I had a great interview a few weeks ago with Kim Babcock from Sales Reeboot Camp. She has been following my work for a while and I was delighted to have a chat over an hour via skype. There was so much great content that Kim has split the interview into 2 parts – part 1 is presented below.

An engaging and insightful conversation with Andrew Grill, Global Managing Partner @IBM and The Actionable Futurist®. A 2-part post that focused on Digital Disruption, Digital Eminence, Employee Advocacy and what it means to be The Actionable Futurist®.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Andrew Grill, Former Global Managing Partner @IBM and The Actionable Futurist®. I started reading Andrew’s blog some time ago and am consistently taken with his practical approach to digital thinking. We had an engaging conversation, and Andrew shared some powerful insights on digital disruption and what leaders should be doing and thinking about. We covered so much I have created 2 posts

Part 1 – Digital Disruption

  • Digital disruption and what leaders need to think about and do
  • The need for ‘Digital Diversity’ starting with your board of directors
  • What it means to be The Actionable Futurist®: What can leaders be doing now to manage digital disruption in their business

Part 2 – Digital Eminence and Employee Advocacy

  • Andrew’s journey in building his thought leadership and eminence in digital thinking
  • Employee Advocacy: The value of enabling and empowering your employees as brand advocates
  • ‘Digital First Impressions’ for both you and your clients.

Here are the highlights of our conversation:

On ‘digital disruption’

One of the topics Andrew writes and speaks to senior leaders about is digital disruption, which transcends industries and functions. Whether in a B2C or B2B organization, this is a topic we all need to be thinking about. And as Andrew also highlights, we need to go beyond just thinking about it, we need to take action now.

A lot of people don’t agree it is happening. They think it is happening to other people and not them or their organizations. When I am presenting, I often show a chart from a Deloitte Australia report: Digital disruption Short fuse, big bang? The chart shows industries that have already been disrupted: real estate, media, professional services. And then I highlight that this research from 2014. People’s reaction is, “Wow, this is already happening.” I have found that it helps to create a sense of urgency for leaders to drive immediate action.

Look at AirBnB as an example – they have not just disrupted the hotel industry; they have disrupted the real estate and rental market. A property owner can get a higher yield through short-term accommodation with AirBnB than a traditional rental. This is forcing a housing crisis in cities like London. Qantas is another great example. They used to just include traditional hotel booking options when booking your flight. Now they include AirBnB. The hotel industry in Australia was not pleased to say the least, but Qantas recognizes that their consumers want choice, so they need to give their consumers that choice. It is insane the level of disruption that industries are experiencing, and how few companies are ready to respond and defend their patch,

It is not just industries and companies that need to understand ‘digital disruption’. Last year, the Prime Minister of Singapore devoted 10 minutes to disruption in his national address. He referenced the taxi industry and new entrants like Uber and Grab. He believes governments have two choices: lead disruption or do nothing and let disruption happen. But this lets the consumer down. If governments and businesses lead, there will be positive disruption for industry and consumers.

With organizations like Uber, Netflix, AirBnB, their management is driving disruption. They do not have the legacy culture and systems of a fifty or sixty-year-old company. My main message is that if you do not disrupt yourself, someone else will. So what is key for business leaders to consider?

  • Understand the drivers of digital disruption and the business impact
  • Figure out where to start for your organization
  • Change your thinking: You cannot look at digital with the same mindset you have always had, you need digital diversity in your thinking

Andrew highlights 3 key drivers of digital disruption:

  1. High profits to be made: Example: The taxi industry in London. Traditionally the cost of entry for taxi drivers is high. You need to pass ‘The Knowledge’, which generally takes three to four years  in order to drive a taxi in London. GPS and Uber are eliminating that high cost to entry and making it easier for anyone suitable and qualified to make money.
  2. Technology: Technology such as GPS (example above), high-speed mobile connectivity, and cloud is now highly available and driving disruption across many industries.
  3. Consumer expectations. Technology is driving consumers to have increasingly high expectations. Example: In 2005 WiFi was seen as a perk at hotels and now it is a basic requirement. Hilton Hotels now allows me to choose my room, bypass check-in and use my phone as the door key. This saves Andrew half an hour each business trip, so Hilton is now his preferred choice.

Andrew highlights 2 areas of business impact for digital disruption:

  1. How do you digitize existing services:  What products/services do we have that can be more digital. Example: ATM’s and banking online or via mobile, hotel check-in. These seem normal now but at one time were revolutionary.
  2. Creating new services or experiences. Example: Moo Business Cards enables you to create, order, reprint affordable and innovative business cards and business stationary with photos, design etc. This has massively disrupted traditional business card printing services.

Andrew and I discussed another great example: ‘Social Customer Care’. With the growth of social media, customers disrupted the customer care processes by reaching out and expecting service on social media. They quickly learned the response times were faster. Brands need to respond quickly given the transparency and potential for negative impact of not responding. Social customer care is now part of most B2C and many B2B organizations operations. Internal processes have further been disrupted as social listening is now a leading indicator of call volumes and PR issues. It is interesting to note, not too many years later technology is further driving disruption with the introduction of chatbots and AI technology to service day to day enquiries on social and escalating the more complex calls to humans.

In the world of B2B sales, digital and social technologies are disrupting the buying process. Buyers have access to more information, they are doing their research and are looking for recommendations from their peers and through social media. An IDC survey highlights that 84% of senior-level buyers use social media to influence purchase decisions. This means they are searching Google, looking at Tweets, reading LinkedIn posts, asking their networks. The way people make decisions has been disrupted.

