Will you be your Champion’s champion?

What to do about digital disruption

As a speaker for The Executive Connection I have spoken to over 400 SME executives about the impact of digital technology on business over the last two years. Almost without fail, these CEOs have acknowledged the pressing need to take a more proactive approach to digital technology and identify opportunities to disrupt their own business (before someone else does). Yet for all the urgency around digital disruption, theirs has generally been a large amount of inaction and the biggest frustration for many of these CEOs has been in knowing what to do next.


The reason for this is that the ‘what to do next’ is different for each organisation. Every one of the CEOs I spoke to was dealing with a unique organisational problem based on available skills and experience, legacy systems,  and industry requirements that shaped their opportunities and defined their needs. As such any cookie cutter solution imposed from the outside would be unlikely to have any meaningful long term impact. As a result, one of my great frustrations has been in knowing how to support these organisations in a way that was both effective and cost effective.*

What is missing is a Digital Champion

What I now realise is that these organisations don’t need someone from the outside telling them what to do. They need someone on the inside making things happen. They need an internal resource that was tasked with helping the organisation identify, prioritise, and implement against digital opportunities as they occur This is the role of a Digital Champion.

In larger organisations, the Digital Champion might otherwise be called the Chief Digital Officer. According to McKinsey, the number of CDOs in the world is growing at 200% per year (with Melbourne City Council being the latest organisation to add one) and this extraordinary growth is a direct reflection of the growing need for organisations to take a proactive rather than ad-hoc approach to digital technology. In smaller organisations, budgetary and resourcing constraints mean a full time CDO is unrealistic. Instead SMEs need a Digital Champion that can provide a similar set of skills on a part time basis.

Given the extraordinary (and growing demand) for digital skills, there is little chance that SMEs will be able to hire the Digital Champion they need. Instead, they are going to have to develop them.** Although there is a good chance that a potential Digital Champion already has a passion for technology, they will need help and support to channel this passion into relevant (and valuable) business projects. They will need help identifying and prioritising opportunities, leading and influencing others, and implementing the projects that matter.

Welcome to the Digital Champion’s Club

The Digital Champion’s Club is my answer to what SMEs need to do next in an age of digital disruption. In essence, it is a support group for Digital Champions, giving them all the resources they need to identify and launch successful digital projects. A member of the Digital Champions Club will get

  • A tailored development plan and development goals
  • Expert one on one mentoring on a monthly basis
  • Lightning email/phone support as required
  • Access to a resource library of templates, models and other useful stuff

Best of all, they will get to participate in the quarterly Club Days with their peers. Club Days will provide a unique learning experience where a group of between ten to 20 Digital Champions from different organisations get together. During the day there will be a combination of expert tuition, peer learning sessions, and the opportunity to work on their digital project in a supportive environment.

Through this model it is expected that Digital Champions (working on a part time basis) should deliver between $100,000 and $500,000 in benefit to their organisation per year.

Will you be your Champion’s Champion?

Through the Club I see my role as being the champion of Digital Champion’s, but this is not something I can do alone. I can provide external support and the ‘push’ to help your Digital Champion develop but they will also need an internal champion to provide the ‘pull’, someone who can provide the resourcing, internal support, and influence to help them deliver the projects that disrupt your business for the better. The question is, will you also champion your Champion?

Applications are now open for the Digital Champions Club. If you see the opportunity in developing a digital champion and think this might be your ‘what to do next’ about digital disruption, I would love to talk to you – champion to champion.


*Coming from a small business background I am incredibly conscious of the challenges that these organisations face, especially when it comes to ensuring that limited financial resources are channeled into the types of projects that have a high return on investment and a good chance of success.

**It is unlikely that this is a role that you will recruit for, primarily because the person you need would be either unavailable or prohibitively expensive. Instead, your digital champion is probably someone already in your employ. It is likely to be the person that you or your other staff turn to when you’re looking for advice about new technology.

