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How to be like 'Adobe' and love your future customers

Leadership Masterclass: Tips to accelerate your digital transformation

Charlene li image

In a nutshell, digital transformation is falling in love with your future customers.

Tech leader Adobe did this in 2013.

It stopped selling its popular Photoshop CD-ROMs and found new customers as a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) company.

Build for the future customer

Fortune 500 advisor and author of The Disruption Mindset Charlene Li says Adobe wasn’t blinded by their profitable current customers.

“We [all] need to put on our digital transformation glasses and build for the future customer,” she told The Growth Faculty’s Masterclass.

She says:

·       Disruption is an opportunity for change.

·       Digital transformation is our way of asserting control over that change.

·       Nothing creates change faster than a committed leader.

“What if” scenario planning

COVID-19 saw many of us make changes over 5-7 days that would normally have taken 5-7 years. So, how do you stay at that cutting edge, and bring your people along on that journey?

First, do what Adobe did, and start scenario planning.

Workshop uncertain scenarios related to:

·       Your organisation. How might your workforce evolve?

·       Your industry. What will happen to customer needs?

·       Macro-trends. What’s happening out there socially, politically, environmentally?

Choose the most relevant 3 to 6 and imagine pain points and winning strategies for each scenario. Include some “no-regrets moves” – moves you’d make in any scenario. 

Plan strategy quarter by quarter, it's not an annual process.

Making the case for digital transformation

Where are you on your digital disruption journey?

5 stages of digital transformation maturity:

·       Making the case – dipping toes in with early customer facing experiments.

·       Developing foundations – seeking to understand customers & map journeys.

·       Building operations – starting to digitise operations at scale.

·       Integrating platforms – have digitised operations, now integrating them.

·       Optimising for growth – leveraging data and AI to create great customer experiences.

Our Masterclass poll showed most (30%) of participants were at the Building Operations stage. 8% were still Making the Case for disruption. Take the free digital maturity assessment.

Finding your future customer

Mapping a customer journey is a visual story of your customers' interactions with your brand.

Charlene Li says even great customer journey work is no good if it’s out of date. 

She quotes a colleague: If you are not focused on the customer experience you are working on the wrong thing.

Listen and observe to find your future customers:

·       Integrate customer data, analytics, and AI to predict and forecast.

·       Train frontline employees to identify emerging patterns.

·       Use social listening (mentions of your industry on social media) strategically.

·       Look to your adjacent users (customers but not engaged users).

Break down the silos in your organisation. Put windows in your silos.

Shout at each other from your silo and say “Here’s a customer, catch!” Charlene suggests.

Choosing technology investments

Cybersecurty, 5G, machine learning (AI), conversational technologies (chatbots).

How do you decide where to put your time, energy and money?

Charlene recommends this balance:

1.     Identify the minimally viable data needed to make decisions.

·       Favour usability and adoption over features.

·       Make decisions! There are no perfect platforms. Pick one that meets your core needs. Slack or Trello? Choose one and go for it. 

2.     Roadmap the new platforms for rollout in the future (18-24 months).

3.     Highlight short term wins and land the execution to build credibility.

·        Pull data out of legacy systems into data lakes (a centralised repository) to create virtual customer data platforms.

4.  Allow a very few experiments to happen, hold the line for everyone else and point to the roadmap.

Note, it’s no longer “do we do AI?”- for most industries it’s becoming table stakes.


Transformational leadership and culture

Transformation is like trying to turn an aircraft carrier. When the command comes, everybody must be turning.

Body – Soul – Mind

If you don’t have a culture that can understand your digital transformation strategy it won’t go anywhere. You need to change your beliefs and behaviours.

The 3 beliefs of disruptive organisations:

·       Openness – Sharing lots of information, honest about failures.

·       Agency – Everyone has the ability and the right to act.

·       Bias for action – While we would love to be perfect we take action now.

Transformation requires leaders who build movements

On a difficult journey you need other people to pick up the flag and pitch in. So, paint the future in bold vivid details.

3 steps to write a manifesto:

·       Start with a rant.

·       Flip the rant into a belief.

·       Add how you will you act.

Here’s an example from our Masterclass:

I want to feel connected to one big system where my personal data is safe and up to date always. I don’t want to have to remember loads of logins and passwords to perform simple tasks. I want to work easily online without fear.


We all have an edge – we need to go the edge of the comfort zone. Take a walk, go out to the very edge of what we think is possible. Then you will grow comfortable there, and you can push that edge out further.

As Charlene Li says, disruption is an opportunity for change. We have been through this change together with COVID-19.

In so many ways, it will look easy compared with what we’ve been through over the past year. Now it’s on us. 

About Charlene Li

Charlene Li is a New York Times best-selling author of six books, including her newest release, The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Businesses Transform While Others Fail, as well as co-author of the critically-acclaimed book, Groundswell.  

Charlene is an entrepreneur who founded and ran Altimeter Group, a disruptive industry analyst firm acquired by Prophet. Charlene was named one of the Top 50 Leadership Innovators by Inc., and one of the most creative people in business by Fast Company.  Charlene graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and received her MBA from Harvard Business School.

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