what? It’s a form of meditation. If you do it every day, it’s amazing how powerful it can be. So thinking big, driven by that.
Scott Harper: Absolutely. So what’s another practical idea that people can wrap their hands around to move this along?
Graham Binks: Yeah. The second part of think big is act small. So, “Here’s where we’re headed. Here’s where we think we can go. What are the baby steps we take?” Firstly, to establish we can get moving, overcome inertia. Secondly to establish, “Is that really the right thing to do?” Experimentation in small steps. And thirdly, it builds momentum through confidence. Once teams are achieving goals, quick wins, if you will, small milestones, changing habits, they grow in confidence. The way I think to equip teams to succeed is not to set them this enormous gargantuan task and give them a six-month deadline. It’s to say, “What can we get done in the next month that moves us closer to that?”
Scott Harper: Yeah.
Graham Binks: That’s a shift in thinking. You know, in the technology world and in the manufacturing world, we call it agile and lean. A lot of people are familiar with that term. It is a shift in thinking, but I’ve seen so many companies try that out, embrace it, and never go back to the old way of thinking, these five-year plans with gen charts left, right, and center. So I believe that think big followed by act small means we start to make progress. And you know, in the spirit of act small, I would encourage listeners to start tomorrow, Monday, soon.
Pam Harper: Okay. Well, you’ve got that challenge out there, everybody. So what is the third immediately useful idea here?
Graham Binks: Yeah. We’ve talked about creating value, and the term “creating disruptive value” is prevalent. But I think, as we’ve said a couple of times, we’re in a situation right now where the challenge that’s top of mind for any leader, and frankly I think it’s a long way to number two on the list, is responding to a disruptive change that’s been presented to us, and by to us, I mean to humanity.
Graham Binks: We talked about digital communications earlier on. I’ve been doing a lot of background research trying to keep up with all of the information, as much as possible, that’s been published on this topic now for a few weeks, and I’ve decided I’m going to redirect my weekly newsletter. I’m going to share ideas in that newsletter that I hope will be of value, but the call to action that I’m putting out to companies this week is, if you’re not using video, start using it. If you are equipped for video, check your video rooms, and if they’re not full all the time, ask why not. And if you’re already using video to the max, consider whether you can use it more.
Graham Binks: I think we have an opportunity here to hit the one number that I think is the right leading indicator in this condition, which is the transfer rate. The R naught, as it’s called. That’s the number of people that any carrier will infect. Right now it’s somewhere between two and 2.5. If we bring that number down to one, it’s a tipping point, and if that number stays below one, this virus is doomed. It may already have happened in China, because they are several weeks ahead. We don’t know, but it might have happened. The [inaudible 00:29:30]. The best way we can bring that number down is to reduce unnecessary face to face contact.
Graham Binks: So I would ask the definition of necessary travel. What is that? And revisit that, because there are simple means that are very low priced, commodity priced video communication, that you can start to adopt, and I think your customers, your colleagues will thank you for that.
Pam Harper: Any final thoughts you can leave us with on how non-tech leaders can trust technology to create real value?
Graham Binks: Yeah. It’s been my life’s work, and I arrived at that conclusion a few years ago without really planning it that way. But I’ve always been motivated and comfortable with technology. It took me some time to realize that everyone else wasn’t that way. So since that time, I’ve encouraged, coached, advised, whatever, consulted with business leaders to help them get there. In some ways, Trusting Technology, the book, it’s the combination of that, which I fully intend to build on. Take it from me. This is possible. Don’t be daunted by technology. Leverage it and reach out, form a great circle of advisors, trusted sources of information to help you make that leap. I think every business today is a technology business. I’ve told clients in the past that they’re actually now leading a tech business, and they doubted me at the time, and they called me back a couple of years later and said, “Hey, you know what? You were right.” I think we have to realize this, grasp it, take it on with confidence, and we’ll win.
Pam Harper: Well, Graham, thanks so much for being our guest today on Growth Igniters Radio.
Graham Binks: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Scott Harper: Thanks, Graham, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, read Graham’s bio and the episode transcript, or to open a conversation with us, go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 171.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to consider:
Scott Harper: In this highly disruptive environment, how can we ensure that we’re selecting technology that creates real value for all of our stakeholders, today and tomorrow?