Digital Conversations with Patrick Hollingworth

It is my pleasure to present this week’s Digital Conversation with Patrick Hollingworth, an accomplished high-altitude mountaineer and leadership, teamwork, and business safety expert. In his professional role as a business consultant, Patrick draws from his mountaineering experience to help individuals and organisations cope with uncertainty in a changing business environment.

Patrick provides a unique perspective on why organisational leaders need to to be employing emerging technologies, especially mobile, cloud and social, to drive agility and flexibility in the way people work.



S: You talk a lot in your work about the idea of VUCA, could you explain what this means and why it’s important for businesses?

A: VUCA is an acronym which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. It originated in the United States Military and was devised as a succinct way of describing the ‘new’ landscape that the US military found itself in after the cessation of the Cold War. The global landscape had seemingly changed overnight from bilateral (i.e. the West vs. the Soviet Union) to multilateral (i.e. the West vs. many smaller, unknown opponents). This altered landscape would, they predicted, bring with it a lack of stability, certainty and simplicity, and an increase in ambiguity. For the most part, they were spot on.

Since then it’s been picked up by a few people who consult to organisations, me being one of them. I reckon it’s a great way of summarising the new landscape which, not only organizations, but all people and society are dealing with today. Globalisation and social and political change is having a significant impact on pretty much every aspect of our lives and most of this change is driven by technological disruption. I think a lot of us tend to dismiss it as a concept which only applies to Silicon Valley and the tech sector. But nothing could be further from the truth. Everything is ripe for disruption and the problem with disruption is that it’s really hard to predict or forecast where it will happen next. Essentially, you can’t, so VUCA describes the landscape we’re all in and it requires us to develop new ways of doing things. What worked yesterday is barely working today and certainly won’t work tomorrow!

S: What is it about your own experience that has led you to focus on this particular subject area?

A: It’s a kind of interesting path that led me to focusing on the work that I do around VUCA today. At university, I studied an interesting mix of geography, anthropology and psychology, and that led me to working as a consultant to a lot of large mining and oil and gas companies during Australia’s mining boom of the 2000’s. I worked for a small but very successful niche consulting company which, at the height of the boom, was acquired by a large multi-national consultancy. Overnight, they attempted to transplant their large organisational culture into this small niche company. It failed miserably and I got to see first-hand how badly cultural change programs can go. Within a few years of the takeover, more than 80% of the original staff had left.

At the same time, I was developing my skill set as a mountaineer and was embarking annually on Himalayan climbing expeditions. That eventually led me to climbing Everest in 2010, and subsequent to that actually working as an expedition leader, so I spent a lot of time in that Himalayan environment at high altitude. In my experience, there’s no better place for testing out what individuals and teams are capable of than when put under pressure at high-altitude. Everything is really hard up there!

As I continued my consulting work with large organizations, I started to notice that the business and political landscape post GFC was becoming increasingly uncertain, and that many of these organisations were responding to this uncertainty in a fairly reactive manner. It occurred to me that that is the last thing you would do in the mountains when surrounded by uncertainty. That’s how accidents happen. So that’s when I started looking at the similarities between the high-altitude mountain environment and this new business landscape, where uncertainty and overwhelm are the norm. And it just so happened there was already a word for it – VUCA!

S: What are some of the successful strategies you would put in place in a VUCA mountaineering environment and how do they translate to the corporate world?

A: Before setting in place a specific strategy, I would actually start with establishing an overarching context, a philosophy under which everything else will sit. This central philosophy is essentially an acceptance that the forthcoming period (be it a day, week, month, however long your climb or expedition is going to take) is going to entail some discomfort. Possibly even a bit of suffering. But I need to prepare myself for that in a mental context firstly. Then once I’m in the mountains, and something violent happens, such as an avalanche, or if uncertainty persists, such as fast moving or unpredictable weather, I’m not caught off-guard.

With regard to an actual strategy, I use a framework which consists of nine elements. The first three are about choosing the approach, building the team, and making sense of the surrounding environment. The next three steps are about the getting the vision, team engagement, and resilience right. Then the final three are about making safe decisions en route, constant learning, and thinking longer-term.

