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John Rossman, a thought leader on digital and innovation strategies, and author of the best-selling book The Amazon Way, joins host Nancy Goebel for the latest episode of Digital Workplace Impact.
Known for his deep insights into Amazon's unique leadership principles and tactics, John has translated these into actionable steps to help businesses accelerate their own digital transformations.
In this fascinating conversation, the pair delve into digital transformation the Amazon way. They explore how Amazon's leadership principles, customer obsession and innovative culture have contributed to the company’s huge success.
Looking forwards, Nancy and John also take a look at generative AI as the next big disruptor for digital transformation; at how this could impact the employee experience, the nature of work and the possibilities of creating the best possible AI-infused versions of businesses.
Lessons for leaders, revealing principles and the benefits of being an active sceptic all come under review. So, for an insightful conversation with John Rossman, take a listen and dive into the Amazon way of digital transformation today.
Digital Workplace Impact Episode 131: Digital transformation ‘The Amazon Way’
[00:00:00.410] – John Rossman
Digital transformation is an interesting term as kind of a category of thinking capability technology. But I think it’s a really hard operating model to attach to. And so Amazon’s thinking has always been, you know, start with the customer, what they’re trying to get done their problem and work backwards into. Well, what do we think our unique perspective is in helping to solve that customer need or that customer problem? The question I always ask is, people always start with customer needs and requirements. What’s going on? I try to ask a little edgier question, and the question I ask is, what sucks? Because when you ask, that’s essentially what’s the real pain point? What is the real problem? Not what are kind of the low grade issues going on or needs or requirements, but like, what’s the real essence of their pain? You get pulled in deeper and you focus on more valuable things. And when something really hurts, when something’s really a pain point, customers buy.
[00:01:12.980] – Nancy Goebel
Welcome to Digital Workplace Impact podcast. Today we have a special guest, John Rossman. John is a thought leader on digital and innovation strategies and the author of a best selling book, The Amazon Way. In case you haven’t come across John, he’s known for his deep insights into Amazon’s unique leadership principles and tactics, and he’s translated them into actionable steps for businesses to accelerate their digital transformations. And in this episode, we delved into the topic of digital transformation, the Amazon Way. We will explore how Amazon’s leadership principles, customer obsession, innovative and disruptive culture have all contributed to its success. We’ll also talk about how other companies can apply these lessons to their digital workplace transformation journey specifically. So sit back and get ready for an insightful conversation with John, and let’s dive into the Amazon way of digital transformation. This is Nancy Goebel, your host and DWG’s Chief Executive. And as always, Digital Workplace Impact is brought to you by Digital Workplace Group. Happy listening.
[00:02:44.230] – Nancy Goebel
So, John, I’m just delighted to have you in the studio today. We have had a long history of bringing in digital workplace leaders, senior leaders who are concerned about the digital workplace, members of the DWG team. But once in a while, we like to bring in authors and thought leaders who will prompt fresh thinking, and you happen to fall into that category. So I’m delighted to welcome you.
[00:03:20.220] – John Rossman
Nancy, thank you so much for inviting me onto the Digital Workplace Impact, and I hope I meet your expectations.
[00:03:28.530] – Nancy Goebel
And so the backdrop for today’s conversation is the book that you’ve written called The Amazon Way. And so Amazon is a force, just like Microsoft is a force in the things that we all do day to day. So I have to start by asking you, what inspired you to write this book? And what would you say are some of the top line takeaways?
[00:03:55.930] – John Rossman
Yeah. So I first released The Amazon Way in 2014. I was an early executive at Amazon. I was there from early 2002 through late 2005. I played a key role in launching the Amazon Marketplace business. After I left Amazon, I was working with my clients on solving hard problems and innovation and transforming whatever the nature of their business is. And it was several years after I left Amazon when a client of mine at the Gates Foundation actually came to me. And he was know, John, you do a nice job of taking the little strategies and the anecdotes and the thinking from Amazon and delicately using it in our business with our grantees and the work we’re trying to do. And he goes, I think you ought to write a book about it. And I’d never thought about that up to that point. He had actually worked with Bill Gates on his two book projects. And so he had an eye for these types of things. And I did two smart things, was first, I listened to him, and the second thing was I talked him into being my partner on these books. And so we first released The Amazon Way in 2014.