B2B sales and marketing leaders need to ensure they are taking the time to really understand their digital buyer. A key part of that is actually experiencing and using digital technologies, especially social media. As Andrew highlights, ‘in order to get digital, you need to be digital’.

On: ‘in order to get digital, you need to be digital’.

I have an engineering degree and have been playing with technology for some time. For me, it is second nature. I am at the point where I will not buy, or accept a book to review that is not digital. I only use my iPad to read and consume content these days.

 But for many boards and teams of senior leaders, digital is not in their comfort zone. To understand disruption, first you need to understand the language of digital: Social Media, IoT, Blockchain, Cloud. If people do not even understand these terms, then I implore them at the very least go to Wikipedia to understand what they actually mean.

On the IBM website, you can buy an IoT kit to help you understand the impact of IoT. I help people understand that Fitbit is IoT. Another example is why IBM bought the weather company. Why did we buy the weather company? Weather affects so many things. By aggregating the data, you can predict future weather and understand the impact. This is IoT.

These tangible examples help executives lean forward when digital is discussed. Tangible examples help leaders say, ‘Ahhh…now I see, now I understand’. Where previously they might lean back and say, ‘Oh, that is something for the digital team’. They are leaning forward because they can see how digital might affect their business. You need your leaders to want lean forward when digital is discussed.

It is about putting a business discussion on the technology, encouraging people to be inquisitive about the technology and the impact of the business.

Not only do they need to understand the concepts, they need to understand the experience of digital. This is what I mean when I say, “In order to get digital, you need to be digital”.

For some, this might mean understanding the value of using social media by actually using, listening and participating on the platforms. I recommend to start by listening on social media. You need to understand how your employees, prospects, customers and competitors are using digital. (We will cover more on this in Part 2 on Digital Eminence and Employee Advocacy)

It is important to make it comfortable for senior leaders to ask questions and learn about digital. Create an environment where they can ask questions: What is a hashtag? What is a retweet? Explain it in a way that is relatable. You want to create an environment where people are comfortable to ask questions and then respond in a way that makes things relevant. For example, a retweet is like forwarding an email.


On the importance of Digital Diversity at organizations

Digital diversity needs to start with the board of the directors and senior management team. I speak to the C-Suite and their boards across many industries and I often see a leadership team or board of directors heading to Silicon Valley and going on study tours of Google, Facebook and Twitter. Then, a month later, they are back to normal, dealing with the day-to-day issues of the organization. This does not drive the ongoing, and fundamental change that is needed.

My view is that you need to have not one but two people with digital experience providing a “digital lens” on the business at board level. Those with a digital lens will ask the right questions, to get the right outcome. For example. if they are looking at a cloud solution, the digital board member will ask the right questions: Is that hybrid or public cloud? What encryption is being employed? etc. This slowly starts to educate the rest of the boardroom about digital. What also starts to happen is that it builds credibility from the digital perspective. The board will start to better understand digital, and they will start leaning forward and asking more questions themselves.

Why two digital board members? If there is just one person, they are often thought of as just the “digital” person. Two people will work together and back each other up, validate and help to build credibility for the questions and perspective. It will help everyone start to see everything through a digital lens.

Digital Diversity beyond the board

Digital diversity should then translate into the rest of the business, In every management team, it will help to have a diverse and digital point of view to ensure everything is being seen through a digital lens. This breaks the challenge of –  where do we start, what do we do…?

Andrew references a study by Korn Ferry,- Leaders for a digital transformation, that talks about two tribes of people who are key to leading digital disruption.

There are two types of people you need to hire to help combat digital disruption; ‘going-digital’ and ‘born-digital’. You need the “going-digital” people who have a good understanding of digital and see the challenges and opportunity of digital disruption. Most importantly, they are highly adept at navigating an organization. The “born-digital” tribe are those who are natively digital, they have grown up with digital technologies, and they know how to think and act in an agile way. This tribe will have a digital lens on everything, but they are less adept at navigating change in an organization. You need both. The two tribes need to co-exist and they need to work well together.

Whether your employees are ‘born-digital’ or ‘going-digital’, they have an important role to play in not only helping to lead digital disruption, but also as a part of the digital transformation of the business. (We will cover more on this in Part 2 on Digital Eminence and Employee Advocacy)

On being a ‘Actionable Futurist’ 

The reason I call myself a ‘Actionable Futurist’ is that there are so many ‘Futurists’ out there who are looking 10 or 15 years out. I am laser-focused on what is happening next Monday or next Quarter. Here’s what business leaders can do now to lead and address digital disruption in their business and industry:

  • Put a plan together.
  • Stop doing something so you have the focus and budget to go digital. Determine what can you do without and set aside some money to focus on digital.
  • Build a small innovation team to focus on digital disruption.
  • Look at your digital maturity. What are market leaders doing, your competitors, the incumbents, but also the disruptors?
  • Enable the team to immerse themselves in digital. Eventually, they need to re-integrate their work back into the mothership, but to drive fresh new thinking, full immersion is needed.

A digital culture is key. You need a real culture of agility and collaboration. Your efforts will fail if it is just a digital retrofit to today’s status quo. You need to do a complete overall to think and act digitally. For a B2B sales organizations, this might mean looking at how you find and source leads? Or how you engage and build relationships with your buyers. This now needs a digital component.


Thank you, Andrew, for an extremely engaging and insightful conversation. What a pleasure to share your thoughts and insights. In tomorrow’s post we will share Andrew’s experience and perspective on Digital Eminence and Employee Advocacy.

Here is: Part 2 – Digital Eminence and Employee Advocacy