I find that all of this is of huge relevance to the corporate world, but in recognising this relevance, you need to move beyond the approach of the typical motivational speaker who might proclaim that “I climbed Mount Everest and you can too.” Today’s corporate world is way more complex, informed, and nuanced for such a simple message. However, when you go a whole lot deeper, that’s when you can start extracting some really powerful learnings.

S: I appreciate your expertise is not in technology but as you pointed to technology earlier as a key driver of the uncertainty that many businesses are facing. If you were to apply your framework to an organisation’s technology decisions, what advice would give them?

A: I reckon if applying my framework to an organisation’s technology decisions, probably the most important factor would be the first: getting the approach right.

In mountaineering, there are generally two schools of approach. The first one is called Expedition Style, and that’s where you lay siege to the mountain and overpower it with excess manpower and equipment. It’s a really effective way of getting climbers to the top, and it’s used on about 99% of occasions in the Himalayas due to the extremely high altitude. The downside to it, however, is that it’s a fairly cumbersome approach. Whilst it’s powerful, it’s also a bit unwieldy and slow to respond. It’s not a particularly agile way to climb. The second approach is known as Alpine Style. That’s where you climb in a much smaller team carrying far less equipment, which allows you to move really quickly. It’s an arguably more exposed way of climbing, but it does mean that you’re agile and can respond really quickly to the changing environment. You’ll be up on the summit and back down in base camp before any of the expedition style climbers have even had breakfast!

Applying this analogy to technology within an organisation, I guess it’s like mainframe computing versus cloud computing. Mainframes are the expedition style of computing: large and powerful and pretty expensive to operate, and really well suited to large organisations dominating a stable and known environment. Cloud and mobile computing, on the other hand, are like alpine style: they’re much cheaper and affordable for smaller businesses, and enable agility and flexibility that allow organisations to more quickly adapt to a changing and uncertain business environment.

Patrick is a TEDx presenter, a trained workshop designer and presenter, and an accredited practitioner of the Hermman Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), an internationally renowned and highly effective diagnostic tool for determining the cognitive thinking styles of teams and individuals. To learn more about what he can do for you and your team, visit patrickhollingworth.com.

In productivity, not everything that counts can be counted

At times I wonder whether one of the most dangerous cliches in business is ‘what gets measured gets done’ (for other candidates you might want to check out this post at Forbes. It is not necessarily wrong, what makes it dangerous is that so many people have come to believe it and therefore it’s right.


So if we really want to get something done, something that really matters, then the only thing we can do is measure it. And conversely, if we can’t measure it (and make it somebody’s KPI) it probably won’t get done.

Take for example productivity. Productivity is perhaps one of the most important measures of success in modern organisations. It is how we measure efficiency, which is not only a key driver of business competitiveness but also the thing that has allowed us to raise living standards and improve the human condition around the world (you can read more about that in this recent blog post).  But somewhat ironically, our efforts to measure productivity often result in unproductive behaviours.

If you read a business text book it will give you a definition of productivity that looks a little like this ‘An economic measure of output per unit of input’ (this one comes from Investopedia because it came up first when I searched Google but you can find similar definitions everywhere). So if we want to improve productivity all we need to do is measure outputs and measure inputs. Simple huh?

The real challenge for organisational leaders  comes when we try and define what ‘output’ and ‘input’ really means. Output is really about the amount of benefit that we can create for our customers. This is sometimes approximated as revenue but for many organisations (especially government ones where the customer pays indirectly through taxes) this is not a great measure of impact.

So instead of measuring benefit or impact we end up measuring something that is, well, a bit more measurable, like throughput. Throughput could be the number of widgets we produce or the number of reports that we can write, or the number of meetings that we can hold. This is much easier to measure but generally a poor representation of benefit. In fact some of these, such as having too many meetings could easily be seen as detrimental…but they are easy to measure.

The same challenge occurs when we come to measuring input. A really valuable measure of input might be ‘energy’ (check out this cool article on Productivity 2.0 for more on this) but once again this is incredibly hard to measure. It is much easier to measure hours worked or even better, headcount.