[00:05:10.670] – John Rossman
We’ve done three releases of the book. So the last one was just over a year ago. It’s been translated into, I think, 13 languages. And it’s really my story at Amazon and the story of the Amazon leadership principles. But I always start with, like, this isn’t about Amazon. This is about what anybody can take from a company like Amazon to consider and think about in their business and what they’re trying to accomplish.
[00:05:40.510] – Nancy Goebel
Part of the reason why I think this is such a timely story for us to probe on a leadership level is that we are at a time where generative AI is going to be very disruptive to lots of businesses, many roles, including what we do in our circles in the digital workplace arena. And I have to believe that we need to respect and learn from our history and that we need to look to organizational learning like Amazon’s, which are fundamentally disruptive when we have new disruptions like generative AI and other emerging technologies in our fold. And so that was really the anchor point for me in wanting to sit down and chat with you. And I think a logical place for us to start is to talk a little bit about how Amazon’s model supports driving digital transformation, and then we can branch out from there and talk about kind of the leadership dynamic that sets forth as well, and then your own learnings.
[00:07:03.750] – John Rossman
Yeah, I think it really starts with digital transformation is an interesting term as kind of a category of thinking capability technology. But I think it’s a really hard operating model to attach to. And so Amazon’s thinking has always know, start with the customer what they’re trying to get done their problem and work backwards into. Well, what do we think our unique perspective is in helping to solve that customer need or that customer problem? I always have the same approach in any circumstance, which is start with the problem, start with the end in mind, work backwards, and then apply a combination of approaches, whether it’s simplifying or incentives or communication or the technology or many others, in order to accomplish an integrated outcome. And so our mission was never to be a disruptive company. Our mission was never to compete against anybody. Our mission was always serve a customer. The impact turned out to be very disruptive in nature. But that wasn’t our mission. That wasn’t what drove us. What drove us was serving customers with approaches that delighted them. I think that’s really made all the difference. And when you consistently, deeply, not just care about your customer, but are curious about your customer, right, like, what’s the job they’re trying to get done and be willing to look upstream and downstream into what they’re trying to accomplish, the struggles they have, what happens on a good day, what happens on a bad way, and how could we help them with that?
[00:09:01.630] – John Rossman
How could we help them avoid it? How could we help them deal with it? How could we make it more efficient? How does our product and service serve them today? And what could we do broader than that? Well, that’s really been the strategic use of customer obsession that has taken Amazon. When I started there in 2002, 90 percent of the business was books, music, video. We had our first billion dollar quarter in 2002 to the extremely large, influential, multi sided business model that they are today was just by following customer problems.
[00:09:36.410] – Nancy Goebel
That’s a lot to take in as a starting point. So let’s now start to pull this apart a little bit. You’ve talked to some degree about the importance of starting with the end in mind and the customer need. Let’s go a little bit deeper into the approach for how that can happen, whether it’s in the Amazon context or even broader digital transformation.
[00:10:08.190] – John Rossman
I agree. The question I always ask is people always start with customer needs and requirements. What’s going on? I try to ask a little edgier question, and the question I ask is, what sucks? Because when you ask, that’s essentially, what’s the real pain point? What is the real problem? Not what are kind of the low grade issues going on or needs or requirements, but like, what’s the real essence of their pain? You get pulled in deeper and you focus on more valuable things. And when something really hurts, when something’s really a pain point, customers buy. Right. And so you’re always trying to make a great business. That’s where I’m always thinking about. And I push on a slightly different essence, which is like, what really sucks here? And that forces us to think a little deeper about understanding the truth of the situation. And there’s these techniques around the five whys or the real value proposition you’re trying to get to. And that just helps pull you in a little deeper to really get at not the convenient or first answers you come to, but trying to get to a deeper level of understanding about a customer and what they’re trying to get done and what they’re dealing with.
