Author Archives: Howard Tiersky

About Howard Tiersky

Howard Tiersky is an inspiring and passionate speaker, the Founder and CEO of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency, innovation consultant, serial entrepreneur, and the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance. IDG named him one of the “10 Digital Transformation Influencers to Follow Today”, and Enterprise Management 360 named Howard “One of the Top 10 Digital Transformation Influencers That Will Change Your World.”

How well do you know your customers?

How well do you know your customers?

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

Early in my career, I had the chance to lead a product development team in creating a new kind of internal communication platform for large accounting firms. Our target users were auditors and tax consultants. We worked with those types of people often, so we felt we knew what they needed.

We “checked the box” that we knew our customers, got creative and came up with the idea that we loved. It was innovative, creative, exciting. It still brings a smile to my face, remembering how awesome an idea it was. We worked eighteen hours a day for months on that idea. We were inspired and committed to the product fulfilling its potential. We were on a mission.

So, what happened when the product launched?

The features we thought were so fantastic were of marginal importance to our users, and we had overlooked some of their critical needs. Also, the product had some major usability problems, because we didn’t fully understand all the circumstances under which the product would be used. It was a disaster; our sponsors pulled the plug. We couldn’t believe it! We had cared so much! We had tried so hard! But truthfully, it was entirely predictable.

We fell in love with our idea, instead of falling in love with our users. We wanted our product to fulfill its potential, instead of thinking about how to help our customers fulfill their potential.

These mistakes are not uncommon. According to Nielsen, 85% of new products fail, no doubt for multiple reasons.

Imagine this: your next product has a set of features that solved a huge problem for your customers. Those features were communicated in a way they found easy to understand, and the product was available at a price they were ready to pay. Do you think that product would have an 85% chance of failure?

How well do you know your customer? What does it even mean to “know” your customer?

The Front End of Innovation conference (FEI) asked me to speak at once of their conferences about the five key challenges large enterprises face around innovation. Lack of true customer insight is second on that list. Here are a few quick tactics to help you incorporate the “Voice of the Customer” into your product development process:

1. Humility

Have you ever bought something expensive, that you totally intended to use, but once you bought it, you only used it once, and then barely ever again? Or you committed to a gym membership, and then never went?

The reality is, we don’t even know ourselves all that well! Acknowledge that it’s no small feat to understand someone else well enough to predict their future behavior.

2. Get Specific

What do you need to know about your potential customers or users of your product that would really make a difference?

  • Why do they do business with you?
  • What are their unmet needs?
  • How is their world changing?
  • Who else is courting them?
  • What do they like least about your product/service?
  • There’s something that, if you could do, would make them pay double: what is it?

3. Involvement

It’s not enough to have one market research person who supposedly understands the customer. Ideally, you want everyone on the team to have a tangible understanding of your product’s user. Just reading someone else’s PowerPoint overview really doesn’t give you the kind of gut understanding. I like to have everyone on our product design team spend at least a couple of days trailing customers and watching them in their native habitats. This allows the team to really understand the customers’ world and their current reality. Team members always come back from that type of personal experience full of ideas.

4. Iteration

The world is changing fast, and so are your customers. You have to keep studying them and learn how their needs are changing. As your product moves from an idea to a prototype, to beta, take every opportunity you can to study how users react.

5. 4D Listening

Lastly, when you’re studying your customers, try to see past the surface of what they’re telling you they need to what they actually need. Henry Ford once said, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would say ‘faster horses.’” Which is exactly it! Your customers may not be able to envision the kind of solutions your product team can conceive. So listen past their stated requests, to fully understand their underlying concerns and needs. Your customers want to go faster, and hopefully, you can come up with a far more practical solution than trying to breed faster horses.

Which of these is most important in your experience?

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Pexels

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Embrace Your Disgruntled Customers

Embrace Your Disgruntled Customers

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

Every day, businesses find themselves faced with unhappy customers; if you’re like most people, you might feel apprehension when an unhappy customer requests a meeting with you.

Most of us are in business to make people happy and to create satisfied customers, so every unsatisfied customer can seem like a failure. Research has shown that the impact of praise and criticism are not equal. For most people the same volume of criticism is felt much more deeply than praise.

Actually, disgruntled customers are an absolute gold mine of potential insights about your product or services, and your overall business. But only if you mine them in the right way.

First, let me encourage you to ask a high quality question that I learned from one of the smartest people I know, Tony Robbins.

What’s great about disgruntled customers?

When faced with any challenge, Robbins encourages people to ask, “What’s great about this?” or “What’s the opportunity inherent in this problem?” Take a moment and ask yourself that question in terms of your dissatisfied customers.

To get you started, here are five things I jotted down that I think are great about disgruntled customers:

  1. They care about your product. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be emotional and they wouldn’t be reaching out.
  2. They are willing to give you their time. Those who complain typically want to engage in some sort of dialogue.
  3. They chose you to begin with. They wouldn’t be customers if they hadn’t made a decision to buy your product.
  4. They have knowledge about the overall product experience. They have experienced your marketing, your sales process, and what it’s like to begin using your product. They have been through at least part, if not most, of the product lifecycle.
  5. They probably don’t want to leave you. If they did, they wouldn’t be disgruntled customers, they would be ex-customers!

Think of disgruntled customers as people who have selected to use your product or service, who care a lot about it, and who want to give you some of their time to provide their thoughts. Their negative feedback actually gives more opportunities to improve than a happy customer ever could.

Three Types of Disgruntled Customers

There are three types of unhappy customers, and it’s helpful to determine which type you are talking to.

Type 1. Customers who should be happy.

This is someone who signed up for your product or service for reasons that are consistent with the intent of your product, and is basically trying to use it the way it was intended.

If the customer represents your “typical” customer and isn’t happy, then you really want to understand what the problem is and how to fix it. There are probably more people with similar dissatisfaction, who may not care enough to complain. Your disgruntled customer is not your worst customer. Your worst customer is the one who doesn’t care enough to complain but simply leaves and you never know why. Whatever problem these unhappy customers have is likely the same problem that some prospects have — a problem that kept them from becoming a customer in the first place. Understanding these customers and making them happy has to be a high priority.

Type 2: Customers who shouldn’t be happy.

This type of customer is trying to use your product for something that really isn’t what the product was designed for.

