Innovation is always moving forward, even in the midst of unprecedented circumstances like our current environment. In this week’s episode of Emissary Live ,we spoke with Darren, former Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of Jacobs Engineering. Darren has over 17 years of experience in driving innovation and leading investment in new technologies and shared some guidance on driving innovation forward in the current uncertain climate.

Here are the three key takeaways from the conversation:

  1. Most enduring innovation comes from process improvement or small incremental implementations, which scale well especially due to the need for the human aspects of organizations to catch up with the technology integrations. Don’t just focus on the capabilities of your tool. Consider also building into your pitch a conversation around how your technology has worked practically for other similar clients and how you anticipated and managed the complexity of that limitation. Be willing to demonstrate your commitment to scaling effectively.
  2. Innovation gets easier when there is a forcing function, which we’re currently all experiencing, certainly. Access to capital for new technology investment might be a bit constrained at the moment due to uncertainty in the marketplace, but this is a time when a lot of organizations will be asking a lot of questions and seeking answers because of recent events. Consider how your solution can align with some of the questions that will be asked, and don’t be afraid to be bold even as you are sensitive to the current situation.
  3. Consider how your team can use this time to grow. Maybe spend some time challenging your assumptions and beliefs about who your customer is and how to best service them. Consider shaping your messaging in new ways. Use this time to reflect as well as plan ahead for inevitable changes in the marketplace.

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Panel Discussion Highlights


Why do you think a desire for innovation is so crucial for global businesses, especially now? Have recent events increased that urgency?


I think innovation, perhaps more than technology, is really more important to driving better outcomes for companies around the world. What I mean by that is that there’s a lot of technology out there that’s got some pretty amazing capabilities, but I think they constitute what I call shiny lures.

We see technology and we think, “Oh, that’d be cool. Let me try that.” But the reality is that most enduring, innovative change comes from process improvement or small incremental implementations of technology that can eventually scale. The reason those things are enduring is because they are embraced as part of an overall change management implementation that considers the organizational change and challenges with people in the organization. If we took people out of the equation, implementation of technology would be easy. It’s the fact that we need people to be able to integrate seamlessly with technology to really drive benefit, that’s the hard part, and that almost comes from process innovation more so than the technology piece.


How does that translate for vendors who are constantly crafting messaging and looking for the best talent? How should they be thinking about integration?


I used to become really tired of vendors who would approach me to sell their new widget. There is a tremendous amount of technology out there that is really capable of doing a lot of things, but if you don’t understand how to implement that in my organization, given the complexities of my existing IT infrastructure, for example, or the cultural differences that I have across geographies in a global company, if you don’t understand that and just think that your technology can scale from this private project to supporting a global enterprise of 50, 80, 100,000 people, I really think you’re not doing yourself any favors in convincing that client to invest in your product.

A better approach is to just own up to the fact that integration of any technology is going to be hard. Sure, the technology has got a lot of great capabilities, but you’re only going to realize the value of that investment if you get people aligned around the change. I encourage people not to just talk about the capabilities of their tool, but to talk about their experiences integrating that in similar environments to the client that you are addressing, and maybe admit that you don’t have all the answers but you recognize the complexity. And you also recognize that there’s probably elements of that complexity that you don’t yet understand, but you have a disciplined commitment to working with a client during that integration process to make sure that things scale in a reasonable time, and that you’re not overselling the ROI or the term at which that ROI is achieved.


For B2B teams who want to be seen as supportive to their customers, how can they convey that message sensitively given the transition a lot of organizations are going through right now?


 I think there’s two pieces of that. The first is, it’s fair to recognize that new projects starting right now are going to be difficult. If your objective is to go in and get a client to write you a check to implement something new, that’s probably a tough sale just because of the uncertainty around potential future impacts on the business and whether that company needs that capital for other purposes. Just know that going in.

The second, and I think a bit more important, is actually not driven entirely by the pandemic. We’ve traditionally gone in as vendors selling things on an ROI basis measured in terms of dollars. If you’re talking to the CFO or someone that needs to justify it to the CFO, an ROI in terms of dollars is important.

But something we’re seeing develop over the last couple of years ,which has been accentuated by the virus, is that that’s not enough anymore. It’s not enough just to enable that company to make more money. Companies today are striving to make their value to the community, and their social impact has got to be equally important to the amount of money they make.

This could be a focus around being more sustainable or being more secure, both physical and through cybersecurity. Or maybe just being better. There was a time probably not that long ago when talking about those things in a B2B client engagement was fluff and you were just wasting time. I think we’re past that, and while the numbers are important, spending some time understanding your client’s social impact objectives, and how that aligns with their growth strategy and their brand – and then incorporating that into your discussion of how your technology will help them achieve those objectives is really important.

For more insights on how your business can find ways to adapt and succeed in these unique times, you can connect with one of the thousands of advisors in our network from Fortune 1000 firms. Contact us here to see what an Emissary can do for your business.