[tweetthis]Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.[/tweetthis]

So instead of measuring something useful, we end up measuring how busy you were, regardless of whether the work was valuable, and whether you turned up, regardless of what you were doing. These problems are otherwise known as busyness and presenteeism, both of which actively reduce productivity (for more on the problems of busyness I can highly recommend this blog post by Dr. Jason Fox).

So perhaps it is time to update our cliches to something more useful. I quite like this one by William Bruce Cameron:

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

A better approach to improving productivity is to acknowledge that some of the things that matter can’t be measured. Instead we need to motivate people with a purpose aligned to our customers need. We need to provide them the right tools and technology to be productive (because throughout human history we have used technology to improve productivity), and then trust and support them to do what they need to do.

If this sounds challenging, just think about all those meetings you won’t have to go to.


Sometimes digital is better than real life

A common argument against digital technology is that it distracts us and reduces engagement ‘in real life’. There is a general perception that the real world is ‘better’ and that there are aspects of our life that cannot be experienced in other ways. This is partly true, but there are also situations where a digital representation of real life is good enough, and others where the digital representation is even better.


The computer geek term for putting something IRL (in real life) into the ones and zeros of binary code is ‘representation’. The majority of digital information is just a digitised form of real life experiences.

If you were to see your favourite band play live and had one earbud in, listening to them on an MP3 player you would hear a fairly good representation of the sound coming from the stage. And for most of the time that we want to be listening to music, the MP3 version is good enough, at least good enough for us to willingly trade the quality of a live show for the convenience, cost, reliability and other benefits of digital music.

In reality, we don’t always want to experience music in this environment. There are also some very real costs of attending live music – there is the cost of the ticket, the time and cost of travel, the overinflated prices of refreshments, and I have to share the experience with a bunch of strangers. In such situations, the digitally represented version of the live music experience is not only good enough, it may actually be better.

Knowing when to choose the real life experience and when the digital representation is good enough (or better) is an incredibly important skill to develop. Over time we uncover additional benefits to the digital version that weren’t obvious when we thought it was a pure substitution, and these additional benefits make the trade-off worthwhile.

3D_front_200x200This is an extract from Simon’s new book ‘Analogosaurus: Avoiding Extinction in a World of Digital Business.’ To find out more or to purchase signed copies of his book visit simonwaller.com.au/analogosaurus

Make change a habit

In the words of management guru and author of Leading Change, John Kotter, we need to see that “transformation is a process, not an event”. Learning how to use technology is a journey that we will go on, not a destination we will someday reach. Although we’ve seen many advances, digital technology is still in its infancy and we don’t truly know what is in store next. A successful approach to change should prepare us for the present and also continue to support our growth as technology continues to evolve.


Fundamental to a successful approach are a growth mindset, a supportive learning environment and an approach focused on long term engagement and action. But even with all this in place we are still relying on good intentions to drive our learning – and this requires that we have the motivation, willpower and discipline to follow through and implement. The reality is that good intentions will probably not get us where you want to go.

Rather than good intentions we need to be able to rely on something else, something that requires altogether less effort and that is the opposite of intent: habit. A habit is an acquired behaviour pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.[i] Habits take a whole lot less energy, willpower and motivation than other actions. For us to be successful on our journey towards technology mastery we need to make change a habit rather than a series of isolated incidents.

What are you doing to create good technology habits?

[i] Dictionary.com Unabridged, s.v. ‘habit’, Random House Inc., retrieved 11 February 2015, <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/habit>.

3D_front_200x200This is an extract from Simon’s new book ‘Analogosaurus: Avoiding Extinction in a World of Digital Business.’ To find out more or to purchase signed copies of his book visit simonwaller.com.au/analogosaurus

Stay relevant to your work

Since the Industrial Revolution, the general view of technological unemployment has been based on the thinking that although technology may create a jobs churn, people will be re-employed elsewhere in the economy. But more recently there have been murmurings that this may no longer be the case. Technology is now changing at such a rate that displaced workers cannot be retrained and redeployed fast enough.



