Supporting employees with contrarian views can make a business smarter

Many CXOs anticipate changing the way their organizations are led and managed. How do you advise leaders to make decentralized decisions? What's the role of the CXO in this?

Decentralization is an abjugation of responsibilities. Nothing happens anymore in isolation; everything is connected. Decentralization in and of itself is bad; it's as bad as ultra-centralization. What's key is to find a balance between that which is done centrally/globally and that which is done locally.

In the marketing world, brands need to be global. Websites need to be global. Marketing of high-end content needs to be global. But PR, recruitment marketing, client events - they can and should be local.

What do you think of putting scouts on the frontline and getting input from your customers? Do you believe that speaking to your customers is the best way to see how markets are changing?

Input from customers is obviously important. Social listening is important. But that's not the whole answer. Customer input doesn't substitute for your own imagination. Just look at the companies I've previously mentioned - Google, Amazon and the like. They didn't do what they did by responding to customers; they created whole new categories their future customers couldn't dream of.

In many cases, products and companies come into existence for reasons vastly different than originally intended. The Internet was developed in the US as a defensive military weapon in the Cold War. Alexander Graham Bell's telephone started by looking for a way to bring opera to the masses.

In the words of Henry Ford, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

What are the top 3 ways companies can stay nimble and innovative while competing with disruptors, upstarts and innovators?

1. Compete with innovators; don't ignore them. Don't believe they're not relevant to your industry. Recognize them as a threat, compete with them, and you'll get ideas.

2. Build a nimble structure. People are innovative but the structure supporting them doesn't always allow for ideas to come to fruition. Kodak is a good example of that. The executives at Kodak were well aware of the tsunami about to hit them; they just couldn't get their organization to respond. Conversely, IBM in the PC days got it right. They disrupted themselves from mainframes by creating a skunkworks operation to innovate what was arguably the best PC in the industry.

3. Listen to the disruptors in your own organization. They are often marginalized and laughed at, but they can often be the front lines for innovation.

Charles Doyle, Ph.D.

Chief Marketing Officer

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