Big day out for CIOs

Today’s CIOs are busier than ever, but business strategist Donna Sturgess says a day off from the office for an “immersion” will refresh their view of the organisation, and generate new ideas for innovation.

The key is to go to a place or do an activity they are “very unfamiliar with”, says Sturgess, president of Buyology and former global head of innovation for GlaxoSmithKline. “Go out together as a team and watch people,” says Sturgess. And it does not have to cost a lot of money. “Somewhere in New Zealand there is an annual fair, a festival or event. You can take them out for the day.

“Because it is a physical as well as a mental experience, you stimulate productive thinking,” says Sturgess, who espouses the concept in her book Eyeballs Out. She says technology companies do these immersion experiences. “It stimulates a different kind of conversation in terms of what is meaningful to people.”

“In this busy life, we are bombarded by email, meetings and all these things we think we have to do,” she tells CIO New Zealand. But these activities will not generate fresh ideas. “You are not going to find them on your computer or your spreadsheet or your meetings. You really have to step away and step out of your context to discover something new.”

The team can be composed of executives and staff across business units. In an immersion, they do not have to be good at the activity. This, she says, “levels the playing field” for all team members.

Sturgess, who has no military background, cites her experience while visiting an aircraft carrier. “I couldn’t get over how many thoughts I had about my own business by being on that carrier,” she says. “You take on the mind of a beginner and what happens in that instance is that your brain actually slows down and absorbs information differently.”

Like an epiphany? “Sort of like that,” she says, with a laugh. “It is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. You have a bunch of different pieces and I have to figure out where this fits.

“It is going to open your eyes up to the business,” she says. “I tell people don’t do this so linearly. If you work in the food business, going on an immersion tour in a restaurant is not going to teach you anything.”

She says a company that is doing work on green technology, for instance, can visit an organic farm, and ‘dimensionalise’ what they mean when they say they are making their product green. Similarly, an immersion in the winery will be for a business “that might be involved in fabric or clothing or things where you have a more sensory experience, how does wine do that?”

A caveat: If you do organise that big day out, it is best to leave your “technology tools” behind. Otherwise, says Sturgess, “You have not stepped into a new world. You are still back in the office. People are calling you in your cellphone, you are playing with your Blackberry.

“The ‘partial attention world’ is not getting you anything on a day-to-day basis. If you go on an immersion and give it your partial attention, you should just stay home.”

Sidebar: The innovation kickstarter

What customer experience is possible if the technology is available?
This is just one of the questions the team at Fuji Xerox’s R & D Square aims to answer. The building at the seaside port of Yokohama, which opened in April, contains the Customer Collaboration Laboratory where company researchers meet with customers to resolve their issues in document service, and how to help the workplace facilities and work styles to reduce CO2 emission.

The company’s research on sustainability is also conducted in the building, which is designed to accommodate the latest environmentally friendly features. A unique feature is the Eco Scheduler that shows how much CO2 is emitted during the workday and can predict how much should be emitted based on the schedule the following day.

Tadahito Yamamoto, Fuji Xerox president, says the goal is to conduct a new style of research and development that differs from “conventional R and D”.

The layout in the offices are all open plan, with a circular corridor designed to promote both “purposeful and accidental communication”.

The company says the programmes at the R & D centre are aimed to meet the challenges of today’s manufacturers such as flexible production of diversified products, a short product cycle and the globalisation of production.

One floor hosts the Digital Design Improvement concept where computer aided design data allows development engineers to resolve numerous issues even before making a prototype of a product.

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