Article featured image metaphorically showing several people in an ideation session, and the sparkles of their ideas form a brain shape

From “Design Thinking” with Love: Use Abductive Reasoning to Flourish in Uncertainty

As a business leader, you understand just how challenging the past few months have been due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, businesses around the globe are undergoing a modern exodus – the so-called digital transformation – fast-tracking us from the old world to the new.

While there is still a lot of uncertainty about the coming months, business decisions still need to be made, even in the absence of information and certainty.

So, how can you embrace the digital transformation of your organization, and achieve breakthrough while information is scarce? Well, the answer lies within a common Design Thinking principle used to solve uncommon problems. It is the least-known type of reasoning. It is called abductive reasoning.

The 3 Types of Reasoning 

You may be wondering… what exactly is abductive reasoning? Well, let’s take a look at the two more popular forms of reasoning first: deductive and inductive reasoning.

Deductive Reasoning

Deductive reasoning is the most popular form of reasoning. It’s the type of reasoning used in math and physics. You essentially begin with a general hypothesis, then gather evidence to prove its validity.

This type of reasoning is commonly broken down into the millennia-old question: Is Socrates mortal?

The question is answered by the assertion of a general rule ending with a conclusion. In the example, the order is:

  1. All men are mortal.
  2. Socrates is a man.
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

In business, this is the type of thinking your finance department uses to plan its annual budget. For instance, if your company estimates 20 million in revenue, in order to generate 5 million in profit, you’ll need to invest a maximum of 15 million into raw materials, staff, operations and marketing.

Inductive Reasoning

The second most popular type of reasoning is inductive reasoning. This type of reasoning uses experimentation to come up with a hypothesis.

In business, inductive reasoning is commonly used within marketing, and specifically, within the customer insights team.

For instance, you might take a survey of a number of customers, where you find that 72% of survey respondents who purchased a certain product were under the age of 30. You could conclude that teenagers and young adults are a better target market for that product than the older generations.

Inductive reasoning begins with specific observations, oftentimes with statistical analysis, and ends with a likely conclusion, rather than a certain conclusion.

Abductive Reasoning

Compared to deductive and inductive reasoning, abductive reasoning is a form of reasoning where you make hypotheses based on incomplete sets of information.

Simply put, abductive reasoning is all about making educated guesses to come up with the most likely solution despite having only little information available.

This type of reasoning is how doctors often come up with a patient’s diagnosis. For instance, a doctor may hear that his/her patient’s symptoms include increased mucus production and regular coughing at night and in the early morning. This may lead him/her to conclude that the best explanation for these symptoms is asthma. [Please note this example bears no medical validity.]

Abductive reasoning isn’t just used by doctors. It’s also been used by many infamous scientists to form their hypotheses, and it’s also how most designers work. Believe it or not, but abductive reasoning is the technique used by the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, to solve his cases. (!!)

The interesting point about abductive reasoning is that two different reasoners can come up with two different solutions based on the same set of incomplete information. Different people with different experiences, backgrounds and knowledge bases will return different results. Diversity, anyone? 🙂 And this is what makes this technique, if we may say so, so special.

Abductive Reasoning Meets Design Thinking, or vice-versa

Abductive reasoning could be thought of as “the argument to the best explanation”, as described by the design strategist, Jon Kolko. It’s the best guess that makes the most sense, based on prior experience and the information available.

So, how does abductive reasoning collide with Design Thinking?

“Design synthesis is fundamentally a way to apply abductive logic within the confines of a design problem.” (R. Coyne, Logic Models of Design, 1988).

When your organization is faced with a problem, you need to be able to come up with solutions that actually work, or at least make sense and point in that direction. But sometimes, you need to solve a problem when there just isn’t much information available. And that’s probably the point in time when teams will reach out to ideation processes known to drive innovation – and here comes Design Thinking.

Thereafter, a diverse team of people – often cross-functional in nature – will gather in agile rooms and wreck post-it havoc around the walls. They are doing Design Thinking – everyone says. In fact, this is what’s happening: the diverse work- and life experiences of the people in that room are being combined with the information available to help shape a good enough conclusion to the problem – the sudden solution that comes like a flash that some people like to call insight.

Abductive Reasoning is a fundamental building block of Design Thinking. It lays at the heart of creative problem solving. What some may consider creative brilliance in coming up with business solutions, isn’t simply an act of genius. It’s a learned practice.

Fine-tuning abductive reasoning is a skill that can be developed over time. Many traditional businesses fail to understand this, preferring the statistical comfort of inductive reasoning and the conclusive certainty of deductive reasoning. However, if your organization is to come up with creative solutions with incomplete, or scattered information, such as in the times of the pandemic, you’ll need to let go of certainty in decision making.

Using abductive reasoning as a part of your strategy design will ultimately help further your organization’s digital transformation. Without embracing this backbone of Design Thinking and applying it to a wider range of problem-solving scenarios, it will be extremely challenging to carry your organization forward into the “new normal”.

Tips for “Abductive Thinking”

More organizations are beginning to embrace abductive reasoning as a way to accelerate their organization’s digital transformation. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Accept Uncertainty as a Pre-Requisite for Innovation

It’s rare that a great idea is ever proven ahead of time with statistical evidence. When working your way towards your next solution, remember to challenge typical explanations, actively search for new data points, and continue inferring into new realms.

If you want your company to flourish, you need to embrace abductive reasoning as an equal to deduction and induction.

2. Don’t Forget About Technological Constraints

The reality is that solutions must be found within the sweet spot where the desirable meets the viable and the feasible. And technology, or better said, the depth of technology availability, use and adoption will play a crucial role here. And this statement has internal as well as external validity. That is: is your organization AND/OR your customer-base there yet?

To illustrate that, take a trip back to the 90s, when software experts inferred from the explosion of internet usage that everyone would do all their shopping online in no time. However, this wasn’t yet possible at a time when both back-end infrastructure and online security were still brand new, leading to failure.

