The Four Drivers of Success In 2021

Excellence in 2021, along with the rest of the 2020s, is well within reach for executives who can embody the post-pandemic leadership characteristics. Leaders who seize strategic opportunities by developing and collaborating with the community will inspire colleagues and outpace the competition.

Innovation Insights
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9
 Min read
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June 8, 2021

To start the new year, Vation Ventures usually assembles the technology community for a weekend together at an in-person forum to discuss the upcoming outlook on the year. However, this year, due to COVID-19, we chose to host a virtual forum, which allowed us to bring together an even greater number of participants across the community than ever before. We've found that we're all better together by breaking down the communication barriers and enabling all the ecosystem segments to collaborate directly. Just because we couldn't meet in person doesn't mean we would give up on the forum - we just had to be a little innovative.

Innovation Uncorked: 2021 featured several panels including, a view of 2021 by a multinational investment bank and financial services company, a venture capital panel with leading firms, an ecosystem panel made up of representatives from the entire technology value stream, and a presentation by our very own managing partner. These proven leaders distilled the lessons learned from 2020 and envisioned opportunities for the new year.

We’ve broken down four key themes to Innovation Uncorked that were threaded throughout the conversations:

1: Opportunistic Innovation

2: Deep Caring For People

3: Collaboration & Community

4: Tactical Timing

Opportunistic Innovation

Over half of the executives described creating net-new innovation opportunities due to COVID-19 as how they define success in 2021. Derived from their insights about leading change, these executives and leaders recognize that significant disruption, as the chaos of 2020, creates new configurations and new opportunities to enter and dominate markets. In 2020, lockdowns and distancing protocols drove demand for teleconferencing platforms beyond all previous levels. Although competing platforms had superior name recognition and corporate backing, Zoom emerged from the teleconferencing wars as a huge winner—primarily because of their pace of rapid innovation and agile marketing. Zoom took the lead by making their subscription level free, temporarily removing time restrictions from the free version, and iterating through several major point releases in response to user suggestions, use cases, and issues. Nothing about the Zoom platform pre-COVID was inherently superior to Skype, WebEx, Google Meet, etc. The leaders at Zoom built their advantage through innovative marketing backed up by innovative platform development. For product and service lines across many industries, the same principles will apply--take advantage of the disruption to develop and deploy new approaches while customers revisit their needs and open to new providers.

Opportunistic innovation isn't always about the external ways people gravitate towards but also how companies can pivot internally to change how they function. In our venture capital panel, we heard how portfolio companies had to become lean by cutting costs and getting efficient to organize themselves to elongate their capital, so they weren't burning so much cash. A consensus across the venture firms that this internal restructuring positioned these organizations to emerge stronger than pre-COVID times.

Like many stories we've heard from IT executives across our roundtable sessions, the underlying takeaway from the past year was the warp speed shift in digital transformation brought on by the pandemic. In our ecosystem panel, we heard how the technology community is now seeing an unleashed level of incredible productivity; that said, there is a fight across all to keep the engagement up while still maintaining this new level of productivity... this is proving to be a challenge.

With last year's drastic acceleration of digital transformation, one panelist in our ecosystem panel noted the importance of past investments in cloud platforms will give the supplier, partner, and the client the ability to manage cloud consumption or as a service consumption across a multitude of technologies. Instead of going to this console for infrastructure or that console for this software for each vendor or supplier, the end client can manage and see analytics of their entire consumption of as a service.

In one of the CIO surveys completed by one of the VC firms, 85% of CIOs said that the COVID crisis had not dampened in any way their desire to work with startups. In many cases, CIOs were more inclined to work with emerging technology companies because the unique challenges that the pandemic brought had to be addressed through novel approaches, which by definition, usually come from startups.

Some additional areas of opportunistic innovation priorities in 2021 include market gaps in resiliency around current networks, edge computing, next-generation LTE or 5G, operationalizing real-time access to growing data lakes, automation across the enterprise, DevOps and engineering productivity, and a new growing market of "the future of work." Another survey across CIOs from a VC fund panelist stated that almost 40% have a higher budget this year, so there is a substantial opportunity for emerging technology companies to fill some of these voids in 2021.

This explosion of new technologies and ideas does come with checks and balances and it’s vital that emerging technologies who look to enter the market understand their position in what we illustrate as the Vation Ventures Innovation Rubric.

Having a high company competency with a low solution relevance is a recipe for disaster and something that is seen so many times. Take a search on Google for “Failed Startups” and you’ll be surprised the amount of companies who have made it in to multiple series rounds of extensive funding and the short reason for failure is often “there is no market for their product” or they weren’t welcomed in the market. Your organization needs to operate in what we call “The Fairway” and we can help make sure that’s where your business lives.