[00:11:37.710] – Nancy Goebel
Yeah, it’s one of those things I remember during my tenure, not at DWG, but when I was on Wall Street, six sigma was the big framework used to solve problems. And one of the things we did quite often was fishbone analysis, which fundamentally is about getting past the symptom and getting to the root cause. And that’s exactly what you’ve described here by saying, ask the question what sucks? And I know that very often in our circles, the thing that comes up the most is search. And I think that’s part of why generating has such a big appeal at the moment, because fundamentally, organizations struggle with finding things, finding people, finding expertise. And when you add the digital layer to it, you can’t replicate Google because it’s just not how the internal enterprise works. You don’t have the same buying points. You want people to get in and to get out, whether know, looking up their pay stub or signing off on a purchase order or whatever the case happens to be, so they can do their real job servicing the customer. What sucks resonates with me in a very big way, talking to our members.
[00:12:58.400] – John Rossman
Well, it’s interesting you bring up search because I remember a couple of conversations where we would say it’s like the only problem with having the everything store is that your customer isn’t there for everything, they’re there for something. And so discoverability is always a challenge when you’ve really created a compelling amount of selection. And that continues to always be a challenge at Amazon and so many other companies is discoverability. I always think about friction in the customer experience what are the pain points, the things we’re asking our customer or employees to do because we haven’t quite solved for it yet? And the problem with friction is that we’re typically blind to it, right? We’re just comfortably numb with it. It’s just like, yeah, that’s the way it always works. And I always think about if you’re inside a big box store of the ilk, of a Home Depot or something like that, and discoverability within those big stores is a massive challenge. But honestly, I don’t think they see it as that. And they have done almost nothing to actually improve discoverability within those big stores. And I think it’s a big opportunity for them to help the discoverability in the physical environment as well as in digital environments.
[00:14:28.230] – Nancy Goebel
No question. And so just in our first few minutes together, we’ve started thinking about leadership principles, in essence. So the idea of being customer obsessed and really pointing that energy at removing friction, that’s a big one. What would you say are some other leadership principles that have been part of your experience at Amazon and then its success, as you described it unfolding earlier?
[00:15:02.030] – John Rossman
Yeah, so there’s 16 leadership principles now at Amazon. And you’re absolutely right. You can’t lean on just customer obsession or customer centricity. And I’ve been in a lot of conversations where people are like, well, tell me the one thing. It’s like, hey, unfortunately, there’s not one thing. Right. It’s very situational dependent. It takes wisdom to apply them. And it’s typically at the intersection of applying multiple forcing functions or constraints or leadership principles that you really come to some better answers. And so the one that I typically use a lot is, what’s the third leadership principle at Amazon, which is invent and simplify. And it’s not the invent piece that I focus on, it’s the and simplify half of that leadership principle, because simplifying the situation is always at the heart of actually improving it. I recently read the new Elon Musk biography, very large book by Walter Isaacson, and he mentions the word delete as Elon’s primary go to approach for solving problems. He mentions that 38 times in the book. And so delete, delete, delete is the way that Elon fundamentally cuts costs, creates better products and services, and has innovated in every one of his businesses, whether it’s SpaceX, The Boring Company, or Tesla or any of them.
[00:16:44.080] – John Rossman
It’s about simplifying the situation and then applying technology. And that is why the edgiest work I do with companies in trying to improve their operating model or improve customer experience is always there’s approaches called zero based design. Start with a blank sheet of paper is a nicer way to say it, but just start over again and really rethink what’s the customer, what’s the situation, what is true value added to that situation? And how do we unencumber the current situation with everything that isn’t directly adding value and then applying technology? And so the and simplify piece is critical in any type of complex, any situation of any complexity at all. And there’s always so much to happen. Most companies have built up through merger, through just adding more requirements. It’s like the tax code. Things get added, they never get taken off. And there’s such an opportunity to delete, delete, delete in so much of the work that goes on out there. So that’s one of the leadership principles that I lean on a lot. And then the other one that I’ll mention, and like I said, there are 16 of them, so we’re not going to go through all of them, is think big.
[00:18:10.530] – John Rossman
And the leadership principle reads, thinking small is a self fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires the results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers. The half of that leadership principle, that didn’t get written, though, and I think that this is one that Amazon’s had to do a little correction on themselves, which is, yes, you want to think big, but don’t confuse that with betting big. You actually want to test and iterate as cheaply and as quickly as possible. And there’s a real art in both thinking big, but then recognizing what are the most critical assumptions that you’re making in thinking big, and how do you accelerate the testing of those and defer as much of the other work as possible until you understand those critical risks. And that is the art of true experimentation.
