Silicon Valley’s worship of innovation can get in the way of actual change

It’s easy to be seduced by shiny new ideas without asking how to execute them.
It’s easy to be seduced by shiny new ideas without asking how to execute them.
Image: Reuters/Marcelo del Pozo
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The tech industry prides itself on innovation, taking any opportunity to talk about cutting edge, pioneering, or revolutionary ideas. But too often it skips past what it means to make innovation work, especially at scale.

As a tech CEO for the past 13 years, I have seen thousands of good notions fade away because the creative came without consideration to the practical, functional or secure.

A great deal of the time, the problem is simply that companies don’t do the work. They don’t push enough or they push in the wrong direction. But sometimes, it is merely the seductive nature of a perfect picture on the whiteboard that gets in the way.

Ideas must have the context to live and succeed. How ideas fit into the market and the world and what problems or challenges they will address need careful consideration. When we over-emphasize innovation, it’s too easy to be excited by a perfect picture without considering how it will operate in reality.

Unfortunately, the picture alone carries no water, generates zero revenue and solves nothing until put into action.

CEOs should not only focus on finding the best ideas, but also on how to convert them into meaningful outcomes. That first question is so very important: Great idea, but can we make it work?

Operational efficiency already exists throughout the tech sector. It is the bar of entry. However, to keep pace with the relentless need to execute, we need our teams to drive beyond efficiency and continuously evolve their skills to confront a perpetually changing market demands. To maintain a competitive execution track the delivery at scale will always change, reskilling is the key.

Unfortunately, corporate America is terrible at reskilling. Fortune Magazine reported this summer that American companies allocated $2.7 Billion to support 506,000 apprentices. Germany, by contrast, is spending $9 Billion on 1.4 million apprentices and their economy is one-fourth the size of the U.S.

Reskilling takes time, and that adds to the already daunting expense. The temptation is to turn the gig economy and buy the skills required. But that minor short-term appeal isn’t sustainable in the long-term. It is protecting today by sacrificing tomorrow.

In order to succeed in the new digital economy, technology companies need to extend their focus from “wow” to how, which require both respect for execution from the onset and real investments in updating the skills of their workforces.

Winning requires long-term sustainable growth. Everything else is a footnote in history.

Mike Gregoire is CEO of CA Technologies, a global software company.