Steven Goldbach: Collaboration, Innovation and Detonation

Find out what, Steven Goldbach, Chief Strategy Officer at Deloitte, has to say about his book, Detonate, and how it can be used by businesses to overhaul their thinking about digital transformation.


Apr 23, 2019

For far too long, organizations averse to risk have stifled innovation. By incentivizing employees to behave in a risk-averse manner, businesses have limited opportunity and counterintuitively set themselves up for failure. Those businesses that have encouraged risk, new modes of thought, and novel forms of collaboration have better prepared themselves for future success.

That’s the assertion of Steven Goldbach’s new book, Detonate: Why--And How--Corporations Must Blow Up Best Practices (and bring a beginner's mind) To Survive. Steven is the Chief Strategy Officer at Deloitte. Detonate provides actionable insight to help organizations overcome incremental improvement, or worse, stagnation.

We spoke with Steven about his book, Deloitte, and corporate culture. During the conversation we examine the ways in which technology allows enables instant digital collaboration and how this might impact the ways in which companies are staffed. We also discuss the many ways that diversity—both cultural and philosophical—can help improve creativity and invention. 

Watch this video to learn more about Steven, his new book, and what you can do to improve your company’s communication and productivity in order to establish a solid foundation for innovation.


Michael Krigsman: Today, we are at the headquarters of Logitech speaking about the future of collaboration. Our guest is Steven Goldbach, the Chief Strategy Officer of Deloitte. He just wrote a new book called Detonate. What in the world are you detonating? [Laughter]

Steven Goldbach: If you survey executives, everybody says the pace of technology, the pace of change is more rapid, but we don't see a lot of companies really taking decisive action in the face of it. We still have the same kinds of questions we always do, which is, "Well, what's going to be the return on that investment?" or, "How do we know that that's going to work if we do that?" those kinds of questions. We wanted to dig into, what was the underlying insight around why do we see, on the one hand, this is super important and then, on the other hand, we don't see enough action?

Why a Book Called Detonate?

Michael Krigsman: The notion of detonation is what?

Steven Goldbach: If we want organizations to take steps to detonate practices that are not particularly valuable, what we have to get right is all those incentive systems, those both explicit and implicit incentive systems that motivate people to behave in a risk-averse way. We wanted to give people a language system to be able to say, "We shouldn't be doing some of these things. We should be doing it differently."

The thing that we tried to figure out what's getting in the way of these executives taking action against the things that everybody knows are silly or wastes of time were this concept that we coined in the book called Me, Inc. Basically, to explain Me, Inc., you have to understand that every chief executive, every leader will say, "What are our objective is, is to maximize shareholder value." Really, what all the individuals running around an organization are making choices are to maximize their own Me, Inc., their own personal value, because people want to be successful but everyone defines that in some different way.

If we want organizations to take steps to detonate practices that are not particularly valuable, what we have to get right is all those incentive systems, those both explicit and implicit incentive systems that motivate people to behave in a risk-averse way. The story we like to tell on that is, when you go back to your first day on the job, I guarantee you that everybody probably had some experience like this where your boss sits you down and they say, "When I was in your shoes, this is what I did to be successful. If only you do these exact same things, you too can be successful."

Michael Krigsman: Those are best practices.

Steven Goldbach: That's the origin of best practice. Those are those stories that get told. Those are those stories that get told from generation to generation and become the orthodoxies of the organization. When that same manager gets put to a really tough decision, they're going to say, "Well, what will my boss think of me if I make this tough call? Then I'm going to get rewarded implicitly." That's why it's so hard to break this vicious cycle.

Fighting Corporate and Cultural Rigidity

Michael Krigsman: This creates a kind of organizational and cultural rigidity.

Steven Goldbach: Absolutely. The amazing thing that we see, Michael, in the world is that, when faced with disruptive forces that are changing the nature of how customers are behaving today, what ends up happening is you put some offer into the world that's based on your longstanding orthodoxies. Customers reject that for some reason because there is a better option.

