Are you looking to unlock innovation and bring new corporate technology advancements to your company? Where do you begin, and how do you see its execution through habituation? What are the best ways to get buy-in on a new platform and excite its users?
Our Future of Work Roundtable series recently continued with a conversation with Brian Collins, Global Innovation Consultant, Former Disney Imagineer & Founder of The Brainstorm Institute, and Jenn Lee, Head of Technical Innovation at Audible.
What follows is an excerpt from Collins’ and Lee’s insightful presentation on Driving Innovation: Introducing New Tech Into a Company, starting with a question from our moderator, Mursion Inbound Events Producer and Simulation Specialist Jamie Thomason: “What are the challenges of introducing new tech and emerging technologies into a business both from an internal and external perspective?”
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Brian: I think the biggest hurdle that people have trying to introduce new technology from the outside is getting people to understand what that technology is and what value it can bring to an organization, especially if you’re trying to sell it to management and they’re content with the way things are. A lot of times, people equate technology almost with bringing in a new toy. They don’t understand the power that it can bring to an organization.
Jenn: First, I’m going to, as we say at Audible, plus one to everything that Brian has already said, and add yes, and doing your due diligence is really important. Knowing what problem that you’re trying to solve and proving that there are no better alternatives. Sometimes you might not be substituting something but augmenting what’s already there with something that could give better results. Other things like compatibility with existing systems, how easy is it to use, are there any security or compliance things that you need to take care of, do you have alignment with what your business objectives or strategies are?
Obviously, there’s the whole budget question, and then making sure that you have a plan to launch, get it adopted, and then measure its effectiveness.
Jamie: Do you have an example of when you’ve faced one of those challenges and how you were able to overcome them?
Jenn: I can give you an example from our previous company. Project management is something that all companies have to do. A lot of companies have their homegrown tools for managing projects as we had, and I wanted to bring in Jira. A lot of people have heard of Jira or Trello, one of those things. It was really hard because everyone was like, “This is what we’re using. It works. All of our data is already in there. Everyone already knows how to use it.” For me, it was finding a pilot that could prove that it was successful and getting them so used to using it that they’re like, “You have to try this,” and then they become your best advocates internally. It worked.
Brian: A lot of new technology these days is perceived as a game or as entertainment. I think a lot of times that is a perception that you have to fight, when you look at new technologies, especially web-based ones that are out there, or if you’re starting to look into exploring AR or VR. So much of that is often associated with the gaming industry in trying to validate, as I said before, the power that this new business-oriented technology can have on your organization is always a challenge.
Jenn: Change is hard. People are in love with the legacy technology, but as we move to remote work, a lot of things are changing. A lot of companies are moving from on-prem architectures to serverless architectures and are realizing huge performance gains, financial gains, productivity gains. People are moving to Zoom schools.
In 2020 when everything was canceled, it was traumatic, especially for those of us who do networking as part of our jobs or people looking for careers. AfroTech was hugely successful and I think it really raised the bar for conferences with their Avatar-based conferencing. I’m sure Mursion saw a huge uptick while in-person classroom training was essentially abolished because everyone was remote. It’s hard to roleplay with your peers when the game has changed, the environment has changed.
Jamie: We’re everywhere, but that add services to your point, Jenn. When everybody had to go remote, a lot of the universities that were utilizing us for doing classroom settings started doing more one-on-one sessions because the students had to log in from home and they were like, “Oh my gosh, this is so fantastic.”
The feedback we got was great. Then when it came to the corporate world, everybody could pump the brakes for a little while. Now I think we’re at that point where this conversation is so important because everybody is trying to figure out where do we go from here? We recognize that a lot of the workforce is now going to keep working remote. One of the things that Mursion did in response when COVID hit and everybody went remote is we actually designed environments that were Zoom call environments.
Brian: One thing I would say is putting on my Disney hat is that for us it’s all about how do you tell a story. A lot of those principles are still the same thing, to make it captivating and interesting for people. One thing that’s really interesting about new technology adoption, especially in the corporate world, is that when you look at the workforce how it’s getting younger, the people who are entering into the workforce now and probably for some time, have grown up using gaming and gaming technology in all aspects of their life from not only traditional games but everything from ordering groceries or whatever it may be.
Seeing that same technology being adapted by the corporate world in the workforce, it’s something that they’re very used to and very comfortable with. It’s the older folks like me and the ones who have been around for a long time who grew up in the old way of doing things that sometimes we’ll look at these new ways of delivering information and be a little bit resistant.