Customers unhappy with the results of using oil paints meant for works of art to paint furniture fall into this category. It might be easy to dismiss these customers. They shouldn’t have bought you product in the first place, right? But they could represent a massive new market opportunity. You might learn that your paint comes in colors not available in traditional furniture paint, or has a different kind of sheen that made that customer want to use it for an “off label” application. Although it didn’t work in its current formulation, it might clue you in to adjustments you can make to reach this new market. We call these types of users Lead User; “failed” lead users, like in our paint example, can seed ideas for product innovation.

Type 3: Customers who will never be happy.

These are the customers who, no matter what you do, never seem to be happy.

It’s true that there are people out there who thrive on complaining, but it’s important to hear them out to make sure that they are not actually a Type 1 or Type 2 Customer. For example, some people always seem to exaggerate the impact of their dissatisfaction. If someone tells you, “I spent 30 minutes waiting in line at the rental car counter and it ruined my vacation!” that sounds a little crazy. However, just because people might not be reasonably reporting the emotional impact of their problem doesn’t mean they aren’t cluing you in to real, solvable problems. Be grateful for these “complainers”. A lot of other people might just have been unhappy, said nothing, and gone to a competitor!

Questions to Ask Disgruntled Customers

If you want to get the most out of your meeting with a disgruntled customer, you need to ask the right questions to fully understand the situation.

1. Ask who they are, and what their goals were in buying your product.

There are several benefits to this. First, people like to talk about themselves, so it tends to be a positive way to start the conversation. Second, it takes their mind back to a time when they were happy with you, when they decided to buy the product. And third, it helps you understand what type of customer they are: whether their expectations were aligned with the product’s intent, they just like complaining, or they have legitimate concerns. This helps you understand what they care about most and what you did “right”, from a marketing and sales perspective, to get this person to sign up in the first place.

2. Ask what the problem is (because they’re dying to get that off their chests).

The trick here is to let them blow off some steam, and then try to unpack the problem to find some clear actions to take. For example, “I can’t believe how bad your restaurant is  —  it was horrible!” doesn’t provide any actionable feedback. And sometimes a customer wants to tell a long, convoluted story, after which you need to probe for the one key thing that’s the root cause of the dissatisfaction. Where did the person’s expectations fail to be fulfilled?

If they tried painting the chair with oil paints meant for portraits and three days later the chair was still not dry and the paint was dripping off, it would be ridiculous to ask “Is that not what you expected?” Clearly that’s not what they expected! But what did they expect? How fast did they expect it to dry, how long did they expect it to last, etc?

Tony Robbins’ has a formula which conveys this type of thinking:

Satisfaction = Reality – Expectations

If the reality is better than your expectations, you are satisfied. If the reality is less than your expectations, you are dissatisfied.

This formula teaches us that reality isn’t the only place we can improve our offering — we can also improve the expectations we set. Ask your customers where their expectations came from in the first place. If the expectations were contrary to your actual offering, did something in your marketing or your sales process create that expectation? Is your distribution chain is making mistakes representing what your product can do? It can also be helpful to ask what impact the price of your product has on expectations. Sometimes people assume a product at a certain price point will have certain characteristics, even if that’s not necessarily true.

3. If the person is still using your product, ask why? Why haven’t they just switched to another product?

You don’t want them to switch to another product, but you might learn something interesting about your product by asking this question. Someone might say he hates the taste of your product, but stays with it because it’s the only gluten-free protein powder available in his state. Your product may have differentiating aspects that you aren’t even aware of, and that’s good information to have.

4. Ask how you can fix their problem.

Generally, talking to disgruntled customers is more about learning how to improve our overall business than saving that individual customer (though sometimes in doing this, we can save the individual customer, as well.) Studies show that a customer with a major point of dissatisfaction, who complains and is able to be heard and get their issue resolved, will often become a far more loyal customer than one who never had a problem in the first place.

“That’s another great thing about disgruntled customers: they are offering you an opportunity to transform them into your most loyal customers!”

Remember, sometimes just being heard is enough to satisfy a customer. They may be able to live with the problem if they just feel validated and heard. Once you get customer feedback, a personal message letting them know that you understand the issue and are trying to resolve it, and that you appreciate their feedback, can be worth a lot. If the customer is experiencing an acute problem, such as a broken product, you want to address the problem and let the customer know that you are committed to solving the problem, what steps you plan to take and how you’ll keep them apprised of the progress. Ideally you should have one problem “owner”, who is accountable for its resolution.

Lastly, if disgruntled customers are Type 2 Customers and they want something your product or service can’t provide them with, thank the customer for their feedback and advise them on how to be successful in achieving their goal  —  even if it means recommending a competing product or service! While you might not always succeed, every meeting with a disgruntled customer is an opportunity to make and unhappy person happy, and that’s a great feeling!

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Pexels

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

What is Digital Transformation anyway?

Digital Transformation is the third wave of digital evolution.

What is Digital Transformation anyway?

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

The first wave was brochureware. Enterprises created websites that communicated their story. As simple as this idea is, it was revolutionary. The business value of providing instant sales and marketing material at the click of a mouse is hugely valuable.

The second wave was eCommerce. Enterprises connected customer-facing digital front-ends to their back-end systems, so that customers could engage in transactions directly via their browser or mobile device. This wave generated much more value than brochureware, because it reduced the cost of customer interaction, and removed friction from the user experience. Businesses who have mastered eCommerce have been able to trump former market leaders. In today’s world, if you can’t provide elegant digital options for the customer throughout their entire journey, you’re toast.

Now we find ourselves in the third wave: Digital Transformation. eCommerce added new pathways for pre-existing offerings, but companies going through digital transformation need to reinvent themselves for a digital age. Netflix made the transition from being a mail-order company to a streaming company. Though they still focus on their core value proposition of providing extended choices and increased convenience, their entire solution offering had to shift, along with their customer experience, pricing, contracts with suppliers, marketing, and more. Furthermore, given new methods of interacting with the consumer, it became practical for them to focus serious resources on content creation, as well. While the Netflix DVD-by-mail service was definitely eCommerce enabled (i.e. you could order DVDs via their web site), their digitally transformed value proposition is fundamentally impossible without digital.

Uber is doing the same thing for transportation. While plenty of taxi and limousine companies have apps that allow you to order their vehicles, Uber created a business model that was completely digitally focused. This meant that they didn’t need to own any vehicles or hire any drivers to become the largest ground transportation company in the world. It’s worth noting that Uber didn’t really go through a digital transformation, it was born digital. Digital Transformation is what pre-digital companies must undertake to compete in the newest wave of the digital age.

