All too often, teams tasked with digital transformation fail. It can happen despite the best of intentions, promising beginnings, and whether the innovation team is composed of insiders, people outside the organization, or a blend of both.
Why? Well, digital transformation is complicated. The teams leading it need high performance, as all business leadership does. But they also operate under difficult conditions that high performers in more conventional businesses do not have to deal with.
As a recent Harvard Business Review article observes, most organizational environments focus on maximizing already defined chief products and services. Digital transformation teams need to focus on that, but also need an environment in some flux, so that it can accept the impress of new ideas, systems, and methods.
The HBR also points out that not all high-performing people have the qualities needed to helm innovation teams. The authors identify three qualities that indicate the capability for success in leading digital transformation.
Innovators need to be high performers, but also have unique qualities.
One: Negative Capability
You might remember the term “negative capability” from English class. It means being able to work in the face of uncertainty – the ability to accept a lack of answers and keep exploring. It means not freezing in the face of a lack of clarity. In a business setting, it can be understood as the ability to be comfortable with uncertainty without being stressed by its existence.
People who don’t have negative capability often reach conclusions too quickly, simply because they are uncomfortable with hanging in an uncertain zone.
Two: “Chaos Pilot” Ability
People who lead the innovation team need to be comfortable with uncertainty, but they also need to be “chaos pilots” within it. The term, which HBR attributes to a Danish business school of the 1990s, Kaospilot, means the ability to lead and execute goals in the middle of chaos. That means, in the middle of chaos, they can develop a viable structure and actionable steps within it.
A chaos pilot in business terms can be thought of as the person who can fly at night, in a storm, with limited navigation equipment, and successfully reach the landing pad without crashing.
Three: Crucial Neuropsychological Qualities
The authors also advise looking for three crucial qualities that are more about neuropsychology than about leadership per se. They are divergent thinking, convergent action, and communication.
Divergent thinking means that the person can put together information and concepts that are usually considered to be in different realms. This allows them to put together ideas and opportunities in unique ways – ways that competitors can overlook.
And convergent action? That means the person can not only put together dissimilar concepts but can also execute on the resulting new information. Convergent action is the linchpin between the concepts and a resultant product, and the steps to get to the product.
Finally, new ideas have to be communicated in a way that will influence business strategy and action. The three abilities together are rare, but necessary if transformation is to be a success.