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Amazon’s Carter: Innovation Is for More Than Products

Women in the Channel networking event

CHANNEL PARTNERS EVOLUTION — Sandy Carter, vice president of Amazon Web Services, knows about innovation. A leading pioneer in the digital business revolution, she spent a decade as a driving force of innovation at IBM before joining AWS.

Carter opened her keynote at the 14th Women in the Channel (WiC) WiCConnect Networking Event on Monday, Sept. 25, during Channel Partners Evolution in Austin, by pointing out that product innovation is just one element of company change; innovation is essential for operational excellence, the client experience and the business model as well.

AWS' Sandy Carter at Channel Partners Evolution

AWS’ Sandy Carter

In her keynote, Carter outlined “7 Ways to Lead Through Change.” The first way, customer obsession, means starting by finding out what the customer wants, then working backward to determine how to deliver it. “Asking questions is critical to innovation,” she said.

The second element of leading change is to select the right people. “At Amazon, we hire builders and then let them build,” said Carter, noting that it was vital to hire the best talent and “then get out of their way.”

The third factor in leading change, learning from mistakes, is a difficult one for many women, Carter pointed out, noting that they focus too much on their failure and letting others down. Instead, she said, they should glean the experience for the lessons it offers and then move on.

Diversity is a must” for leading change, Carter said — and diversity of all kinds: age, gender and experience, for starters. “Innovation is not about comfort, innovation is about cognitive diversity.”

Diversity drives innovation, and companies with diverse management staff are 45 percent more likely to have more market share and 70 percent more likely to open new markets.

When it comes to change, leaders must be “stubborn on the vision and flexible on the details,” Carter said, citing the Amazon flywheel, in which all components contribute to keeping the flywheel spinning. Some adjustments may be required on the components (details) to keep the flywheel spinning (vision).

Citing examples of how artificial intelligence and bots are being used in customer interactions, Carter illustrated how technology is vital to change. Innovation must be based on information, and technology can provide the data needed to obtain that information.

Carter concluded by pointing out that another way to affect change is to create synergy through partnerships, to create “ecosystems.” Business connections can help build a network of contacts for combining efforts, energies and expertise in a common endeavor.


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