What ends up happening in the workplace is, you examine the postmortem of that and you say, "Well, why didn't it go right?" Then the boss's boss comes in and says, "Let me make sure that you executed it right. Let me make sure that you followed the playbook right," as opposed to, maybe the playbook isn't the right playbook.

What we find is that there's an increased rigidity in terms of believing that the playbook is right versus examining the wrong playbook. As you keep playing that out, it gets into this vicious cycle where, instead of questioning things that you've always done, you adhere to them more strongly. That's what we're trying to detonate.

Michael Krigsman: What you're describing is kind of the forces of anti-innovation.

Steven Goldbach: What we wanted to do with Detonate was offer a new set of principles that would allow people not to replace the old playbook with a new playbook but remind people of how it is that you should think about problems, in general.

Michael Krigsman: One of the key things that you raise in this book is this concept of beginner's mind. What does that have to do with this idea of detonating preconceived notions?

Steven Goldbach: It's from Zen Buddhism. It's not something that we invented. We're just repurposing. There's a great quote in Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind which says, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, there are few." If you want to grow revenue, you have to get some customers' behavior to change in some way. They have to pay more for something they're buying from you already, they have to switch to your product from some competitors, or they have to enter a market that they're not currently in.

You need to understand what it is that's going to drive that behavior. If people are implicitly rewarded for doing things consistent with past practices, they're unlikely to change your behavior. If the world is moving really fast, don't be so wedded to things that you put in place today that might be only good for a couple of years.

How to Drive Collaboration 

Michael Krigsman: All right, let's talk about collaboration. We're here at the home of collaboration at Logitech. When we think about collaboration, what are some of the, shall we say, sacred cows or traditional ways of thinking that we need to detonate, that we need to blow up?

Steven Goldbach: I think collaboration is generally viewed as an unassailable good. It's an objective in and by itself, whereas I think, as you asked me to think about applying the principles, I would say collaboration is a tool to achieve some other objective. Certainly, it's nice to have human interaction. That, in fact, is good. But in so far as its about business collaboration, it's about some higher purpose, either because we see that there is evidence of, when you collaborate, you get higher quality ideas, but then there is also evidence that there are some dangers of collaboration where, if you don't have a good, diverse, a cognitively diverse group, you might have group-think come from that collaboration. Collaboration is good, but we also live in a world with increasing distraction and interruption, and so we're implicitly motivating people to be collaborative, but people interpret that to mean, "I've got to respond to you within two minutes of your email," which is a distraction.

I go back to the first principles of, what is it that we're trying to achieve with collaboration? It's higher quality ideas. It's more buy-in to the idea so that when we go and execute them. We choose to make a choice; we don't come back and rethink it. Those would be some of the first principles about why. Then we can think about, how can we drive higher quality collaboration as a result?

Michael Krigsman: I think that's really the key. You just described some of the dysfunctional elements of collaboration, that feeling, "Well, we have to respond instantly or we're not being collaborative." How can we drive the positive aspects of collaboration? Really, what are the positives? What's the positive side?

Steven Goldbach: The positive side is higher quality ideas. That stems from a couple of different things. Human beings have this awfully funny habit that if they weren't involved in creating something, they seem to be pretty good because they take ownership of it. That is one of the benefits of collaboration. At the same time, we've got to watch for what we're creating as a byproduct.

Michael Krigsman: What about collaboration tools? We use video conferencing. We use Skype and other virtual audio conferencing tools. What's the role of that in collaboration?

Steven Goldbach: Let's take the most basic collaboration tool, email, which has, of course, been around forever. But what does that create? Does it create a culture where, if I don't respond to you immediately, I'm somehow not doing my job? When you see that flash in your inbox, your primitive brain is immediately drawn to it like you were on the Savana seeing, potentially, a lion. You can't help it. You're distracted. Then all you're thinking about is what might I say instead of what you were doing before.

We've got to be able to use collaboration tools for good and not for distraction. Part of what I think the organizations' cultures need to promote is, sometimes it's okay not to respond right away and sometimes we want that. Sometimes we want people in their productive cave and we want to teach people not to necessarily respond. Sometimes it's about our leaders promoting that behavior and demonstrating it themselves. That would be one of the byproducts we want to avoid.

