Ensuring that you have the necessary personnel and internal skillset is a central tenet of digital innovation. However, as vital a part as leaders, such as data or digital transformation officers play, they're role is best defined by creating the framework and vision that provides the catalyst for change - from the ground up.
Once they've created an environment that fosters innovation and the creative use of technology, their expertise (and budget) allows them to direct the ideas and needs of those working on the ‘shop floor' of the business. They are best placed to understand the friction points - they're living them. They may not necessarily know how technology can resolve the issues and pick low hanging fruit, but they are experts in identifying them in the first place.
It's also important that, at every level of the company, employees feel like their opinions are shaping the strategy and they are being invested in. They are then far less likely to resist change, if they are key instigators. One of greatest hurdles to successful digital innovation is internal cultural resistance, perhaps more so than technology or budgetary challenges.
This is understandable given the integral role of employees in an organisation - they are the organisation. Therefore, not only are they best placed to provide ideas for proof-of-concept schemes but tapping into all levels of the business ensures everyone is included in any wide-ranging transformation, sharing a common ethos, and are invested in the outcomes.
"Fail fast, fail often" may be yet another cliché in an topic replete with them but there's still value within it. Teams at Google X, the tech giant's experimental ‘moonshot' research arm, have famously been applauded and given bonuses for cancelling failing projects. This freedom to fail is a cultural climate they have dubbed "psychological safety".
While not every company can afford to regularly wave goodbye to multi-million-dollar projects without seeing a return, there are important lessons here. Firstly, that it's ok to fail. It's a natural steppingstone to innovation success. Digital initiatives are almost invariably complex and time consuming, particularly at the leading edge and particularly when the end result appears simple. Simple systems are often the result of a long, hard won iterative process. Secondly, whether it's a moonshot or not, recognising when something isn't going to work, putting it aside and moving on is a real skill and deserves greater recognition. It's a sign of someone who cares less about outward appearances and more about getting results and avoiding needless resource wastage.
This mindset also encourages employees to do the hardest thing first. It can be easy to cross off the easy tasks first when undertaking a project. It gives you a sense of progress and achievement. However, it makes sense to start with the thing that may end up making the scheme untenable, and potentially avoiding wasting time on the things that you know will work in the process.
If those at the top provide the vision and framework for innovation below them, and the freedom to fail, then they'll be rewarded with ideas that breed success.