3. If it doesn’t add value, ditch it! ASAP

When designing a new product, service, or strategy, you need to remember that it needs to make sense, business-wise. It can be easy to get off-track and come up with a creative solution that’s backed by some kind of technological benefit only.

However, if it doesn’t solve an urgent problem that needs solving now, then it’s futile. At the end of the day, the beauty of Design Thinking is in the solutions to real problems that make users’ lives easier.

One example of this is the “Apple Newton”, touted by Apple as the world’s first portable, pocket-sized data assistant. When it launched back in 1993, it failed immediately (Medium). Why? Because it didn’t solve a real, major problem, especially compared to the price it demanded. Laptops were already available that solved the same problem easily. The Newton didn’t create any new value on the market.

4. Seek to Achieve Balance in Reasoning

When it comes to utilizing abductive reasoning, there’s a fine line to over-complicating things. Remember that it’s not helpful to over-indulge in thinking when there are clear observations, data points, and conclusions that can guide us.

Instead, seek to achieve balance within your reasoning.

Successful leaders understand abductive reasoning is scarce in the modern world, and take it upon themselves to help their organizations embrace it. They aim to use both conclusive logics based on data and intuition to reach into the realm of what could be leading to success.

Embrace Abductive Reasoning to Flourish during the Pandemic

Despite the uncertainty of the current pandemic, leaders are still faced with the challenge of decision-making and coming up with creative solutions on the fly even though there’s lack of information available.

Design Thinking is an agile way you can achieve ideation by using abductive reasoning when full sets of information simply aren’t available. It’s also a way you, as a leader, can fast-track your organization through the digital transformation taking place right now while offering an edge-up on the competition.

Having said that, I can only add, with

  1. All problem-solving ideas are unproven hypotheses.
  2. Using abductive reasoning is a problem-solving idea.
  3. Therefore, using abductive reasoning is an unproven hypothesis.

Have fun listening to and following yours and your peoples’ insights! 🙂

Article featured image metaphorically showing a chess playing on a circuit board

Digital Transformation: a Strategy or just a Brand Plan Side-Kick?

You probably work for a company that’s undergoing some kind of Digital Transformation. You know the topic is important because you’ve heard it from your boss, your boss’ boss, and all the way up to the top management – everyone’s talking about it.

But, hey! You know the topic is important, but… is this a priority for your company as well? To get this answer, rather than asking your colleagues, you simply need to look at your company’s strategy.

Richard Rumelt, the author of the book Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, explains that “doing strategy is figuring out how to advance the organization’s interests.”

From this concise, yet all-encompassing statement, we find the basis to tell apart companies that take Digital Transformation as part of its strategy versus those who simply consider it a “nice to have” only.

The differentiator is: Yes, everyone’s talking about Digital Transformation! But… does your company prioritize finding how to make it happen?

Digital Transformation: A Fluid Definition

Salesforce defines Digital Transformation as “the process of using digital technologies to create new – or modify existing – business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.”

While this definition sounds straightforward, it’s not quite as simple as that. The fact is, Digital Transformation isn’t always the same everywhere you go.

Even though virtually every company seems to be highly active in pursuing their digitalization goals – or at least their LinkedIn page says so – Digital Transformation actually means different things to different organizations. With distinctive depths and objectives towards ‘going digital’, Digital Transformation’s underlying meaning might fluctuate from (A) deploying technology to improve internal communication processes to (Z) deploying technology to serve a non-existing customer need by creating the market for it.

This is why the real definition rests within each organization, and it might even vary within its different levels and units. So once again, to understand whether Digital Transformation is a priority, look at at your company’s strategy – does it include the how to drive digital? Or is this agenda just a side-kick of the company’s brands’ goals? Moreover, assess whether the mindset promoted by the management teams actually aligns with it – or whether the buzz words are just there to embellish.

There’s More Than Just Optimizing Processes. It Means Business Transformation.

Company leaders who take Digital Transformation as a part of their strategy go beyond just optimizing business processes for the sake of achieving their brand goals. They’ll endeavor in one of the following:

Business Model Transformation, which involves transforming the fundamental building blocks of how a company delivers value to its customers. A few examples include Uber’s reshaping of the taxi industry and Netflix’s reinvention of video distribution. Pursuing a business model transformation allows companies to succeed right from its core of operations.

Business Domain Transformation, which looks at entering brand new spaces by blurring industry boundaries through new technologies. A great example of this is Amazon’s entering into a new market domain with Amazon Web Services (AWS) – now the biggest cloud computing service in the world; or the current not-anymore-silent competition driving pharmaceutical companies into the health-tech and med-tech fields. The front-runners of this race will be the ones who take brand-agnostic strategies and show agility in delivering value for patients, physicians, payors and insurers alike.

Without Agility, Digital Strategies Are Just Long Unproven Hypotheses

A strategy is a hypothesis. A strategy is also a learning process. And the best way to continuously learn and kick false hypotheses out of the picture is by working agile.

Agile organizations choose dynamic strategies. In driving digital, they take Digital Transformation through agile experimentation. This means they trust the process. They are willing to fail. They are ready to respond to change. And above all, they always keep their customers at the forefront of their strategic development and not just as advisors for the planning. Agile Strategists involve core stakeholders as an integral part of the whole process – including them in every iteration towards continuous optimization.

Contrary to traditional ‘waterfall’ methods where you strategize with a big plan at the start and execute the plan in a linear fashion hoping there won’t be any changes to it, using agile in strategizing will allow you to create value right from the start. Why dedicate so much effort to a hypothesis that might be proven wrong at the very end… if you can fail, learn and grow from the very start?

The Win comes when Everyone’s On Board

Finally, I have to say one thing: beyond all the comments given above, the golden key to a successful digital transformation strategy is a transparent, harmonized and consistent communication of the strategy.

In the end, strategies will only go as far as the people executing it. The success will ultimately depend on getting your entire organization on board.

