The rise of digital technology has brought upon massive cultural change in our world today. In order to keep up, companies are seeking out new innovative ways and ideas to stay ahead. Managing Partner, Lou Frapporti, is joined by Chief Digital & Innovation Officer at WestJet, Alfredo Tan, to discuss how the culture of innovation and change is transforming the future of business.
You are listening to "Accelerating Business", a Gowling WLG podcast Season 1 Episode 1
Louis: First of all, Chief Innovation Officer, lawyer, we have dressed to type. We are clichés of our profession.
Alfredo: And that wasn't even planned.
Louis: No. Quite a serendipitous accident. In researching your fascinating biography, I feel compelled to ask how a student of forensic science and biology becomes a global authority on digital technology and innovation?
Alfredo: That's a great question. I suppose when I started university I never anticipated that I would start in the sciences and end up in the world of technology but along the way, if you look at the timeline of when I was going to school, there were things that were happening in the world that, at the time, became more interesting than what I originally started. In the late 90's the internet was sort of being born and we started to use things like email, which doesn't seem that advanced but back then it was, and I remember watching a series of commercials, and they were by Sysco Systems, at the time that we were talking about empowering the internet generation. It was making you think about a world where long distance would be free. Something so simple today was dramatic at the time. That got me inspired to think, "Is there going to be a different type of job that I'd be more interested in than the one I started?" So I have a tremendous amount of respect for the academic training I got in the sciences but where the world was going was just more fascinating to me which is why I started to pursue a more digital technology focused career.
Louis: Are there other passions that you have that inform what it is that you're doing today? That would seem unrelated to digital technology and innovation.
Alfredo: I think most of my passion stems from I love seeing change. There's a lot of people that are uncomfortable with change. I like watching, and this is not the right way to say it, the destruction of sort of companies and industries as new players come into play. I just have a passion for studying the companies around the world that are changing the world because they're fundamentally different thinkers. If there's something I'm interested in its learning from people who are doing even more dramatic things then I've ever done. These people take harsh criticisms, whether that's Bezos or Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, they're being criticized for a lot of things that they're doing but there's very few people that are shaping the future of humanity the way these people are.
Louis: I presume you'd agree that the very active creation presumes and implies destruction. That creation comes from destruction. So as an entrepreneur and innovator, essentially you need to be in the game of destroying before you can create. Is that fair?
Alfredo: Yeah. It is and to a certain extent they're being destroyed because there's better ways of doing things. There's criticisms for how dominant Amazon and Facebook and Google and Apple have become. But they're dominant because they provide a better consumer client experience then the companies before them. If they weren't that good then consumers wouldn't gravitate towards them. So I often think that the criticism isn't on these players that are dominating. The criticism should be on ourselves who are failing to be as good as they are.
Louis: When we think about innovation, the act of creation at this point in the evolution of business, the reality is that so many disciplines today are so deep and complicated. But it would appear that so much ideation and innovation comes from the capacity to see connection where there isn't obvious connection. That a degree of lateral thinking is a necessary prerequisite to innovation. In your career and experience how was that ability to see across the horizon in different disciplines critical to success and innovation?
Alfredo: I think it's going to be one of the most critical skill sets that we demand of the next generation of employees that we have. If you think about work in the past was about defined work. You would come in from 8:00 to 5:00 and your day was organized into chunks of what you would do. Today, you're trying to solve problems that, one, don't have an immediate solution, and then two, you're starting to rely on disciplines that you may not have expertise on. I think what's necessary there is the ability to learn. We never talk about that as a skill set, like a learning mind set. I'll give you an example, and I'm not saying that I'm the only one that came up with this insight, but when I was being recruited at Facebook, this was in 2008, it wasn't obvious it would become the tech giant that it is today. Someone asked me recently why I thought it was going to be the next big thing. The dots that I put together in 2008/2009, which other colleagues of mine had done the same, was it was the only platform on the web at the time that had a significant scale of people that were on the internet. There were users before but there weren't people. There's a dramatic different between those two. Then if you can forecast to say, "Well, if you suddenly have people at the scale that Facebook is growing at, what would be the potential for marketing, social good, business, information exchange around the world, if finally there were genuine people on the web. Not anonymous users." I think that skill set of being able to piece things together that don't seem obvious is what results in the creative solutions that we're coming up with today. I'm hoping that I have some of those characteristics, and I keep on trying to find patterns in things that may not be obvious to others, which is what I'm trying to do in the companies that I work in.
