The four Cs of digital business success

To succeed as a disruptive digital business, you’re going to need to cultivate some team behaviours and personal qualities that might not have seemed so important in the past.

I believe these four Cs are the key attributes you need in your organisation if you want to be the disruptor and not the disrupted.


Curious people are not satisfied by the things they already know about and understand — they know there is so much they don’t know yet, and so much to learn.

Curious people help to disrupt the market by uncovering new knowledge and ideas, and changing everything in the process.

Curiosity is the spark that triggers innovation.


Creative people take the things they know and relate them to find patterns. They extrapolated new ideas, they try things, they make suggestions out of left field.

Creative people aren’t shackled to old ways of doing things. They are always looking to find better ways.

Creative people don’t say “no”, they say “give me time and I’ll find a way”. If you want to disrupt rather than be disrupted, you need creative people.


Collaboration fosters openness and trust, which underpins positive team culture.

Collaboration allows us to work more efficiently by breaking down silos and promoting a common vision and shared goals.

Collaboration allows you to leverage the different strengths of everyone in your team by allowing everyone’s ideas to be heard and by promoting discussion.


Culture-focussed organisations know the old command and control style of management has become increasingly counter-productive. The problems we’re solving are too complex for the simplistic management ideas of the past.

Culture drives performance. Poor culture kills curiosity, creativity and collaboration, leading to lower quality and staff engagement. Good culture promotes and maximises the other 3 Cs and is key to attracting and retaining talent.

Culture-focussed leaders know future success lies in creating an environment within which curious and creative people can collaborate and succeed.

In Conclusion

Digital businesses need openness and agility to achieve their goals.

Curiosity, creativity, collaboration and culture are essential to creating organisations that move fast, work efficiently and are not prone to getting stuck in the past.

What do you think?


Your most important job as a leader: aligning work to motivation

Leadership is about helping others to succeed.

In essence, it’s that simple. But how do we do that?

TL;DR: We do this by finding the best alignment between work and individual motivators, then getting out of the way.

The importance of empathy

Helping others to succeed requires empathy. Without empathy you will struggle to be an effective leader.

Empathy allows you to see the world from another person’s perspective. Empathy gives you insight into their thoughts and feelings. It is essential for leadership because it allows us to understand what motivates other people.

If you struggle with empathy, there are ways to improve. Try:

  • being present & focussed on others when they speak (eg instead of preoccupied by your phone)
  • listening without interrupting – try being the last to speak
  • asking questions of others – never assume you know what they think or why until they have actually told you; it’s lazy and disrespectful and you’re probably wrong
  • arguing for the side of a debate you personally disagree with (try debating with knives)

Let’s assume for now you have empathy on tap.

Detecting motivation

Do you understand why your people come to work every day?

When do you see them smiling? When do they speak to you excitedly, or with passion?

What have they told you they enjoy doing? (Have you asked them?) What tasks will you sometimes see them working on outside normal hours?

Did they experiment with some new technology on their weekend that they were keen to tell you about?

These are the clues, and your job as a leader is to see, hear and decipher them.

The importance of Intrinsic motivation

Carrot and stick approaches have been proven to be ineffective (and often counter-productive) for knowledge workers. Science tells us that we do good work not because we get paid to do it, but because we are internally (intrinsically) motivated to do so.

Intrinsic motivators are things like:

  • enjoying the process of a particular type of work
  • wanting to do things well
  • feeling accomplished
  • satisfying our curiosity
  • learning something new
  • getting better at something
  • being a part of something important or that we feel is worthwhile
  • feeling useful
  • expressing our creativity
  • enjoying being part of a community

Your goal as a leader is to create an environment for your people where they are being intrinsically motivated to do their best work. This involves mapping the work your business needs to do with the intrinsic motivators your people possess.

Think about what’s involved in the work you need doing and find ways for people to explore their passions through it.

Extrinsic motivators

It would be nice if all of our time could be filled with work that is intrinsically motivated, but there will be extrinsic (external) motivators that sometimes matter as well. Here are some examples:

  • deadlines
  • operational crises
  • negative feedback
  • having to pay the mortgage, eat etc
  • uninteresting work that needs to be done anyway
  • bureaucratic stuff like filling out timesheets

The optimum situation for most people will be to spend as little time as possible on tasks like these. The more the balance tips towards external motivators, the less productive people will be, the lower the quality of their work and the less satisfaction they will be getting from doing it.

So, the other part of your job is to minimise the impact of extrinsic motivators.

If your boss gives you nothing but extrinsic motivators, he’s probably a toxic leader. That’s a topic for another day.