[00:19:07.310] – Nancy Goebel
And I would add testing into that experimentation approach. And I say that because in the digital workplace arena, we really spend a lot of time talking about employee experiences and the need to understand how people work. To your point, what those friction points are. And when we do want to test new ways of approaching things, we have to test it out with them before we roll out and go on to the next.
[00:19:39.960] – John Rossman
Testing is how you do experimentation, right? Absolutely. Those are the two sides of the same coin, which is to verify your hypothesis or the assumption that you’re making and learn from it, make adjustments, and then move forward.
[00:19:59.460] – Nancy Goebel
I am sure that there are other aspects of the 16 principles that are part of your day to day trading deck. But if you think about our audience, in particular, digital workplace leaders and practitioners, what other ones might you hone on that are really centered around achieving the right results? So removing the friction.
[00:20:26.850] – John Rossman
Right. I think how you design and use metrics in a business is really critical to that continuous improvement, to truly understanding the customer experience, to doing this test and experimentation that we’re talking about. And I’m always very suspicious of surveys. I think that they can be misleading. There’s biases, there’s construction, whereas actual usage and transaction metrics are a much different and I think more reliable source of data in order to actually understand what’s going on. And so the way that we used metrics, and we were always asking for more metrics, we weren’t trying to just simplify our metrics. Now, we designed our metrics very thoughtfully, but we were always asking for more. We were always looking for the signals in those metrics. So we would design the metrics not towards the median or the average, but you’d always design your metrics to hone in on the tail of the metric, because that’s always where the signals are, where the imperfections are. And then those were really, that’s the digital exhaust that would tell us like, hey, where is the friction? Where haven’t we perfected the experience yet? And what’s the root cause behind it? Should we try to improve it or not?
[00:21:57.480] – John Rossman
And how do we go about doing that? And so the way that we instrumented the business and thought about using those to drive change and to create accountability and create speed in our organization was really fundamental to the culture and the operating model of Amazon.
[00:22:18.350] – Nancy Goebel
So one of the things that I would say about the digital workplace industry is that measurement discipline tends to be one of the areas that needs ongoing attention. So on the delivery side, that search sucks conversation we were having a moment ago. But when I think about the fact that there are teams that have a strategy, a vision, a roadmap, and then you ask them how they’re going to translate that into what they’re going to measure, and they revert back to some of the basics, what we call the vanity metrics, what would be your advice on that score? Because we know that that’s not where you get all of those signals that you were talking about. And I just think it’s been a really hot topic in our circles. We’ve actually just published a piece of research on kind of next generation analytics and telling the impact stories around that. But I really want to hear what your thoughts are.
[00:23:26.820] – John Rossman
Measuring adoption and measuring true value add is the hard work of continuously exploring those metrics. And so I think the lesson is don’t think that you’re done with your metrics just because you’ve created your first iteration of those metrics. Like you’re always asking yourself, how could we measure this deeper? If a customer issue happens, how did our metrics or monitoring not capture that situation? And you’re always adding to your metrics. And so that would be, it kind of sounds like what you’re saying, which is like, it’s easy to identify some of the higher level vanity metrics, but to really own it long term, you have to dig way deeper than just those initial, obvious metrics.
[00:24:21.650] – Nancy Goebel
It’s almost analogous to the fishbone we were talking about a little bit earlier. You keep asking why, right?
[00:24:28.250] – John Rossman
That’s the fuel that feeds into the fishbone. Exactly. That is exactly the metrics. And then actually going and talking to your customers or talking to the field that is dealing with the customers is the second primary thing. And so reading customer service calls, actually going to the customer service center, being in the field, gives you such a visceral understanding to complement your metrics. So I think that the other move that I would make in addition to my metrics is get out of the office, get out of the quote unquote ivory tower, and go be in the field whenever you have a chance. And that will give you just inherent, hard to come by understanding that you can’t get by just looking at the numbers or the surveys.
[00:25:23.430] – Nancy Goebel
That’s right on point. And interestingly enough, dovetails the next piece of research that we’re going to be putting out to our members, which is all about managing the employee feedback loop through the lifecycle. I intentionally didn’t prompt you with any of the topics that we’re focused on, and yet here we are. There’s just a level of synchronicity here, which is fantastic. So in the digital workplace arena practitioners are employee obsessed because that’s the closest proxy to the customer in their orbit. So I’m thinking that organizations need to look at the employee experience as an enabler of the customer experience. And if employees are stuck in that friction, obviously that can have a cascading effect on how they service the customer. And so when you start to think about the employee experience as an enabler of the customer experience, how would you translate some of these leadership principles that you were talking about to add maybe another layer to the 16 that you’ve talked a little bit about in helping this group think holistically about their approach to digital workplace transformation.
