The building blocks of innovation

Business strategy is only as good as our follow-through, with an ability to keep learning and adapting along the way. That also includes reimagining the intersection between new tech and workplace culture. Find out why.

Alfredo Tan is WestJet’s Chief Digital and Innovation Officer. He is responsible for leading the movement to help the airline evolve into a dynamic, digital-first enterprise that will not only improve its commercial performance but make the guest experience seamless, too. Alfredo also teaches courses in the MBA program at McMaster University, sits on several boards and used to lead digital strategy for Facebook and Instagram in Canada.

This spring, Alfredo is one of our keynote speakers at the 2020 National Technology Forum. Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with him about why embracing change on all fronts is so critical for leaders who want to take their companies the next level. In particular, what it means to go beyond digital transformation and build a cohesive culture of innovation.

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When it comes to embracing change, with enough money and motivation, there’s often a clear path forward for solving technology problems. But implementing a culture of innovation tends to be much harder. Can you expand on that?

Most tech today is available to everyone – the cloud, AI and machine learning, mobile, etc. Very few technologies are isolated for use to specific companies. How you solve problems and provide solutions for customers, and the questions you ask, is the hard part. Do you have a culture that embraces change? Accepts failure, rejects mediocrity?

Sure, you may say you do, but what do you have in place to show that your organizational culture is more than just words on a poster? Without the right culture, you can't solve the technology challenges either. People cling to the past and the way they’ve always done things. All of these elements drag you down and keep you from progressing and innovating.

Urgency, agility and the courage to experiment and do things differently: true innovation isn’t just about talk, it’s about action. What’s your advice to leaders and decision makers who want to focus more on impact at their companies?

I think we need to empower people to run experiments that find new and novel ways to solve problems. Notice the word "experiment"? Experimentation implies curiosity and action. I didn't mention business cases, either.

Don't find ways to not do something; find ways to empower people to feel like they are part of the process and remove as many obstacles as you can as a leader. This creates space for teams to embrace curiosity, develop a hypothesis, choose a course of action, measure impact and then keep iterating.

Before your current role as the Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at WestJet, you worked at Facebook and Instagram. What were your biggest strategic challenges as an executive while making the transition from the tech industry to aviation?

The biggest challenge was adapting to the culture. Tech culture has change, urgency, digital, experimentation at the very core of the business. In my new role, many people are still skeptical of technology and the investment required to make changes.

What’s on your radar right now for emerging tech and agile workplaces? What kind of new digital disruptions do you anticipate hitting the business world in 2020 and beyond?

A rise in augmented reality, machine learning and mobile. Mobile may seem obvious, but most companies still lack a strong mobile strategy.

We’re looking forward to having you speak at the forum this spring! What can attendees look forward to in your keynote?

Thanks! I want to inspire and educate. Create a little bit of fear and help people become more comfortable with the all the changes happening across different industries.

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Earn 12+ CPD hours and learn more about how better alignment between new tech and workplace culture can spark innovation from May 25-26, 2020 in Toronto at the National Technology Forum. Register by February 25 and you’ll receive a coupon for $100 off your next purchase from CPA Canada.