Louis: In that answer, in your distinguishing between the concept of user end people, and I'm taking from that the differentiator is this question of anonymity? Is that what you are referring to?
Alfredo: Yes. What was your original email address on Hotmail or Gmail?
Louis: Probably my name with Gmail.
Alfredo: Right. And what did the company know about you to make your experience better?
Louis: Virtually nothing, I would imagine.
Alfredo: Right. So fast forward to today, think about all your experiences. Whether it's on Amazon, Instagram, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, you love it because it's curated for you, and only you. It feels like a hugely personal experience. Prior to the personalization of the web it was largely anonymous, your experience would be the same as mine. Even though we probably only shared 20% of the things in common. The ability for that shift from anonymity to real people changed the face of the internet and we forget that that happened in recent history. The ability to bet on companies that have that foresight, far beyond before you and I thought about it, but to see it was the reason why I would join a company like that to say, "They're onto something that no one else has done before." It's not obvious, right? If you go back to your question around pattern, everyone thought it was social media and just sharing, but underlying it there's something more powerful being built which is connecting all of humanity together, one day.
Louis: I'm only going to touch on this at a very high level but the answer you've given me raises a very interesting and very current issue. And that is, could you have foreseen at the time some of the implications of personalizing the experience, fast forwarding today as it relates to the question of data privacy and the accumulation of the information about people, in so vast a way that can also be used for purposes that aren't entirely benevolent. Did you have a sense of that going back all those many years looking forward? And if not, when did that begin to dawn on you that being custodians of this data is a significant obligation and responsibility that has some darker aspects to it?
Alfredo: Maybe I'll answer the question at a higher level first which is any technology, unrelated to even digital, is always meant for good. I think humanity tends to be good natured. But there's always going to be a potential misuse of the technology. Forget about Facebook. Forget about Google and all these other companies. Ultrasound. What do you think about that technology? Good or bad?
Alfredo: Right. But in some countries could you not ascribe a negative effect of ultrasound because you can detect the gender of the baby and thus determine whether the woman should keep it or not? Is ultrasound bad or good in that sense?
Louis: Used that way obviously bad.
Alfredo: Right. So I think these technology companies are the same way. There's no ill intent and I'm not sure anyone foresaw the growth of these companies from where they were started in a garage to be where they are today. When you're leading the world in these capabilities, and these products and these services, often there are consequences because you're the first to do it. And they're not consequences because you intended them to be, it's simply when you're in unchartered territory, there's no framework on how to do it. We're all learning together and that's part of why the learning culture is so important. Whether it's at these companies or the companies you work in, if you're not willing to learn and then get better, then you'll never be able to innovate or create the next version of you.
Louis: Well, it's a good segue into this question of culture and I want to explore that with you. A repeated refrain among those leading innovation efforts in every industry, and something I understand you to be accepting of, is the proposition that the question of excelling at innovation organizationally is really not primarily about technology, or spent, or simply having a chief innovation officer and checking that box, it's about culture. Can you explore that with me? What do you think about that proposition and how are you wrestling with that in your new role?
