BoxWorks 2013 – Conference Review

Matt Wynne / 24th September 2013 / Comment

Last week I attended cloud storage company Box‘s third annual conference in San Francisco. BoxWorks 2013 was more than a product release conference; it was a lesson in leadership, vision and priority-setting.

The event began with a reception and gathering on Sunday night, but really kicked off on Monday morning with the first keynote address given by Box CEO and co-founder Aaron Levie. Levie announced exciting new functionality coming to Box, such as game-changer Box Notes. This de-facto cloud word processing tool will boost efficiency by allowing you to work in real time with collaborators around the world, with no version control needed. Box Notes will be at the center of Box’s offering for a long time to come, and I can’t wait until we get it in our hands.

The biggest takeaways from BoxWorks 2013 were the lessons from the headlining keynote speakers. Former General Stanley McChrystal and renowned author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell both spoke about leadership, innovation and communication, and their importance to what we do in the technology world every day. Digital marketers impact technology with their unique ability to shape the future of marketing and advertising through leveraging data and technology.

The Downsides of Agility

General McChrystal spoke about clarity of vision, and while incredibly important to an organization, the vision itself is not as important as communicating that vision to the organization and then, executing the vision. This is the hardest and most vital part of the process.

The message that strategy can only get you so far should resonate with digital marketers. Marketers spend a lot of time considering and formulating new strategies for themselves or clients, from persona building to testing targeting methodologies. Because of the tech world’s quickly advancing landscape, clients look for agencies that are agile and flexible. But there is such a thing as being overly flexible and agile.

Marketers sometimes have a hard time communicating, or even forming, a long term strategy for their clients. The focus tends to be on the latest and greatest method, instead of establishing and executing a clear, concise strategy. When we follow through on an identified strategy and refine where necessary, our results are far better than being agile at the expense of message clarity and purpose.

Disruptive Innovation

Gladwell’s presentation on “Disruptive Innovation” had a different approach to the subject. He shared some anecdotes about innovators such as Steve Jobs and Dr. Emil Freireich, a pioneer of childhood leukemia treatment. Gladwell pointed out interesting similarities between these two visionaries despite their different fields, and illustrated how those traits are relevant for today’s innovators.

According to Gladwell, two major traits that impact success were disagreeableness and a singular focus on the goal. He used the example of Xerox and Steve Jobs to illustrate this point: In the 1980’s Xerox was the technological leader in the US. They set up a huge research and development complex in California and hired a team of scientists and engineers to rethink and rebuild the modern office. When Jobs toured the facility, he saw what Xerox had done with the graphical user interface. Jobs returned to Apple HQ and scrapped everything they had worked on for years. He knew that the graphical user interface with a mouse was the way of the future. Because Jobs didn’t let anyone stand in his way, was willing to be disagreeable, and poured his life into this singular focus, he is now regarded as one of the most important visionaries of our time.

Gladwell’s point is that Jobs threw everything he had into his projects because he knew the effect it would have, a similar approach that Dr. Freireich took in his leukemia research. These visionaries identified the problem they wanted to solve and did not rest until they solved it. While being willing to make some modifications along the way, they identified a goal, built a strategy, communicated it effectively, and executed.

We can have the best strategy, but without clarity of message to stakeholders and a demand for flawless execution, we are doing ourselves and our clients a disservice. This is an important lesson for marketers to remember in order to progress in their industry as well as deliver for clients.

What do you think about the changes coming to Box, and these two takes on leadership, innovation, and communication? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

By Matt Wynne