How Do World Class CIOs Approach 10x Thinking, Idea Incubation, and Corp Re-Invention?

In my conversation with Barry, CIO of Experian we discussed how Experian incubates ideas, develops minimally viable products (MVPs) and brings them to market fast. He emphasizes the organizational focus needed today related to constantly reinventing itself and adding new products to the market. Experian has a three-way process between the technology side of the organization, the data labs, and our clients directly. It has been a really powerful model that is working quite well. As you watch this clip, here are some key take-aways to listen for:

Key Take-aways

  •  Think Tank
  •  Surrounding yourself with smarter people
  •  Innovation Labs that work
  •  Global Innovation Sandbox is their (tech incubator)
  •  Think Tank Operation, Fail Fast, Idea Incubation
  •  He looks at his innovation group as an Internal VC (Venture Capital) fund
  •  The Innovation group focuses on making bets – lots of them

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The full transcript of this conversation can be found below:


Bill:         Now, there’s sort of a trend coming to people that have 10x thinking; and I know a lot of people come to my innovation group to get their brains stretched as far as what’s possible. What is truly possible as a CIO – as someone who has access to all the data on the network and could be educated by all the ways to put that data to use to create offense for the business? How do you think big? What mentors, which people do you surround yourself with – people that keep you thinking about the bigger picture and not thinking small?

Barry:    Yes. There are a couple of things. First, I will be the first person to admit, I am very rarely, if ever, the smartest guy in the room. I pride myself on consistently and always hiring people that are a lot smarter than me. Then I know what their capabilities are and also what their limitations are – just like I think it’s important to know what your own limitations are. I’m really fortunate at Experian in that we’ve got a ton of really smart people and we actually have some mechanisms in place.

For example, we have a bunch of data labs around the globe – three in particular, a big one in San Diego, we’ve got one in the U.K., and we’ve got one in Brazil. The centers are, typically, each one has anywhere from ten to thirty PhDs in them. There’s one individual who’s a peer of mine and who I have a great deal of respect for, Eric Haller, who runs those organizations.

Those guys work very closely with my organization and I work with very closely with Eric, and that’s where a lot of idea incubation is done. It’s sort of a think tank type of operation. They get to try things and sort of fail fast. (these are big innovation concepts I talk about a lot….Singularity and others.)

Barry:    I look at them almost like I would look at a VC (venture capital) operation. If they get it right one out of every ten times, we win. They make a lot of bets, they look at a lot of technology. We work very closely on things together, and we actually have a much better track record than one out of ten, but that’s one mechanism that we use. I love working with those guys because they are so smart, and nothing’s impossible in their minds. They’re so creative that when we pair those guys up with the architects, they come up with some amazing ideas and some incredible things.

A lot of the more recent, more innovative technologies inside of Experian were incubated in those organizations, whether it’s what we call our Global Analytical Sandbox, which allows businesses to look at data on 250 million consumers in real time with historical data over the last 15 years. It doesn’t allow you to see a specific individual, but it allows you to look at large populations and draw inferences from that. That was incubated in one of those centers.

Our Text-for-Credit platform was incubated in one of those centers. And, I’ve worked with that group on a number of projects, some of which we’ve taken to market, and some of which we actually killed because we just didn’t decide they were viable. We have a really good environment to drive innovation, we sort of recognize how critically important it is to constantly be reinventing yourself and adding new products to the market. So, that’s something we really focus on as a company.

Bill:        Yes. A couple years ago, Eric was on my RedZone Podcast show shortly after you and I talked, titled: What Makes A World Class Innovation Lab? Experian Data Labs.

It seems like you’ve married the art of what’s possible with his group and then are constantly testing for how you can bring those new ideas into market. Then, I’m sure you test them and bring back the feedback.

Barry:    Yes, well, we sort of do it together. Eric and I routinely will get together with large financial services clients down in San Diego at the labs. I’ll drive down there and we’ll meet with any number of large companies and sort of bounce ideas off them, do joint ideation sessions with them, we’ll build prototypes, and then we’ll do minimally viable product (MVPs) with them.

But, what we try to do is actually test a lot of these ideas out in phases with actual real-world clients and let them participate in the process. It has produced some really, really cool results. It also sort of has told us, are we heading in the right direction? Do we need to course-correct? Are there other things that we should be thinking about?

But, we really have tried to make it sort of a three-way process between the technology side of the organization, the data labs, and our clients directly. So it’s been a really powerful model, and one that seems to be working quite well.

Bill:         This is massively important. Don’t launch products unless you know someone will buy. This has to be tested up front. I love the three-way-process.

Well, the funny thing is that even with entrepreneurs, when you’re testing new ideas, you’ve basically brought your customer in as a part of the solution set, and if they’re a part of that model, then essentially they’re highly likely to write a check for that capability versus trying to guess what they want and need.

Barry:    You’re spot on. The idea is to create kind of a win-win situation. We don’t want to go too far down a path until we know that what we’re building is the right thing. There are plenty of times where we’ve been told, “Yeah, that’s kind of interesting, but that’s not going to be a significant enough game changer for us that we would really pursue it.” And then we’ve had other times where we’ve shown somebody a prototype and their jaws hit the floor and they’ve said, “Can we have that today?” Which is obviously what you want to hear. We hope for a lot more of those than the former.