Alfredo: It's a great question. If you think about, there probably isn't a word that you use more than innovation, today. Right? Often innovation and technology are lumped into being the same. In some instances they are the same but in most instances they're not. You could innovate without having to do anything with technology. If you think about innovation, it could be a spectrum. It could minor changes for a process or an idea throughout the life span of the company, which may only be .5% improvements per day. Some people would say that's not innovation. But it is. All the way to recreating and disrupting an entire industry. Part of the definition is what type of company do you want to be? Where on that spectrum do you lie? There's no right or wrong answer. You just have to define where that it is. But the number one determinate of how you succeed, regardless of which end of the spectrum you want to operate in, is do you have the culture to support that? What I mean by that is it's okay for the technology people to help drive the innovation but the innovation has to be throughout the entire organization. If it sits with one person, or a group of people, it's going to fail. Given enough time those people are set up to fail. The culture has to be accepting of change. The culture has to be accepting of a learning environment. It has to be okay with experimentation. Those are things that don't sit with one person or one group. It has to be an entire organization.
Louis: Can I just interrupt you for a second there and extract a little bit from that point. And that is though, at the end of the day, culture really then is the aggregation of individuals, and individual decisions and habits, that in the collective then define with the organization is or is not. But then, to what extent, is any cultural effort and innovation a function of winning the hearts and minds of each individual person?
Alfredo: I think it's twofold, right? One is at the very top and it has to be driven to a certain extent. At the top where you're giving permission to people to do that without risk of consequence. And number two, the people you have to hire have to believe in the purpose and the vision of where you're going. Then, if they don't have those sort of two elements, nothing you do is going to cause innovation. If there's no support for the top for that type of environment and, two, if the people don't believe in the purpose and vision of what you're trying to accomplish, all the other capabilities that you're hiring them for are largely irrelevant. Those are two critical elements to do that. Then those people should be given freedom, within certain guidelines, and how they think about innovation within their own job. They shouldn't have to wait for the CIO, the CDO or the CEO to say, "Here's how you innovate." There's no one at Amazon or at Facebook that tells you, "Louis, here's how you're going to innovate today." It's just a function of the culture that they've built and, in some instances, the lack of rules around how that's done actually cause innovation.
Louis: So the insight, that second pillar that you discussed, the question of the type of people that you hire to bring into the organization, brings me back to Jim Collins famous book, Good to Grade, in which he talks about the necessity for any corporate strategy of having the right people on the bus. Which then becomes very much about who and how you recruit. So then, to what extent is your role as Chief Innovation Officer really about how effective or aligned you are with those that are responsible for recruitment and human resources in the organization?
Alfredo: It's probably the biggest shift that we need to start thinking about. Most companies recruit sort of reactively. I think the best companies in the world recruit proactively. Let's look at the best sports teams. By the time you land and build the team, it isn't because you thought about that job last week. Or it isn't because someone quit the team and then they've hired someone in there. Sorry. You need to hire someone in there in the next month. The best teams are recruiting probably 2 or 3 years out. In fact, they're recruiting in high school and in college before they become even professionals. I think the best companies do a terrific job of hiring people well in advance, and not officially hiring, but going through a process so that they know what the bench is going to look like before they need to fill that role. I think that's one of the areas that we, as a company, need to get better at. I don't think it's just us. A lot of companies which is what roles do we think we're going to need in the next 12 to 18 months? How do we start recruiting in a different way that isn't looking at a LinkedIn profile a month before you need the role? It's one I don't have an immediate answer to but it's one of the problems that we need to solve at a larger scale than just to give out one role at a time.
Louis: But it does raise an interesting question that I think engages all of us in a variety of industries, is that there tends to be such a focus on recruiting for skills. But when it comes to aptitude for innovation you're talking about human characteristics that aren't primarily about a specific tool or skill set, it is about personal resilience, capacity to tolerate change, willingness to take risks. These are intangible characteristics. So in your assessment of the future of recruitment, as it would relate to WestJet for example, how do you see combining a recruiting philosophy that mixes those soft characteristics? The soft skills with the more hard technical skills.