But even those companies that are “born digital” will need to focus on ongoing transformation. There are multiple examples of early digital successes, companies like Yahoo and MySpace, that failed to continue to transform.

Digital Transformation also requires a different mindset around where digital “lives” within the organization. You can visualize the way digital transformation works in the enterprises like this:

  • Wave 1 – Brochureware: Digital was part of marketing.
  • Wave 2 – eCommerce: Digital is a support service, creating digital pathways to pre-existing services like ordering, customer support, and billing.
  • Wave 3 – Digital Transformation: Digital reimagines the entire value proposition and business model of the company.

The goal of Digital in Wave 2 is to support the strategy and operations of the company by augmenting non-digital channels with more efficient and elegant digital alternatives. But in Wave 3, digital is driving the bus. The entire company — its value proposition and business model — is reimagined with digital at the center. This requires some substantial shifts in organizational structure, roles, and mindset; these shifts make companies hesitant to move towards true digital transformation. They engage in what is sometimes called Digital Decoration, that makes them seem progressive while protecting the “integrity” of their legacy business structures.

This is a losing strategy. There’s a long history of companies who decided to protect their existing models over supporting new ones. Kodak suffocated its early digital camera products; Blockbuster resisted focusing on digital delivery of entertainment. Western Union scoffed at the telephone.

In fact, here’s an example of an internal memo sent at Western Union:

“Why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device [a telephone] when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States?”

Western Union opted out of the “digital transformation” of its era and I predict the same outcome for pre-digital companies who take a similar approach.

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Pexels

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Creating Organizational Agility

Why is it that we need so much agility for digital transformation? The answer is simple: the speed of digital.

Creating Organizational Agility

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

Digital moves fast. Technology is changing rapidly, and changing customer expectations. Competitors are moving rapidly, and start-ups and tech companies are going after your customers. You have to be able to come up with new ideas, test them quickly in the market, make quick decisions about what you’re going to pursue or not pursue, and how you’re going to change and evolve.

Remember in the movie The Matrix, when the bullets are flying past Keanu Reeves? He’s able to move very quickly, sensing which direction a threat is coming from, and adjusting his movements to successfully avoid them. That is the kind of agility that we need in the digital arena. It’s the kind of agility that most start-ups have, and many enterprises don’t.

What are some ways you can improve your organizational agility? In this article, we’ll discuss five specific types of agility that important for success in digital and digital transformation. We’ll also discover some of the things you can do. within the context of a large enterprise, to try and improve each of those types of agility.


The first type of agility is the agility of sensing. But what does that mean? Imagine The Matrix. The first thing you have to focus on isn’t moving, but knowing what’s going on around you, so you can be alert and aware of all the things that might require action on your part. You can think of sensing agility in four major categories:

1. Customers

  • Ultimately, your customers’ behavior drives your success. Study their behavior on your websites, mobile applications, in stores, and through the other channels in which you interact with them. Be constantly measuring and watching their behavior. Agility in this area isn’t just how quickly you’re collecting data, but how nimble and agile you are in analyzing that data, and in understanding what it means so you can determine what actions to take.In addition to your own behavioral metrics, how else can you study your customer? Make sure to measure their ongoing satisfaction, survey them, conduct usability testing, and use data from third-party research that shows technographic, behavioral trends and psychographic trends. There are many sources of information to help you understand your customer segments and how they may be changing.

2. Technology

  • Technology is changing at a rate like never before, whether it’s wearable tech, big data, or virtual reality. Things like beacons and other network tools allow us to sense where our customers are with more accuracy than ever before. There are so many technologies that have the potential, at the right point in time and at the right level of maturity, to enable you to create a new value for your customer. Paying attention to and sensing these changes in the technology landscape will allow you to quickly figure out when they’ve reached a point where you can take action. If you don’t (or don’t move quickly enough), you can expect your competitors, traditional or start-up, to be doing just that.

3. Competitors

  • It’s critical to have to sense what your competitors are doing, and to constantly research competitive strategies. How are they changing their product mix or pricing? How are they changing their customer service, and where are they failing to deliver for their current, or might fail their future, customers? How are they communicating with your customers, to bring them over to their side?

4. Regulatory

  • Regulations are especially key if you’re in a heavily regulated industry (though, most industries are subject to some level of regulation.) As regulations change over time, they can change current opportunities, or even create new ones.

That’s a lot to pay attention to! How can you effectively put sensing programs in place? The first thing to remember is that simply gathering information is not sufficient. You need to gather the information, and then analyze it to develop actionable insights. Finally, you’ll need to social and share that information with your team.

When you break it down, there’s no big mystery on how to achieve a sensing culture. The main thing you need are resources that are both dedicated to these activities, and that have the right research and analytical skills. Recognize that a part of success in digital is to be constantly sensing, and create a culture where information from sensing is being communicated and disseminated on an ongoing basis. Encourage your people to voraciously consume information, and use it in actionable ways as they develop products and services to improve the digital experience of the customer.


The primary tool of the digital world is the tool of technology. Do the tools you have at your enterprise allow you to move quickly from an idea to a customer experience?

Generally, that’s not the experience in most enterprises; many struggle with technology stacks that were created in an era before we had the need for this level of agility. They may have been conceived with a certain kind of transactional process in mind that’s either no longer applicable or reflects only one of many different types of transactional processes that you need to support. Truthfully, a lot of aging technology needs to be replaced, or needs to be wrapped so that it can gain the necessary level of agility.

Here are three specific things you can do to help guide work between your business and IT departments and see how to move forward technology that you currently have supporting digital forward.

1. Requirements

  • What does requirements mean? Traditionally, the business side would define the requirements needed for a particular project on a particular channel and IT would build them for us (hopefully successfully!) The problem this model is that the end result is only what’s needed at that moment. Today, we need to be able to change, evolve, and adapt so quickly that process is too slow. If every time we realize what we need, we have to go back through a whole time-consuming IT build, things wouldn’t move quickly enough. When you’re thinking about requirements, don’t only think in the context of what you need today, but ask the broader question of the requirements for technological agility, and communicate that to your IT department.After all, the IT department and those responsible for implementing technology all need to understand what needs to be flexible — because you can’t make everything flexible. There needs to be ongoing dialogue to focus the requirements around the things that need to be able to change on an ongoing basis.