It might make sense to talk about some of the benefits, though. The simple act of video, I will just say, is a massive improvement to get people to pay attention. If people can see that you're not paying attention and you know that you're somehow on the hook for being present in a meeting--

Michael Krigsman: That's very clever.

Steven Goldbach: --video is that one thing and it's something that I've been, at least with my team, saying, "Look, we've got this capability. We all sit with these devices that enable it. We also have great technology like the ones that Logitech creates that we can leverage. It would make it so much better, if we're going to have the meeting, let's at least make it a productive meeting." Video, I think, is a very simple way to get people to engage a little bit differently.

Michael Krigsman: If we apply these tools in simple ways but thinking about how they can drive attention and drive productivity, then we can shift. The tools themselves can add value beyond them being communication devices, for example.

Steven Goldbach: It goes back to, what's the human behavior that you're trying to promote? Collaboration, at the end of the day, is about, as I said before, better ideas and greater alignment. That's the objective that we want to drive.

It's not because we want to get more opinions, which is what meetings are often about. It's about better ideas and better ideas come with better engagement. Using those collaborative tools, we have to be careful.

There are a lot of collaborative tools which are about getting too much engagement and, oftentimes, there are tools that we'll use that will be about getting everyone's wiki-ing a single document. Sometimes creativity best comes from having someone do the whole versus letting someone do what, in the strategy business, we often call the Christmas Tree Strategy where everyone gets to hang their ornament on a particular strategy. That doesn't tend to work well. You've got to use it for the objective and not as the objective itself.

Culture and Collaboration

Michael Krigsman: What about culture? Let's talk about culture because that seems really intertwined with all of this.

Steven Goldbach: Look. Culture is nothing more than the sum. At least my definition of culture is the sum of all the behaviors that you have in an organization. That's your culture. You get your culture based on how it is that you drive and promote those behaviors, whether it's the rewards, both implicit or explicit, that you have; the questions that your boss asks of you; or the way that the human beings interact.

Collaboration is going to be both influenced by and influence, in turn, the overall culture of an organization. If your organization's culture is, "If my boss sends me an email, I need to respond within two minutes," or, "I need to stop a meeting to say, 'Oh, sorry. Hang on a second. My boss is IM-ing me.' I need to stop everything and respond," Then that's going to set the culture of that's how you deal with things.

If you've got an organizational culture where you say time is scarce and time together is even scarcer, and we're going to make the best use of that time, then you could create a different culture which, to some extent, rejects the immediacy of it. You've got to figure out what's the right balance. How do you drive what tends to be right for your organization?

Michael Krigsman: What are some of the lessons a company can learn from this kind of analysis?

Steven Goldbach: If I were to speak from the point of view of an organization that thrives on collaboration, we have hundreds of thousands of people around the world at Deloitte and we're a very project centered workforce where we've got people working on particular projects. They're spread around the world. Collaboration is critical to our organization, and so we would want to have collaboration tools that allow for our people to be able to make choices that help weave work into their human lives, into a way that's not disruptive. And so, the ability to shut things off, the ability to be present, the ability to have that do not disturb and be productive in some way, I think, is an important aspect of collaboration tools that respects the boundaries or at least creates it as an important mechanism to how you might work because I think the companies that get collaboration right with figure out a way to strike that balance.

If you think about the last 25 years, we migrated from a world where people predominantly worked themselves and then came together to collaborate to one where now it's like always on. I think the most productive leaders have figured out a way to migrate from the always on to the on when necessary, and then I'm in other modes when I can be creative. The tools need to support that direction where I think collaboration is heading.

Michael Krigsman: We talk a lot about work/life balance. It seems, from what you're saying, that the best collaboration tools enable us to take control over that balance so that we're on when we want to be on and we're off when we choose to be off.