It is easy to be seduced by the broader social and economic benefits that technology provides, but at an individual level it is still everyday people losing their jobs.

Exactly how many people? Research at Oxford University[i] suggests that up to 47% of US jobs are at high risk of automation over the next two decades and an additional 19% are at medium risk of automation. This means that there is a reasonable chance that two out of every three jobs will be automated during the next 20 years.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you are part of the majority or the minority, every single job is going to be impacted by digital technology in some way. Digital is not going away; it is an unavoidable part of our future.

Right now, we make excuses to avoid acting. We pretend that we have some special skill set that technology is just not capable of replacing.  This may or may not be true, but that may not really matter. It is not about digital being better in every single way; it is just about it being better enough.

In every technology revolution there are winners and losers. In the Industrial Revolution the biggest winners were the new industrial class that built wealth and power on the back of machines and cheap labour. But they weren’t the only winners – the next best off were those that actively engaged with change.

The digital revolution will be no different. Substantial benefit will flow to those that proactively engage with the opportunities that digital technology offers and, as always, the losers will be those who focus on what they have to lose, in this case the digital laggards. Which one are you going to be?

[i] C B Frey & M A Osborne, ‘The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’, academic publication, Oxford University, Oxford, 2013.

Image credit: David Blackwell via flickr

3D_front_200x200This is an extract from Simon’s new book ‘Analogosaurus: Avoiding Extinction in a World of Digital Business.’ To find out more or to purchase signed copies of his book visit simonwaller.com.au/analogosaurus


Are you in an abusive relationship with technology?

Information overload is commonly seen as one of the biggest challenges facing people in business today, and it is a direct result of the increasing volume and increasing complexity of information flows. It is estimated that in the 21 years between 1986 and 2007, the amount of information we received every day grew from the equivalent of 55 newspapers to 175 newspapers[i].


One of the results of this information overload is increased time pressure. More time is required to juggle the different information channels and to process the quantity of information. Many of us are working long hours, not in order to manage our workload, but to manage our information load.

It has also become incredibly difficult to maintain focus on core tasks. Since the introduction of mobile email services by Blackberry in 2003 and later the iPhone and other mobile technology, information has escaped the confines of our office and seeped out into our personal lives. Combine this with the distracting and attention-sapping nature of many digital tools (often considered a design feature by developers) and we have the recipe for an attention deficit disaster.

[tweetthis]Technology avoidance is our response to overwhelm, but this only leaves us feeling helpless.[/tweetthis]

It is little wonder that digital technology can be overwhelming for many users. And it is probably unsurprising that the reaction is often to push back, limit our technology interactions and try and reduce the impact it has on our lives. So many of us are not only in a relationship with technology that is overwhelming, but also feel like we are in a position of helplessness.

It is the type of abusive relationship that our parents would probably warn us away from. Our partner doesn’t get us and we certainly don’t seem to get them (often it seems like they are just speaking a different language). We think we are pushing the right buttons but often they just shut down, or freeze up when we’re in the middle of something important.

We used to be able to escape and find a quiet place away from home or the office where technology wouldn’t be able to find us. We thought we had set clear boundaries, time for us both to be alone, but it wasn’t respected. Now it just seems like we’re being stalked, not in a nice, friendly ex-girlfriend Facebook-ish type of way, but in a sinister, I’m-keep-tracking-of-your-every-move-and-may-demand-your-attention-at-any-time type of way.

Technology made some big promises to us when we got together. It was going to do wonderful things for us, make our lives easier. But it now seems that some of those promises were a bit hollow. We have worked hard at this relationship; we have invested hours in trying to make things work. You would think that with this type of commitment, and after 20 or more years together, our relationship with technology would be better, but for many of us it is just getting worse.

And it is about to get much worse. All these challenges pale in comparison to what is really at stake: our future relevance.

[i] Hilbert, Significance.

