Spotlight on innovation: A conversation with Deloitte’s CIO Terry Stuart

The most exciting and most challenging job!

The future, according to Terry Stuart, Deloitte’s Chief Innovation Officer, is a bit of ying and a bit of yang. “In my current role, I’m simultaneously as excited as I’ve ever been in my career and as concerned as I’ve ever been at any point in my life.”

What does he mean? That no industry or business is immune to the current state of flux. New technologies, solutions and capabilities are coming out fast and they’re changing not only business models but also the regulatory and competitive environments. Some are threatening to wipe out whole or parts of industries and businesses, including professional services firms like Deloitte.

“We coined the phrase ‘living in the age of disruption’,” Terry says, “and we are definitely living it!”

You describe your role as ‘constructive disruptor.’ What do you mean by that?

Disruptors break glass. They try to do things differently but they do not offer sustainable solutions. As a constructive disruptor, I do want to break some glass, challenge the norm and try new ways of doing things, but I aim to do this in a way that helps the firm and our clients realize long-term business value.

What are the key challenges in the ‘age of disruption’?

We don’t have a crystal ball. We cannot predict and guarantee what the future will look like, so we will have to act based on our best insights and analysis. And we won’t always get it right. This means we have to be accepting of any failures and be ready to change and pivot as needed, and we have to be quite fast and nimble in the process.

Why is Deloitte investing in innovation?

In recent years, we did some analysis and found out that over 65 percent of our revenues in Canada have the potential of being disrupted by new entrants and new digital techniques. Our clients are facing the same risks. In financial services alone, there are over 8,000 disruptive fintech companies threatening the industry. Technologies like blockchain/distributed systems, peer-to-peer payments, and mobile financial applications are enabling new startups to gain market traction. The same applies to manufacturing, telecommunications and even resource-based industries. Some industries will feel the digital aspects of disruption faster, but no single industry is safe.

How are we doing so far?

We are very well-positioned. We’ve had a good head start with our global innovation team in the area of disruption and exponential research. But the pace has become so fast we decided to embed ourselves in various technology ecosystems and are now working c losely with leading research institutions to stay ahead of new innovations.

For example, Deloitte is in the Communitech hub in Kitchener/Waterloo – the only professional services firm with a dedicated team in that collaborative innovation space. We have teams working at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and at The DMZ at Ryerson University, a business incubator. We launched d { } (pronounced ‘dee space’) last year, a prototyping hub for accelerating the development of cutting-edge technology-related products and services that we can bring to our clients.

And there is the Deloitte Greenhouse, currently in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and opening soon in Calgary. The Greenhouse combines Deloitte’s analytics, innovation, and digital capabilities in one space to give our clients the best experience and allow them to achieve breakthroughs in finding solutions to complex business issues.

Globally, Deloitte formed a strategic alliance four years ago with Singularity University, a think tank in Palo Alto, California, focused on educating people in exponential technologies and business models. It helps senior executives understand cutting-edge technologies and inspires them to apply these technologies to improve life for humanity as well as their business. For us, Singularity had the best research and fact-based understanding of exponential technologies, and it’s also practical for our firm and clients.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of a job where you can say we’ve made good progress and we’re done now. We need to continue to put the pedal down on the accelerator to stay ahead of the curve (and the competition).

What aspects of innovation are you most excited about?

I’m excited about the exponential technologies and business models because of their accelerated performance curve. Whether its cognitive science or the Internet of Things, these technologies are starting to get significant traction. Two years ago, for example, people thought the autonomous car was never going to happen or, if it did, it was at least 20 years away. The car is real now, and impacting industries from manufacturing to real estate to insurance. This space can go fast and if we are clever and stay in tune with that, there will be exciting opportunities for our firm and our people.

On a personal level, I’m quite curious about the whole area of neuroscience. I think the next frontier will be about how people make decisions or how we motivate people. Now we have technologies that allow us to figure that out cost-effectively.

Deloitte Germany, for example, has developed a neuroscience institute in collaboration with a university. They’re testing how neuroscience can be applied to how we sell. Another example is Axonify, a software company in Kitchener, which is leveraging cutting-edge neuroscience research to improve corporate learning and advance corporate engagement and culture.

One of your favourite quotes is “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” Can you elaborate?

This is from “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley and I like it for a variety of reasons, but mostly for the meaning. We humans put the boundaries on ourselves and we are the only ones who have the power and control over our thinking, what we do with our lives, and our destiny. It’s kind of liberating.

If you were to give one piece of advice about preparing for the future, what would that be?

Get curious and get dirty and experience it. If you’re talking about the autonomous car, just test-drive one. If you’re curious about blockchain technology, download an app that lets you try some Bitcoin trading without spending any money or putting your ID at risk. Thinking about the sharing economy? Try Airbnb or Uber.

Getting personal with Terry

Prime motivator: Deloitte research suggests that if we don’t change the productivity and innovation agenda for the country, our kids will actually have a worse quality of life than we do. This is the first time in the history of Canada that that is the case; it’s statistically and economically proven. That is not the legacy of our generation that I want to leave.

Source of inspiration: It’s probably too cliché but family is always an inspiration. I have a significant amount of pride in Canada and trying to make Canada better for our kids is a big piece of what I do and why I do it.

Pet peeve: Poor customer service and badly designed products.

Gadget you can’t live without: The Livescribe smartpen. I like writing my notes, and the smartpen transfers them into a searchable electronic document that I can keep in Evernote.

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