Interview with Miguel Ángel González Gisbert, Global CTO at Carrefour.
How should one think about the two worlds that make up the innovator’s dilemma? That is the theme of this episode of The Creativity Suite, and while I cannot promise that it will be interesting, I can promise that it will be about interesting…
The innovator’s dilemma is about the problem that leaders face between focusing on the business they are successful in now, and the business that might be successful tomorrow.
Most leaders are aware of this dilemma, but what should we call these two worlds that make up the dilemma? That is what I talked to with Miguel Ángel González Gisbert, Global CTO at Carrefour.
Before we dig into the message that came out of that discussion let’s quickly look at the company Miguel works for. Carrefour is one of the world’s largest retailers with more than 12,000 stores, more than 320,000 (!) employees and revenue of about 80 Billion Euro. And retail, especially the business of grocery, is right now undergoing a technological and logistical revolution so as global CTO Miguel has a very interesting job.
Carrefour had been lagging behind on tech for a while, but with the appointment mid-2017 of Alexandre Bompard as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Carrefour has been on an exciting journey of business transformation, grounded on the ambitious Carrefour 2022 plan. Tech is a major enabler of this change. Miguel joined as Global CTO in the team of Elodie Perthuisot, head of e-commerce, data and digital, a little more than one year ago. “It’s a real freaking transformation”, Miguel told me about the journey that Carrefour has been on the last few years.
Now, let’s look at the theme for this episode.
As a CTO Miguel has to think both about how he can use technology to maximise the business that Carrefour is in right now, but he also has to think about what the world of retail and grocery might look like in the future.
For Carrefour that is extra challenging since a whopping vast majority of its revenue comes from stores. But we all know this is rapidly changing with e-commerce.
The words we use to describe the two words will affect how we look at them. For example:
“Brick and mortar” vs “e-commerce” is describing it from the perspective of looking at the modes of distributing the products / services.
“Incumbent” vs “disruptor” is describing it like a fight.
“Market leader” vs “challenger” is describing it as a competition.
“Traditional” vs “unconventional” is describing it from how familiar it is.
“Existing business” vs “future business” is describing it more from a business development perspective.
“Current customer offering” vs “new trends” is describing it more from a customer perspective.
And so on.
Each of these descriptions work, and they all make us look at the competition between “the current” and “the future” business in a slightly different matter.
But is there a different set of words we could use to describe these two areas of focus for innovators?
Miguel would like to propose:
“Interest” vs “Interesting”.
Think about it: Why do leaders spend so much time and energy on developing their existing business? Because they have invested so much in it already. To not take care of that investment would be a waste. They want interest from that investment.
And why do leaders spend so much time and energy on developing the future, even if it is not returning as much as the existing business? Because they find it interesting.
The word “interesting” means “unusual and exciting in a way that keeps your attention”. e-commerce might just be a small percentage of the business of Carrefour, just as iPhone was just a small business of Apple in the beginning and so on. But Apple and Carrefour invested new, fresh resources into mobile phones and e-commerce respectively because they found these new potential avenues of revenue interesting.
And here is the interesting part about interesting: The word “interesting” has the same root as the word “interest”, and the word “interest” is made up of the word “inter” (meaning “between”) and the word “esse” (meaning “to be”). So the word “interest” means “that which is in between”. I guess the word is trying to tell us that the true innovator is balancing in between that which is already invested in, and that which is new.
Miguel estimates he spends something like 60% of his time on the existing business with the stores and 40% on digital channels (even when stores are most of the existing business).
With 66,000 (!) point of sale counters in their 12,000+ stores, Carrefour has a huge investment in existing infrastructure/real estate and Miguel and his team are, for example, developing a new omni-channel solution that will improve communications with the customers when they check out (for instance, offering clearer, real-time info on promos or loyalty points). The solution is grounded on tiny, and cheap mini-computers (think Raspberry Pi type) that will quickly improve the lives of millions of customers, at a low cost. An example of innovation from the “invested” perspective.
So how do you get your employees to want to invest more of their capacity into the “interesting” category? To see new opportunities for growth, business and expansion? One thing Carrefour has recently done is to create “Horizons by Carrefour” (https://horizons.carrefour.com/), a public, inspiring, knowledge-heavy and global blog in which Carrefour’s employees can communicate their best digital innovation initiatives. A way of empowering and shining a light on the people within the organisation who are looking for new ways of doing things.
As Miguel said at the end of our conversation: “It’s not about pushing e-commerce or pushing stores. It’s about riding the gap between the two to see the opportunities wherever they are. How can we leverage digital innovations to enhance customer experience and operational efficiency in stores? How to generate in-store traffic using e-commerce? How to deliver excellent “phygital” journeys like click-and-collect?”. To have the mindset of being in between.
What is your “invested business” that you are looking to innovate in to get your interest? What is your “interesting business”? And how are you balancing in between the two in a way that makes sense? For Miguel it means figuring out how to make all those 12,000+ stores more effective, appealing and better to make sure they get the very best return on all that time and money invested in them, while he at the same time makes sure to locate, discover and invent new interesting avenues where Carrefour’s tech could be going in the future. It’s a challenge for sure for a company of this massive size. But carrefour has for over 60 years balanced the new with the old – they were, after all, the company that invented the hypermarket with big success. Miguel Angel González Gisbert, at just 36, seems to love the challenge. “It’s hard as hell, but it is a super energising job. And I just love it.”
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