Steven Goldbach: Just because I'm sending email at 5:00 a.m. doesn't mean I expect my people to want to wake up and deal with everything. There are tools that you can figure out a way to share and send, but imagine a world where I could send something when I want it to be sent, mark it as, to some extent, urgent/time sensitive/not time sensitive, and then it would arrive in a moment where I knew the other person was ready to receive it rather than arriving when I sent it or rather than arrive even at my designated time. There would be some tool that might allow the people who are deciding when they want to be on and off to get there and that message would arrive at the right time. That's the kind of collaboration that might allow people to feel like they can be productive when they need to be productive, but they're not missing something.

Michael Krigsman: And with great simplicity.

Steven Goldbach: Simplicity is always something that everybody strives for but, usually, you have to drive through a mountain of complexity to get to the simple.

Michael Krigsman: Let's talk about metrics. When we talk about collaboration and we talk about culture, can we even talk about metrics in a meaningful way, because these are soft targets?

Steven Goldbach: Oftentimes, we've promoted collaboration in the past by saying, "Have you gotten so-and-so, so-and-so, and so-and-so's perspective on the following problem?" It's not collaboration; it's buy-in.

If you want to drive better collaboration, I wouldn't measure it necessarily in that, "I'm going to try to measure the degree to which you collaborate," but rather, measure the outcome. If you can show that collaboration leads to better outcomes and give people a vision of what good looks like and then measure the outcomes, people will choose to follow the collaborative path.

I think the way that you infuse it into it is to say, "We're going to reward better outcomes. Better outcomes are driven by high-quality collaboration. Teach people what that means, be clear about it, reinforce that message and make sure that that's clear, and then measure the outcomes." People wanting to create that better quality outcome because they're measuring it will lead to making choices that are more collaborative. That would be the way.

Gaining Positive Outcomes from Collaboration

Michael Krigsman: How do you establish the linkage between the right type of collaboration and positive outcomes?

Steven Goldbach: This is where I would make a minimally viable move and start to test it. If you've got a hypothesis for what higher quality collaboration looks like relative to what exists in your workforce today or what exists in society today, try it out. Then if and when it's successful, then tell people about it. It's amazing how, when something is successful, people want to say, "I need some of that."

Make a demonstration project of it creating demand for that mode of working. People tend to respond to that kind of stimulus. If that did lead to higher quality outcomes, then that's how I would try and reinforce it.

Michael Krigsman: I suppose what we can do is we can say, "Okay, how many minutes are people spending in video conferences?" or we can track their email usage, but that doesn't really serve any purpose.

Steven Goldbach: I think that's the dangerous side of collaboration. I think you're not measuring. You're measuring the quantity and, if we think about the byproduct that we see today with distraction, with the modes of collaboration that require people to be always on and the things that we want to avoid, then that kind of measurement would lead to that behavior.

To some extent, I would say we have implicitly created metrics that response time is somehow important. We don't measure that but, when people think about, "Is so-and-so a good employee?" oftentimes if they're highly responsive to you, you tend to perceive them as higher quality as opposed to saying, "Did they come up with great products? Do they come up with great outcomes?"

If we can move away from that, then that might help. I would be very careful about the quantity-based metrics. That's why I would look at outcomes and try to draw the linkage. You have to do test cases.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Another dimension of collaboration in the workplace are things like remote working and flextime. Let's turn our attention to those kinds of topics.

Steven Goldbach: Yeah. I think one of the great battles that companies of the 21st Century will have is going to be the battle for talent. It's not going to be what you know. It's going to be that your core capabilities, your ability to think, your ability to be empathetic with customers and their needs, and your ability to codify that into some sort of product is going to be what people are competing on in the future.

Companies who are looking to employ highly productive people who can think about problems, need to give them the option to make their life work for them at home. These kinds of collaboration tools are going to be critical to do that.

It also might allow for people to be productive and have think time. The nice thing about not being in the office is that you can turn stuff off and think about things that require some individual think time. I think that that's going to be the next battle for talent is being able to enable that customization of one's schedule.

Michael Krigsman: There are key implications for acquiring talent and retaining the best people.

Steven Goldbach: Yeah. I think, if you believe that people want to have more control over their lives--which I don't imagine there is a set of people who want to have less control over their lives--the more control you can give them to make the tradeoffs that we all make implicitly, which is, I want to be successful at work and I want to be successful at home in some way, shape, or form, whatever that means for that person, then giving people the tools to do that, without making the tradeoff, is going to be the thing that the successful companies are able to attract, the most talented people are able to offer in the future.