In a nutshell: The nirvana of Digital Transformation happens when you reinvent business value by strategizing agile, communicating constantly and getting your crew all aboard!

Cheers!

Article featured image showing a key with the word potential

Corporate Digital Growth Initiatives may have a Formula. This is it.

You are a senior business leader. Your company's strategic growth plans include the building of a new plant and you are entrusted with the leadership of this construction project.

Time passes, construction has started, and the first floor of your five-story building is ready for inspection. Proudly wearing your hard hat, you visit the site and find out that 95% of the plans were met. Only very few of the foundations are faulty, but you don't mind it! You sign it off and the erection of the second floor starts.

The second floor is ready. 75% fine this time. You sign it off again. And well, I think you know where this is going. Later on, by the time your fourth floor starts to take shape, the disregarded gaps in the foundations and the previous floors suddenly impact the whole structure. Further construction works are subject to embargos and the whole project slows down, getting delayed as more and more time is needed to fix the existing errors.

This plot does not sound like a reasonable scenario YOU as an experienced leader would find yourself into. After all, you would never let your building's second floor start before you were 100% sure about the foundations of the first – and so on and so forth.

What if this project building was your company's digital transformation program? Would the success rate of 95% or 75% "per floor" be enough to carry on?

Knowledge-centric Programs build Knowledge Gaps

Building knowledge, skills and capabilities is somewhat like the process of building a structure with pillars, walls and a roof. You start by laying the foundations and slowly, on top the basics, you develop more complex concepts that are dependent on the previously acquired learning.

Much like traditional educational systems, corporate digital up-skilling programs [the school] often train their target group [the students] through initiatives mostly focused on the assessed knowledge deficit [the syllabus]. After completing the trainings, workshops and courses offered [the classes], employees may or may not be assessed for the knowledge acquired in form of quizzes or actual projects [the exams].

It needs no scientific basis to state that at the end of this journey, different people will have reached distinct levels of acquired know-how. And like in most schools, both learners with a 95% and a 75% level of acquired knowledge will progress to the next stage. This is a theme for a separate blog post, by the way. 

The tricky part about these systems when in the context of a strategic digital growth agenda is that as these programs continue, knowledge gaps will remain persistent in the organization, increasing progressively the farther away they are from the foundations.

To accelerate Digital Growth, look at both sides of this Formula

To bring about transformation, digital up-skilling through knowledge is imperative – “Don’t take me wrong! That much is inarguable.Knowledge-centric programs ONLY are a problem, though! Without an eye on Engagement, the learning [building] progresses with disregard for the accumulated knowledge gaps. Later on, this leads to a negative impact on the overall organizational digital literacy.

This is why digital up-skilling programs should also assess behavior-deficits and cater strategies aimed at helping people not just know better, but also do better.

To help us visualize this notion and taking into account that our specific scenario refers to driving growth by empowering people through knowledge, I came up with a theoretical Digital Growth Formula that evaluates change and digital transformation. The formula is as follows: Digital Growth is a direct product of Digital Knowledge times Engagement, where Knowledge equals Learning plus Experience and Engagement  equals Mindset to the power of Motivation. That is:

Digital Growth = Digital Knowledge × Engagement

whereby

Digital Knowledge = Learning + Experience

and

Engagement = MindsetMotivation

therefore:

Digital Growth = (Learning + Experience× Mindset Motivation

So here's the key! Most digital transformation strategies will legitimately focus on the left side of the formula, Knowledge. But like said before, the progressive gaps in Learning will eventually slow these marks down. Moreover, Experience is highly time-bound. Hence, the way to accelerate growth now is to focus on the other side of the formula: Engagement  – in other words – on Mindset and Motivation.

Looking at Mindset numerically helps understand its impact on Growth

To talk about mindset without mentioning the concept of the growth mindset would be an oversight. This theory has been gaining momentum in recent years across organizations of all sizes. In some corporate circles, the growth mindset has even become a jargon everybody loves. “And let's be honest, the term is the kind of vocabulary that resonates very well when eloquently used in strategic plans and presentations.”

Coined by the American psychologist Carol Dweck in her 2006 best-seller "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success", the growth mindset and its opposite, the fixed mindset, both refer to perceptions people have about themselves. The foundation of her theory is that people with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence is static and that their knowledge, skills and talents are innate traits that do not change. Knowledge and achievement gaps for these people are better hidden. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, understand that their intelligence can be improved over time through continuous hard work and perseverance. For them, the gaps are goals to be closed.

Now back to the proposed formula and once again to help us visualize the theory in the corporate digital transformation framework, we see that driving Digital Growth is intrinsically connected to Mindset. A fixed mindset person would see its Mindset levels fluctuate between 0 and 1, thus keeping Digital Growth at a bare maximum that equals his/her level of Digital Knowledge. And we saw already that knowledge gaps tend to remain persistent and increase progressively over time.

A person with a growth mindset, instead, believes that his/her abilities can be developed and that their knowledge gaps can be closed through efforts and dedication. With the variable Mindset > 1, this is where the compensation starts, driving Digital Growth upward.

A Digital Growth Ethos driven by Motivation is akin to a Company’s very own second Soul

Let’s wander off for a second. Do you think people smoke because they just don’t know smoking kills? – “Of course not!” That is a classic example that we humans often behave irrationally, no matter how much knowledge we have about a certain thing. The truth is: we don’t always do what’s best for us in the long run because the benefit [living longer] is too abstract or far-off in the future. But we often do what’s best for us now [enjoy that cigarette break]. More often than not, the underlying force driving our decisions such as smoking is called motivation.

Once again reflecting back on the proposed formula for the sake of visualizing the theory, we see that the variable Motivation is by far the most powerful one in driving growth. Calculated anywhere from 0 ad ∞, it is eventually motivation that will tell successful digital transformation programs apart from those that fail. It is not technology and it is not how fancy or all-encompassing the syllabus of the digital growth program is. It is people.

