With the Chief Information Officer role in transition, business expectations of the CIO have also changed. In this episode, we talk with a seasoned CIO, Christian Anschuetz, who left that position to become Chief Digital Officer of Underwriters Laboratories. The discussion explores the Chief Digital Officer role and offers advice to both CIOs and their organizations.
Christian Anschuetz is the Chief Digital Officer at Underwriters Laboratories. He has been the Chief Information Officer of Underwriters Laboratories since November 2008. Mr. Anschuetz is responsible to establish IT strategies, goals and priorities and to provide senior leadership on key technology initiatives in the areas of enterprise resource planning, business process automation, computer systems validation, and electronic communications. Mr. Anschuetz served as the Chief Information Officer and Executive Vice President of Americas at Publicis Groupe SA, where he was responsible for the strategic management and delivery of IT support to over 17,000 associates in more than 100 unique lines of business. Prior to Publicis, Mr. Anschuetz served as Vice President and Director of Operations at BCom3. He began his professional career in a broad range of progressive management roles these included; Senior Consultant and Information Security Thought Leader for Sprint Paranet, and Senior Partner/Founder of UpTyme Consulting. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Information Systems from Strayer University. He was a decorated United States Marine Corps officer and a veteran of the First Gulf War.
Video Transcript: Chief Digital Officer: Lessons from a Former CIO
Michael Krigsman: Welcome to Episode #223 of CxOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman, and I am your host. I’m an industry analyst, and we have a really interesting show. We are going to be talking about the role of the Chief Digital Officer, and our guest, Christian Anschuetz, works for a company called UL that everybody knows under the name “Underwriters Laboratories.” So, I have to imagine that having been founded in 1884, the company is different today than it was way back then.
Christian Anschuetz: Oh, it is so different than it was back in 1894. Hugely diversified, it is now a global leader. We're in over a hundred countries worldwide, thirteen thousand people to this day; it's a fantastic company with just a super, absolutely superb mission, which again is all about safety, safer living, [a] safer working and living environment.
Michael Krigsman: So, you were the CIO at UL for many years. And, then you transitioned recently into the Chief Digital Officer role. So, let’s begin by talking about that CIO role. So, what was your mandate as the CIO?
Christian Anschuetz: Well, I think I was just like, you know, every CIO. My job was to help create a contemporary technology, a platform if you will, that would allow the company to be successful in the marketplace.
Michael Krigsman: And, what are some of the challenges that you face? I mean, it’s a really tough job. And, I’ve seen you talk a lot about the role of IT in terms of supporting innovation at the company. So, I think that’s a particularly interesting aspect as well.
Christian Anschuetz: Well, you know, I think that everybody has a role in the space of innovation. And, I definitely think that technology, whether you’re in IT or in a line of business that’s associated with technology, you have to lead from there, because you simply are already in that cutting-edge space. And, I think we’re uniquely positioned as leaders in technology to be aware of new and emerging trends, and take advantage of them for our respective businesses.
Michael Krigsman: But, I guess, you know, the challenge that many CIOs face is bringing innovation back inside the organization, and getting out of just supplying the infrastructure, right? And, people use the buzzword “becoming a partner with the business.” So, maybe we can kind of explore what that is, and how do you go about doing that?
Christian Anschuetz: Umm, yeah. So, maybe you’ve got to bring innovation in. You know, I’m a firm believer in the idea of cross-pollination. I think that you really have to innovate by creating a […] so, you really have to spend about two-thirds of your time outside of your comfort zone, meaning outside of your industry. You learn from what others are doing and find connection points. And then, innovate through … understanding what others are doing, and bringing those into your industry, bringing those into your company. Otherwise, what you end up have to happen, Michael, is potentially having … So we see this all the time, right? It's an industry of "me too." If all you're following is the same players in your market, the same players in your industry, you're going to keep doing what the same industry is doing. And, how innovative is that? Or, is it perhaps more interesting to bring something from outside the industry altogether, and create something altogether new? Maybe, the new category takes you and your firm outside of your niche.
Michael Krigsman: That’s a very interesting point. I guess the question, then, becomes how do you do that? I mean, do you talk with startups? How do you bring external innovation ideas inside, and especially into IT in a way that will affect the broader business outside of IT?
Christian Anschuetz: So, is the question how do you do that?