Alfredo: I think the starting point, in regards to aviation or not, is for many roles there's no real requirement to have industry experience. But if you go through many company's job descriptions today, what's often the third, or second or first requirement? 15 years of industry experience. One is don't create the bias right away for what you believe is a requirement for the job. Often the skills that you really need for the job can be learned. Meaning the hard related skills can be learned. That's a generalization. It doesn't apply to every industry but what you should be looking for are people that you just described. That have a learning mindset. Work with a sense of urgency. All the things that are really, really hard to look for because no one writes, "I work with a sense of urgency." Or, "Nowhere on the resume does it say I'm adaptable to change more than anyone else." That's why it's so hard to recruit these days and we need to put more focus on both the recruiting, the talent development and the retention is because those elements that we're looking for, that what makes people, doesn't scream out in the resume in a way that it used to, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, where you look for the hard skills and you hire based on that. If you think about, again let's use and I'm always going to refer the fan companies, which is Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google, because they are sort of the darlings of where everyone wants to work, is they found a way to hire people irrespective of the hard skills. They've done a great job finding people with those soft skills that everyone's looking for. I think you just look for patterns. If you look at people's resumes, and if you're a good recruiter, you start to look for patterns and accomplishment that indicate the ability to do those underlying soft skills that are harder to articulate in a resume.
Louis: As you build your team around you is that the approach that you take into assessing the recruits that are potentially going to join your team?
Alfredo: For now, that's my aspiration is to get there.
Alfredo: What we're doing today is, because we have so many fundamental and foundational things we need to build from a digital perspective, we are focused, somewhat, on the harder skills. But as we set the foundation properly we will start to look for those softer skills that are harder to find which is, if they're missing 3 or 4 of the things that we need but they possess the soft skills to learn those things we're looking for, why wouldn't we take a chance on those people?
Louis: In reviewing some of your work I was particularly taken by the insight that while everyone wants to be a digital company, and I'm going to quibble with that in a moment, the biggest challenge is escaping the institutional gravity that large companies often face. What do you mean by that?
Alfredo: What made you successful, let's say for the first 20 or 30 years, isn't necessarily going to make you successful for the next 20 or 30. However, most of us are focused on the short term. Whether it's for right or wrong that's the way the world works. Where we're measured on a quarter by quarter basis. When things get tough, when financial situations are not the best, what's the easiest thing to do? It's to revert back to what you've always done because it's comfortable and no one gets punished in the short term for doing what you've always done. But over the long game, enough of those short term fixes, means you're losing the long game. I'll use the example where, if you look at Google, they have a division trying to solve immortality. They think they can find the end of death solution. Meaning, death will be a figment of our imagination one day. It'll never happen again. From an aging perspective. And that sounds radical. But if they're thinking 30, 40 years ahead and other companies are thinking about meeting their earnings per share for the next quarter, who do you think wins the long game in whatever industry you're operating in? The person playing 30 to 40 years are 20 years out. I think that's the challenge. It's easy to fall prey to the gravity of which you've always done because it was what made you successful. I think in order to get to where the future is going to be is to resist that gravity and that short term desire to satisfy the short terms goals you're looking for. Obviously it's a balance. You have to be able to do both. Manage the short term and the long term.
Louis: The drivers of that are profound, frankly in the legal industry generally, which is baked in as a short term focused industry, but even in the case of large public companies that are driven right now by shareholder value and perceptions of that value which drive quarterly earnings in an annual earning cycle, how is it that you break what is really that pull? Is it a mandate or obligation mostly of leadership? Is it something that has to be lived and experienced with the entire organization? How do you do that?
Alfredo: Well, I think the reason why this job is harder than any job that we're all going to have in the future is, I mean Accentra has done the report that something like 52% of the Fortune 500 no longer exist from the last 18 years. That's because most companies are going to fail in the long term because of this sort of short term focus. If I had the answer I think I would be lying to everyone to think that I would have the answer in how to solve that. But I do think the one thing that we have a control over is the cultural element and the ability to build structures and processes in place that say, "We are going to do the short term things because that's what we need to as a company." But there also has to be experimentation and sort of bets and risk calculated risks, and investments that need to be made to say, "What could the future look like if we were not constrained by the gravity of all the things we've done in the past?" Which is why companies are setting up all these innovations divisions and sort of these side ventures to try to do that. To compete with the startups that have none of these encumbered, they're unencumbered, right, so they're able to move faster. This is the challenge and I don't think anyone has the silver bullet on how to avoid the elimination of companies that have happened in the last two decades, which is only going to accelerate over time. But I think the only answer is at least concrete is to have the culture of invention, innovation and experimentation to at least have a role to play where the future is going.
