In the Innovator's Mind

Inside the Innovator’s Mind: Stephen Zucknovich on Teams, Communication and the Path to Value

Innovation is essential for any cutting-edge organization.

Fear of failure is commonplace among innovators. But Kurtosys CTO Stephen Zucknovich has a snappy retort: “I don’t go into anything thinking I’m going to fail. Why would you start?” Kurtosys builds a digital experience platform for financial services that’s used by some of the world’s biggest banks. Zucknovich therefore knows all about the importance of being cutting edge — and the inherent risks.

According to Zucknovich, fear of failure in and of itself isn’t what innovators should concentrate on. They should instead think through what will work and potential pitfalls, ensure failure won’t be punished and, above all, define the path to value. “You see some people work on all kinds of crazy things, and I’m like ‘Show me the path to value!’ and they can’t,” he said. “I know they’re going to fail, because they don’t know what the value is.”

So innovation shouldn’t exist for the sake of innovation, then, but Zucknovich believes innovation remains key to any CTO’s position: “It’s risky. But if you’re not innovating, I don’t think you can hold on to your job if you’re in my seat. You need to be innovating — and you’ve got to manage it.”

In the latest episode of the Cloud Talk podcast, Zucknovich talks with Rackspace Technology Chief Technology Evangelist and host Jeff DeVerter about how to innovate in a way that ensures value. This episode is the debut of new series, “Inside the Innovator’s Mind,” which explores how C-level executives transform their organizations.

In this 30-minute podcast, they discuss:

  • How a combination of technical and forward-facing abilities can be a great mix for a CTO
  • Why communication and public speaking is vital when you want to make an impact
  • Why it’s important to enjoy your subject area and strive for continuous improvement
  • How innovation can come from being smart in your subject area and spotting opportunity
  • Why it’s vital to build consensus to get the buy-in required to solve complex problems
  • How to foster innovation within a team and get the best from everyone

On that last point, Zucknovich recommends modeling a behavior that “it’s OK to take risk and speak your mind — it’s OK to be wrong.” Learning is also a major component of success. “My team understands the financial model underpinning our platform. Most developers would say they don’t want to know about that,” he said.

This is all about bringing team members with you who drive value. With them being fully aware of desired business outcomes, they are better placed to innovate and make an impact — rather than creating code for code’s sake. And if you might surmise this requires a particular personality type, that isn’t the case.

“I don’t think it matters if you’re reserved and thoughtful or a bold risk-taker. That all balances out when someone’s talking. You need that mixture in a team,” said Zucknovich. “But do avoid people with a hero complex, who feel the need to solve a problem and take all the glory. They’re there to serve themselves. You want people with the desire to serve customers, co-workers, supervisors — or even a stranger. It’s those people who’ll go far and have others help when they fall down — and we all fall down.”

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