Applying this concept to the far-reaching implications of motivation for corporate digital up-skilling programs, we see once again how irrelevant knowledge-centricity is when driving Digital Growth. What is the point of knowing all there is to learn in a company’s digital ecosystem if there is nobody to drive value with it? It is the people behind these many tools, platforms, techniques or protocols that are going to keep on driving these when the trainings, workshops and courses are over. It’s like a social cue saying “Quit smoking” every time it’s time for a cigarette break. 😉

The Motivation variable and its impact on self-development for growth must be taken seriously. At the strategic top level, leaders must understand that it is the organization’s responsibility to create safe spaces and give employees the opportunity to develop a growth mindset – to believe they can and strive for growth. For the middle and top-line management, it means establishing a growth ethos, where effort, resilience and continuous improvement is appraised and where people can and want to develop. Both must understand that motivation is not just an item to be checked off the annual employee appraisal meeting nor an extra line in the next paycheck, but an effort that requires investment.

And at last, this investment does not mean outsourcing the role of change agents to externals. Unlocking the potential of internal talents is a company’s best shot at building its growth ethos. And if you wonder what I mean with it. Think of it like an organization’s second soul. When the “old normal” dies – and eventually it will – the digital growth ethos will live further.

Article featured image showing a businessman working from remote at home with his colleagues.

How COVID-19 Sparked a Digital Transformation in Workplace Communication

It’s Monday and Bob walks into the office. “Hi Greg! Had a good weekend?”

Greg responds, they chit chat a bit, Bob grabs a cup of coffee from the work kitchen and sits at his desk. Two hours later, he stumbles over to the other side of his open office for a quick update with some of his teammates. While standing there, Bob peers into the window across the room where his boss is holding a meeting with other colleagues - Bob wonders if today will be the day that he tells his boss he’s overworked and needs support.

But, Bob finishes his ad-hoc team update, sighs, and heads back to his desk for the rest of the day. He files some paperwork, goes through his emails and gets handed a stack of papers from Margaret, his vis-à-vis colleague.

“Great! More work!” Bob says in his sarcastic tone just to make Margaret smile.

The next day, Bob wakes up and hears about this virus that’s going around. Within a week, Bob opens up his email to find out his office is shut down. And just like that, his spare bedroom just became his new office… starting Monday.

Come Monday, what will Bob do?

Well, for many office workers during this novel coronavirus outbreak, they’ve been thrown into the deep end of remote work.

Say goodbye to the commute, the morning chit chat, the ad-hoc face-to-face updates, and the physical paperwork from Margaret. And say hello to the digital transformation.

So how will Bob effectively communicate with his team?

As COVID-19 continues to sweep across the world, and government-imposed lockdowns increase, more businesses are forced to send their employees home to work for what could be a few weeks to a few months. The most drastic workplace change that’s taking place at this moment, however, is called communication.

An effective team is built upon clear lines of communication – that much is clear!

But now, Bob can’t swing his chair around to ask Margaret for some files or updates. Bob now has to email her. But email takes long and piles up easily in times like these. Then Bob discovers Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Bob loves them. He can now whisper a request to Margaret and within seconds, she responds. Need files? They’re shared in a minute. Need a team meeting? Zoom it away!

Sure, things are a bit slower at first, but after a few days, Bob starts to get the hang of it.

Everyone (finally) says what they feel. Virtual Emotions on the rise.

Despite being socially isolated, Bob’s team is closer than ever. Not only is there Microsoft Teams group chat in his desktop and mobile to discuss the work in the office, but Bob finally feels like he can say what he’s really feeling to his boss.

The whole office gets in on this permanently-opened virtual-team meeting room. People now can be who they wouldn’t normally be in a typical situation. A number of issues and concerns are brought up.

After Bob leaves a comment, and the response from his boss is receptive, he builds up the confidence to email his boss and request for support for his increasing workload.

Who knew it could be so easy? Well, it’s not all so easy, but speaking behind avatars does help, doesn’t it?

Additionally, in getting acquainted with purely virtual communication, Bob keeps confusing his vis-à-vis colleague, Margaret, when she “hands him” some virtual paperwork. Bob responds through Teams, “Great! More work!” and Margaret responds, “Bob, are you upset at me?”

“Oh not at all! It was just sarcasm!” – Bob replies. He’s never had to express himself virtually like that before. He’s used to showing how he feels face to face. After much confusion, Bob finally discovers what his millennial children have been using for years: emojis.

From then on, Bob started putting a winking tongue-out emoji at the end of his comment. And suddenly his “Great! More work! 😜 doesn’t sound so serious anymore. Not only that, but his children finally started understanding his confusing text messages, too.

Team Collaboration extends beyond the Workplace

The way a team collaborates drastically impacts productivity. So how do you ensure morale stays high when your coworkers can’t have a quick chat at the work kitchen anymore? Well, if nothing is done, then the team won’t feel like a team no longer. However, remote team connectivity is easier than ever with social media in 2020.

Group messaging apps like Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger or Slack can transform the work kitchen into a “virtual kitchen” chat group. With everyone involved in the conversation, companies are beginning to see positive interaction and collaboration like they’ve never seen before.

In fact, Bob is really starting to like the group chat. He’s connecting with some of his co-workers who he hasn’t really seen or spoken to in weeks, since they’re in a different department and different parts of the office. Bob even finds out that Greg is a Star Wars fan like he is after seeing a Darth Vader poster on Greg’s wall during the last Zoom videoconference call. Team spirit is high. Some might say what happens in the group chat stays in the group chat. 😜 And this is a good thing. Despite having the whole office split up, now kilometers apart from one another, teams are feeling closer than ever.

Bob makes a comment, or shares a funny joke in the office chat group, and rather than just sharing it with one or another person like he would in the office, everyone gets to enjoy it, even if they didn’t hop on the chat till an hour later.

