Great Leaders Use Tech To Answer Better Questions

April 9th, 2015

I’ve recently spoken with executives at two organizations within the healthcare space, companies that occupy a similar service niche, yet approach technology in fundamentally different ways.

(I’m not going to disclose either the organizations or the niche; my focus here is on a more general concept.)

The first organization has grown organically over the years, and now is starting to employ emerging technologies to address the evolving, expressed needs of their customers.  Executives believe new technology will allow the organization to continue to do what is now does, but with greater efficiency – in other words, to answer questions better.

The second organization, in contrast, began life as a startup.  Though now much larger and well established, it has retained key members of the founding team and, apparently, key elements the founding culture.  This company also seeks to use technology to improve efficiency.  But – and this seems critical – management also hopes to drive “not just more efficient, but better science,” in the words of a senior executive, who adds, “what are the new things we can do now because of technology?”  This company, in other words, wants to use technology to answer better questions.

Both organizations, today, are successful by standard metrics.  If you check back in five years, I expect that the first company will be chugging along much like it is today, faring reasonably well in its corner of the world.

In contrast, my sense is that the second organization has the opportunity to assume an even more dominant place in an ecosystem it has already significantly disrupted – or perhaps, more accurately, has the opportunity to disrupt other regions of the ecosystem, and assume an even more prominent stature.

It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that both companies are equally well managed, but just managed towards different goals, and correspondingly, employ very different sorts of people.  Maybe the folks in the first organization couldn’t handle the orthogonal thinking the second organization continuously demands.  Perhaps those working for the second organization would not find themselves adequately inspired if they worked for the first organization.

Even so, I can’t help but be struck by the amount of potential it seems that companies like the first organization are leaving on the table.  By managing so conservatively for the needs of the present, they are missing out on the chance to create and inhabit a far more expansive and impactful future.