2. Software

  • Software as a service platform is a huge help for all of us trying to make technology more agile. Why? Because in the old days, a software product (something like a major piece of enterprise software,) would require hardware implementation. It could take a year or two to implement it, and the implementation would require massive customizations. The software would be expensive to buy, implement, and customize. And if you wanted to make a change? You’re talking about abandoning major investments.In today’s SAAS world, we’ve created much more flexibility by using an integration layer around our most core systems and data. We can plug in different tools, whether a shopping cart tool, CRM, data mining tool, or mobile capabilities added into our apps. If we build out our capabilities using these types of platforms, we can swap out and change things much more rapidly.

    And with most of these SAAS platforms, we don’t have the issues associated with versions. Previously, if you were on one version of SAP, and you wanted to go to another version of SAP, it required a major headache of an upgrade. Today, versions build off core components in software. A product like SalesForce is constantly evolving and improving. Everyone is always on the most recent version of SalesForce, and you have a huge ecosystem of plug-ins and other code that’s designed to work with anyone’s implementation. That’s just one example of a SAAS platform that gives you an enormous amount of agility and flexibility, so it’s important to move yourself to SAAS platforms wherever possible.

3. Abstraction

  • You want your product development team, product owners, content creators, and marketers to be able to tweak and adjust the digital experience as much and as rapidly as possible. That means you want to try to abstract the capabilities up from the level of code.

There are three main areas of abstraction:

  1. Content Management: It’s imperative to be able to publish and edit content without needing to go through IT. I know that might sound super obvious and kind of old school, but I constantly see large enterprises where key parts of the content ecosystem isn’t accessible from a business perspective, and always requires IT involvement. Don’t let that happen to you!
  2. Presentation: It’s one thing to edit the content, but what if you want to change the layout? What if you want to change the process for content creation? Making those capabilities accessible to business users is possible with today’s experience management tools. We do a lot of work implementing these kinds of tools, and making sure that the business has the ability to make changes in the experience at their fingertips, and without having to go back to IT. This is a crucial capability for anything they’re going to want to frequently change.
  3. Business Rules: Implement a business rules engine as part of your technology stack, so that as you decide to make changes — whether in pricing, policy, or logic — they are not primarily in code that has to be changed by a developer. Then your business rules can be changed in more or less the same way your content is changed: by a business user that has the appropriate entitlements.

Decision Making

If you’re in a large enterprise, I’m guessing that you’ve had the experience of trying to move digital efforts forward, only to be faced with a multi-month or multi-quarter capital budget approval process that requires endless spreadsheets, forecasts, meetings.

On one hand, these things exist for good reason. When companies are doing a large amount of capital investment, they want to make sure that those decisions involve all the right people, and are being thoroughly vetted. It makes sense to want to spend their money carefully, but in the digital world, this process just doesn’t work. The speed of decision-making from the old, quasi pre-digital world kills our efforts in the digital arena, because digital requires moving quickly. It’s crucial to create a faster process for getting those decisions made. In the digital realm, you’re better off being fast than being right. If you’re fast but wrong, you have agility. You’ll be able to sense how what you’re doing is wrong, and can react and make a shift. If you’re slow? Forget it.

Wayne Gretzky explains that he wins at hockey not by skating to where the puck is, rather, where the puck is going to be. Can you imagine seeing where the puck is going, but then having to fill out a 25-tabbed Excel spreadsheet, submit it to the capital-approval process, and wait several months? By then, the game is over, everyone’s gone home, and the puck’s been put back in the locker room. You need to be able to move more quickly than that.

To solve this problem, make sure that you have true alignment around the goals you’re trying to drive through digital. So often these capital-approval processes are about strategy and tactics: What are we going to do? What kind of tools are we going to use? What technologies are we going to buy? What capabilities are we going to provide to our customers? That’s exactly the kind of stuff we have to be agile about.

Agree with senior management on the things we’re trying to drive through digital: brand awareness, lower acquisition cost, increased wallet share, and increased conversion on the website. Once you agree on the key business goals, find people who you trust to run digital. Give them the money, and the room to fail on the way to success.
I worked with a large energy company once that made this shift because of these problems. They made the decision to give the Chief Information Officer and the Chief Marketing Officer a substantial capital budget to rapidly drive digital, with quarterly check-ins to report how they spent the money, and what the programs were achieving. This process was hugely successful for them, and resulted in large increases in digital revenue, that far eclipsed the investments that were being made.

Unfortunately, after two years of success, another even larger energy company came in and bought the first company, telling them, “That’s not how we do it.” They dismantled the process, and the gains and growth subsided.

You can learn from their story. Try your best to get the level of autonomy and authority needed for the folks on the ground, who are actually doing these digital transformation projects.

Strategy Shifts

Ninety percent of all start-ups fail. Those that succeed don’t often achieve success because their original idea, business model, or original concept was right. As I’ve mentioned previously, Facebook started off as a dating site, eBay started out as a Pez dispenser collectors’ site, and Flickr started out as an online role-playing game. These companies succeeded because they changed and shifted their strategy many times on their way to success.

In the enterprise world, we often judge projects on whether they achieved their original vision or goal, hit their original budget, or achieve the ROI based on their original funding. This mindset doesn’t work in the digital space. You run the risk of teams starting to see issues, problems, or reasons to shift their strategy, and not doing it, because they’re afraid of being judged by the project’s original standards. They’re afraid of being told that they have to start the funding process all over again, simply because the strategy has shifted and changed the scope of the project. This isn’t how successful digital companies are operating.

Create a process that embraces and expects that the project you’re funding is going to go through a process of trial-and-error to find its way to the kind of digital transformation success that you’re seeking. Keanu Reeves can’t know where all the bullets are going to be before he goes into the room — that’s not how he avoids getting hit by a bullet. He does it by sensing what’s going on around him, and moving to where he needs to be at that particular moment in time. Give your digital teams that level of flexibility and, reward them for making those kinds of shifts.


FROM gets involved from working with a lot of companies, and we get the same questions a lot:

  • What’s the right organizational model for digital?
  • Should there be one central digital team?
  • Should digital be part of all the different P&Ls?
  • Should it be a blend, a combination?