[00:26:58.150] – John Rossman
Well, there’s a lot packed in there, but I think understanding the job that they are trying to get done and how do they truly add value to their customer and to the business. That’s the work back starting point from an employee experience standpoint. There’s lots of great constructs out there to do that. The jobs to be done might be a great one, applicable to this type of conversation, but anything that helps you pull into not just again, the obvious things, but truly understanding. At the end of the day, the business serves a customer in order to have a great business. And connecting those two points into the job to be done and simplifying the work as much as possible and helping them be heroes in their job is a really important aspect of the employee experience. And that’s kind of the transactional nature of the job that can be done. And then depending upon the job type and the job category, then there’s other things that need to be thought through too, such as just their development and mentoring and the social aspect to it. And I think that those are the things that after we’re done with helping people be successful at the transaction, pieces that need to be thought through too.
[00:28:26.180] – John Rossman
And so there’s some of these leadership principles around curiosity and learning that are so essential to really helping our employees be long term successful, not just in the job they’re doing today, but in their career. And so I would just, maybe the simplest framework would be break a job into two halves, and one is the transactional half of the job they’re trying to get done, but then the second half is their own career and development and how we enable that.
[00:29:00.210] – Nancy Goebel
That’s a fascinating way to think about it. And our space is changing. The workplace is changing very rapidly. The pace of change is only serving to accelerate. So I talk about it in terms of velocity, speed with direction, and whether it’s technological or external factors. Our workforce in any given organization is having to condend with more and more. And sometimes you come in tomorrow and the world looks very different, especially in your digital headquarters. And so helping our employees become more naturally Curious, so they’re just asking lots of questions as part of their learning path, not only to do their job, but to help bring their career along. An interesting and impactful and challenging journey is a natural byproduct of that as well. So I really am resonating with your thinking and want to just explore more with you in the time that we still have. Earlier you talked a little bit about the importance of inventing and simplifying, and we explored the simplification side. But I think it might be worth coming back to inventing or innovation and experimentation for just a little bit. And whether you’ve got some thoughts grounded in sort of the Amazon learnings around fostering a culture of innovation and experimentation as part of how you transform the digital workplace.
[00:30:46.270] – John Rossman
I do, and this may seem counterintuitive, but I actually thinking through the problem we are trying to solve and what our hypothesis are about how we are going to solve that is the part of innovation that most teams and people like to rush through as quickly as possible. And Amazon, their innovation process, they would call it working backwards. There’s more to it than that. But that’s the heart of it. And at the heart of working backwards is writing out memos, writing and debating memos before we start actually applying technology or trialing things. And so if you actually take the time to write out in full narratives, in full paragraphs, and with clarity and clarity, means both completeness of thought as well as simplicity of thought, and then debate those in whatever team forum is appropriate, that is actually experimenting. People don’t recognize that, but that is actually experimenting and taking the time. That’s a classic go slow to go fast or go slow to go far approach to this. And so that memo writing approach is the absolute counterintuitive, super hard to do, super impactful, counterintuitive approach to innovating in most circumstances where the friction isn’t really obvious or the solution isn’t really obvious.
[00:32:29.280] – John Rossman
So in obvious situations, like, yeah, apply that tool or do this thing and improve it, but if it’s of something of subtlety and complexity, and typically, I always talk about, like, I focus on wicked problems with my clients, and a wicked problem is one that is multisighted, never has one simple thing that you can do to solve the problem. And it typically takes many different levers to achieve. Spending time in the problem space, spending time writing and debating the different aspects of how you might approach it, and then really zeroing in on, well, what are the most important and high risk components of that future state that we’re deciding, and then how do we experiment upon it and test it? That is innovating right there. But again, so often people like, hey, all you’re doing is writing and debating. Like, I want to rush and apply technology. I’m always like, no, we’re just going to slow down a little bit because this is the cheapest type of experimentation that you can actually do.