Michael Krigsman: Yeah.
Christian Anschuetz: That’s, you know, that’s kind of the magic of it. Well, you know, I think so much of it comes down to a fundamental leadership conversation, right? So, first of all, you’ve got to lead by example. You have to be able to do that yourself. You have to be willing to be really uncomfortable, right? And push yourself in these new and different areas and hopefully inspire people to do the same.
When you bring these different ideas in, you have to hopefully make the connections and show that in these intersections, in these different things that you can possibly do with the business, you can maybe create an inspiring vision that [could] have people go, “Wow! This is fantastic! This is something I want to be a part of!” I guess the point of what I’m trying to make, Michael, is you can’t tell people what to do in this space, but you can inspire them to want to be innovative. You can inspire them to want to look outside their comfort zone, you can inspire them to want to look up outside […].
Michael Krigsman: And so, can you give some examples from your experience at UL of how you did this? I know it’s a leadership issue, as you were describing, but I think it’s one that many people find very difficult, or there would be more of it.
Christian Anschuetz: Uhh, yeah. I think it is very difficult, and I think; well, let’s talk first about the last part; we said that there would be more of it. You know, what’s your impression, Michael? Are most firms struggling with disrupting themselves, even though it’s obvious that all firms are going to be disrupted?
Michael Krigsman: I mean, is that a setup question? I think disrupting oneself, whether it's a … Look, as people, it's hard to disrupt and rethink how we are, what we do, how to improve ourselves, and companies are comprised of people. So, absolutely it's very difficult for most companies, and very few companies are actually disrupting themselves. I think that's really hard.
Christian Anschuetz: Yeah, well why is that, do you think?
Michael Krigsman: Hmm. The tables are turned. The interviewee becomes the interviewer. Again, I think the reason is that it’s easier to stay stuck doing what we know. So, in business terms, we have sources of revenue. And, we have processes. And, we don’t want to risk upending or disrupting those sources of revenue. So, we tend to do that which we’ve done before, which we know has worked in the past.
Christian Anschuetz: Yeah. Michael, I think you’re exactly right. And, I’d add another dimension to it, actually. And it goes back to what you were saying about businesses not wanting to disrupt the revenue streams, or disrupt their current models. I think there’s another part to it, too. Another part is that I don’t think people want to disrupt themselves. And you know, when it comes right down to it, we can talk about IT and digital and everything, and you know all day and all night, and think about it in terms of technology, but in the end, it really does come down to people. Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean we take people out of the equation. In fact, digital is actually more powerful when you consider people as part of the equation.
What the reality is, is I think that most people struggle with disrupting themselves. I mean, change is hard. I mean, you know, there's a reason we call growing pains "pains," right? Because it's hard to grow into new and different areas. And so, I think it's really important for us to tend to the wants and the needs and perspectives of the people that we're affecting when we're having these conversations in order to really help bring in these innovations into these disruptions and make them really disruptions that are opportunities as opposed to disruptions that are perceived as distractions.
Michael Krigsman: So, you're saying that the key is to engage the people who are quote-on-quote going to be disruptive or disrupted, in order to make them part of the change process.
Christian Anschuetz: Yeah. I think the key is actually to look at them as less of people that are going to be disrupted, and more people that are going to then actually become disruptors themselves. They’re going to become part of the disruption. Umm, you know, at least that’s the perspective of a firm that’s trying to disrupt itself.
Michael Krigsman: And is that what … Is UL trying to disrupt itself?
Christian Anschuetz: Yeah, of course. Well, we definitely are. We're a hundred and twenty-year-old firm that likes to think of itself as a hundred and twenty-year-old startup. And we do want to disrupt ourselves. Yeah, that’s right.
Michael Krigsman: Well, I guess for a firm … any firm that’s been in business for a hundred and twenty years has gone through many changes. And so, can you elaborate right now on what are … What is the focus of that disruption at UL?
Christian Anschuetz: Well, you know, UL is just a fantastic company. I think you have to understand a little bit about us and let's just start with the "why," again. And so, the purpose of UL is … Our mission and our purpose is to make safer, more sustainable, and more secure … Well, [a] safer, more secure, more sustainable world. It’s a mission for humanity, right? And, we've accomplished that mission in the past by helping organizations test products to meet standards. Standards are … sometimes we write, and sometimes there are standards where we help participate in their development. And when a product passes the standard, that means that product is safe, it's sustainable, it is whatever … It's over the threshold for whatever reason that standard exists. And in many cases in our tradition business, that's about safety, right?