So to summarise, as a leader your most important job is to exercise the skill of empathy so you can

  • know what your people are motivated to do and
  • match up the business needs to those intrinsic motivators to the greatest degree possible

At the same time, you should be ensuring that as little of their energy as possible is expended on extrinsic motivators. This might mean you need to argue with the business for a better timesheeting solution, or better productivity tools. Make sure your people are paid enough that they aren’t spending energy on being annoyed about being underpaid. Buffer external events by being the firewall between your team and crises or negative feedback.

Read more

Dan Pink has a book about motivation for 21st century work called Drive. Here is a video that summarises his ideas about Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Making decisions out of opinions

It’s a common problem in technology companies – people have opinions that they hold strongly because they are passionate about the technology they like, know, or believe is the best. The passion is good, because it drives enthusiasm and engagement, but how do we resolve differences of opinion, when those differences threaten to derail desired business outcomes?

The first step to achieving agreement is to ensure everyone is sharing the same understanding about what the business is trying to do. Without this crucial alignment, there can’t be agreement because people will be pulling in different directions. In organisations where the vision has not been clearly communicated this can be a challenge, but it’s a first principle on which everything else is founded: agree the vision.

So, let’s assume we’ve got the vision, and everyone understands it. Has everyone committed to it? If not, there’s our next problem. If people aren’t committed to the vision, and aren’t acting in accordance with it, then our team is broken. We need to find out why people aren’t committing to the vision and fix it.

Assuming we have the vision and everyone is committed to it, things should get easier from here on. We can now make our decisions based on how well they help us achieve the vision. How do we do that?

Most of us are making decisions daily, based solely on our prior knowledge and our intuition. This is known as the Recognition-Primed Decision making process (RPD). If we understand and are committed to the vision, there is nothing wrong with this – it’s fast and will give us a right-enough answer most of the time. The only caveat is that it does rely on our ability (and willingness) to accurately compile knowledge. Given that we all suffer from “myside” bias, to some degree, the quality of decisions made this way will thus vary proportionally to the degree to which we accurately catalogue and draw upon our experiences.

RPD works well when we have the needed expertise and the decision scope is limited to things we are solely responsible for. Even when responsibility spans multiple people or groups, we may still be able to work this way, so long as there is general agreement to start with (everyone is committed to the same vision), and we are collaborative in how we work. The key here is to make sure that everyone who could be affected by our decisions is kept informed and given the opportunity to speak up with any concerns about the choices we are making. Feedback needs to be sought and considered.

If we are working instead in an environment where communication is not optimal, we may need to engage in a more structured process for making decisions.

One way to do this is to use a decision matrix. A popular version of this is the Kepner-Tregoe decision analysis (KTDA) process, which aims to guide us through steps that are designed to lead us to a rational decision.

The first step in the KTDA is to write a concise “decision statement” about what it is we want to decide. An example is “What sort of pet should I get?”

Next, we will specify the objectives of the decision – what does this decision need to provide in terms of results. Each objective needs to be classified as either a “must” (the decision must deliver this objective) or a “want”. Objectives are then weighted to indicate their importance, eg, if it is very important that my pet have soft fur, I will weight that objective as a 10.

It’s important, when weighting objectives to be as honest as possible about the true importance of that objective, as this is where we will often attempt to “stack the deck” in favour of our preferred option. Get a multi-person consensus on the weightings before you move to the next stage.

Once we have our decision statement and our weighted objectives agreed we can begin evaluating each alternative (eg, cat, dog, turtle). To do this, each alternative is scored, from 0-10, on how well it delivers each objective. Again, this is a moment where our preferences can bias our answers, so it’s important to gain consensus on the scores.

Once you have all your scores in place, the final score for each alternative is calculated by multiplying the score with the weighting for each objective. Alternatives that fail to deliver a “must” objective are excluded. The alternative with the highest score is the one that, rationally, best delivers the objectives and is the one that should be chosen.

Here’s a worked example:

In this example, even though the dog rates very highly on home security and companionship, because I didn’t weight home security as highly as I did soft fur the cat ended up with the highest score. Because I considered soft fur a must, the turtle had to be excluded.

Here, kitty kitty.

Crucial to any decision-making process is its ability to minimise the influence of unfounded beliefs and prejudices. It should also aim to remove emotional heat from the process by allowing everyone to see that their preference has been evaluated fairly and objectively.

Of course, humans aren’t always rational and objectivity is hard, so even with the best of intentions any rational process can be subverted. By following the processes here we can at least provide a paper trail as to how decisions were made. Later, if we find we made the wrong call we can always go back and see how we arrived at the wrong conclusion and learn from it.

Hm, perhaps I should have gotten a hamster.