[00:33:37.480] – Nancy Goebel
This is the perfect segue. So I can’t tell you how many senior leaders across major organizations are saying, get moving on, generative AI. And there’s a danger in exactly what you’ve just described, right, because you’re throwing the technology at the organization before understanding how it can be used, how it can be valuable. So if generative AI is the next big disruptor for digital transformation, what’s your take on thinking about this vis a vis the employee experience and the impact on the nature of work?
[00:34:19.540] – John Rossman
Yeah, I write a Substack newsletter called the Digital Leader Newsletter, and one of my most recent articles was about not paving cow paths with generative AI. And if I’m in my late 50s, there was a very seminal book in my career called Reengineering the Corporation. And in that book they talked about what reengineering is, is you’re not just paving over the cow paths. You’re fundamentally rethinking what value added activity is. And what I see happening with so much in generative AI is we are just repaving the cow path and what the bigger opportunity is to actually rethink and to simplify and delete, delete, delete, and focus on value added activities and then think about applying a technology like generative AI. So that’s my first iteration of the answer on that. But then the second part of that question, and this is the one that I don’t quite understand, all the levers or the approaches on this, is, I see generative AI extremely impactful in some types of circumstances. Right when I’m ideating, when I’m creating, when I’m doing something like that. But how do you actually scale that? How do you make it deterministic? Meaning I’m going to get similar answers in similar circumstances.
[00:35:46.500] – John Rossman
How do you create the observability that you need and the repeatability and the auditability that you need, all the oddities that we typically like in our business processes. That’s the stuff that I’m still interested in seeing how a technology like generative AI truly scales in certain types of processes that go on in enterprises.
[00:36:15.270] – Nancy Goebel
And clearly, there’s going to have to be lots of experimentation and absolutely, governance.
[00:36:20.430] – John Rossman
[00:36:21.310] – Nancy Goebel
The guide rails and lots of time and attention around some of these other key principles that you’ve put there.
[00:36:28.430] – John Rossman
What do you think the approach is on that?
[00:36:31.630] – Nancy Goebel
Well, we are in conversations with lots of organizations who are in the experimental phase to understand its power, its risks, its capabilities. And interestingly enough, next week I’m going to be publishing our predictions, our industry predictions for the digital workplace. And I liken it to thinking about the fact that sometimes you have to look back to go forward. So the idea of back to the future, and we need to take some of the grounding principles that we’ve had in previous generations of disruptive technology and make sure that while we’re in a mode of experimenting, we are really taking a very clear view around what is the content universe and what data do we need to wrap around it so that we can manage things like quality, manage the biases that are inherent in this space, ensure that we give people freedom to experiment. We’ve seen some really powerful innovation challenges coming out of the early day brainstorming, but to do that in a way that’s respectful of the organization’s value and culture. There were plenty of people who said early on, oh, search is going to go away because AI is going to solve for it.
[00:38:02.940] – Nancy Goebel
And so there’s a level of readiness that organizations need to put in place to ensure that we can start to unlock the potential of generative AI, but do it in a way that doesn’t introduce risk unnecessarily. We all saw the stories of Samsung and what happened when developers inadvertently put some of their most important code into the public domain. So it’s a balancing act to be sure that we need to make sure that we learn from all of those moments in time where we’ve had disruptions previously and carry forward the fundamentals so we don’t get enamored in the technology and don’t have the right support and enablement systems in play as we learn and test and learn and test, and we refine as we go along, and we need to be guided by that data, and we need to be guided by a lot of the core principles that you’ve been talking about with me for the last 40 minutes or so, and look for those friction points not only for the user, but for the organization too.
[00:39:19.330] – John Rossman
Yeah, I think that’s perfect. I mentioned one of the leadership principles is about thinking big, and this isn’t specific to generative AI, but I think a thinking big, unconstrained questions. I wrote a book on the internet of things, and it was a business strategy book to help business leaders understand how IoT could impact their business. And I think one of the fundamental questions, unconstrained thinking big questions to ask would be something like, if I could have data on anything happening within my business or ecosystem, and the ability to reason on top of it, what question or problem would I solve that again, helps us focus on, like, well, what is our universe of observable data? And what valuable questions or problems would we solve and then work backwards to, well, a, would that be valuable? Would it be feasible? How would I test it and experiment on it? I think that that is the real fundamental ‘Aha’ moment that generative AI has brought to business executives. It’s like, oh, this is real. This is different. We need to get more aggressive about not just applying Generative AI. Yes, we need to do that, but we also need to get more aggressive about creating the best AI infused versions of our businesses possible, period.