And yet, the thing that’s fascinating about us is that our mission is something other than testing. Our mission is about safety, sustainability, and security. And, nowhere in that mission statement does it say we just test. And, it’s very interesting, because the one thing that this company has, and that is very unique, and so we are a leader in the trust industry. We are trusted, we’re a third party, we’re hugely independent. Our integrity we hold incredibly dear.
And then, a firm's that know of us, and this is so many of them. Over seventy thousand manufacturers worldwide. That's our customer base. And, they know this about us. And, when we have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with them and say, "You know, what are the real, deep problems that you're trying to solve?" It often is bigger than simply testing their products out and help them get to market. There are way bigger opportunities for us to perhaps pursue. And, we're disrupting ourselves by thinking about ourselves in pursuing these higher order problems, as opposed to just the transactional testing activities that we do.
We’re a leader in science research. We spend more on r&d, at least to our knowledge, than anybody else in our industry. And, we are constantly figuring out and learning about these new and emerging technologies and all the while figuring out how we can maybe disrupt the status-quo as we learn more about everything from, you know, new and emerging alternative power sources, EV, hack for that case drones, new app trays and forays in cybersecurity. I mean, what makes the world safe today is very, very different than what made the world safe in the past.
Michael Krigsman: That’s quite interesting. So, your underlying mission remains constant: safety, security, sustainability; that trust that you were talking about. Your underlying mission remains constant. However, the way that you, can we say, deliver that mission; that’s the thing that changes and is disruptive. Is that an accurate way of saying it?
Christian Anschuetz: That’s wholly accurate. And, you know, that’s what’s beautiful about our mission, Michael. If you think about our mission, it’s really not bound by a lot, right? I mean, making the world safer, more sustainable, and more secure, that gives us a lot of room to maneuver, right? And in that maneuvering, it’s helpful [sic] we can maybe reinvent ourselves.
Michael Krigsman: Yeah. That's a very interesting way to think about it. I think many companies don't have that sense of constancy or consistency about their core mission. And so, the disruption becomes a more complete type of change. But, it sounds … But, so you have that constant mission and when you, therefore, are thinking about disruption, the execution, the delivery of that mission, how do you then go about it? How do you then think about that transition, that transformation?
Christian Anschuetz: That’s a big question. So …
Michael Krigsman: Yeah. It’s tough. These are tough questions.
Christian Anschuetz: Yeah, they’re really tough in that, you know … It depends on what we are … Let’s just speak in the abstract; let’s talk about any firm. It depends on, I think, what the firm’s trying to transition or transform itself into, right? And, I think that is, you know … I’m a big believer in “Start with why.” Our “why” is clear. Again, our “why” is a mission for humanity, you know. What we do then, and how we do it, is sort of that order. So you start with “why,” you go to “what are we trying to do,” and then we determine about how exactly we do that. So, it kind of depends on the “what” a firm is trying to disrupt themselves, and transform themselves into before you can probably, at least before I could […], perhaps say how you might go about doing it.
But, I want to circle back to a previous comment and part of our discussion beforehand. You know, so much of this has to do with, again, people, right? We have to be absolutely deliberate and focused on making sure we bring people along for the ride. It’s so, so critical, Michael. And, I will tell you: if you were to ask me some of the differences between like a traditional CIO or maybe a CDO role, they’re both important roles and certainly, one is not better than the other. They’re just different, right?
I think that CIO role is really more typically, typically more about internal, you know, transformation, efficiency; can be in a contemporary firm, internally. A CDO role has, you know, has to trust that a lot of that is happening internally and then project it externally, and bring the customers in. So I think the CDO role is typically, typically more of an externally-facing role. But regardless, when we are affecting like the transformation either within your firm, or you’re trying to create new values outside the firm, you really need to be considering people all along the way.
With regards to the CDO, because it may have a tendency to have an external impact which we change the internal dynamics and how the company sees itself, maybe even how – definitely how it runs itself, right? How it actually delivers this new value, start these new things.