These are important questions. Having said that, let me disavow you of the myth that there’s one magical structure whereby all the digital work can be kind of done by one single team of people operating under one executive. That’s impossible! Digital efforts cut across every part of the organization. When you want to move quickly to make a change or bring something new to market, you need IT, Marketing, R&D, Customer Support, Engineering, Manufacturing, and any other key silos in the organization to make it happen.

As a side note for all of you balking at the idea of silos: You’re going to have them. You can structure them in different ways, e.g. phases of the customer lifecycle, customer segment, geography, but you’re going to have them if you’re a large enterprise.

The key isn’t to try to figure out how to get rid of silos, since that’s all but impossible, but to figure out how to create a culture where teaming across those silos happens rapidly, and there’s alignment and mobilization of the people that are needed. We’ve done work like this across many organizations, including our own. Teaming agility is what’s necessary to achieve that kind of alignment, whether by workshops to align goals, or just a culture of innovation that creates the organizational functionality that we need for people to be able to swarm around an opportunity quickly, instead of focusing on the friction that can exist between different departments.

These five areas of agility that are essential. Most are something large enterprises struggle with, but hopefully you’ve gained a few tips and tricks on how to overcome some of those challenges.

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Achieving a Transformation Vision for a Better Future

Achieving a Transformation Vision for a Better Future

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

A major challenge that most large enterprises face is the lack of a true transformation vision.

Most organizations have a basic vision for growth: to serve the maximum number of people, to sell the maximum amount of product, to grow different segments, or to expand in new areas. But in most large enterprises I’ve worked with, that vision is usually about doing more of the same. They optimize what they already have, expand what they already do, update the way that they’re currently selling to very similar customer groups, and interact with their customers in a way very similar to their current operations.

For most organizations to be successful as the world changes around them, they need to change and adapt more profoundly than that. During times of change, driving growth within an organization using tactics similar to current ones don’t often work well. The most common technique I see leaders of large enterprises using to drive growth is to go to each individual area and tell them to continue driving growth in their area. For example, product groups get, “Make new products.”; channel groups get, “Find new channels.”; and the sales group gets, “Sell more stuff!” If you multiply all the effect of these different areas of growth together, you get something that looks like pretty good growth for the organization overall.

Imagine a caterpillar trying to figure out become a butterfly, and having every part of its body come up with its own strategies and methods to contribute. A segmented approach can work when you’re just trying to multiply the scale of what you’re already achieving, with little to no optimization in the different areas.

But there’s a problem with this method. Imagine a caterpillar trying to figure out become a butterfly, and having every part of its body come up with its own strategies and methods to contribute. A segmented approach can work when you’re just trying to multiply the scale of what you’re already achieving, with little to no optimization in the different areas. But it doesn’t work when you’re trying to transform an entire organization, and entire transformation is what we need to do to keep up with the quickly changing digital world. A vision for the whole transformation is what’s going to truly coordinate your entire organization.

You are probably familiar with Lana Turner, movie star from the ’40s and the famous story of her discovery that made her Hollywood starlet. The story goes: Around 1934, 16-year-old Judy Turner (her real name), is skipping school and having a Coke at the Schwab’s Pharmacy counter in Hollywood. She’s spotted by a famous movie director who says, “You’re beautiful and have a wholesome look. You’d be great in a movie. I’m going to take you in for a screen test.” He brings her to the back lot, does the screen test, and it’s fantastic. He puts her in a movie, and she becomes one of the top stars in Hollywood. The rest is history!

There are two problems with this story. First, it’s not actually true. The whole story is fiction, dreamed up by 1930’s Hollywood PR teams. But even if it happened to be true, it would be an extreme outlier. Transformation doesn’t just happen by accident or good luck. It doesn’t even happen because it’s deserved, or because of inherent merit. The other day, I was listening to Howard Stern interviewing Jennifer Hudson about her success. He asked her if, when she was a child and sang in church, everyone knew that she was going to be a star. She said, “No, because there were a lot of kids in my church who could sing like that, and there were a lot of people in my family who could sing like that.” The difference was that, besides the talent, she also had the drive, determination, and the vision to succeed.

This idea of needing vision to succeed isn’t new. The great poet and three times Pulitzer Prize Winner, Carl Sandburg, said, “Nothing happens unless first a dream.” American inventor George Washington Carver, said, “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” And Helen Keller said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

What is this transformation vision that you need to create? What are its components?

There are two parts to a transformation vision. The first is a vision of how the world is changing. How are your customers going to be changing over the next few years? How is technology going to change, and what do you think your competitors, old or new, might do with the changing landscape?

The second component is to determine what new products and services you can bring to market. How can you take advantage of these changes in environment and your customers, and how will you compete with what your competitors are doing? How does your business model need to change, based on new technology capabilities, or new customer behaviors? How will your operations, cost structure, and ultimately, interaction with our customers, change? Will we be delivering on different channels, serving and supporting them in different ways, or will we be dealing with an entirely new set of customers?

It might seem like you need to be able to see into the future to answer these questions, and I think that’s a major reason why many enterprises don’t have a true transformational vision. They may have a five-year plan, but it isn’t really a vision for transformation — more of just a hopeful projection of growth based on where they are now. They believe they can’t see far enough into the future for it to be practical to have a vision of the future. But here’s the thing: you can foretell the future. I’ll do it right now: It’s about 4:30pm here in New York. I think that in the next couple hours, many people in my area will be having dinner. I’m heading to the airport shortly, for a flight to London, and I predict that there will be lines at the TSA checkpoints that I’ll have to take into account to get on my flight on time. The truth is, we can see into the future to some degree, based on previous experience. We might not always be right, but there’s a lot of information we can use to get a reasonable hypothesis of what the future is going to look like.

Was the iPhone that much of a shock, after the Blackberry Treo and other smartphones that came before? True, it had aspects that we might not have anticipated, and the precise timing might not have been predictable by someone who wasn’t in on Apple’s plans, but its existence on the market was relatively predictable.

To get into the business of predicting the future, we have to get over the fear of being wrong. As Seth Golden said, “The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing.” I believe this is absolutely true.

