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Leading a Digital Business: What Wasn’t OK is Now a Must!

by liza.adams ‎04-04-2017 06:32 AM - edited ‎04-04-2017 06:47 AM (4,136 Views)

As Broadcom’s acquisition of my company, Brocade, draws closer to completion, I find myself reflecting on the enormous transformation journey that our Marketing tribe has traveled even while our business was helping customers transform themselves. In my nearly 30 years in the technology industry, this is by far the biggest transformation — the evolution towards a digital business typified by the rapid pace of innovation, on-demand products and services, personalization, automation and intelligent systems, ecosystems, and new business models. There is no book on best practices (yet). Key learnings happen every day. Ecosystems are forming, storming, and norming. How we work and work together are changing. New leadership principles, some counter to traditional thinking, emerge and, in true digital form, are quickly iterated.


As leaders, we have no choice but to embrace the changing dynamics, lead the change, and raise these challenges as banners that people want to follow. Better yet, we want others to lead alongside and inspire crowds to join on the journey.


For me, three key leadership principles have bubbled to the top, working well for our Marketing teams at Brocade. I won’t claim flawless execution by these principles, far from it. But in my opinion, we achieved more and went further than we would have imagined had these not been our culture. Most certainly, the importance of these leadership principles have been amplified in the evolution towards a digital business:

  • Think big, start small, move fast
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good
  • Allow ourselves to fail fast

Leadership Principles in a Digital Business

Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast

Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast is about vision, strategy, and execution.

  • Think Big – Change is difficult, but moving to a digital business forces our hand to change and challenge status quo. As leaders, we set and articulate a vision that inspires and amazes our teams, peers, stakeholders, partners, and customers to change. They want, and will drive, change because they are excited and believe in the vision.
  • Start Small – This is part of strategy. It’s about envisioning the end point, projecting how to get from here to there, and take the first steps. For many, it will be complex. It will take time. And it won’t take the most direct path of least resistance. Therefore, it behooves us to lean into the first steps and allow ourselves to zig or zag along the way as market dynamics change.
  • Move Fast – Breaking it down into small steps allows us to start, execute, and quickly get a few key successes and learnings under our belt. Before we know it, we have accomplished enough baby steps to call it a giant leap forward.

Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of the Good

This isn’t about cutting corners. This is about recognizing that things change quickly; no one has the end all, be all answer; and industry dynamics have created this rare opportunity for us to share ideas without significant penalties. If we wait until something is “perfect,” we face at least two major issues: 1) there is no agreed-upon checklist that describes perfect, and 2) we’d be watching the market pass us by as we play an unending game of catch-up.


This principle is particularly important in establishing thought leadership in the market. Quite ironically, despite the intense drive to succeed quickly, it’s a forgiving environment that welcomes fresh ideas even when they’re not fully baked and are full of holes. The market thrives on this – taking an idea and building upon it with others. There is much less glory in coming up with the perfect idea all on your own nowadays. In fact, even if it turns out to be a flawed idea, there’s value in knowing what things we should eliminate to get closer to the right answer; which takes us to the next leadership principle.


Allow Ourselves to Fail Fast

We need to create an environment where people feel safe to try new and different things, where failure is seen as progression towards achieving success. We don’t need to do everything in our power to see if it will work or not. We just need to quickly recognize or even predict that something will fail, learn from it, and move on to the next. The faster we fail, the faster we succeed.


This is why I love the idea of creating hypotheses and doing some quick tests to prove or disprove them. We’ve used this quite a bit at Brocade in creating and testing provocative statements and thought leadership stories. Small pilot programs fall in the same category as working with advisory board customers, providing unbiased good, bad, and ugly feedback without undue judgment.


Although some people may inherently live by these principles already, I would call it rare. For many, this is counter to what we’ve learned throughout our careers. Very few have heard that it’s ok to fail. Or that perfect isn’t necessarily good. Or taking baby steps and figuring things out along the way is acceptable. From my experience, it’s worth communicating and reinforcing. Say it. Write it. Share it. Live it. Then lather, rinse, repeat.


If you enjoyed the post, please click the thumbs up icon below and let me know! And feel free to share in the comments your thoughts and other leadership principles that have emerged or have become more important in this digital transformation.