Visualizing a New Era of CEO Data-Driven Innovation

Jobs is the big issue in the upcoming U.S. election.  ‘It’s the economy stupid‘ isn’t stupid, and whoever wins the U.S. presidency will face the same “hard stubborn facts” as Arianna Huffington calls them:

  • “The worst recession of our life time
  • Ballooning debt
  • Stagnant job growth
  • An anemic global economy
  • Some people giving up on getting jobs
  • Congress working together a distant memory

As one of my favorite people said to me last week…”don’t quote me but we’re screwed.”

The language of  fear and uncertainty dominates the political discussion because fear is a natural tool of elections,  and it’s much easier to incite it then to offer up thoughtful solutions to intractable problems.  Glass half-empty national fear — no matter what country you live in — powers a vicious circle of lowered consumer and corporate confidence to spend, invest, hire, and…imagine.

Imagine what?  Imagine where growth will come from.  The espoused solution coming out of both the U.S. Republican and Democratic conventions sounded sort of like “Trust us to deal with this mess.”

But when we talk to business leaders about their view of the way out of this, the calculus goes like this:  “The public sector can make a bigger impact with the right policies, but even in the worst recessions great companies have been born, launched and sustained.   So great leaders — whether corporate or startups — can make a bigger contribution — through bringing great products and services to the marketplace that people want and that create value — through innovation.”

And that’s the hard part.  At the heart of innovation lies the will to make very personal and consequential leadership decisions.  At P&G, American Airlines and Pepsi, on Wall Street, in startups, studios and incubators, and on Main Street’s dry cleaners, deli’s and daycare centers, the CEO’s or business owners have to make decisions about where to invest, where to place bets, and how to balance those investments with cuts.   She has to gather the facts and then trust her gut.  It’s painful arithmetic, a hard process that requires the highest blend of leadership art and science, and hopefully a moral compass that is the antithesis of greed.   From our vantage point, particularly from ongoing conversations with seasoned corporate executives and Innovation Excellence editors like Dean DeBiase, Kay Cameron, Jane Stevenson and Donna Sturgess we believe we need to turn up the dial. We need more!  We need more decisive action to invest in innovation from the C-suite and the board rooms around the world.  It’s been our theme for a while and it will continue unabated — as you’ll see in Paul Hobcraft and Jeffrey Phillips’ series this week.

While the mess is sadly real, there is one very heartening trend that we’re observing as the drumbeat for CEO action gets louder, and it is this –  better data driven tools are emerging, and a new discipline that uses them is springing up. CEO’s have always depended upon data.  What we’re seeing now is a new acceptance of new approaches to data visualization as a platform for the agile decision making required for innovating.

To wit:  as Greece makes decisions about its shall I stay or shall I go currency, 24/7 war rooms have sprung up at banks around the world to track the action, ready to institute new currency platforms and pathways overnight.  As the federal government and its vast network of suppliers deal with the darkness that is cyber-terrorism, the requirement to visualize that which cannot be easily seen has become pro forma.    It’s become more common for a leader to say — “show me the analysis — on one page.”   The German behemoth SAP even has a Chief Imagineer.  An imagineer!  Who do they think they are,  Disney?

Well actually, that’s the point.  Imagineering with data might just be the code-breaker in this economy.  Isn’t it ironic that the very bane of our current existence, information overload, is spawning its inverse – the diamond-like beauty of data, interpreted with mastery for impact.  In the past year we have talked to, interviewed, and seen emerge a new class of businesses and inventors who are using data in mind-bendingly visual ways to tell stories, to make complexity comprehensible, to forecast future scenarios, and help CEO’s see.  And after they see, to have the guts to bet on, and make, hugely complex decisions.   Decisions that might just get us out this mess.

Up for Some Action?

For a preview of this brave new world you might want to check out the Big Data Innovation Summit, in Boston this coming week and in Dublin in October.   It’s a sign of the times that information scientists from NASA to Zynga will be convening, and Innovation Excellence will be there covering it for you.

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Julie Anixter is Chief Innovation Officer at the visual information mapping firm, Maga Design and the executive editor and co-founder of Innovation Excellence.  She worked with Tom Peters and a multitude of designers for five years bringing big ideas to big audiences.   Now she works with Manufacturing, Healthcare, the US Military and other high test innovation cultures that make a difference.  She is the co-author of three books and working on another on the courage to innovate.

Julie Anixter




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