“I went to the bosses and said I want to start an e-business consulting group.
“They said, ‘what’s that?’
“I’m like, it’s to do with the internet.
“They said, ‘What’s that?’
“I’m like, just back me, it’s going to be bigger than electricity.”
Deloitte Digital now employs around 15,000 people, working across 35 countries – creating a turnover of over $3 billion dollars.
A pretty good return for a company that took a punt to gain an edge against much larger competitors.
An innovation imperative
Mr Williams, now Deloitte Australia’s Chief Edge Officer, says in the early 2000s the consulting company in Australia was dwarfed by KPMG, EY and PwC.
And in order to catch the competition, Deloitte had to out-innovate them.
“We had to do different things; and do things differently,” he says.
“I often see people, who think innovation is about out-spending, but I say innovation is about out-thinking, out-executing and out-working competitors.”
He set up an idea generation model, where a steady stream of employee concepts were rigorously tested and evaluated.
“Could the idea be big, if we got it right? And did it fit with what we were trying to do, which was innovating our way up from the bottom of the pack?
“And from there we started to set a bit of a direction.”
“I always say I want prototypes, not PowerPoint, I want experiments, not Excel.”
Becoming the corporate innovator
Mr Williams shared his knowledge with Monash Business School students at a fourm in December, hosted by the Monash Entrepreneurship Portfolio, headed up by Professor David Gilbert.
While bold and decisive action is an imperative on the journey towards becoming a key corporate innovator, Mr Williams says laying the groundwork by establishing social capital within the organisation is also integral.
“It’s karmic, if you’ve been somebody who’s helped out others, who’s had a track record of showing creativity and being innovative, that’s the base level.
“The next level is you have to give your managers something to say yes to.
“Don’t make it vague, make it clear and seek the support of people that you know might say yes, as opposed to the ones who are very rigid and don’t want to change anything.
“It’s about leveraging personal relationships in the organisation you’re with.
“It’s also about showing some commitment.
“I had a lot of people in the early days, who would come in and want to work on the internet; and it’s like okay well what books have you been reading, what other activities have you been doing in the area?
“There was a sense they just wanted to get involved, because it sounded good.”
Cut out corporate jargon
Mr Williams says while being a valued team member is crucial, at the same time, it’s important to be aware of the danger of group-think and corporate jargon.
“The problem that you have in any industry is that it starts to build up its own language.
“It can start to alienate – you come up with your little acronyms and words – and when you communicate to the people outside your industry, people don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Mr Williams believes all too often corporate language actually stifles corporate innovation.
“It creates a high level of vagueness or uncertainty.
“As people think, I’m not sure if I can do that, or maybe if I don’t understand that buzz word, I’m behind.”
Conversely, Mr Williams says, buzzwords are often used to appear overly intelligent and avoid detail.
“It’s about making sure that I’m not trying to elevate myself above the people that I’m talking to and trying to make it actionable.
“Plain English, make it practical and make people think, yeah that makes sense to me.”
To cut to the chase – innovation doesn’t need unnecessary added layers of complexity, Mr Williams says.
“Basically, what’s the idea, where did it come from and what do you reckon it’ll do.”