September 24, 2020 by Speakers' Spotlight
Navigating Disruption with Shawn Kanungo
Joining us for our Virtual Speaker Series, disruption strategist Shawn Kanungo hosted a hybrid session combining a socially distanced in-person audience with our usual virtual attendees. In his presentation, Shawn outlined some of the challenges we face while working in this moment along with insights and strategies to find new opportunities among all the upheaval.
To begin, Shawn conducted a live poll of the audience to get some feedback on how people are finding work and life during the pandemic. Among the answers, many people responded that working from home had been a major and mostly positive change. While the consensus seemed to be that working from home was allowing for more time to focus on life at home (family, cooking, hobbies, etc.) Shawn was quick to point out that from his experience, working and consulting with teams from many organizations, it is a bad environment for long-term innovation. So how do we overcome this pitfall?
“The beautiful thing about innovation is that anyone can do it.” With that phrase underlining his advice throughout this session, Shawn argued it was important to put some habits/strategies in place to help build innovation into our daily work from home routines. He said that innovation is mostly born from organic interactions, with varied ideas and people coming together. If we work from home without much of an active plan, Shawn said, it’s easy to become siloed and end up without much cross-pollination of ideas or talent. He put forward that fostering innovation while working from home means we need to create more “collisions” between different types of team members. We need to replicate the off-the-cuff chat in the lunchroom or the post-work drink that leads to a brainstorming session for a tough problem. To do that, Shawn said we can try to build small, diverse, cross-functioning teams where possible and especially build in some “no agenda” virtual meetings/hangouts in the normal work week.
This people-first approach to innovation tied into Shawn’s next point, which was about the source of positive change and transformation. While the audience agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects were accelerating digital transformation, Shawn made sure to frame this transformation as being largely driven by our need to adapt—not new or more technology. As Shawn put it, “Technology enables efficiency, not transformation.” He said that tech is great for efficiency; it leads to automation, standardization and streamlining. Real innovation, and therefore transformation, comes from new ideas and insights. It’s about creating the future, and so that comes from us, not the tools we use.
One way that we can capitalize on the disruption of the moment and the technology that has enabled us to work from home is to turn more to collaboration and partnership. As Shawn put it, “Everyone is a remote worker now.” Since that’s the case, it’s easy to loop in our coworkers and peers on new ideas and projects and to especially explore new partnerships.
Looking at the big picture moving forward, Shawn highlighted the importance of appreciating that innovation does not simply mean a new product or service. We can innovate in how we organize and communicate, or make changes to our users’ experience. That being the case, and since innovation is one of the strongest tools we have to navigate and thrive during disruptive times, Shawn argued that means it’s time to change how people are being managed. He said it’s so important to incentivize people to go out and experiment and to do that we need to remove the fear and worry from not always performing at our maximum capacity.
If we can do that—and shift our mindset away from innovation being a monolithic undertaking and toward it being driven by small, agile experiments—then new possibilities will abound. And, Shawn said towards the end of his presentation, this moment is a catalyst for new opportunities. We should figure out how we want things to be as our world is undergoing this transformation, and be bold as we embrace a more innovative approach to doing good work.
Shawn Kanungo is a disruption strategist who works at the intersection of creativity, business, and technology. He has been recognized nationally and globally for his work in the innovation space after 12 years of working at Deloitte. Shawn’s mandate at the firm was to help corporate executives to better understand and plan for the opportunities and threats associated with disruptive innovation.
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