Here’s one last thought about creating transformation visions: It’s important to be able to think in terms of transformation time. Sometimes our focus is so much in the next quarter or the things that we have to get done right now. And that is the reality of the world of the large enterprise, especially if it’s a public company. But in order to be successful long-term, you have to be able to think in terms of transformation time, to think a few years ahead. Why? Because the transformations that you need are often going to take a few years. Products and solutions that burst onto the market, like the iPhone, are in development for years before they ever see the light of day. So many of the things that we see as overnight successes are really the result of long-term visioning, planning, R&D efforts and product development, and there are products that don’t succeed that went through those processes, too. Risk tolerance is important for transformation vision since you have to be ready for a number of potential futures. Those that are successful will be those that define the future of the company.

To recap, take the time to predict the future and be willing to be wrong. Track the changes in the world, and engage yourself in ongoing research, both to initially develop your long-term transformation vision and then to continue to see whether your predictions appear to be coming true. Is the timeframe you initially anticipated changing? If so, adjust your transformation vision to align with what is actually happening. Most importantly, be willing to get it wrong. Second, look at the fundamental value proposition your company brings to your customers. How would that value proposition be best delivered in this future that you envision? If you built a new company today that was going to launch three years from now, how would we build that for where we think the world will be in a few years? You can use that exercise as a way of defining what your transformation vision should potentially be. Take bets, consider and prepare for different possible futures, so you can be prepared for the actual future when it arrives.

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Five Key Digital Transformation Barriers

You may be struggling to drive some sort of change, innovation, or digital transformation within your organization right now.

Five Key Digital Transformation Barriers

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

Why is it so hard? And what’s the secret to getting big companies to transform successfully?

There are five main barriers that large enterprises face when trying to innovate: change resistance, knowledge of customers, risk management, organizational agility and transformation vision.

1. Change resistance

Change is uncomfortable. Even if a change sets us up for a great future, most people won’t warm up to it quickly. To successfully drive change within an organization, create a burning platform for change so that failing to change is more painful than the change itself. Offer a compelling vision of the future once the change is complete, give people the confidence of success, and provide the opportunity to help create the change (instead of falling victim to it).

2. Knowledge of customers

You may think you have the answers, but how well do you actually know your customers? To incorporate your customers’ voice into your product development, you can use these five tactics:

  • Humility: Truthfully, we don’t even know ourselves that well, so it’s important to recognize that understanding someone else well enough to predict future behavior is no small feat.
  • Specificity: Figure out exactly what you need to know about your current or potential users that would make a difference to your product development. Use questions like: “What do you they like or not like about your product?” and “What are their unmet needs?”
  • Involvement: Get your whole team involved in customer research to allow the entire development process to include an understanding of the customers’ world and their current reality.
  • Iteration: One round of user testing is not enough — You need to continually study your customers to see how they’re reacting to your product and how their needs are changing.
  • 4D listening: Try to see past the surface of what your customers are saying to what they’re truly asking of you. Your customers may not be able to envision the more practical solutions that your product team conceives.

3. Risk management

Is it risky to transform your enterprise? Of course! The key to success is creating the expectation that innovation efforts are an iterative process. Successful innovation requires experiments, learning, persistence and, most importantly, the willingness to fail. Once you have alignment around the idea that some level of risk is necessary and appropriate, you can gain confidence from enterprise funders by envisioning the different types of risks your efforts might face and develop remediation strategies to combat those risks.

4. Organizational Agility

As quickly as you can adapt, the digital world changes. Organizational agility is key to keeping up in the digital arena. There are five specific types of agility that are important for success in digital:

  • Sensing: This means knowing what’s going on around you so you can be aware of what actions might be required. How are customers, competitors and industry regulations changing, and what new technology exists that could impact your digital experiences?
  • Technology: Moving quickly from idea to live solution is important in supporting and growing your digital experience. Does your enterprise have technology stacks that are adaptable and easily maintained? Are your content and presentation capabilities accessible to your product owners and content managers?
  • Decision-making: Capital approval processes that take months to reach a final decision don’t work with the speed of digital. The people running your innovation projects need the autonomy and authority to make decisions on the ground-level so that they happen with speed necessary to keep up with the digital world.
  • Strategy shifts: Embrace and expect that your innovation projects will go through a process of trial-and-error on their way to the kind of digital transformation success that you’re seeking.
  • Teaming: Despite a persistent myth, there is no one structure in which all digital work can be done by a single team of people operating under a single executive. The key to teaming agility is creating a culture with alignment across divisional silos, so that mobilization of the right people happens quickly and efficiently.

5. Transformation vision

Many organizations have a basic vision for growth: Optimize what already exists or expand upon current offerings. But to create a true transformation vision, one that encompasses your entire organization, you need to determine how the world is changing and how that will affect your customers’ needs. Only then can you determine what new products and services you can bring to market and the different channels you’ll need to deliver on them. You may even decide that the imminent changes will shift your focus to an entirely new set of customers! To be successful in the long-run, think regarding transformation time so that you can get a few steps ahead.

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Reinventing the Retail Store

Online orders are increasingly fulfilled through stores, making retailers much more efficient and competitive

Reinventing the Retail Store

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

I’ve worked with a lot of online retailers over the years, and a frequent question I’ve received is, “When you have physical stores and you also have an online presence, where should you be shipping goods from?”

In the early days, a lot of retailers were trying to ship from their stores because that’s where the merchandise was.

Further, these retailers didn’t necessarily have the infrastructure or process in their warehouses to ship directly to the consumer. Their warehouses were just for shipping goods to the store.

But when e-commerce started to take off in a major way and orders jumped, those retailers that we’d think of as traditional large brick and mortar stores started to do the vast majority of their e-commerce shipping from centralized distribution centers, so much so that some actually had quite different inventory from their stores.

As a result, there was a period where chains were shipping from centralized distribution centers for the most part.

In some cases, these chains didn’t even expose you to what was available in the store when ordering online.


After that, retailers started trying to show us alternatives.

“Buy online, pick up in the store” became increasingly prevalent, with retailers creating more integrated systems that allow us to see the online merchandise that may not be available in the store, as well as the store merchandise that might not be available online.

Some of the merchandise was available in both places, and you could at least see the full universe through these systems.

You would know if an item was carried in the retailers’ stores, then you could find out if your local store had it, buy it online, and arrange to pick it up there.

Once retailers got to that point, it became more and more logical to have the store ship at least some merchandise out, as they did in the early days.

And today, we’re seeing even more shipping from stores because e-commerce orders that are “order online, pick up in the store” have risen substantially with Covid.

With more and more orders being fulfilled this way, it’s imperative that stores are able to handle e-commerce effectively.


