Technology is growing exponentially. Industries are merging, and new ones are being born.

It’s becoming clearer that there is no longer such a thing as a digital strategy – just strategy in a digital world.

According to author, innovation expert and strategic advisor Stefan Lindegaard, leadership, innovation and new technologies are fully connected today – and people are the key driver for all of them. If we’re going to keep pace with change, we need to strategize differently – which means thinking differently about industries, organizational structures, and leadership.

So how do we actually do this?

We sat down with Stefan ahead of his #IntraCnf Singapore Trending Topic Talk to find out how to balance the old and the new when it comes to strategy, how to know if our strategy is working, and why the C-Suite needs to look very different if we want to succeed.


Your view is that we need a new approach to leadership, organization, structures and in how we think of industries and competition. Why, and what does that look like?

The first step is to address the people working with innovation, the innovation professionals within Innovation Management. They need to realize and acknowledge that we cannot separate innovation from digital and new technologies. It all comes together now.

This technological growth, and the changes it causes, is very much a result of the exponential growth in the development of these things here in Singapore, and more importantly how these technologies are merging. However, as technologies are merging we also need to know what that means for the industrial landscape, the competitive landscape.

Singapore is a good example. Companies are not in trouble, but they need to be a bit careful about what they do for the next 20 years. They realized this and have set up some initiatives in Singapore, and also identified about 25 industries that were important for Singapore. But when you look at these industries, they are very traditional. I’m arguing that because of merging technologies, we’re starting to see merging industries, even new industries.

A good example is automotive. We don’t really call it the auto industry anymore. We don’t really have a name for it. Is it Smart Cars? Is it Mobility?

What is it now, and how does it all come together? A state or country like Singapore will have to address not only their traditional industries, but also those that are merging and coming together as new ones, because that’s where the real opportunities are going to be.


It sounds like you’re saying it’s not that old is an obstacle and new is the solution, but that old and new have to work together. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

Well, 10 or 15 years ago I would have argued that we should just throw out all the old and bring in the new; but, as we get older and a bit wiser we realize that in order to be successful we need to respect what’s already in place.

There’s a legacy. There’s a history. There’s a set of systems. There’s a way things are working. There’s a way to make money. We need to respect that.

We also need to respect that it’s not possible to just change everything and, more importantly, we cannot just change the skills and the abilities of our employees, or even our leaders. This will be more of a gradual change, although it’s going to have to happen quite fast for those that want to prosper and survive.

So the trick is: how can we best use what’s already in place? How can we leverage the current situation of the company, and then bring it together with the new things, the new skills, the new capabilities, the new opportunities? That is the big challenge right now.


As an innovator you have to comply with the old – governance, financial structures, etc – but at the same time, you also want to improve it, change it into the new. How do you do that on a daily basis?

I’m a big proponent of hybrid solutions. The work we do with innovation, with innovation management professionals, is often around finding the right balance between old and new. It’s also around organizational structures. When we examine how organizations work today, we realize they aren’t really setup for the future we’re headed towards, which is going to be much more open, much more transparent, much more networked. We’ll have to adapt our organizations.

But again, going back to the old and the new, it’s about finding the right balance. How much old should you keep? How much new should you bring in? More importantly: how fast you can do this? There’s no doubt in my mind that we need to do things much faster. Many companies will go down if they don’t make some significant changes in the next 12-24 months.

On the other hand, if you push too hard, if you push too fast, the organization simply breaks and then you don’t get anywhere. So again, we need to find the right balance between old and new, but also find the right balance of speed, how fast you should move.


How do you know you’re getting this balance right?

That’s a very good question! And really, it’s not an innovation question. To be honest, innovation leaders and managers have very little impact in their organizations. The only people that can really make things happen are C-Suite, and they need to find ways in which they can cope with this uncertainty; and coping with uncertainty also means that they will have to acknowledge that they won’t really be able to know when they’re imbalanced. They’re going to be in a state where they need to get things done, they need to change their organizations, but they aren’t sure whether or not they’re doing the right things.

Of course this will be more obvious in some industries than others, but it’s going be very, very challenging to be an executive in the coming years. It’s also going to be very stimulating.

I interact with many executives, and what I sense in them is that they’re confused, and some of them are even outright scared of what’s going on right now.

The organizations led by leaders who have come to terms with this new reality are going have some very interesting opportunities; those who do not get it will have to get out of those jobs and leave them for a new generation of executives.