Louis: Another very interesting insight, Alfredo. Preserved digitally for posterity, as these things are, is that there are few things that don't matter in a company. In other words there are things that we shouldn't focus on to the detriment of innovation. I've heard you say, for example, that one of those things is the difference between working 8 hours or 10 hours. Whether you're paid a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars in a bonus. Help us understand that insight. I think it's critical.
Alfredo: If you think about how we used to measure performance, we often think about input. Did you work 20 hours, 18 hours, 5 hours, typically the measure is a time sheet.
Louis: Sorry. In the legal industry, I don't know what you're talking about.
Louis: It's shocking to me.
Alfredo: So if you think about the way we used to measure things, and potentially in the current industry that you're in, is time sheets, it's input into the system. But if you think about what's really valuable it's the output or the outcome. I often talk about when you hire people they're only two things you should be really measuring them on. What's the impact or the output that you hired them to do and how do they do against that? Then two, how do they do that? The how is as important as the what and the why. But the opposite is true in the past which is what you tend to do is you used to measure what they did and then they hope that they got the impact. What if you reversed that and to say the first thing we're going to look at it is what was the impact you drove. In most companies today, the best performing ones, don't ask how many hours did you clock this week? It is what did you deliver for the enterprise? What did you deliver for the consumer? What did you deliver for the guest? That should be the starting point is the impact and then let's reconstruct why you were so successful in that. What were the things that you did that made you successful versus how many hours a week did you work? Were you at your desk? Were you in the cafeteria? Where you working from home? Are those really relevant? Maybe in some professions they are but I'd argue that in a lot of professions there's no real relevancy on where you were physically located in the moment that you drove the impact.
Louis: One way to look at that insight is perhaps in the difference between cost, price and value. Also, what strikes me and I'd really have you explore this with me, is that if you're wanting to look at or you're considering the question of the output, the result, and you've alluded to this, you can do that in two different ways that have, I think, vastly different outputs or results for the organization. You can view output as a function of your own company's output or you can view this question of output, or result, from the perspective of the client or customer. But it is in being focused on the output, or the outcome, for the client or the customer then ultimately has the most impact on your own output. Would you agree with that?
Alfredo: Absolutely. Yeah. One of the things we started to do, for example, is we've taken an entire view of the total guest experience. Even before you board the plane, we start the map, but what happens with the physical experience of WestJet? What should happen in the digital experience of WestJet? What are the guests and consumers thinking? One day I'll show you if you come by the office just to see how vast that entire path and journey looks like. Nowhere there are we saying, "Here's how many hours I'm going to invest to make that happen." It is, "What do we need to do to make that experience happen so our guests don't have to worry as much in this portion of the travel journey." So by changing the dynamic from a focus on the input, which is where are we working, how many people are on this project, those are all internal things that we have to worry about but the only measure should be did we solve the guest's journey properly? For the consumer and our guest.
Louis: I presume that that, which is a very impactful insight, mapping the client or customer's journey through the organization from beginning to end requires a great deal of interaction and input from the customers or clients themselves. How do you do that in your role? Is it a question of surveying the customers experiences at every point along their journey?
Alfredo: Yeah. It's quite an extensive process. It's taken us months and years of collective information. Everything from digital surveys, physical surveys, third parties and research firms helping us and other agencies gathering the information. We try to get a fulsome view of the consumer from both the digital and physical perspective. In a whole bunch of different methodology and then we consolidate it and then we build the journey maps according to that.