In fact, Best Buy reported recently that 60% of their e-commerce orders are either buy online, pick up in store or buy online, pick up curbside.

More than half of their online orders are not only being fulfilled through the store, but they’re actually being physically picked up at the store.

As physical retailers continue their effort to compete with Amazon, they realize that one of the assets that they have that Amazon does not have at that scale is a physical store location.

It makes sense to use this shift as an opportunity to either make it convenient to pick up items that are ordered online or even start to use stores as distribution hubs to permit faster delivery for items that are ordered to the home.

In their recent announcement, Best Buy also reported that of their thousand stores, they have designated 250 of them as distribution hubs.

This means that they will be using those stores not only as physical showrooms but also as fulfillment centers for e-commerce orders.

So if you order something on the Best Buy website, it’s increasingly likely to come from the back room of your local Best Buy.


This shift is interesting because it’s not just Best Buy—we’re seeing it across the industry.

And when you have a lot of retailers repurposing their physical locations as e-commerce hubs, there are bound to be greater implications.

For one, this change is going to affect store design, as stores will need larger storage areas and shipping facilities.

As a result, the ratio of the back of the store to the front of the store will probably shift.

It may also make a shift in terms of how stores think about real estate.

A location that may not have been viable due to a lack of foot traffic may all of a sudden make sense if it’s in a convenient spot for pickup or in a central location that allows online orders to be distributed to a large geographic area.

In focusing more and more on fulfilling orders through their store locations, Best Buy may see additional, industry-specific benefits.

In the electronic space, we know that there are a lot of SKUs, and it’s hard to keep some items on stock, particularly the ones that are popular.

The opportunity to leverage not only the inventory at a warehouse or distribution center but all the inventory sitting in their stores expands Best Buy’s ability to provide a great customer experience.

Today’s top retailers are making sure that if they’ve got that new iPhone, or camera lens, or obscure cable, or whatever it is that you’re looking for anywhere in their ecosystem, they are going to find a way to get it to you one way or the other.

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Unsplash

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

How the Customer in 9C Saved Continental Airlines from Bankruptcy

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

When Gordon Bethune took over as CEO of Continental Airlines in 1994, the carrier had just emerged from its second bankruptcy and was headed for their third and potentially final round.

US Department of Transportation statistics from that year show among the ten largest US airlines, Continental ranked dead last in every single key customer service metric.

Against all odds, Bethune was able to turn the company around.

He did it with outstanding leadership, no doubt, but also through the help of one very significant “customer.”

Bethune’s Litmus Test

In his book, From Worst to First, Continental’s Remarkable Comeback, Bethune describes the challenges he faced when he first became CEO of the troubled carrier, including an overwhelming list of problems with the customer experience, on the ground and in the air.

It was too much to tackle all at once, and due to the company’s poor financial performance, money was short.

If the limited resources weren’t used properly, it could mean the end.

Bethune needed a simple method that the executives and managers in his organization could use as a litmus test for what was important when making decisions.

Customer in 9C

Bethune introduced the concept of “The Customer in Seat 9C” — a composite image of their best customer segment —business travelers— who were paying a premium fare and willing to pay more if their experience could be improved in meaningful ways.

Continental analyzed, then pinpointed the key traits, preferences, and concerns of “The Customer in Seat 9C.”

When prioritizing or deciding between different approaches, employees were trained to ask, “What would make a difference for the Customer in Seat 9C? What would make them prefer to fly with us? What would they be willing to pay more for?”

Over the next ten years, with this simple but disciplined focus, Bethune “piloted” Continental out of bankruptcy and to the title of “Fortune’s #1 Most Admired Global Airline.”

Why Your Customers Are Like Snowflakes

Of course, the concept of what “The Customer in Seat 9C” wants is a massive generalization.

On one flight, 9C could be occupied by a 60-year-old bank executive and on the next by a 23-year-old running an organic farming business.

Surely, their needs are not identical.

Like Snowflakes, Every One of Your Customers is a Completely Unique Human Being. But, Also Like Snowflakes, Many Are Extremely Similar

You may very well have noticed this during your customer research.

After listening to 40 contact center interactions with customers calling to order parts, or talking to 15 brides shopping for wedding dresses, or speaking to a dozen owners of luxury cars, while you hear many unique stories, you also start to hear the same themes over and over.

Identifying these patterns is a key part of your customer research.

Once you can analyze and synthesize all of your data, then you get actionable insight that you can use to drive your decision-making.

Personas Are Powerful

Personas are Powerful

That’s why it’s so critical to have customer personas developed for your company that any employee can quickly understand and internalize. It’s great to have decks full of customer data, but a simple, easy to understand vision of who the customer is and what they care first and foremost about makes it actionable to the enterprise.

Your Turn

Do you use customer personas at your company? If so what impact have they had?

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Can You Be TOO Strategic?

Can You Be TOO Strategic?

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

While the lack of a clear strategy can create problems in any business, there is another end of that spectrum.

Having a strategy means having clarity on what you want to achieve and a plan on how to get there. These are good things, but it’s also possible to be too strategic—too focused on a single goal and plan.

When Being TOO Strategic is a Problem

1. You Have an Ineffective Plan

What if you have a plan for reaching your goal but it doesn’t work? You could be putting all your eggs in one basket.

In some cases, you may be able to determine very quickly if your strategy isn’t working. That’s one of the beauties of digital. For example, with ecommerce, you can try a new email subject line and within a few hours (or even minutes) you can see whether people are responding to it.

There are other strategies, however, that demonstrate their effectiveness over time. A program that is designed to build relationships to drive more long-term customer loyalty is an example of a strategy that you won’t be able to determine the success of overnight.

Regardless of whether your plan can be evaluated quickly, if you put all your eggs in one strategic basket, there’s always the possibility that you’re wrong about the method to achieve your goal.

2. You Set the Wrong Goal

There’s also the possibility that you have either the wrong goal or a goal that’s not optimal.

No matter what group of consumers you choose to target, things can change quickly; it may turn out that you haven’t chosen a good target at all.

For example, think about when COVID-19 first disrupted our world. Consumers’ needs and habits changed because of the pandemic, which caused many companies to adjust their goals because their original goals were no longer going to bring successful outcomes. If you stayed laser focused on the goal of increasing the number of shoppers coming to your store each day amidst the pandemic, you were a little too strategically disciplined.