Is there any best practice around creating a more agile strategy process?

Look at a company like Facebook: they have a vision of where they want to be 20 years from now. Some Chinese companies are looking forward 100 years, and I think that’s where we need to go. We need a vision of where we want to be, a strong ‘why’ for our company.

How we approach strategy, and how leaders approach it, that will take a fundamental mind shift change. You can no longer strategize for one, three, or five years. For strategy development, you need to get down to months, three to six month cycles, in which you sit down and address and evaluate how well your strategy serves your vision, your ‘why’. In an industry where you’re talking about years, maybe really heavy industries, then you’re going to be in trouble pretty soon.


With such rapid time frames, how do you assess whether or not your strategy is working?

We need to focus on what I call human factors in leadership as well as innovation management. We need to acknowledge that people are very much analog beings. The knowledge we have, the experience we have, the relationships we have, every thought inside our heads: it’s not something that’s easily available, if at all, to others.

We also have emotional intelligence; we are very much driven by emotions and feelings. So we’ve got some issues with the human factors. There are positive aspects, but there are also negative aspects. We need to get to a point where we can work with these human factors plus digital capabilities.

I have a couple of focus areas here. One of them is not business intelligence, but decision intelligence. How can we make better decisions by combining our human factors and our digital capabilities for innovation? We’re finally starting to see an infrastructure that allows us to go in and work with open innovation in a way where we can work virtually, but more importantly also co-create IPR. Through machine learning we can get better knowledge there, and through lecture technologies we’ll be able to actually see who contributes what.

I imagine five to seven years from now, we’ll have systems in place that will allow us to create simulations of our innovation projects: you don’t have to bring it to market, you can instead run simulations. That’s a very exciting topic here right now.

2017, in my view, is the cut-off point where we look from the old companies to the new companies in terms of who is using that sort of technology, and definitely in terms of companies providing the service and platforms.


You mentioned a new generation of executives. How are they different from today’s generation of executives, and where do we find them?

Here’s what’s playing out right now, and is going to be very prevalent in the next three to five years. A company will get in trouble, either losing their top line or bottom line, their profits. The Board of Directors is going to look at the executives and say, “What happened?” And the executives will look back and say, “You know what? We don’t really know…” because they didn’t understand it. They didn’t see the changes coming, the disruption it brought along.

So The Board of Directors is going look at these guys, these executives, and say, “You’re out. We need someone else.” The challenge is the guys who are in charge now are usually in their late forties and fifties. They’re white and, most often, men. We need to start asking Boards, “Should we hire someone similar, with a very good chance of being in the same situation a few years from now?”

It’s important to note it’s not really about age, it’s more about mindset. And there are exceptions: The new CEO of Ford, Jim Hackett, he’s actually in his sixties but he has a pretty good understanding of all the things happening in the digital automotive industry. But, if you look at the age group and demographic we work with here, they have some difficulties understanding what’s happening in the digital and new technology areas.

So the Board of Directors will have to say, “Okay, we don’t want another fifty-year-old white CEO or Senior VP. We need someone who really understands these things. Maybe we need to look at someone in their early thirties.” The challenge, however, is that to get someone who fully understands this, who lives and breathes digital? They generally have very limited leadership experience.

That is exactly the gamble they’ll have to take; but, I would rather take that gamble than go with someone who does not understand digitalization and the opportunities and challenges it brings.


So is it better, then, to look outside the walls of the current organization to find the next, best leaders?

No. I would put in a lot of effort to identify and develop these talents today, and groom them for higher leadership positions in the next three to five years. I worked with a company of nine thousand people, two thousand of them blue collar, and the CEO said that he could probably only name ten to twelve people fitting the profile we were discussing. So it’s a very, very limited number of people inside the organization; but again, it’s just as limited outside and more importantly, the competition with these people is going to be ridiculous.

I mean, there’s going to be so much demand for young leaders who really understand this, just as there’s going to be crazy competition for data scientists.

So the best course of action is to find these people inside your organization, people with the right mindset and understanding, and nurture them. Develop them.

Really, we need to start moving away from traditional hierarchies and functions, from traditional structures – but we still need leaders, leaders who are comfortable operating faster and more openly, more collaboratively.

If you’re committed to this sort of shift in your organization generally, natural leaders will emerge.