The scope of the responsibilities tend bigger, right? So, one is internal, and one is maybe more external, at least in this definition, right? And, but the CDO role is really all-encompassing, at least in my opinion. And, you know, this is where the soft skills become even more important […] because you really are responsible for changing the external perspective on […], and then you have to change the internal perspective, perhaps, on exactly what the firm does to the value that it creates.
And so, again, I’ll go back to what I think the CDO role [is], and you actually manage transformations really involve people and organizational change management. It’s that saying – I’m stealing it from a contemporary of mine that said that, you know, “The hard results you get are really coming from the soft skills.” And I do believe that’s true for the CDO role. Both roles. All these leadership roles, for sure, but definitely the CDO role.
Michael Krigsman: So, in practical terms, how is your role; how is your work as Chief Digital Officer different from what you did and what you focused on as Chief Information Officer?
Christian Anschuetz: Well, it kind of follows that same path that I was just on. I mean, the CIO role is really much more internally focused around internal operations, and the CDO role is much more of a customer-facing, customer-discovery, customer-exploration role. Again, going in front of customers and saying, “Okay.” You know, what are the really big problems that you’re trying to solve? And doing this out of the context of how they normally see you as the firm. Remember, relationships are contextual, right? So if you and I only know each other in a certain context, and we keep talking about the opportunities to work together in new and different ways, it will always be influenced by the context in which we know each other. Is that a fair thing to say?
Michael Krigsman: Yes, of course.
Christian Anschuetz: Well, when you want to go into these customers, and you want to discover these bigger opportunities, you have to first pull yourself out of that context that you’re known for, and probably talk to someone that’s different from that customer, it doesn’t have that same context. I mean, the day-to-day context of how they do business with us today.
Now, this is why, you know, for the company now, I’ve been speaking in generalities, the company that I’m with now, UL, [has been] talking about … With the permissions that we have in terms of this leader and the trust industry, and this independence, high-integrity firm, we have the opportunity and the latitude, in so many cases, to move outside of typical interactions we have with our customers and engage in different ways; simply because we carry those traits with us. We’re the […]. And so, then we can engage in a different conversation and start having explorations around different, perhaps even bigger problems that we can solve for them. And, again, perfectly in conjunction and support of our mission and our purpose.
Michael Krigsman: So, when you talk about, again, going back to this consistency of mission and purpose, to what extent is this change and disruption affecting your underlying business model and the operations of UL?
Christian Anschuetz: Well, I think that has yet to be seen, Michael. I mean, we’re a relatively – I’m relatively new into this role, and you know, that said, the company has been working to improve itself and diversify itself in accordance with our customer needs for a long period of time. We had a very big disruption for any firm. You know, I sometimes wonder, I mean: When GE was, you know … decided to go to GE digital and really kind of create this industrial internet, this Predix platform and all that, when did they know that’s what they’re going to do?
Michael Krigsman: Yeah, what an interesting question. I mean, I think to … We’ve had a few people from GE on this show. We’ve had Ganesh Bell, who is the Chief Digital Officer for GE Power and Water – they have a different name, I think. And we had Linda Boff, who is GE’s Chief Marketing Officer. And, I think it became apparent to them that the market was changing, and GE needed to have a different kind of relationship with their customers. And so, they then re-thought, “Okay, what kind of technology platforms are they using? What is their business model? How are they selling? How are they pricing?”
And so, for example, instead of selling you a jet engine, they’ll … They own the jet engine, and they’re essentially licensing that jet engine to you, and you can pay on the basis of usage, obviously.
Christian Anschuetz: Jet engines, who would have thought. Right?
Michael Krigsman: Exactly. So, the question of how do you recognize when it’s time to change. I mean, at UL … And I want to remind everybody that we’re talking with Christian Anschuetz, who is the Chief Digital Officer of UL. And, I think everybody knows UL by the name “Underwriter Laboratories,” which was their original name before rebranding. And so, how do you, at UL, […] recognize, and when did you, and what are the signs that say, “Hey, we need to do something different?” It’s a really tough; it’s a really interesting question.