Even in less extreme cases, there are still situations where leaders fail to see new trends and opportunities for growth.

Blockbuster VideoBlockbuster is a great example of a company that had the wrong goal in mind. They were so hyper focused on putting a video rental store in every neighborhood that they failed to see the potential opportunity in digital streaming services.

Netflix, on the other hand, did an excellent job seeing that opportunity and successfully transformed from the DVD rental by mail service to the popular digital streaming service consumers love today.

There’s always the risk that either you’re pursuing the wrong destination or the wrong means to get there. And what do you do then? You have the opportunity to say, “Maybe I shouldn’t be 100% strategic.”

Often, mistakes and variability promote evolution and growth in a company, so it’s important to determine what percentage of your business should be based on strategy and what percentage should be based on trying new and different things which may not align with the current official strategy.

3. Consider a Balanced Approach

Ideally, find a balance of mostly strategic activities, but carve out some time for non-strategic activity to allow employees to be creative and freely come up with new ideas that just might turn into something great.

An example of a company who does this well and has seen success come out of this strategy is Google. Google offers “20% time,” which allows each employee to spend 20% of their work time on independent projects they feel will benefit Google in the long run without having to justify it to anyone.

This freedom promotes innovation and creativity, making employees feel like their work and input really matters to the company. Many of Google’s widely known products have come out of this non-strategic time, such as Gmail and Google Maps.

Another area of business that often takes a balanced approach to strategy is Research and Development (R&D). R&D teams are typically made up of creative and original thinkers; they may be faced with problems that they’re fascinated by and are trying to solve. It’s not always clear how solving that problem is going to help the company right away, but some of the world’s greatest innovations have come out of R&D departments.

For example, at Bell Labs, the transistor was invented by people who were fascinated by the way materials could be used to control electricity. It wasn’t clear when they were doing that original research exactly how the product would be used; it was much later that the potential was realized for commercial applications such as the microchip

Another example is Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple. When the Apple ][ computer was at its height, it was the main focus of the company and where all the money was coming from. The long term success of the Apple ][ platform was the strategic focus of the company.

At the time, in order to politically sideline him, Jobs was assigned to work on a seemingly non-strategic project, which was the Apple Macintosh, originally intended as a product for the education market. As successful as the Apple ][ was, ultimately, the innovation that came from launching the Macintosh massively eclipsed the Apple ][ and is a key product line to this day. Thank goodness for a non-strategic project.

4. It Might Be Worth It to Pursue a “Moonshot Idea”

It can be beneficial to allow a certain amount of time to work on complete “moonshot ideas”—
ideas that are highly risky but could change the company or the industry as a whole if they’re successful.

While these grand ideas have only proven to be occasionally successful, the payoff can be so huge when they do succeed that they are worth pursuing.

The bottom line is that you want to be good at being strategic, but not get so caught up in being so strategic that you miss out on a great opportunity for growth and success in your company that may not align with your strategy.

Parting Gift

My Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance, contains a blueprint for developing a successful strategy for your company as well as practices to aid in identifying new trends and opportunities to explore. You can download the first chapter for free here or purchase the book here.

Image credits: Pixabay and Unsplash

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

We Have the U.S. Military to Thank for the Internet and Other Key Technology

Why We Thank the US Military for the Internet

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

From the computers that are used to develop your app to the AI that’s incorporated into your chatbot, many of the technologies that are foundational to our digital world were either massively moved forward or funded by the military. Let’s go over some of those technologies.


The microchips that we know today are composed of millions of transistors which were first developed by Bell Labs in 1949. Through military funding, microchips were further improved and incorporated in airplanes and missiles for complex communication and guidance systems.

Today, microchips are one of the basic building blocks of modern electronics, from calculators and cameras to hearing aids, pacemakers, and spacecraft guidance systems, they’re found almost everywhere electronics exist.


Did you know that the very first computer was funded by the US Military? The ENIAC, built between 1943 and 1945, was the first large-scale computer to run at electronic speed without being slowed by any mechanical parts. It enabled the military to calculate complex wartime ballistic tables, decryption, etc.

Apart from our phones and laptops, computers can be found in our cars, washing machines, manufacturing companies, 3D printers, power plants, banks, and more.

Cellular Technology

The original versions of cellular phone technology were heavily backed by the military for point-to-point soldier communication on the battlefield since they were more beneficial and secure than conventional radio technology.

Today, 80% of the US population owns a smartphone, and our ability to text, call, and video chat with others is a direct result of improved cellular technology.

The Internet

What we know as the internet today started out as the ARPANET. Backed by the US Military, it was initially used for military and academic communication for joint development projects and as a means of communication in the event of a nuclear attack.

As of 2020, 4.66 billion people around the world are internet users. This interconnectivity gave rise to our digital world and serves as the backbone behind almost all digital transformation initiatives today.


Originally developed for the military to help them navigate terrain and develop weapon targeting systems, the first 20 satellites launched for GPS were funded and driven by the military.

Without GPS technology, we wouldn’t have Google Maps, Waze, or Uber. Depending on your business, there are many ways you can incorporate GPS technology to streamline processes and collect data.

Digital Cameras

The digital sensors used by cameras were developed by the military because of their need to capture and send images wirelessly from satellites in space for terrain mapping and espionage operations.

DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, product advertisements, and face recognition technology all came as a direct result of these digital sensors.


While there are a lot of non-military applications for drones today, the development of drones was initially funded by the US military to avoid any risk to pilots, fly undetected, and provide real-time footage of an area.

A common use for drones is to help farmers scatter seeds, deliver goods to customers, and collect photos or videos of different places, but there are plenty of other ways we can incorporate them into media, architecture, construction, and emergency response.

Artificial Intelligence

The defense sector is projected to spend about $2 billion in Artificial Intelligence this year. The ability to play out simulations, analyze and understand satellite communications, and improve disaster preparedness are just a few of the many ways AI can be utilized by the military.

Commercially, we see AI in digital assistants like Siri, Bixby, and Google Assistant; chatbots on websites and messaging apps; disease mapping; automated financial investing; virtual booking; and social media monitoring.

So the next time you use your smartphone, Alexa, computer, or GPS, remember to say thank you to a soldier!

In my Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance, I walk you through a simple five-step process to successful digital transformation. This methodology is proven and has worked for many companies that I’ve helped in the past. You can access the first chapter for free here or purchase the hard copy here.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.