Louis: I'm very interested in the vastly different innovation challenges presented by companies like Facebook and the airline industry. One of the most regulated industries on the planet. Out of curiosity, do you have a passion for flying?
Alfredo: I'm fascinated by the technology of flying and it still astounds me every time I get on the plane that this massive object is still able to fly and change lives around the world. So I'm passionate about the industry and planes and the technology that allows us to fly. However, I am really, really not a fan of flying. In fact, I'm afraid of flying. Scott Wilson, our Vice President of flight operations, will respond to my texts when I'm in the air because I am so nervous about the turbulence. I'll say that I love the industry but I'm just not sure I like the act of flying because it scares me a little bit.
Louis: It's funny. There's a famous comedian in a very interesting skit who talked about this junction between the miracle of flying and getting into a tube and being someplace else quite quickly and how impatient we have become with the flying experience. The romance with flying seems now to have completely evaporated. Is any part of your job of WestJet's ambition, in some small way, to try to preserve and rekindle the romance and joy of flying? Or not? Is that not a consideration in running the business?
Alfredo: It absolutely is. We have so many ideas that we've parked. I'll give you one of them now but there are things that we have started to brainstorm around. Once we have start to build our foundational elements around the digital experience, how do we overlay what we think are experiences that don't exist today. Here's an example, and maybe this is one we'll just keep for ourselves and it doesn't make it to the public, but imagine a situation where if someone is nervous on the flight, obviously we can't have Scott Wilson, our VP, responding to every single situation and calming people down. But what if we could create messaging to people that said, when this bump is felt, "Here's a message from this pilot", write around what that is. It doesn't have to be announced. It can just be something you receive on your phone. Or, what if when you boarded the plane you knew who the pilots were, and during the downtime you could message the pilot and ask a specific question that you would be embarrassed to ask in any other situation. That sort of human interaction, despite the fact that I'm a digital person, can't be lost with technology. In fact we can enhance that experience because that one to one experience wouldn't be possible in the past. I know I would love something like that. Like there's a bump and suddenly the pilot messages me and says, "It's okay, Alfredo. Here's what that it is." You can apply AI to that. These are the segment of the people that would get that message and these people are not afraid of flying because we know that in their profile. They don't have to be bothered with that message. I bet you people would love a service like that because I don't think that exists anywhere in the world today.
Louis: We'll come back to that. Let's talk a little bit about social digital media. WestJet uses Twitter to a large part of your customer service hub. I'm understanding that you have three or more times the following as Air Canada. Why?
Alfredo: One is I think we have a great social media social care team. But two, I think it has to do with the fact that I'd like to think that we're a very human brand. Meaning the company for the last two decades has always focused on the human element of flying. The best way to do social and digital media or technology is to make sure that element's never lost. If you look at all of our social media interactions, or all of our digital interactions, whether it's paid or earned, you know it's us. It doesn't feel like it's a separate marketing department that's coming up with it. It's a unified brand experience. When you hear from us on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook it feels like the brand, it talks like the brand and it encompasses the way we are as a company when you interact with us, face to face like this, and the Twitter representation should feel no different.
Louis: This raises what I think is a very interesting paradox about digital technology and where we are right now. That is that what was originally, I think, benevolently intended to be a way of fostering human connectedness has turned into something a little different. Social media today, for so many, accounts for a great deal of balkanization and silos and is a way in which we're actually creating distance rather than connectedness. When I think about my WestJet flying experiences, what sticks out the most is the quirky humanity of your flight attendants. The way they incorporate humor into what they do which is such a distinctive part of your brand. How do you integrate the capacity of social media and digital technology to foster distance into something that ultimately needs to be a question of human connection? That's a hard proposition.