Christan Anschuetz: Yeah, and it's a tough question. I'm not sure if I can put exactly my finger on it and give your audience, your esteemed audience a really great answer. We do know that there is a need for us … our entire industry knows that we're in a position where we can be potentially disruptive, right? And the question is without knowing exactly what that disruption will be, there is a very simple question, and it's one that hopefully all companies, and all leaders are asking themselves: "Do we want to be the disruptor of ourselves, or do we want to sit by, sit back, and wait until someone disrupts us and then moves the initiative?" And, I think we … You know, UL I can speak for specifically, in this case, we want to keep that initiative. Now, why give up that initiative when we can own it?
Now, exactly what that disruption’s going to look like, exactly what will happen; we aren’t sure. Yet, we do know that the only way we’re going to seize the initiative is to act and to do something. And something is? Michael, hopefully someday we’ll talk and we’ll go, “Wow! That was crazy a year ago or two years ago.” Whatever it was. “How did you know you were going to get here,” and you know, we’ll probably reflect back and say, “Well actually, we didn’t, and here are the series of milestones we get,” and then suddenly, “This is the epiphany was this is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to change,” and create and entirely new category of business. Something out of what is our traditional industry which is TIC, testing, inspection, and certification.
Michael Krigsman: Well, it’s definitely not a straight line.
We have a few questions from Twitter. So, let's jump on those because they're pretty interesting. So …
Christian Anschuetz: To the best of my ability.
Michael Krigsman: To begin, Arsalan Khan asks, “It sounds like, to some extent, the CDO role is like a consultant to external clients.” I’m sure it’s not a consulting role, but in fact, there’s probably an element of that.
Christian Anschuetz: It’s actually a really great comment. And I think, you know, maybe I would have been pretty far from using the word “consultant,” just the way I think of that word sometimes. Umm, I do think there’s something to that statement, though, because one of the things we have to do that goes back to the whole context thing – I think one of the things we have to do when we’re talking to our customers, when we’re really thinking about the businesses we want to be in and the problems, the key, the problems we want to solve; we can recursively ask “why,” right? Keep asking, “Why are you doing this? Why are you having this problem?” I know “why” is a personal word. You know, “What makes this an issue for you,” until you finally get to, you know, the root cause; you know, the root problems that, you know, the company’s real customer base is experiencing.
You know, our perspective. They engage us for many, many different things. UL's a hugely diversified company and very different than it was a number of years ago. The core of our business is still we test the product against standards and when they pass, we help issue a mark, we tell the agency we're testing for that it met the performance criteria, whatever, right? But when you start asking, "Why do you need the tests," and "What makes you require this certification," until you keep asking for […] It's the organization's turn to try understanding that there's just a general lack of understanding with regards to firms of what they have to do to really, to safely, in accordance with compliance and regulations, put their products in a specific market, right? And testing is a byproduct. That comes down to the “how” you actually do it.
But, you could wind back and keep asking why until you get to the whole … a totally different problem statement that if you attack the “there” or the “why,” then what would you do today could be, you know, it could be relevant; it could be relevant in a different way. I suppose it could be rendered […] and I think that’s unlikely in this particular scenario. But, I think there are the things we can resolve, but you have to …
The consulting question is good, because you have to go in there, and you have to do essentially customer discovery sessions. What are the real pain-points? Other than the context that they know you and that you know them?
Michael Krigsman: And, Arsalan Khan has a very interesting follow-up to the point that you were just making. And he says, “So, yes, it’s good to know… We have to know customer pains and their concerns, and so forth. But, if we only listen to our customers, then Ford would have made just faster horses, not cars.”
Christian Anschuetz: Well, that comes down to the whole design theory, right? You can go and you can listen to just what they say and that’s the Ford story, you know, “Instead of building a car, would they have built a faster horse?” But, what the customer’s really saying when you recursively ask “why” enough is that they actually needed to get from point A to point B faster. They had to do it without a certain amount of maintenance. They didn’t like using; I’m totally making this up [laughter]; they didn’t want to wagons, they needed something with a certain amount of capacity. They didn’t want to sit side-by-side with somebody. In other words, the question might have been more about, or the challenge might have been more about diversity in mobility than it would have been about a faster horse. And if you listened enough, you might have heard something different than a faster horse, too.
I totally get where that statement’s coming from now. I mean, I get it, and I believe in that. But, I think when you listen to them, you have to listen to what they say, you have to really understand what they mean. Those can be two different things.
Michael Krigsman: That’s a key point. So, it’s not just listening to the words, but it’s trying to divine being empathetic, I guess you could say; being empathetic to what do they really want? Listening recursively, as you were describing earlier?