Rethinking Productivity

Michael Krigsman: Let's talk briefly about productivity because you've been implying productivity and talking about it through this discussion. How do we rethink our relationship to productivity?

Steven Goldbach: I think one of the things we have to do is get out of the narrow definition of productivity, which tends to be very task oriented. Even in the white collar set of jobs, we tend to have a very narrow definition of what productive means. It means doing this narrowly defined task over and over again, and that doesn't tend to stimulate people. They tend to respond to new challenges.

I think we have to have a broad sense of productivity that goes back to the objectives that we're trying to win in the marketplace. What are we trying to do to customers? How are we delighting them? What are we trying to accomplish? Productivity should be measured in terms of those kinds of outcomes in the external world.

I think the more that we can avoid outcomes that are about, "Did you finish a task?" that aren't explicitly linked to some outcome in the real world, I think we'll have a better sense. Again, part of it is just making sure we're doing the things that promote some sort of winning in the external world and not doing things because they're the way we've always done it in the business world.

Michael Krigsman: The reference point of productivity is, how are we doing relative to the clear goals that we've established?

Steven Goldbach: Absolutely. Part of that goal, you've got to take out the internal orientation and you've got to really have yourself unwaveringly focused on your customer.

Michael Krigsman: Let's finish up with a glimpse into the future of collaboration.

Steven Goldbach: I think we're going to head to a world where, again, going back to the root cause. The root cause is, what's going on? We've got more tools that enable collaboration. Despite some of the things that we're seeing in the political economy, I think the globality of the world, we're not going to get less global. It's going to be about the pace that we go there.

We're going to have to figure out ways to collaborate across time zones, to collaborate across flexible schedules. The companies who figure that out, who figure out the right balance of collaboration as a tool to enable better ideas and more alignment, are going to be the ones that make the difference and allow their people to be happy to do the things they need to do at the times that they need to do it in a flexible and predictable way. I think that the tools need to be able to enable that and not just promote this always on and collaboration under the heat lamp. Now we've got to figure out a way to draw that back a bit.

Michael Krigsman: At a company like Deloitte, would it be fair to say collaboration and how you collaborate is a strategic and competitive advantage?

Steven Goldbach: I would say that collaboration, if we're not good at it, we are going to fail. We have too many people. We have too many partners that are each individually serving our clients, serving what they do. When we're at our best, it's when we bring the breadth of what we have to be able to solve our clients' most pressing problems. That's going to require collaboration.

For me, I think of it as, whether we're able to create it as a competitive advantage or not, I think about it as an imperative. If we don't do it, we will fail because there is no one person at Deloitte that can solve the complicated challenges that our clients face today. By definition, to achieve our mission, we need to be able to collaborate because we're going to get better ideas.

We're just going to get higher quality ideas. The more diverse of a workforce that we can have, the more diverse ways of thinking, the more that we can infuse a beginner's mind, the better quality ideas. That's going to help our clients transform their organization.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Steve Goldbach, Chief Strategy Officer at Deloitte, thank you so much.

Steven Goldbach: Thank you very much, Michael.

Steven Goldbach Biography

Steven Goldbach is a principal at Deloitte and serves as the organization’s chief strategy officer. He is also a member of the Deloitte U.S. executive leadership team. Before joining Deloitte, Goldbach was a partner at Monitor Group and head of its New York office.

Goldbach helps executives and their teams transform their organizations by making challenging and pragmatic strategy choices in the face of uncertainty. He is an architect, expert practitioner, and teacher of the variety of strategy methodologies developed and used by Monitor Deloitte over the years. Serving clients in many industries, including consumer products, telecommunications, media and health care, Goldbach helps companies combine rigor and creativity to create their own future.

Previously, Goldbach was the director of strategy at Forbes. He holds degrees from Queen’s University at Kingston and Columbia Business School.

Published Date: Apr 23, 2019

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 592