Alfredo: It is. But I think that's the power of where technology is today. In the past, if you go back to my original statement around the anonymity of the web, because the web has become so personalized and people are on the web, technology shouldn't replace the face to face time that you and I can have today. But if we can't have this, which often we can't give our busy schedules, technology should allow the facilitation that feels like we're somewhat together as well. Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, all these other digital channels, from a company to consumer perspective should be the same way. If you're not physically on the plane with WestJet today how do you still experience the brand as if you were in person with the brand? Whether you're flying or not. I think that's the hardest part. A lot of times the brand isn't expressed properly in the digital world and there's an incongruency between the two. When there's an incongruency it's like no different than a non-digital channel. If you experience something with a customer service agent that doesn't feel like the brand, it feels disjointed. It's the same with digital technology. That's the hardest part. To make sure that you don't lose the human element in whatever product or service you built. When we built our digital technology the question is, is this still WestJet? How do we still maintain the WestJet that people have come to know. Despite the fact that it's now a digital interaction. That's often the hardest part, is the merging of those two experiences.
Louis: It would seem to me in ultimately doing that you're necessarily having to integrate and collaborate with people from a broad group of disciplines. People in media and marketing communications, people who have skill and knowledge around human psychology and connectedness and innovation and when you, in your teams and how you deploy internally, do you work in that fashion with a broad group of people from different disciplines to come up with that result? Or do you work rather more individually and in silos within a group of innovation distinct from other aspects of your business?
Alfredo: No. I'd like to think we are collaborating immensely cross-functionally within the organization. We could do always better so we're certainly not saying that we're at 100% of where we need to be. But we are definitively working with different parts of the commercial organization from loyalty to physical guest experience to the call centre to the social care centre to brand marketing. My team is collaborating with many cross-functional parts of the organization, and we certainly need to expand the type of people that we work with in the company, but I always say that if we are the ones doing it ourselves and we don't bring other people along for the journey, no one's going to want to come with us. The best way is how do we provide value to other parts of the organization as opposed to just providing value to the digital team. Which is very self-serving which doesn't accomplish anything. So how do we incorporate as many parts of the business that have a stake in what we're building and make sure that they feel like they're part of the journey and, in fact, without them the journey is impossible. Then that's the way we will become more innovative by making sure that innovation in digital isn't a digital function. It is a function for the entire enterprise.
Louis: While overcoming silos and barriers is key to every organization but you've raised an important question and observation. The question back to you though is how do you do that? Of course we can agree that it's critically necessary for you to do that to be successful. How do you do that?
Alfredo: A tactical example. I mentioned the journey map. So now there's a full end to end leisure journey map. So what does a leisure traveler go through mentally, physically, psychologically through the entire journey? There is no way my team could have done that on our own. We had to work with frontline staff. We had to work with the call centre. We had to work with the people that were in flights. We're interfacing both with the executive levels as well as the working levels in all those organizations in order to produce that. Then when we say, "Okay. Here's the digital piece that we need to build for this part of the journey." Without feedback from the rest of the organization on whether we're building it properly, including feedback from our guests and our user groups as well as engaging with the people that control the physical part of that journey, we would not be building a great product. That's a pretty tactical example in that one area where we are collaborating internally with many groups to validate the idea that we have on how we solve a specific part of the guest journey.
Louis: Are there challenges or obstacles beyond those that you've referenced that are immediately before you that you see as being a focus of your time and energy, now, and if so, what are they?
Alfredo: It's funny. Most of my time isn't spent even on technology challenges. Most of the challenges we face are everything from how we think about recruiting. How we think about reward systems. How we think about prioritization. If you're in a digital company what's the first thing that you always do? Build digital products. If you work in a company where digital isn't the product you have to find ways to convince other people that without this digital future there may not be a great physical product. That's probably the biggest hurdle to face is working in primarily digital companies, which has sort of been my history of employment, I've never had to convince anyone of the importance of investing in digital. Here, that's a little different because, obviously, flying the plane and getting people to their destination safely is the primary area of investment. Now the game is how to do I convince people that without that digital capability some of these physical things may not be as great as they are today.
