5 Questions With… Scott Kirsner of Innovation Leader

Scott Kirsner is the Editor and Co-Founder at Innovation Leader, a research and information service focused on corporate innovation. He also is a columnist for the Boston Globe and Program Chair for the Nantucket Conference.


Question 1: How do you define digital strategy?

Figuring out how to say something interesting to your customers and partners, and figuring out what channels you should be doing it through. The key challenge everyone runs into there is “interesting”. So much of corporate strategy is made by committees, and committees working with outside vendors and agencies. That tends to squash anything interesting.

Digital strategy is also about providing new value, services, and presence through new technologies, whether that’s the mobile phone, the Apple Watch, or something that hasn’t been invented yet.

Question 2: What kind of mobile device(s) do you have, and what are your three favorite apps?

iPhone 5S ( the new iPhones are too big for me), iPad Air, and my Bose QuietComfort headphones are also an important mobile device, since I bring them with me pretty much anytime I leave my office, to filter out what I don’t want to hear, and listen to music so I can write. (Pat Metheny is my favorite stuff for being productive.)

Three favorite apps: 1) Uber, which I use a little too often… but we are a one-car family, 2) Slack, which is really good for team communication and keeping people organized, and 3) LevelUp, which I really like for mobile payment and loyalty.

Question 3: What do you think of the emergence of the Chief Digital Officer role?

Getting “Chief” in your title is always a good thing, at least when it comes to impressing your spouse or your parents. But I think the challenge for CDOs is not letting the job become one where you’re seen as just managing a handful of vendors, or sitting on panels, or being someone who is the poster child for “we get digital” at your company. I think if that is the case, the role doesn’t survive very long.

The best CDOs will figure out how to use their position and influence to attract new customers, build real loyalty among existing customers, and generate more revenue. That is the same challenge, by the way, for most of the VPs of Innovation and Chief Innovation Officers that we write about at Innovation Leader. Their career prospects — and compensation — are going to be severely limited if they aren’t seen as creating new revenue and launching new products and services that matter.

Question 4: What advice do you have for aspiring digital professionals?

I was once one of those, in the mid-1990s, when the Internet was first turning into a mainstream medium. Learn to build stuff, and play with the new technologies. The more tools you know how to use, and can talk intelligently about, the more value you are going to have to a range of different organizations.

My only other piece of advice is this: there are two kinds of people in the world, and you want to be in the first group. The only group that matters is those who do what they said they were going to do, when they promised to do it. You can guess who is in the second group. Don’t be in the second group.

Question 5: What are the three most significant digital trends that will define 2015?

We will see a non-fitness wearable that gains broad adoption. Could be jewelry, a watch, something built into glasses, cufflinks. But something will finally have the cool factor it needs to take off with non-nerds. The challenge to marketers is that the displays will be small, and it may not turn out to be a useful platform for them.

Someone will finally “solve” loyalty for the small and medium-sized merchants who don’t today have loyalty programs, or good ways of messaging most of their customers.

And, the Internet of Things finally takes off in normal peoples’ homes. First big applications will be things like cameras (Dropcam is an example), thermostats (Nest), and doorlocks (Kevo).

Follow Scott on Twitter (@ScottKirsner), check out his bio on LinkedIn, or visit one of his projects at Innovation Leader, the Innovation Economy at The Boston Globe, and the Nantucket Conference.

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