Not only are managers seeing team collaboration improve through team chat groups and videoconferencing during office hours, but they’re also seeing more connectivity over the weekend. What Millennials figured out years ago with staying connected through social media on the weekends with coworkers, Generation X’s and Baby Boomers’s late adopters are now experiencing too.

While the office group chat was intended to keep people connected through the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday grind, it’s keeping coworkers connected after hours and during the weekend as well.

The Coronavirus is forcing people to learn to interact virtually. Since people can’t meet up for social gatherings during this time, everyone is deprived socially. This means interactions with co-workers are on the rise, even on the weekends, which is now easier than ever with chat groups.

(Accelerated) Digital Literacy leading to Transformation

People all across the world are thinking the same thing. “How did we not think of this sooner?”

Not only are many employees loving the ability to work from home by utilizing digital tools like social media, but managers and ownership is benefiting as well. More workers at home means less space utilization. If an entire wing or the whole office doesn’t need to actually be at the office to perform at a high level, then why should businesses lease out pricey office spaces every month?

The COVID-19 outbreak has changed everything. The entire world is experiencing the biggest digital transformation it’s ever seen – even bigger than the dot-com boom (?!). While there’s still quite a large digital learning curve for employees, management, and ownership to grow into this digital world, all parties are reaping the benefits right off the bat.

The next few months and years are going to be detrimental in determining which businesses will lean into the digital transformation and which will resist and bounce back to their old ways.

The question is, are you going to lean in as a digital leader and push the envelope on your organization’s digital aptitude? Or are you going to be left behind? One thing’s for certain: the companies who choose to adjust now will have a much easier time improving workplace communication, effectiveness and productivity in the coming years.

While we all wished the circumstances were different, this crisis has ignited an accelerator of transformation. Digital literacy may be the best investment opportunity for businesses and individuals while we #stayhome. While Bob and his team embrace the new normal, they #staystrong. If Bob can do it, so can you!

Article featured image showing a collage of three images

A Homeless Family and a Kebab: this is how Xmas happened to me for the first time

May this personal story inspire you.

It was December 24th, 2017, and I was alone in Brussels for Xmas. Brought up in a Jewish home, I had never really celebrated any of the year-end rituals. So I thought I should change that. That's why on that night, I went out hoping to have my very first owned Xmas evening experience.

I wanted to start it right. So I went to church. I was curious. It turned out I found myself deeply involved in meditation while following the mass and listening to the heart-warming Xmas carols.

Without any plans, after leaving the church, I went for a walk. While I made my way to the city center, I noticed families, couples and friends all in festive mood. It was so contagious. I remember it made me walk around smiling at the world for no reason. Looking back, it might have seemed a bit weird for observers, I must say. At that point in time, little did I know I was making my way to the turning point of that evening.

Random Acts of Kindness generate Kindness

I took a turn near the city's main square and there I saw a lady handing a wrapped gift over to her two sons and instructing them to go give the package to a young girl who was laying in the arms of her father who was sitting covered in a blanket with his arms out begging for money on the streets. What a moment! I stopped and watched the scene unfold. I was so inspired with what I witnessed that I immediately stretched out for my phone in my pocket and snapped a picture of the moment when the act of giving actually happened.

After that, I ran after the lady and her children to tell them I had taken a picture. They were all in awe! That beautiful moment was memorialized in an image for them. They were extremely grateful. I sent them the picture, we talked about their gesture - how beautiful it was - and we ended up finding out the mother and I had social welfare as a common interest. What a great family! They were also Jewish by the way. After some minutes talking, we exchanged best wishes and waved goodbye (not before we took a selfie of course!)

After they left, I stood around with a smile on my face feeling like my role in that story had not yet ended. That's when I decided to approach the man and his daughter on the street. I asked for permission to kneel down next to them and introduced myself. Their names were Mario and Maria.

They were homeless foreigners living in Belgium. The father could speak good French. With the daughter, I spoke only "PLAYish" as we both enjoyed her brand new toy.

As we talked, their background story immediately surfaced: the father had been promised a job he never got and the money he had saved to start his life in Belgium was already gone. This was the reason he was begging - hoping to be able to make his way back home.

I was touched and I wanted to hear more. No! I wanted to do more! So I thought: if standing in the corner in the cold was all that family had as a plan for their Xmas evening, why not invite them to be my guests for my very first Xmas dinner? Wow! I will never forget the joy in that man's face when I brought up the invitation and the reaction of his daughter who nodded her head and opened up her eyes in happiness as her father translated to her that they were being invited.

I helped them get up from the floor and we started to take a walk. The girl was happy to hold hands between her father and myself. As we made our way, I realized Brussels had now one more family in festive mood walking around and making others smile. I felt blessed.

A simple random act of kindness that inspired me: a family gives a homeless girl a wrapped gift on Xmas evening.
The family who inspired me 🙂

A Kebab for Xmas

My invitation followed by me giving Mario the choice to choose a place for us to eat. He said all he wanted was a simple thing. When he asked Maria, the only thing she wanted was French fries and a Coke. My heart was softened. I told them they could choose anything they wanted. They insisted on something simple. So at the end, Mario asked if it would be OK for us to have a Kebab, fries and a coke.

And this was how I celebrated Xmas in 2017: I had the B.E.S.T company I could wish for at the table with me. And that was the B.E.S.T. Kebab I've ever had.

I have no words to describe how much joy there was around that table as we sat and enjoyed our meal! Mario’s stories, Maria’s smile. Oh my!

You know? I may not have followed any Xmas tradition, but I know for sure that I lived the ultimate experience of the Xmas spirit - I experienced L.O.V.E. in its most human form.

After dinner, I waved goodbye to Mario and Maria and handed over an additional donation to help them get safely back home.

On that night, I felt like the happiest man on the planet. The lonely Jew who lived his very own Xmas miracle. May these lines partially copied from my writings inspire you this year for Xmas and all year round.

