Take a bold, non-technical approach when discussing data innovation

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Leaders and advisors to C-level executives know that “data” and “innovation” are two terms that signify a competitive advantage in today’s era of digital transformation. However, when CXOs talk about either topic with other members of the C-suite, they can fall into the trap of using very technical descriptions (CDOs and CIOs)–or the opposite: generic platitudes (non-technical CMOs and CEOs).

Wise senior leaders are taking a non-technical, and more “human” approach when communicating the advantages of applying advanced analytics to achieve innovative business models or to develop inventive products and services. This can seem like a bold departure from more traditional, formal communication tactics. The non-technical tone is also appropriate when conveying a digital, data-fueled business strategy to a broad internal audience as a means to developing transformative workforce skills. Research shows that enterprises that are analytically driven and have data-rich resources are 2.7 times more likely to educate employees on how to use data and analytics to improve their job performance. 1

Here, we offer three viewpoints (all presented at the recent CIO Leadership Exchange in Chicago) that together offer a holistic approach to discussing the hot topics of data and innovation–and data innovation as well. The goal is to lead to business outcomes and not lead simply to buzzword-driven, empty rhetoric.

1. Begin with the end of the innovation story

As tempting as it is to begin any conversation on data with the data itself, it can be smart to start with the potential business decision instead. Mark Gildersleeve, President of the Professional Division of The Weather Company, advises clients how to think of the outcome of using data to transform a business versus simply analyzing the data as a first step:

2. Use plain language to describe an exciting new idea

Another pitfall C-suite executives fall into when discussing Big Data: getting caught up in semantics. Armik Zakian, Vice President of Big Data and Business Intelligence at DirectTV, uses simple, plain language to communicate her strategies for data-driven innovation. In this video, she offers an example of doing so as she discusses merging streams of social media and enterprise data for powerful, fresh insights.

3. If you’re not scared, you’re not talking about innovation

Talking about data and digital transformation sounds simple enough–if you’re willing to speak in empty catch phrases. To have meaningful conversations about the tough challenges your company faces when pursuing operational or product innovation, you must be bold and brave when speaking with staff, C-suite leaders and stakeholders. Communication goes both ways. The contemporary leader is courageous enough to listen carefully to reactions, too, and adjust to continue to engage employees, executives and customers. Charlene Li, co-author of the bestselling book Groundswell and CEO of the Altimeter Group, advises CIOs and other C-level executives to go ahead and feel nervous. If you’re not, you’re probably not really innovating.


1IBM Center for Applied Insights, “Generation D Insights.”

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