What Drives Innovation? People, Culture, Empathy, And Data

While technology is a powerful enabler, it’s only the first step in digital transformation, said Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes, Wednesday morning at Adobe Summit—The Digital Experience Conference.

According to Lewnes, in addition to technology, companies need to be focused on the right people to make a transformation successful.

“You need both right brainers and left brainers, as well as the ‘in-betweeners,’” Lewnes told the audience of 17,000 people gathered this week in Las Vegas. “We reskilled talent where we could and brought in new skills where we needed to. Our market researchers reinvented themselves and became data analysts. Our media team learned to love new ad formats and programmatic, and our designers became content machines to keep pace with digital’s demands. We brought in data scientists to do mix modeling and media attribution analysis. And a lot of digital natives.”

But above all else, Lewnes said, Adobe looked for people with a new mindset: people who weren’t afraid to experiment and challenge the status quo. With the right technology and people in place, the next step was transforming Adobe’s processes because transformation requires cross-company collaboration and accountability.

That has meant building a culture of testing, she said. The marketing organization at Adobe started off with one test a week and now does approximately 50 tests per month. The team tests everything from a color of a button to entirely new business models.

“And because we’re Adobe, we also have a very high creative bar,” Lewnes said. “In the end, a great idea and a great piece of creative is at the center of every great experience.”

Adobe’s transformation isn’t done yet, Lewnes added. In fact, she expects some big trends on the horizon that are going to change the game yet again. First, she said, mobile is growing with voice, augmented reality, and 5G. Next, addressable TV is finally allowing businesses to target individual households, while the “buy online and pick up in-store” trend is blurring the online/offline retail worlds. Finally, the explosion of video continues, with U.S. adults spending nearly six hours a day viewing video content, she said, citing Nielsen research.

Innovation Starts With Empathy And Culture
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sat down with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen (fun fact: the two went to high school together) to talk about what it takes for brands to truly innovate. Nadella pointed to the Microsoft Adaptive Controller, built to make gaming more accessible.

“[Our Adaptive Controller came from the] Xbox team who got really proximate with a community of gamers,” Nadella said. That team thought long and hard about what it could do to make gaming more accessible.” Even the packaging is accessible, he said.

“Empathy is at the core of all innovation,” Nadella said.  

When asked about what it takes from an organizational standpoint to be successful in digital transformation and innovation, Nadella said a sense of purpose, mission, and culture are really key.

Business today struggle with having to get a lot of things right: the customer experience, figuring out where the world is going, where technology is going, etc., he said. But as long as the company’s purpose and mission are clear to everyone who works there, the right decisions should be crystal clear.

What else is needed for smart decisioning? Data, Nadella said.

“The greatest asset that everyone in this room has is the data,” he said. “But it is sometimes locked up in silos. If [you] unlock the data and enrich the data … you can optimize outcomes.”

Going back to the importance of culture, Nadella emphasized the importance of changing the mindset from “know it all” to “learn it all” in order to drive innovation and, ultimately, business outcomes.

Nadella is bullish on the power of artificial intelligence—instinctual AI, specifically—and said he sees an opportunity for companies in creating new products using breakthroughs in AI. He stressed the importance of empowering all of the people within an enterprise and arming them with the right technology so they “can have a pride in their craft.” The tools, he said, must take the friction out of work and enable collaboration.  

But the hardest thing for a business to do is try and predict with high precision what consumers are going to like, need, and demand in the future. Whether B2B or B2C, their expectations of what companies produce will keep changing.

“I think [the power] in our capacity to innovate is the ‘no-regrets’ move,” Nadella said. “How do we build the long-term systems and experimentation harness on top of those systems? [And how do we] build the ability to rapidly, continuously experiment? You don’t have to be right all the time. ... Give credit to those who come up with a hypothesis and prove themselves wrong.”

That, he said, is a “no-regrets” system investment.

An Expanded Idea Of Storytelling
Reese Witherspoon (yes, you read that right), sat down with Adobe’s Lewnes to talk about the changing world we live in, where there is more transparency into the people and brands that you let into your world.

In acting, she said, the old-world approach gave very little insight into what people really thought about movies. Modes of measurement included box-office sales and critic reviews. However, actors and producers never got insight into engagement or heard whether people really enjoyed their movies, she said.

“Being able to interact with fans,” she said, “[has] expanded the idea of storytelling.”

Witherspoon talked of the launch of her clothing brand Draper Jones. She said she had been approached by several brands looking to collaborate with her in the past, but they just didn’t feel right. “They didn’t feel authentic to me and my brand,” she told attendees.

That was what drove her to launch Draper James. The key to its success, she said, is data, which “helps us be nimble,” she said.

Data isn’t just helping her in her entrepreneurship, either. With streaming content, Witherspoon said, actors now know what’s popular, which actors people like, and which stories touch people’s hearts. Data has given her a more expansive sense of humanity, and, she said, as consumer behavior changes, she has been forced to adapt.

“If you don’t evolve, you expire,” she said.

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