Happy holidays, world! I belong to you!

My 2017 Xmas dinner will forever be a special one: Kebab, fries and coke with my special guests, Mario and Maria.
Article featured image showing the word NO being completed with the letter W forming the word NOW

I didn’t win! And I don’t think I’ve ever felt so good in losing like I do now!

Yesterday was the semi-final round of a 4-month-long journey, which started when the company I work for, Boehringer Ingelheim, launched an innovation accelerator campaign called #FastForward, driven by the desire to facilitate the promotion and deployment of the most promising ideas from every single level from the company's network of more than 50,000+ employees and to help these ideas drive the company's overall innovation strategy into the future.

Out of the 509 submitted ideas, mine was among the top 15 semi-finalists, who were given the opportunity to undergo a very thorough idea maturation phase supported by an innovation manager. After ideation workshops, feedback sessions, market scouting, customer interviews and intense days of work invested in preparing a 5-minute idea pitch, I had the honour to present the results of the hard work in front of the company's Digital Portfolio Team, who had the task of evaluating the 15 semi-finalists and choosing the 5 winners that get the chance to pitch their ideas to the company's CEO next month.

After such an exciting and time/effort-consuming journey, it's absolutely normal to want to win, to want to feel good and proud about oneself and one's idea, right? Well, that's how we're programmed to think and feel, after all. And here's the bottom-line of my story that I want to share with you: I didn't win! And I don't think I've ever felt so good in losing like I do now. I feel a huge sense of accomplishment.

Winning and losing: time-bound distinctions (!?)

You know moments like when your team is losing and the referee sounds the whistle? Or when the winner is announced among the nominees? These are literally split-of-a-second moments in time that define who will step on the stage and deliver a speech, who will step on that podium and raise a trophy or simply who will get a chance to move forward versus those who won't - like in my case. "Damn! It's tough!" Let's not underestimate the pain that this split second carries with it. It's dull. It's a silent punch in the stomach. And it's a demon so bad that it may even make us forget the whole journey of wins that led us to that moment. And this is why learning the time-value of winning can do wonders.

You see? Most of us grow up trained to follow the winning path. And it's hard to keep focused on what lies beyond that path. There are so many distractions around telling us how our life should look like, and sometimes we forget that our paths are unique. There is only one ME and one YOU. Why should winning and losing look the same for us both, after all?

Besides, there are many lessons in losing! It is what we do with the result of winning or losing that defines the true champions. It is nothing else than the good old "learning to lose" recipe I'm talking about. And this is what this recipe looks like to me: I choose to see the wins behind losing!

Well, winning feels awesome - no doubt about it! However, there is a lot more than just winning and losing in a competition. And this is where the time-value of winning plays an important role. It is not the YES/NO split second telling apart the winner(s) from the loser(s) that define my success story, it is the aggregated value of NOW moments of success that led me there, and most importantly, the NOW moments that follow that define what winning looks like to me. And trust me, with this in mind and at heart, there's never too little to celebrate - no matter the outcome!

The many wins in my story of losing

Back to my story, when I pitched my semi-finalist idea yesterday, of course I hoped to make it to the finals. I didn't, but you know what? Never has it felt so easy to go through that "NO" split second when I realized I didn't make it. And the reason is: I already felt like a winner!

  • In fact, months ago, I felt like a winner because I was one of the 509 out of 50.000+ employees in the company who had the initiative and courage to submit an idea to this program.
  • I felt like a winner when my idea qualified as "HOT!" because it received support from many colleagues who liked, commented and engaged with the idea online.
  • Following, I felt like a winner when I received a message saying my idea had made to the evaluation phase.
  • Shortly after, I felt like a winner when I got the call saying my idea was shortlisted as one of the semi-finalists and I even got a message from the CEO's office thanking me for taking part in the campaign.
  • A whole month of idea-maturation went by and every single day I felt like a winner because I was given the chance to undergo a very intense idea and personal development phase with the support of a coach and a board of professionals.
  • Throughout the whole journey, I felt like a winner because I'm lucky to work for a company that gives me a voice to lead innovation and exposes me to a multi-cultural and cross-functional team of experts from whom I learned so much and who inspired me.
  • Yesterday when I stood in front of that audience as an idea owner seeking support to bring this idea to life, I felt like a winner because I know I delivered the best of myself, with not a single thought of "I could have done better" whatsoever.
  • Now I sit on the airplane flying back home, and I feel like a winner because I was able to acknowledge that split second "NO" moment with a smile on my face, for I learned to see beyond it. I learned to value the 4 months' worth of NOW winning moments that counterweight the punch of that split second by far.

And you know? It's all a matter of perspective as well. The underlying goals of my presentation yesterday were two-fold: first, I wanted people to believe in the idea and secondly, I wanted help to translate the idea into reality. Did I make it to the competition finals? No, I didn't! But guess what? No questions that goal #1 was achieved! And to a large extent, the noise it created already made goal #2 find its means of realization elsewhere. Power of positivity, anyone? 🙂

I never felt so much in sync with my talents and aspirations like I do now. What a sense of accomplishment! Thank you, @Boehringer Ingelheim and the whole #FastForward Team for instilling in me a sense of fulfilment and achievement. Even if my idea did not fast-forward as I wished, this experience has fast-forwarded me into the next best version of myself! I'm truly thankful!

And hey! Let's not forget! To all the finalists, congratulations! Thank you for the winning spirit all along! And thank you for taking us all as a company one step closer into the future. Now go ahead and get us all fast-forwarded, guys! Cheers! 🙂

Article featured image showing my mother at the Walt Disney Parks in Paris

KPIs in Life – Why “taking my mom to Disneyland” was one of mine

I took my mom to Disneyland yesterday - what a magical day! I would not be exaggerating if I said it was one of the most amazing days of my life! And this is not really because we were in Disneyland, but rather because this experience allowed me to deliver best-in-class “customer” satisfaction to my one and only “key account”, my most loyal “client” and my single life-long “investor”: MY MOTHER!