Christian Anschuetz: Yeah. What do they want, and what do they really need? And if you look at some of the best disruptions, I mean, you’re talking about things that people didn’t even know that they wanted. I love the example of Uber. I know it’s kind of tired in so many ways, but just think about it. People just always took for granted that you had to stand sort of dangerously close to the curb and wave your hand waiting for a cab, and by God, hopefully, it wasn’t rush hour, or it wasn’t raining, you know? Or otherwise, you were kind of out of luck. And that, though, was just the way it was, right? Of course that’s just the way it is, it’s how the business works, that’s how … We got rides from Point A to Point B until someone said, “Wow! You know, there’s another need there.”
And actually, did they have to ask the customers or did they just have to observe? And, I think that's observation is key, and that kind of goes to that second thing. You can listen to what they say, but you've got to really follow the meaning. And, the meaning can be divined by any number of different ways, but observation is certainly one of them. I think it's probably the key one.
Remember, most of what we get from people is less about the words they say, it’s about how they say ‘em, right? It’s the nonverbal cues. And then just if you believe that, right? […] And there’s all the science to back that, that makes it very clear. If you back that, and you really kind of add, then, the sort of subtle, nuanced, observation piece and you say you observe their behavior, well that’s when you get into design thinking and you start understanding why some companies are just better at disrupting than others. They do more than just listen to words.
Michael Krigsman: It’s quite interesting: design thinking as a systematic means to do that kind of deep listening that you’re describing in order to get to the surface of what the customer ultimately really cares about.
Christian Anschuetz: Yes.
Michael Krigsman: We have another interesting question from Twitter. Marc Orelen asks a burning question that I think is on all of our minds, which is: Why do we need a Chief Digital Officer? Why are these … Why is the CIO and CDO role separate? And he says, “wouldn’t the ideal be a customer-focused CIO?”
Christian Anschuetz: I think that’s a great question and a great point. So, you know, it’s so funny. I got the CDO role just a short while ago. I’ve been operating in the capacity for a while as the CDO. But, I’m still the CIO. So, what’s the difference, right? No sooner than I got the role that I stumbled on an article by Forbes. It was January … It was this year, I think, in January. Forbes was saying, “Say goodbye to the CDO role.” And I read it, and I’m like, “Wow. That stinks. I just got the job.” [Laughter]
But the point of it was, and it was a really good point, is that if firms stop thinking about there being business strategy and digital strategy, and it’s just a contemporary strategy and the businesses are run with a very contemporary mindset, and it’s very agile around technology; it’s very inclusive of people and their involvement in technology, then you don’t need a CDO.
Michael Krigsman: So, I’ve heard people say that eventually, the CDO role may go away as the digital mindset, the digital understanding, kind of defuse through an organization; that the CDO role, we could say, is a transitionary role.
Christian Anschuetz: I think that’s right, you know? And I’m less than, I’d say, some sort of expert in this. I do think that’s right, though. But, let’s be honest with ourselves, and look about at the firms that we all know. And I’m speaking in general here. I think that having a CDO role in a company like; I’m just picking an example; like a Google, for example, probably makes a little less sense than a company like, say, maybe like a Ford Motor company, right? Both fantastic companies; and by the way, I drive Fords; love Fords.
But, you know, I think that there is this transition, as you said, and as firms … Firms don’t just overnight become this sort of digital entity, right? It took Ford a while to understand that they didn’t just do cars; that they did mobility. And then understanding what it takes to be mobile players in the digital world is still something that they’re embarking on. And so, having a CDO role that is sort of ushering in that understanding, this sort of contemporary culture, this contemporary understanding, this contemporary application to their business I think takes a certain amount of time.
So, counter to the Forbes article, which said "Say goodbye to the CDO role," was another article by McKinsey that talked about the CDO as a transformer-in-chief. And, you know, I prefer the latter article to the former. By the way, they're both great articles. But I think that's why you actually need the CDO role, at least right now, because I think we're in a state of massive transformation. And again, every industry is going to get disrupted and since we're all rather unclear as to how we do it; I mean, the very basis of why we're having this conversation, the questions you're asking. How are you going to know? How are you disrupting yourself? What are you doing about it? Because most of these questions are very difficult to answer for most firms. I think that's why the CDO role exists.