Louis: Your resume is replete with examples of an observation which I think is common among all very successful people, entrepreneurs and other leaders, and that is a passion around lifelong learning. The continuous need to learn and to be open to wisdom from others. If you were giving advice to a young person who was looking at a future, and a future that might be vastly different from what we have today, what advice would you give them about being successful and enjoying a fulfilling career.
Alfredo: The first one is, my sister and I talk about this a lot, which is don't be so focused on the end game. There's this focus on what do I need to have by the time I'm 40, 45, 50 or where does my career sort of end. We look at the end state. I would say enjoy the entire journey. Make sure that journey isn't about 5 or 10 year segments Sometimes it's only as long as 18 months. I'm not saying you should be leaving a job in 18 months but the world is changing so rapidly that maybe the focus shouldn't be about the destination, but what are all the things that I want to learn, because the world is so infinitely fascinating. More today than it ever has been. What are the things that I want to pursue in these segments of my life? Often what I pursue are the things that I know the least about and, two, where there's no guarantee of success. If given two or three options, choose the one that solves those two. One is, there's the gap between what you know and what you're going to know, and then two, the gap between known success and potential failure. Because those are the environments that create the greatest learning. There's no downside. In both those instances you can come out, what? A significantly more intelligent, more knowledgeable, more capable person. If things work out then you've managed to succeed which is equally good. The other one is never to be fixed in a mindset to say that, "I'm an engineer" or maybe "I'm a lawyer". Be open to, as Sheryl Sandberg says at Facebook, open to the possibility of like in a jungle gym, where you're not moving up or down you're sort of moving across in these different experiences. I've never chased, really, upward mobility. It's always just been an interest like where's the next learning path going to be for me. That includes both formal training as well as informal training. Sometimes people ask why are you taking that course? Or why are you interested in that program? The answer is just because I want to learn something different or something new or to enhance something I don't think I know enough about.
Louis: With all that wisdom in mind you, like most, would have had some connection with, or experience with, the legal industry at some point in your life. What, if any, advice would you give us? Particularly from the prospective of curating a culture that is open to change and adapting to change that I might take away from this interview?
Alfredo: Industries that seem unassailable, or that there's no one threatening you and the only threat that you see are other legal firms, I think those are industries that are at most risk. Because you don't believe that there's anyone else coming for you. If you think about, the most obvious one that everyone talks about today, is the taxi industry. Every taxi operator thought that they were competing with every other taxi operator. They had no idea it was going to be highly regulated. You need these medallions to operate and you need government approval. There were all these barriers to entry. Then one day that changed, literally, overnight. No one saw it coming. Except the consumer who demanded more. I think the same applies to the legal industry. Today it seems unassailable. There's all these regulations and things that are in place that protect you from any of these big disruptions that the rest of the world is seeing. I would argue that that's true, today. But it doesn't mean in 10 years from now, which isn't that far away, that something dramatic doesn't come up. Doesn't change it. It's never gradual. If you think about the way that industries are destroyed it's not like it goes slowly. It falls off a cliff and by then it's too late. If I had any advice which is, make an assumption and maybe have a cultural element that says let's not take for granted that we'll be around forever. Because nothing really does stay the same. My favourite example is a non-technology one. When my mom, my dad and I came to Canada the teleco industries made their money primarily how? Long distance. We had so little money that we didn't know when my mom and dad would be able to call back home because long distance was so expensive. Meaning, we had to save up for months until we could afford to call back to the Philippines. Today, that is such a foreign concept to think that a teleco would make money on long distance phone calls. That's one generation that that dramatically changed society, changed the way my mom and her family interact and how people around the world live their lives and then on a different level how companies in that industry make money and I think the legal profession isn't going to be unique. That it's going to be protected like other industries. No other industries been protected. Maybe you will be protected for a little longer. Longer than most but if you don't have that culture of change and then accepting that you may be assailable to a technology or a competitor one day that isn't even here yet. I think that would lust be the warning which is its happened so many times it would be a little arrogant to think that you would be contained away from any of that.
Louis: On that cautionary note I want to thank you for your time.
Alfredo: Thank you as well Lou.
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