Applied Leadership in a Technology Centric Business World

Remember that adage – “We’re don’t want to be on the bleeding edge, but we’re fast followers”. Many organizations today look at changes in the marketplace and adopt this perspective. However, a better way to think about it is not so much bleeding edge as Leading Edge. Business and industry today don’t have the luxury of waiting to follow, the speed of change has accelerated beyond that ideal. First and foremost, it is important to understand the difference between the two ideas. In the simplest terms, the difference is risk – what are you able, and willing, to accept as risk for the changes you are looking to adopt. Bleeding edge embodies significant risk, since it is built on unproven technologies, practices, or adaptations. That risk is rewarded with higher returns when the action succeeds, but it is just as likely to end in failure. Leading Edge embodies much lower risk as it is built on proven technologies, practices, and adaptations that are manageable and measurable, reducing the chance of failure. This idea of Leading vs Bleeding is championed under the Baldridge Criteria for Performance Excellence, where leading edge adaptations must be validated before they are implemented.

However, finding validated applications in this ever-changing context can be challenging, especially with the rapid expansion of “breakthrough” advances. The mid 2000’s saw an explosion of new technologies and platforms for information management and sharing. Cloud computing took center stage in the later part of the decade and many software companies transitioned to a Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery model by 2010. In the 11 years since, SaaS has grown to dominate the technology market, with projections that 99% of all organizations globally will be using one or more SaaS solutions by the end of this year. Currently, the SaaS market is growing more than 18% annually. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has grown rapidly as well, where AI applications are now outperforming traditional business optimizations to create faster, and more effective, decision making. So, it is clear, technologies are advancing at a breakneck pace and the information age has given way to the fourth industrial revolution where the physical, digital, and biological worlds are coming together to create new linkages that benefit many businesses (to read more about this, read my colleague Adam Wilbrecht’s post “An AEC engine to Drive New Value”).

All of that explains the theory and the need for adaptation in your business, but how do you apply this in your organization? The Design Thinking Model facilitates an organic development cycle where good ideas move forward quickly, and failure teaches more than success. Design Thinking is the basis of rapid prototyping and is the fundamental tenant of the design process – iterate, test, assess, adapt. Business leaders today would be well served to adopt this model and apply it to their ecosystem. The explosion of SaaS and AI technologies provide powerful tools for business leaders, regardless of the markets you serve or the products you deliver. Today’s marketplace does not afford the luxury to wait for validated solutions, business leaders must perform the validation in real time, using the Design Thinking process. Beyond that, the focus must be on flexible tools that facilitate data aggregation, analysis, and sharing.

In summary, successful business leaders today recognize the need to change and adapt their practices in real time. They explore and adopt new technologies that create platforms for more open sharing of data and knowledge. Design Thinking can be the basis for real validation and paired with the appropriate technological tools, can facilitate the needed changes that move your business forward. Don’t get caught waiting to follow others, get out in front, focus on the Leading Edge by applying smart tools and processes to your business problems.