Swapnil Deshpande is the Chief Digital Officer for Thoughtworks, a global technology consultancy that integrates strategy, design and software engineering. Based in Pune, India, he leads teams across India, China, the US, UK, Brazil, and Australia.
Swapnil’s team delivers digital platform products across customer experience, product innovation, cloud infrastructure, and data and analytics, among other domains. We spoke with him as part of our Member Spotlight series.
Is there someone you especially admire as a role model creator, inventor, or innovator? Why?
…I really admire Sir Alex Ferguson, the ex-manager of Manchester United — one of the biggest football clubs in the world — [for] his ability to rebuild winning teams over multiple generations. … [He] did not hesitate to take chances on [the] new generation and create an environment where people could fulfil their dreams. He never [let] his teams to be complacent.
The second person I admire is Elon Musk. His ability to dream big… is something I resonate [with] myself. He is not only great at building big visions and dreams, but equally good at selling those, and building teams that believe in his vision and work tirelessly to achieve [it.]
What do you know about innovation now, that you wish you knew when you first started in your role?
Customer outcome over product feature: Coming from a product and technology background, I was always into “let’s build one more feature” thinking, without really thinking what the customers want and what problem would it solve for them. It led me to put [in a] lot of efforts that ended up being waste, or something that I could have avoided.
Selling ideas is equally important: I wish I had spent more time on building and selling ideas to teams than just focusing on execution. Selling ideas connects you with people, and helps you expand the context and understand customers much better. You need simple conversations starting with “What if…” to engage in an idea — and the more you do, the better your idea could be, and [the] more expanded your understanding will be about customer problems.
Not taking failure personally: Failure is an idea. [I wish I knew] how to detach myself from the idea. I wish I had done that during my early days.
Are there any software tools that you find especially helpful in your innovation-related work?
Yes, definitely… We use Ideanote’s platform for capturing ideas, discussing, and collaborating on the ideas. This has been really great for us, especially because of the nature of work where we have people working across various time zones and in different countries collaborating with each other.
Second, [we’re] using our own internal developer platform, called NEO (network enabled organization), for actually building products and apps from the ideas people gather. NEO helps [our developers] build products faster and unblocks the path from “idea to first line of code” and from “first line of code to product go-live.” We already have over 260 experiments either built or in progress on NEO. It has significantly cut down our infrastructure provisioning time from over seven days to less than a day, and helped developers become more effective at what they do, i.e., building experiments.