Brian Solis is Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, where he studies global digital trends and their impact on growth and innovation in market dynamics. Previously, Brian served as Principal Analyst at Altimeter Group. He’s also a renowned keynote speaker and eight-time bestselling author, exploring what he calls “Digital Darwinism.” You can find Brian on LinkedIn here, Twitter here, and his personal website here.
After getting his start in enterprise technology, Brian set out to become a digital anthropologist in the ’90s when the consumerization of the internet took off. He noticed that companies were now directly targeting consumers with technology, and he knew this would change their behaviors, decision-making and even values. He wanted to be on the forefront of understanding these shifts in order to help executives reverse-engineer their products and services to meet evolving customer needs.
After more than twenty years of analyzing and rethinking the future of business and work—as an analyst, author and speaker—in March, he joined Salesforce as the company’s first Global Innovation Evangelist.
As Global Innovation Evangelist, Brian’s main objective is to inspire executives and decision-makers to think bigger about how technology can transform their business. This means challenging conventional thinking, and at times leaving behind traditional best practices in order to meet evolving customer expectations and begin building a business of the future. In turn, Brian says hearing directly from decision-makers about the on-the-ground challenges they face helps inspire new ideas for him, starting the cycle over again.
Brian has identified something he calls “Digital Darwinism” as a major threat to organizations. Digital Darwinism is the idea that technology, and the world, are evolving so rapidly that most organizations struggle to keep up. The ultimate consequence of failing to keep pace with innovation is obsolescence.
The challenges of Digital Darwinism are often exacerbated by executives’ inertia. When a business is doing well and has momentum, it can be a difficult decision to divert resources and attention to move in a new direction, even if that short-term loss could set the company up for long-term success. Brian cites Blockbuster’s refusal to purchase Netflix for $50 million, and its subsequent bankruptcy, as a prime example of Digital Darwinism at work.
To avoid becoming obsolete, Brian believes companies must invest in digital transformation. He defines digital transformation as using technology for a greater good; i.e., looking for opportunities to enhance or streamline operations and business models using technology to advance an organization. Brian also stresses that digital transformation needs to be outcome-based; in order for a business to “move forward” it needs to first know where it’s going.
Brian says businesses tend to think of every new thing they do as innovation—but that’s not necessarily the case. There are two major categories of change in business: innovation and iteration.
Iteration involves deploying technology—AI, machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA), etc.—to improve an existing process, making it more efficient, more scalable or even autonomous. Innovation, though, is unearthing entirely new opportunities for creating value, something that the organization and the market didn’t have before. Both are critical to business success, and Brian emphasizes the importance that they operate in parallel.
Ultimately, Brian wants the world to break up linear thinking and empower creativity. Technology will inevitably change the workforce, as automation takes over the most monotonous tasks. The value of this disruption is that it opens up more space for curiosity and imagination throughout an organization. With greater bandwidth, employees can dedicate their time to high-level questions about how their operations may be improved, where there is room to expand or how to better stack up against competitors.