How To Become A Company Everyone Wants To Follow

Industry insight: David Chao, Chief Strategy Officer at ReadyTalk


Ahead of his presentation at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit in New York this December 5-6th, we spoke to David Chao, Chief Strategy Officer at ReadyTalk.

David Chao is an experienced strategic thinker and has been a technology thought leader for the past 20 years. With a diverse background from motion pictures to the internet, he brings a unique perspective to the technology market with his experience in financial services, movies, manufacturing, and technology. His skills are focused on setting clear, sustainable strategic differentiators and then manically executing.

How did you get started in your career?

I’m going to be honest here – it was by complete accident. ( I acknowledge that truth probably isn’t the best indicator of how a strategist should think about one’s career.) I’ve always been good at looking at problems from fresh perspectives and different angles. For the early part of my career, I thought that way of thinking was flawed. I was just too young to know any better. But as I began to participate in meetings and decision-making more often, I discovered that the reasons why certain things are the way they are - weren’t always good reasons. I started speaking up, asking strategic questions, and haven’t stopped since.

As for thinking critically in the context of technology, I’d say it all started when my family got the first RadioShack TRS80 computer. My dad told me: 'If you want a game, make your own.' So my first software programming efforts were about trying to figure out how to make early, very rough computer games. From there, I figured out how to use the computer to solve more complex problems. Computers and thinking in algorithms or processes have always had a significant influence on my career and life.

What are the main challenges companies face when it comes to strategy execution?

You have to truly believe in a strategy to properly execute it. You can’t just settle for understanding it. You have to believe with all your heart and passion. The passion is key when it comes to dealing with problems every day, every hour, and still feeling that the work is worth doing. Then, and this is the hard part, you have to apply logic to the strategy. Does this make sense? You have to be ice cold in your analysis of whether the strategy makes logical and business sense. You have to rationalize all of it in your head, with some degree of critical distance. It’s almost like you need to have two brains going at the same time.

Another main challenge is patience. Without it, you may kill an initiative too quickly and not give it adequate time to take the pivots it needs. The good thing about startups is that every decision is based on break-even. On the other hand, it’s harder for existing more mature companies to execute if they don’t have discrete accounting for projects. The converse of the patience challenge is that sometimes, you don’t kill the projects that you should because no one accounts for those dollars.

How can companies remain agile and adjust quickly to changing market tastes and emerging communication channels?

Plan on self-destructing. Yes, I said it…plan on reinventing yourself each year and don’t be too narrowly focused on what you did to get to the place you are now. Plan on breaking the mold again and again. I had a friend who ran a successful toy invention company. Every year, he took all the profits out of the business and gave himself a little allowance to fund the business again. His theory was - you think and act differently when you plan on figuring out a new way to make money every year. I'm still trying to subscribe to that line of thinking year after year.

Also, make sure you keep an eye on what is 'hot'. I admit it – I’m an old fart, so I rely on younger people in our company, my kids, and their college and high school friends to keep me updated on what they’re doing, what they’re buying, how they’re behaving, and how they’re deciding. I think we are seeing consumer-oriented communications leading the way for corporate communications and channels.

How can you ‘own’ the customer relationship in the Internet era?

Be the expectation! If you can be the company that everyone uses to fill in the blank in the phrase, 'oh, that’s just like __________,' then you can wholly own the customer relationship. Let everyone else to be compared to whatever you do exceptionally well.

What are you going to be discussing in your presentation?

The vast majority of companies aren’t Google, Tesla, or other giants with bottomless pockets and resources. I’m going to take a stroll over to 'the poor side of town' and explore where and how sensible CSOs can invest in innovation, pick mini-moonshots, set fellow C-suiters’ expectations, execute, and measure the success (or sometimes inevitable failure) of innovation initiatives.

You can hear from David and other industry leaders at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit, taking place in New York this December 5-6th.

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