Michael Krigsman: Well, as you said earlier, it’s very difficult to disrupt ourselves as individuals, and it’s very difficult to make the changes needed to disrupt ourselves as companies.
We have another really interesting and, I think a pretty deep question, actually, from Sal Rasa, who says, “Is the CDO role a community relationship responsibility, a community relationship management responsibility, designed to inform change management decisions?”
Christian Anschuetz: I think that’s a big part of it. I really do. I go back to the statement about the people, and not leaving the people behind. That is all about change management, and I think that that is a really big part of it. Now, that said, there is an external portion of it that goes back to these adjacencies that we talked about. You have to be bringing the people on, but you also have to be an explorer, and you have to be utterly unafraid to go into new and different areas.
Jeff Bezos, I love one of his quotes, and he’s a very quotable person, right? He made a comment that’s a quote, and I think I’m attributing this properly. If I’m wrong, I apologize, but he said that “At Amazon, we're not afraid to be misunderstood." And, I think what's behind that quote is that they are okay to go in new and different areas, and have a lot of people scratch their head and go, "Why the heck are they doing that?" But they're doing it as part of their exploration. Now Louis and Clark didn't make a beeline directly from the east to the west. It wasn't a perfectly straight line and we made that comment earlier, right? You know, a lot of people that I'd say, "Well why did they scale that mountain?" Well they actually didn't know they had a choice, or it looked particularly great, or perhaps, it gave a whole new vantage and a whole set of opportunities that lay beyond it.
I think that there’s people aspect to the CDO role, I think that’s critical, I think this exploration portion of it, and bringing the people along in that exploration; again, making them potential disruptors themselves is actually very, very critical.
Michael Krigsman: […]
Christian Anschuetz: And yet again, another really [good point], you do have … I remember when we were starting this conversation, you said that "Christian, just think we're going to be sitting here talking around a table with a bunch of very, very smart people." You're making that comment, and clearly, the audience and the questions they're asking is making your statement very, very true.
Michael Krigsman: Oh yeah. Now the audience of CxOTalk is quite amazing.
Now we have another really interesting comment from Shelly Lucas, who is with Dun and Bradstreet. And, she makes the comment that she thinks you are ahead of your time as a Chief Digital Officer because many digital leaders are focusing on the science rather than the people on the culture. And I interpret that to mean not just the science, but focusing on the technology platforms that enable this, as opposed to the people in cultural issues.
Christian Anschuetz: Well, thank you. You said it was Shelly?
Michael Krigsman: Shelly.
Christian Anschuetz: Well, thank you, Shelly. That's very kind. You know, I was in IT long enough to know, I mean, IT could implement the best system, and you fail to get the people on board with it, and you're going to have an adoption issue, you're going to have, well, we all know the stories, right? You can implement the best system and … By the way, a little IT joke: How do you make people love their old system? Implement a new one, right? And that’s because if you fail to bring [Laughter]… It’s true! It’s so true. It’s a joke, but it’s totally true.
Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]
Christian Anschuetz: Ummm.
Michael Krigsman: Spoken by somebody with a long history in IT. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. Please, go ahead.
Christian Anschuetz: But it’s totally true, and you know, so I learned at a relatively young age, and I’ve been trying to get better at it, and it is a bit of a struggle. But I’ve learned that you can only get down the path as far as you want to go when you have a lot of people in support. So, you’ve got to bring them along. And I go back to this topic of leadership at the end, but what is the obligation of leaders but to create a compelling vision and inspire people to fulfill that vision? And if you are unable to do that, then how would you ever really help to disrupt yourself and disrupt an entire industry? Because you're not going to disrupt it with just technology. You're only going to disrupt it with your people plus some technology.
Michael Krigsman: So the technol- … I mean, the way I talk about it often is the technology provides enabling capabilities, right? It lets you do things that you couldn’t have done before. So, for example, a software platform that lets you collect data. Well, you need, if you’re a digital company, you’re going to be relying on lots of data. Merely having that technology platform doesn’t mean that anybody is going to use it or do anything valuable with it.
Christian Anschuetz: You’re a wise man. That’s exactly right. How many great technologies were just simply the wrong technologies even though they were perfect, but they came out too soon. They came out too soon, so they were still wrong, right? And so, you know, was it because the technology was at fault? Was it because society or the audience was unready for it, or was it a combination of the two where the technology was right for too little time spent in making the audience understand why this was actually, you know, a really great value. I think there are probably a bunch of different answers depending on use-case to look at.