Jamie: I think to Jenn’s point, within your own organization, you have to find those people who are going to clue in and really be that champion for you. Jenn had brought up that she works with a lot with students and that they’re concerned about the ethics relating to AI and privacy and who gets to see the data. I know we have all sorts of security approvals through Mursion, but I’m just curious. Jenn, how do you respond to people’s concerns with regard to data privacy, or getting them to feel like if they can come in and do this, and it’s not going to be everybody in the company is going to see what they’re doing or have access to what they’re putting in?
Jenn: Absolutely, that’s one of the first things we look at, like the safety and privacy of employees in any system that you bring in, especially for learning and development where you want them to feel safe. Psychological safety is really important and making an inclusive environment and helping your teams grow.
Jamie: We were talking about doing those pilots, finding out who those stakeholders are that you need to get in to try out whatever it is and say, “Use this program. Let me see what you think, and then make a decision.” That’s what those pilot programs are for, to get somebody to try it, and then get everybody excited, but what happens next? Where do you go from there? How do you scale that out from the pilot to that large regional or even a global rollout?
Jenn: You need to start not just with a pilot, but with a goal for the pilot, make it an experiment. You need use cases and track that against an important metric, a metric that will catch the eye of those who would sponsor it, whether it be number of courses completed, engagement scores, net promoter scores, stuff like that, and then carefully start to find other areas of your organization, whatever the technology is, that could also have that use case that they need to move the needle on that metric, and then start to show them that using the technology, you can move the needle. You can increase your engagement scores. You can get more people to go through the trainings.
Brian: I’ll chime in from the external point of view as a consultant. It’s not uncommon for a client company to say, “Hey, I found this great new technology, and I can’t wait to roll this out to the entire organization.” I’m always like, “Whoa. No, no, no, not so fast.” Let’s maybe scale this down a little bit, and do that proof of concept first, so that you’re comfortable with it, the organization is a little bit comfortable with it before you start sending it out to the masses. Sometimes you have the opposite problem when people are really anxious and want to get it out there to the entire organization.
The larger the organization is that you’re adapting technology into, the more challenges you’re going to have, just due to IT concerns and firewalls and things like that, privacy issues, all these different things come into play. For smaller organizations, you still have a lot of those, but they’re not quite to the scale, obviously, as they would be for a global organization. I always try and encourage people when they’re adapting a new technology to do a small beta test first, and kick the tires, if you will. Get used to it and then look at how we can scale this up.
Jenn: Not every technology needs a global rollout. You might have a use case where you’re like, “This technology is better for this use case for these people.”
Jamie: Sustaining the innovation long term and not having that one-and-done mentality. I would imagine what Brian was talking about scaling back is giving them the opportunity of them figuring out how you can grow, so it’s not one and done, but just curious if you have any other thoughts on that.
Brian: One thing I would say about technology is that it’s always going to change and evolve and modify itself. Going back into my Walt Disney days, Walt used to say, “Disney World’s never going to be completed. We’re always going to be looking at how we can evolve it and change and make it better.” It’s the same thing with technology. A lot of times, what I found is that once a company, if they commit to a certain type of technology and a platform, it takes a lot of work upfront to get that integrated into the organization on so many different levels.
Not only the technical levels, but the HR levels of getting people accepting of the tech and getting, wanting to use it. How frustrating is it when you’ve got, let’s say, a mail platform that you’ve been using for 10 or 15 years, and all of a sudden the company comes through and says, “No, we’re going to change that to something completely new.” Employees are not really crazy when that kind of thing happens. I think part of the sustainability is understanding what the new technology can do for you and looking ahead at how you can plan to grow it and have those conversations with the organization that’s providing the technology, whether your plan’s to grow and scale those in the future as well.
Jamie: I know Jenn does a lot of work with women in tech and working with a lot of organizations that are focused on more diversity and inclusion within tech and I’m just curious about how does diversity contribute to innovation?
Jenn: Diversity is the foundation for innovation. I think there’s so many books, and speakers, and information out there about examples of when non-homogenous groups are together, they bring with them their life experiences, their ideas, and different perspectives that allows you to push the envelope just a little bit further and truly innovate. A bunch of the people with the same experience in the same room trying to solve the same problem isn’t going to get you as far as all different people with different ideas.
Brian: I think you make a good point that having a lot of different points of view in the room is super important. A lot of times I know when I’m doing a brainstorming session, for example, I like to bring in people who are outsiders, who don’t understand that or come from the world of what we’re talking about. There’s an old saying that, outsiders are the ones who drive innovation because they don’t know what rules can be broken and how to implement things.
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