Leaders ascend to their positions by mastering today’s (or even yesterday’s) business. Almost by definition, they don’t have first-hand experience with a disruptive shift in their market when they encounter it. A lack of intuition around the new and different can at best slow progress and at worst lead to serious strategic missteps.

What should a leader do? Dave Gledhill decided to learn to code.hbr_130x130

Gledhill is Group Executive and Head of Group Technology & Operations at DBS Bank, a leading Asian bank with more than $300 billion of assets and a market capitalization of about $35 billion. Over the past few years, its CEO, Piyush Gupta, has been pushing an aggressive transformation agenda, with a specific focus on embracing digital technologies.

The smartphone is obviously an important emerging area for any bank going digital, and DBS has aggressively explored mobile-only banking offerings in markets like India. While Gledhill is a “fourth-generation” engineer with a degree in computing and electronics, his formal education was decades ago, well before the rise of smartphones and related apps.

“My coding days were 20 years ago, and none of this stuff existed then,” Gledhill said. “I was struggling to understand at a deep level what was happening inside the phone, which made it hard to function as a leader of technology.”

So Gledhill committed himself to develop an app. An evening event provided the inspiration. In Singapore, every car is required to have a reader with a smartcard that interacts with the city-state’s smart toll system and almost every parking garage. One time Gledhill found himself at an event where the host provided complimentary parking. Unfortunately, Gledhill forgot to remove his smartcard from his car, so the complimentary parking was rendered moot.

What if, Gledhill wondered, he could create an app that provided location-based alerts, which reminded you to do a certain thing only when you were in a certain location?

Read the rest at Harvard Business Review

Scott D. Anthony is the managing partner of Innosight.

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