Michael Krigsman: So, how do you convince the organization that change that it needs to undertake; this kind of change; and then, can we go back to UL specifically and talk about the nature of this change process at UL?
Christian Anschuetz: Uhhh, sure. So, what’s the question you kind of want me to dial in on there? Is it change process specifically you want?
Michael Krigsman: Well, I think the … And by the way, we have about five minutes left, so as we wind down, what are the lessons or the takeaways about driving disruption; self-disruption; disrupting your own organization? How do you even begin?
Christian Anschuetz: Well, Michael, I think you begin and you might be surprised to hear this from a company that prides itself in integrity and independence. It starts with transparency. You know, we ask our colleagues and they’re getting better at this, and we’re just really kind of starting off. Our colleagues, you know, what are the directions that they think we should go? What is the company that we can, and we should be? Again, unconstrained by anything other than our unique mission and purpose; again, […] for living and working environments, right? And our imagination. What could this company be? Getting them involved. I’ll tell you that’s what I think is one of the most key things I can do. Again, I know it’s soft, it has very little to do with inventing some whiz-bang, high-tech solution, but it’s been an important lesson for us, I think, is to involve our staff.
I think the other thing is, again, that thing we talked about already which is changing the context of our conversations with our customers. They know us in a certain context, they give us permissions to have different conversations with them than we traditionally do, so seizing those permissions, having a different power station, and really try and find the sort of root of desire, or the problems that plague them. And, that you have the opportunity to help them address and create new value for them and that portion of the company […]
Michael Krigsman: What about the role of senior management? You know, you’re talking about the grassroots side, but don’t you have to also go from the top down as well?
Christian Anschuetz: Well, you know, again, the senior management, that leadership, it's the vision, it's inspiring people to follow that, and then, of course, there's modeling, right? There's an old … You know, I was in the Marine Corps, and the Corps taught you a lot about leadership and this concept of leading by example. And allowing yourself to be less than perfect; allowing yourself to fail and even celebrating this failure, so getting a management team on board is saying, "Hey, we're going to explore," and some of our exploration – perhaps even the majority of our explorations – are going to end in dead ends. Being accepting of that I think is critical, because that unfetters your organization. It makes them less scared to move in those areas with these roads less traveled, and become potential disruptors themselves. Because, if you're afraid that a dead-end is going to be a blemish on your career, on your history, I think that you're actually stifling yourself. I think you have to free up, again, you have to free up your people, and to the best of your ability, just free them up from that particular fear, and help them have courage. Well, there will be some fear, but a little less fear, a little more courage, and I think senior management's critical.
Michael Krigsman: Well, I guess that’s a … one of the most important and fundamental lessons. We have just a minute left, and Christian, I know that you are a vet, and I know that you’re very supportive of vets, and would you like to take a minute and tell us about some of your activities in relation to that?
Christian Anschuetz: Aww, thank you. Thanks, Michael. Yeah, I mean, just a quick plug. I'm part of an organization called Project RELO. It's a fascinating organization that uses transitioning veteran instructors to teach corporate executives the art and science of leadership. And, that's done in a very unique fashion. In partnership with the United States military, we do pseud-military operations with this collective of executives and veterans and build a deep understanding that hiring our veterans is more than a social good, it's simply good business. If you want to learn more, check out projectrelo.org.
Michael Krigsman: Project reload, r – e – l – o – a – d-dot org.
Christian Anschuetz: Uhh, Project r – e – l – o-dot org. RELO.
Michael Krigsman: Got it! Okay! Check out projectrelo.org.
We have been talking with Christian Anschuetz, who is the former Chief Information Officer and now the Chief Digital Officer of UL, which everybody knows as Underwriter Laboratories. Christian, thank you for taking the time to be here with us today.
Christian Anschuetz: Thank you so much.
Michael Krigsman: We have more shows coming up, and they are great shows. Next week, we’re speaking with the CEO of Coursera, and he used to be the president of Yale University, so that’s going to be an interesting one. Check out cxotalk.com/episodes. Thanks everybody for watching, and we will see you next time. Bye-bye!