[00:41:02.350] – John Rossman
And unconstrained questions like that one are the ones that can help us rethink, fundamentally, who’s our customer? How do we add value to them? Why do we exist? And what’s the best way to do that?
[00:41:15.050] – Nancy Goebel
So again, just another natural connection point in this conversation. Yesterday, we had a gathering of the group we call our trailblazers. So these are the change makers inside of major organizations. And one of the things that really came to a head was this conversation that when new technology comes out, suddenly there’s a level of fear, and how are we going to monitor our employees? How are we going to lock this down? And one of the things I characterize that is approaching things via the way of the worrier, whereas everything that we’ve been talking about actually points to the idea that we need a paradigm shift to the mindset of the warrior, because the warrior approaches things from a purpose driven stance. What problem am I trying to solve? What impact am I trying to achieve? I’m customer obsessed, and I want to make sure that I find the path to success for that audience rather than focusing on the disruption per se. So the idea that we need to emerge from worrier to warrior really strikes a chord for me in this moment.
[00:42:32.450] – John Rossman
That’s perfect. I’ll use this moment as a way of plugging a new book, but it relates to this conversation. So I have a new book coming out in February of 2024 called Big Bet Leadership: Your Transformation Playbook for Winning in the Hyper-Digital Era. And my final recommendation in the book is that you need to be an active skeptic. And it’s really easy to be skeptical, but what an active skeptic does is they actually put forward hypotheses about an improvement, a future, something to test. And they engage in testing it and experimenting. They don’t just watch others doing it. And so that is the warrior mentality that you are talking about, which is actually working to create the future and solve hard business problems and create value, not just observing it. Go on. And so I think that that is a great model of being a warrior, being an active skeptic. And by skeptic the value is like we should assume nothing, we should prove it out to ourselves and then proceed on it.
[00:43:47.840] – Nancy Goebel
Well, needless to say, I’ve penciled the launch of your next book into my diary and I’m sure that others will when they hear this conversation. We’re just about out of time, so I have to ask, with everything that we’ve talked about, do you have any parting advice that you’d like to share with our audience of digital workplace leaders and their teams?
[00:44:11.990] – John Rossman
Well, I think so much of the problem of change, especially kind of change within scale, is a communication challenge. And when you work hard at all of the things we’ve talked about as far as defining the customer, the pain they have, what our hypothesis is for improvement, how we’re testing it, you’re giving yourselves the tools to actually communicate so much better to our stakeholders. And that change process is so enabled if I think you a) assume that people are adults and they deserve to have definite facts on the table, but b) in this way you actually have something to give them to tell them. Here’s the problem we’re trying to solve, here’s why we think it’s important, here’s what we think the future is, here’s how we’re proceeding on it versus just platitudes or burning platform types of communication.
[00:45:10.130] – Nancy Goebel
Well, that’s a perfect way to cap off this discussion. John, I am just thrilled that we had a chance to catch up and as I said at the onset, it just felt like this was the right moment in time to have this conversation. So I want to thank you for stepping away from some time with your clients to come and have a chat with me and by extension DWG’s circle. So thank you once again.
[00:45:38.190] – John Rossman
Nancy, my pleasure. Thank you for all the work you do and thanks for inviting me on.
[00:45:46.990] – Nancy Goebel
Digital Workplace Impact is brought to you by the Digital Workplace Group. DWG is a strategic partner covering all aspects of the evolving digital workplace industry, not only through membership, but also benchmarking and boutique consulting services. For more information, visit digitalworkplacegroup.com.
The question people always ask starts with customer needs and requirements – ‘What's going on?’. I try to ask a little edgier question; the question I ask is, ‘What sucks?’. Because, when you ask that, it’s essentially ‘What's the real pain point? What is the real problem?’. Not, what are the low-grade issues going on, or needs or requirements – but what's the real essence of their pain? You get pulled in deeper and you focus on more valuable things.
Author and Founder of Rossman Partners
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