Transforming your business with Digital Eagles

@Yann Gourvennec
6 May 2019

Transforming Your Business With Digital Eagles – The Innovation Super Heroes

Innovating, and in particular innovating in the digital sphere, and particularly transforming businesses, requires very different characters from the usual ones found in the field, in management. Without underestimating the needs or the difficulties of running a business, digital innovation is the essential ingredient of the strategy that will allow you to do 10x, multiplying your opportunities and thinking outside the box. To succeed in digital innovation, so that it goes beyond clichés about innovation and guarantees useful innovation as the outcome, you will have to find your “Digital Eagles”, a very specific kind of person, specialized in this area. Gregory Palliere, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of iRevolution, explains.

Digital Eagles: beyond classic innovation storytelling

While it is easy to list the characteristics of ‘true innovators’, finding those capable of taking charge of digital innovation from conception to implementation is another story. So, what makes a true digital innovator?

“Innovating with Digital Eagles”, Gregory’s mantra, sounded intriguing to me at first, but with hindsight, I find it incredibly apt. It perfectly illustrates the day to day reality of innovators who have lived and breathed innovation in the field for a long period of time.

This special group of people, who feel more comfortable in the world of innovation than operations and who do not just think about innovation about also know how to implement it, are what Gregory calls ‘Digital Eagles’.

They are capable of seeing things not only from on high but also at distance. To use Gregory’s metaphor, they are very comfortable going close to the ground looking for food. It is a metaphor that, in my opinion, accurately reflects the on-the-ground reality of innovation and it does so much better than many innovation clichés.

What does “Innovate with Eagles” mean?

What does it mean to ‘work with Digital Eagles’? Gregory Palliere notes that eagles can fly very high and are also able to go down very low. A Digital Eagle “is therefore someone who has a strategic vision and at the same time, a real specific expertise”.

These Digital Eagles are not “geeks” or simply thinking heads, but, rather, they are both at the same time. However, finding these dual characteristics is not easy, says Gregory.

“The hardest thing is to find people who are capable of having this strategic vision, who are about to say ‘this is where you have to go’ and, at the same time, who have the real life expertise on the ground to back it up.”

Eagles and other people found in the field

Experts and Eagles

It is relatively easy to find experts in their field. “They are the people down there,” says Gregory. He does not mean it in a pejorative sense but rather as a recognition that any expert is firmly anchored in their field – they are a person who knows their subject perfectly and is an outstanding technician. “But, often, they do not have the strategic vision of what they do.”

“The eagle is up in the sky and sees the rabbit – and thinks they will be able to catch and eat it!” says Gregory. But they are also able to regain height, even after discussing the field with the experts.

The expert, meanwhile, remains down on the ground, anchored in their area of expertise.

What are the consequences?

If you stay squarely within your area of expertise, you might be able to “eat a rabbit” (that is to say, obtain results closely related to your area, usually technical improvements – and usually at the margins). But even so, you will miss a lot of other potential gains. “What am I going to eat if I stay in my field because I am an expert?” asks Gregory. “I’m going to eat a mouse if I’m lucky and, even then, I’ll end up eating dirt too!”

“On the other hand, if our expert was able to take even the littlest flight, they would have seen that, in the field of next, there was another rabbit”, continues the co-founder of iRevolution.

In the field, there are many experts, super experts, gurus, technical experts and others who, unfortunately, remain stuck in their specialty when, in fact, they would be better to look outside their comfort zone.

When Consultants Meet Icarus…

There is another type of person – those which inhabit the large consulting firms. Sometimes they have been on the ground but, usually, not for very long, says Gregory. “They try to give a strategic vision, but often completely lose their overview vision of the field.”

Gregory calls this the Icarus syndrome. “Using a superb PowerPoint presentation, they will devise clever strategies but, in the end, they will burn their wings, just like Icarus. Why? Because they have lost their sense of the reality on the ground. They will have created in their mind’s eye, a device or process that has no chance of being delivered successfully.”

The Pigeons

“However, in the end, what do you find in 90% of companies?”, asks Gregory. “Pigeons!”

“Why are there so many pigeons? Because the system encourages their reproduction”, he explains. “The business world is entirely industrialized and tends to put everyone and everything in silos. These silos are populated by middle managers who, as soon as they have an idea are told: ‘Don’t touch that! That’s next door’s domain – they won’t like it. You do not have the right, so stay in your silo!’”

“Expertise is not valued. What is valued is managing the maximum of people while subcontracting everything that can be.”

“Becoming a middle manager, and staying there, makes people lose interest in attaining the height of the Eagle. When we created our company and looked to recruit, our real obsession was to find candidates who could fly, candidates who could gain altitude, or ones who had already done it”, says Gregory.

Only 1% of people have the real skills to become an Eagle

“You have to invest in innovation and the hardest thing is to detect the 1% of candidates who are capable of becoming Eagles. They could be 22, 35, 45 or 55 – age is not the issue. However, being able to detect the candidate’s ability to take a step back from what they are doing without fear of going down to the field level is incredibly difficult.”

It is those people iRevolution looks for in its team members: every employee has to be able to have a strategic vision while being a recognized guru in a particular area. They have to have it in them to become an Eagle and, according to Gregory, a maximum of six months is needed to make it as an Eagle.

“Of course, it is a challenge, the integration of candidates with these qualities is very complex, but it is the fundamental rule that means that our business will succeed now, and in the future, and that is why we put all our energy into these people”.

Finding Digital Eagles is, in effect, a pre-requisite for successful innovation, being able to reach 10x and guaranteeing excellence in digital transformation.


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