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How storytelling ignites IT innovation at Lowe’s

Clint Boulton | April 28, 2017
The home improvement retailer creates comic books with narrative arks to make virtual showrooms, guide robots, and interstellar 3D printing viable.

Diana McKenzie, CIO of Workday, was among those impressed by the Lowe's innovation approach and plans to explore it further with colleagues at the cloud software vendor. "The power of being able to put that narrative together to get your audience to think about a different reality, almost as a set up to taking them into an innovation lab or starting up a new technology as part of the showroom seems like a brilliant approach that we're not using much as we should," McKenzie says.


Selling innovation to the profit-focused CEO

So how do CIOs get their C-suite and boards to permit such wild experimentation? Likely not without some pain, particularly in corporate cultures wedded to traditional mindsets, command-and-control scenarios and business processes.

"Usually people dictating business strategy grew up in the organization and rose to their level because they were good operating at that time," Nel says. "But the future is going to look a lot different than the past that got us to that point. And so in order to recognize and adapt it may not make sense for the only people to be making those decisions to be selectively chosen because they had success in the old model. And I see that problem time and time again."

Singularity University CEO Rob Nail, whose consultancy works has helped Lowe's Innovation Labs find partners in robotics and 3D printing, says broaching the topic of exploring exponential technologies is not an easy conversation in any business, largely due to the number of competing entities in a corporate ecosystem. CIOs must often muster the courage to outline business pivots to investors and the board of directors as well as constituents in the supply chain and sales. It's a necessary but "scary conversation" to have, Nail says. "It absolutely has to be this ecosystem pitch, otherwise it's just going to be a short play."

Ultimately, the CIO must sell the vision to the CEO, the only leader in position to drive top-down change. "If the CEO gets it you have a chance," says Nail. "If the CEO doesn't get it and everyone else does, you're going to have a hard time."



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