Deep Caring for People

The deep care for people was a thread across Innovation Uncorked, we heard different perspectives from the VARs, OEMs, distributors, and end customers - no matter the outlook on 2021, there was consistency in how, over the past year, they've attempted to support their employees and their customers in different ways. Maybe it was creative financing to help organizations in a tight spot or a shift in mindset from only selling a solution to making it a reality in the customer environment. Maybe it took a global pandemic to highlight the gaps in internal communication policies to show leaders how truly distributed they were as a company and how detrimental that can be if you don't take the opportunity to pull back together and look towards looking at your people.

Because innovation takes intellectual capital, the second most highly-rated leader attribute is caring for their people. This dimension requires executives to complement their leadership presence and sector expertise with emotional intelligence to understand what inspires the workforce. People can be a source of unique insights, practical applications, and solutions built on divergent thinking. Human capital is undefined but not unconstrained, so great leaders knock down obstacles and explicitly unleash potential. When they care deeply for the people they lead, executives are committed to providing development opportunities that build and apply new workplace skills. Investment in people can turn a competent workforce into an impressive engine of crowd-sourced solutions. Training in lateral thinking and structured brainstorming can enhance the collective creativity of colleagues and work teams and change this "future of work."

As leaders develop human capacity, they can also develop human confidence by delegating authentic responsibility to prototype and evaluate new approaches. When workers have opportunities to propose and implement innovations, they take that responsibility seriously and are much more likely to deliver breakthrough products and services.

2020 forced individuals to re-think how they approached situations and leadership with a greater sense of humanity and humility. Working together as a community throughout the technology value stream highlights the nuances with what otherwise might seem like a simple purchase of goods and services. A strong connection with the community can help with those nuances, but there needs to be a connection in place to start.

Collaboration & Community

A third excellence attribute at Innovation Uncorked was called out as over 70% of attendees stated they were all-in on expanding their external community. Those leaders observed that collaboration & community depends on personal and organizational awareness. When leaders understand their strengths and limitations, they assemble support and leadership teams that provide compensatory skills and extend natural strengths.

In organizational terms, the same process emerges when leaders conduct reflective audits of organizational strengths and core competencies. If there are mission-critical or support functions where the organization has not matured to excellence, then collaboration with external providers delivers substantial benefits. That said, even as organizations mature, the community meter should never be full. There is always an increase in value by a growing network across industries, companies, geographies, and other niches.

These differences point to how others do something uniquely or similarly and the good and bad lessons learned. When the technology community can come together and break down the communication silos they often operate in, they see a better view of the friction or sludge in the pipeline and find ways to overcome this together in a better, faster, and more innovative way.

The community who joined for Innovation Uncorked were modeling the practice of strategic collaboration—accessing and extending each others' wisdom while building professional networks of support and success. This is what we love about what we do and the forum, our platform, and the services we offer the community because you can see immediate tangible results when everyone can sit at the same table and share their insights.

Tactical Timing

Dave O'Callaghan, our managing partner here at Vation Ventures asked the participants which dimensions they saw as most critical to their successes in 2021 - it shouldn't be a surprise that collaboration and time were the two leading dimensions.

Whether seizing an opportunity or empowering human capital, 2020 taught us the importance of leaders being able to recognize the power of tactical timing. Taking the right action is always critical, but even the right initiative delayed or launched prematurely can undermine success. The leaders who thrive in future disruption will be prepared and manifest the attribute of productive impatience.

Effective leaders in 2021 will recognize and act decisively to accelerate improvement initiatives or launch new offerings with prior identification of the criteria and conditions most prone to success. When leaders have attended to their own personal expertise and have cultivated a collaborative community, they are equipped to act decisively and earn their organization's confidence. The key to effective timing is being primed to recognize and respond so that hesitation does not squander the ideal moment.

This detriment of hesitation was noted in our VC panel as those portfolio companies that paused had a much different outcome over the past few months than those who took immediate decisive and strategic action.

When viewing time as purely a constraint, a CIO on our ecosystem panel stated how hard it is for organizations to have the bandwidth to create new capabilities by themselves or search for the new talent that is required to establish said capability maturely while still focusing on day to day delivery of core business delivery. This lack of time can hamper many companies' ability, especially large organizations that have established governance processes that are not well-tuned for innovative criteria, to continue to innovate and respond to uncertainty or emerging opportunities at the same rate technology is developing. That's a problem.

The inefficient linear model

The delay in timing across the ecosystem is where we see the immense value in accelerating the communication flow between the upstream, midstream, and downstream of the technology community to drive innovation. Time is the ultimate measurement of value, and without the time to execute, the time to research, or without the time to collaborate, we will not meet our goals in 2021; none of us will.

The Vation Ventures Model

Excellence in 2021, along with the rest of the 2020s, is well within reach for executives who can embody the post-pandemic leadership characteristics. Leaders who seize strategic opportunities by developing and collaborating with the community will inspire colleagues and outpace the competition.

At Vation Ventures, we know that disruption is relentless, and innovation is complex. We look forward to being a critical piece of your team to give you the tools you need to stay educated on opportunistic innovation while building your connection with the community.

We're bullish on you, and we're bullish on innovation. Get in touch with us today and we’ll show you the incredible things we can do together.

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