Here’s the thing: I was born to a middle class single mom in the Amazon region in Brazil. Growing up, I witnessed her  struggle financially to conciliate the hardships of Brazil’s economic instability and the costs of investing in my future in an society where quality education was a luxury (...and sadly still is!)

In February this year, I spent my birthday in Disneyland with my partner. When we were there, in one of the phone calls with my mom, she said to me: “I am so happy you could give yourself this one thing I could not give you as a child.” - and she meant taking me to Disneyland, of course.

When I heard that, I immediately replied: “No, mom! This is not just me giving myself a gift. This is me enjoying the fruits of YOUR visionary leadership, YOUR right decisions and YOUR investments in OUR future. If anything, this is OUR merit, not just mine! I should be thankful to YOU for being here now!”

Shortly after, I decided to book this trip I am enjoying today and take my mom to Disneyland with me to make this childhood dream come true exactly the way we both wanted it to happen back in the days: together as mother and son!

My mother's Lesson on Success KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) in Life

You know!? Like in many other families, my mom turned out to be my role model of leadership. She taught me a myriad of lessons I use every day in both my personal and professional lives. Among these lessons, there is a particularly valuable one I thought a lot about today: a lesson on how making people happy is a measurement of success. 

At the age of 34, I am very grateful for being where I am in life. I consider myself to be a successful man. And when I reflect on what my mom’s values on the subject are, I realise that my success is not really because of achievements collected, but rather because of this “success performance indicator” she taught me. In other words, because of the people I’ve been making happy along my journey. - What a fulfilling journey it’s been!

After this trip to Disneyland, I can say with utmost confidence that I have singled out my most valuable KPI to measure my (!) success at this point in life. This KPI is called “Making my Mother Happy”. And trust me! Seeing my mom’s smile yesterday felt like the 10th star in a 5-star happiness-level rating system.

What a day! Thanks, mom! Love you, mom!

PS: if you are reading this, and are lucky enough to have your mother and/or father still in your life today, I encourage you to give him/her/them a hug, a call or at least send a message saying how much you care. Like in business, delivering satisfaction is a “journey” that requires constant care.

Thanks for reading,

Love, Thyago

Article featured image metaphorically showing a woman talking to a robot as if having conversations with data

Active listening to data: Disrupting the way we look at disruption

Some time ago I attended a business conference where the company brought together their top leadership team, their best-in-class middle-management, a panel of external experts and some guest customers. What a wonderful couple of days those were! After the event, I felt empowered by the words of the leaders, I felt inspired by the best-practices presented by the management, I felt energized by the external key-note speeches and I felt disrupted by the insights from my interactions with the customers! – Yes, disrupted!

Some days passed and there I found myself again in a meeting room where people were turning their heads to me every time a tech-buzzword popped up: digital activities, social media, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and disruption. Hold on a second! – I thought to myself. The moment the weight of the accountability for disruption fell upon me, I couldn’t help but think of the discussions I had had with customers some days earlier. And just like that, I realized that there was scope for me to shape the way people perceive the role of a digital manager in a context where disruption is not just a trend, but a surviving mechanism to strive in business.

The Disruptors and the Agents of Disruption

Here’s the thing: whereas digital and IT guys like me do deploy technology aiming at redefining businesses and creating competitive advantage in a disruptive manner, the fact is that the real disruptive element out there is called the customer. They are the ones demanding change. They are the ones who decide whether or not to adopt the technologies chosen for their journeys. They are the ones evolving and adapting quickly to fast-paced digital landscapes. They are the ones who will either not react or stop reacting if their customer experience is not delivered the way they want it, when and where they want it. Customers – they are the ones! They are the disruptors!

So what does that imply for us digital strategists? We use technology as a steering tool to drive our customers through journeys we design towards behaviors we define – But this is not all! Our role also encompasses customer behavior management, for we must deep-dive on how our target groups react and respond to every aspect of their experience. And we do so by listening to them and making sure that every touchpoint in the journeys we defined are powered by content, channels and experiences they have chosen. Once again, it is customers who create disruption and it is up to us marketers to deliver the transformation that follows by reacting to it.

And this the differential principle between successful disruptive marketing and failed attempts of going disruptive. While the former reacts to the disruption sparkled by the demand from customers, the latter stumbles on the pitfall I like to call “disruption in a box”, which is nothing else but attempts to be disruptive by going window shopping for innovation before assessing customers’ needs first. Markets have shown that even the most skilled digital experts and the most advanced IT infrastructures are in for big trouble if teams fail to deliver what their customers really want. But then here’s where technology enables disruption at its best: it provides the toolbox to help companies listen. This toolbox is called data, analytics and insights. And this is how the path from disruption to transformation is paved: with data-driven decision making.

The Emotional Component of Data

Now back to the beginning of this article, if asked why I felt disrupted by the customers at that conference I mentioned, the answer is the “cherry on top” of this matter, and what I call the emotional component of data. During one-on-one interactions with the guest customers, I asked them about some of the touchpoints they have in their customer journeys with the company. Their body language and facial expressions, an emotional and very granular customer behavior type of data, disagreed with the insights I had at hand based on the data we had available. This made me raise a flag about a possible pain point.

And this is the beauty of going the extra mile and being out there in the field actually listening to customers and putting ourselves in their shoes. This allows us marketers to generate a type of qualitative data which includes an emotional component that technology is not yet fully able to interpret. The insights gathered from those interactions disrupted my status-quo. Again I repeat, it all started with the customers.

In follow-up, all I did was get back to my data and rephrase the questions I asked. In doing so, the disruption became an opportunity for transformation, for it was the emotional component of data that forced me to trigger an analytical skill I did not even know I had: active listening to data, whereby I paraphrase and reflect back on what my insights tell me.

