Innovation and digital transformation: an interview with Nigel Barlow

"Passion meets Innovation" - Our 44th Trivadis TechEvent TechEvent will take place in Regensdorf near Zurich, Switzerland, on September 15. One of the largest IT events in the German-speaking countries, it will bring together high-profile guest speakers and an expected 500 IT experts. The renowned British innovation researcher and author Nigel Barlow agreed to give the keynote. We asked him about his thoughts on innovation and digital transformation, and why it pays off to give technology a "human face":

nigel_barlow.jpgYour speaking engagements often focus on innovation and how creativity can be nurtured in a corporate environment. Have you noticed a change to the spirit of innovation or the creative process in general in the recent years?

Source: Nigel Barlow

Nigel Barlow: Yes! Innovation these days is increasingly related to Technology; the examples people use of 'disrupters and 'Innovators' tend to be Facebook, Apple, Uber, Google and the like. But many companies are innovating - or dying! - in their own ways, and they should focus on what this means for them rather than trying to be like these major players. Copy and learn, for sure, but discover your own true path or you may become just paranoid and unable to act. Few people set out to consciously disrupt their market or industry, they just have a passion for doing things better or differently. and the 'disruption' flows from that.

Digital transformation is another important topic of yours. Is there even a place for creativity in today’s data-driven, fact-enthralled, number-crunching world?

Nigel Barlow: You are right, 'Digital Transformation' is the catch phrase of the hour. But what needs to be remembered is the original meaning of the word 'technology.' Techne comes from the Greek, meaning art, craft, skill or ingenuity. If it really is the age of the smart machine, it needs to be the age of the even smarter individual. We may becoming 'digital by default', but that means there's an even stronger need to recall that we are 'Human by Design’, and that means using our innate creativity even more in the digital era.

One of your main topics is giving technology a “human face”. What do you mean by that?

man-845847_1920.jpgSource: Comfreak on Pixaby

Nigel Barlow: Humour is one of the main ways we can give technology a human face. For example, I love the banking website where a large button comes onto the screen saying Take me to my Money -Press! More than this, think what humans need in designing your systems and processes: flexibility, convenience, ease of use, ability to choose a human connection when necessary, and so on. Obvious in theory, but often ignored in practice!

You are a big proponent of “Garage Thinking”, the idea that a culture of experimentation, team-work, and risk-taking – all traits that have characterized many of today’s global players in their early days – foster innovation. Does this mean by implication that in established organizations a culture of innovation cannot and will not really take hold anymore?

Nigel Barlow:Garage Innovation is a theme I work with even with very large organisations, where Siloed thinking can repress innovation. But it is possible to create these modern day 'Skunkworks' through what I call 'Garage Thinking'. This means applying the tools of possibility thinking, experimentation and prototyping in a silo-free environment to real live business challenges. Big companies are the ones that most need this - who ever had a good idea in a Dilbert cubicle!? So I am busy coaching 'Garagistas' who take the spirit and learning from the original garage innovators. Of course, this is more about a mindset than a literal, physical garage, but I do have one client that likes the idea so much that they are building a physical garage innovation space on their traditional corporate headquarters. And Microsoft are busy building their own 'garage spaces around the world ' to facilitate creativity.

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More and more young professionals want new working arrangements, including home offices and BYOD models. How far should established companies go to accommodate these wishes?

Nigel Barlow:I think you are talking about the Millennials - aged 18 to about 37 - and they do expect more autonomy, flexible working hours and the possibility of creating their own workspace, whether this is home or in a cafe. Given that mobility is such a key aspect of today's world, I believe organisations do need to allow for this a lot more than most do - conventional office space is not a great breeding ground for innovation. However, there is a value in spending at least some time in a shared space, both to give a sense of belonging and identity to the 'cause' of the organisation, and to spark ideas. So ‘yes' to more home working, but also ‘yes' to more creative shared spaces!

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Topics: Digital Business Transformation Comment Innovation