3D_front_200x200This is an extract from Simon’s new book ‘Analogosaurus: Avoiding Extinction in a World of Digital Business.’ To find out more or to purchase signed copies of his book visit simonwaller.com.au/analogosaurus

If in doubt, follow the pirate with the peg leg

In my final post on what we can learn about leadership from pirates it is time to get down to action, or more specifically actions.

During the 1600s there was a famous French pirate by the name François Le Clerc. He was famous for two reasons, firstly he was incredibly successful, holding down position 13 in Forbes list of Top Earning Pirates of all time (yes there really is a compiled list of top earning pirates), and secondly he had a peg-leg. bhc0315

Legend has it that Le Clerc, or “Jambe de Bois” (“Peg Leg”) was a lead from the front type of pirate and was often the first to board the enemies ships. Eventually though this was his undoing and in one such raid he lost his leg (but in return scored a great nickname). Undeterred, Peg Leg then entered the most successful period of his career, leading a fleet of ten vessels and over 300 men he sacked the capital of Cuba, Raided Puerto Rico and plundering treasure from Grand Canary Island.

[tweetthis url=”http://bit.ly/1HwdOsz”]Leading by example is not a one-off thing. It must be done time and again to show true commitment.[/tweetthis]

So, why were so many other pirates willing to follow him into battle, even after he had lost his leg? Because he led by example, and he didn’t just do it once, he did it over and over again.

When it comes to technology we often expect others to go where we aren’t willing to go ourselves. We think it is all well and good to have a digital transformation strategy as long as we don’t have to change. Ultimately we need to lead by example. We need to demonstrate with our own actions, and ultimately, some self sacrifice that we are willing to change and learn new skills just as we are asking others in our organisations to do.

And it is not good enough to just do it once. An action is an anomaly, it is actions that show true commitment.

If you would like to read the other blog posts in this series you can find them here: What is your digital vision, Have an approach where x marks the spot, and Speak from the main deck.

Analogosaurus books have arrived!



I’m incredibly pleased (and just slightly relieved) to announce that my book Analogosuarus: Avoiding Extinction in a World of Digital Business is now 100% officially available.

With so many people I have worked with over the last few years there is a massive amount of uncertainty when it comes to technology in the workplace. Clearly it is changing the way we work but there has been so little help and support for people to understand how it is impacting them and what they can practically do about it.

I hope this book goes some way to answering those questions for people.

To find out more about the book, what it’s about and where you can get it from, please go to simonwaller.com.au/analogosaurus

Speak from the main deck

In this third post in my series on pirate leadership we are going to talk about engagement and the need to take your message to where the conversation is happening. I’m a big fan of the TV show Black Sails, partly because my cousin plays the part of ‘Calico’ Jack Rackam but mostly because it is a show about pirates.

black sails

The picture above is taken from the first season when the Captain of the Walrus Captain James Flint needs to convince his crew not to mutiny. What I think is so powerful about the picture is that to get traction, Captain Flint isn’t passing messages second-hand from the comfort of his cabin, he has taken his message to the main deck.

To me this is the difference between talking from a position of power and talking from a position of influence. When we talk from a position of power, we expect others to come to where our message is. When we talk from a position of influence, we take our message to where people are talking.

[tweetthis url=”http://bit.ly/1DLkp2y”]To build genuine engagement, take your message to where the conversation is happening. [/tweetthis]

When it comes to digital technology, many leaders are still talking from a position of power. They are broadcasting their messages through traditional channels such as email but haven’t been willing to engage in to social media and other platforms where the people are talking.

The challenge of this is twofold. Firstly, there is a good chance that in a world where many of us are overloaded with email that messages are not getting through. Secondly, we are missing the opportunity to genuinely connect with our followers. To understand their needs and to make sure our message is delivered in a way that is both relevant and compassionate.

Whether your a pirate or a leader, if you want to build genuine engagement with your followers you need to take your message to where the conversation is already happening.

If you would like to read the other posts in this series on Pirate Leadership you click here to find out about the need for pirates to have somewhere to go and the benefit of having a map where x marks the spot.