For instance: If my data reveals that ‘the click-through-rate (CTR) of a particular email campaign is 3%, and 40% out of these are first-time clickers (1.2% out of the total)’, I rephrase and re-query my data as follows: ‘Approximately 2 in 5  people who reacted to my email campaign have done so for the first time. By asking the data even further, I discover that 15% of the total campaign population had never reacted to any campaigns at all. Thus, had I sent out this message only to this segment of the total, I would have reached a CTR of 8% instead (meaning 1.2%  out of the 15% of the total).’ And the conversation with my data continues. This leads to further questions: “The content of my campaign may be of particular interest for those who had never interacted with us before” which also means that “the content may not be relevant for people with whom we had already started our virtual conversation with and we should split these campaigns in two”. – From customer behavior through satisfaction towards content performance. Active listening to data can take us all the way to digital marketing excellence.

There you go! Once the questions asked changed, the answers shined new light on some possible customer satisfaction metrics. That’s when I began to find agreement between what my data says and the frown I had observed on my customers’ face when I met them in person. It almost felt like being able to see data frown at me this time. 🙂 So that’s it! The bottom-line here is clear: listen actively to your customer. . . and to your data. And remember that sometimes it is easy to overlook the fact that customers are people with emotions just like us – so let’s not take these cues for granted!

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment and/or share! Cheers!

Article featured image metaphorically showing a super hero of the digital age

The key to digital transformation is people, not technology – this is why

In its simplest definition, digital transformation is nothing more than change by technology. It is the exercise of improving existing business processes and supporting the emergence of new ones by making use of (new) advanced hardware and software technologies, tools, platforms and applications.

Name an industry and anyone can find a job description or job title that entails digital transformation as a role or responsibility. After all, it is easy to agree that businesses in virtually every field understand the importance of advancing with technology in order to meet their evolving market realities and continue to operate and deliver value to customers.

However wide-spread digital as a topic within business strategy is, it is still a challenging matter within organizations. And the reason why highly skilled digital transformation teams with advanced technologies fail to bring about change is more often than not the same: the varying degrees of digital literacy outside the boundaries of their teams’ silos.

Digital capability building is, therefore, the exercise of bringing people into the digital transformation equation and sending out a message that it is not all about changes in technology, but also about enabling and empowering people to carry on the change while focusing on outcomes and consistently delivering value.

Therefore, in a wider-scope definition, digital transformation can also be seen as change by capability, for only a mix of skills, knowledge and understanding of the role of technology in supporting business functions can establish an organization-wide digital culture, where people are empowered to continuously get comfortable in digital spaces.

 

Digital Capabilities Fundamentals: as long as we all know it, it is OK if only some of us understand it and even fewer of us can do it

Knowledge, understanding and skills. We might have seen these capability words being used interchangeably because they are intrinsic parts of our educational and professional lives. Sometimes they seem to work out as synonyms, but in our case, they don’t. Here’s a practical example of the difference between these within a digital business context.

DefinitionExample
Knowledge refers to the absorption of information.“I know that I must obtain an opt-in permission from my customers in order to reach out to them via email.”
Understanding is the ability of taking knowledge and make meaning out of it.“I understand that emailing customers whose opt-in I do not possess may bring legal and financial consequences to my company and that I have to use an email marketing platform to filter out those customers when sending out mailings. Moreover, I have to explicitly offer an opt-out option to customers I send messages to.”
Skills refer to the proficiency of applying acquired knowledge and the quality of being able of doing something.“I can manage my customers’ opt-in & out via our email marketing platform and I am able to create and send out mailings to opt-in customers only, as well as include an opt-out link in the body of the message.”

While these three capability words differ in concept, they all have one thing in common: they can be obtained through learning, training and experience – and this is exactly where the magic happens. The higher the degree of digital literacy of a company, the faster and more efficient its migration into digital spaces will be. And this is why digital capability building is key to digital transformation.

Having said this, it is important to highlight that it does not mean that everyone should possess the same level of skills, the same degree of understanding or even the same amount of knowledge. Not at all!

 

A Customer-centric approach to Digital Capability Planning

Customer-centricity has become the buzz word of every marketing plan for a reason – it is the only way to survive in an ever-more demanding and competitive ecosystem. So if external customers are at the center of every marketing plan, digital transformation leads should also put the internal customers first too. Here’s a possible approach:

  • Start with mapping the stakeholders, profiling the audience and creating personas with different needs and roles within the bigger digital transformation picture of the organization. Make sure to include people at all levels and go for the key influencers and the most likely ambassadors and advocates first.
  • Different personas take different amounts of time and resources in developing understanding and skills. This is why capability building is not a one-time event, but rather a customer journey with multiple touchpoints that give the target group a regular opportunity to think, start conversations and most importantly, build up a community.
  • Keep in mind that touchpoints do not imply training or coaching. To explain that, a quote from the Nobel Prize winner in Literature Bernard Shaw is brought forward: “If you teach a man anything, he will never learn”. That is to say, learning is an active process. People learn by doing. Thus, to empower people with digital knowledge, understanding and skills, let them think and do digital.

Last but not the least, since digital transformation is a subject within the domain of change management, I close this article with a personal and holistic comment from my own experience. Having worked with start-ups, SMEs, governments and corporations, I have navigated through a variety of organizational (digital) cultures, all of which taught me several lessons on managing change from the bottom to senior levels of a company. Out of all lessons learned, I cannot think of a more precise and indisputable truth about change management other than consistency.

To illustrate that, imagine an eyedropper filled with red ink. When we let a drop of ink fall into a large glass of water, the red color will dissolve and we would see no change in the color of the water in the glass. But if we do the same thing continuously over time, however, the water would slowly turn pink until it fully embodies the tones of red. And this is how change happens – one drop at a time… consistently.

Well, having said that the key to digital transformation is people, then every person this article reaches means one more droplet of red ink in some company’s digital transformation glass.  Cheers to that!