When I look back over 2016, I can see many examples of widespread change, disruption and innovation. I can see tremendous gains and hard fought incremental improvements. But away from the big ticket items, what has really changed? Let’s take a look.

Live your mantra

When I worked at Nike, we had the world famous tag line, “just do it”. It’s a great, action oriented phrase that can be applied to our approach as leaders. But more importantly, it can set an agenda and a mindset across all levels of business. And when it comes to innovation – to driving outcomes of invention – this can be vitally important. Rather than seeing “just do it” as a tag line or a motto, I prefer to think of it as a mantra – something that can be thought and acted upon.

Some of the leaders and businesses that have stand out mantras and business models this year include:

  • Elon Musk’s SpaceX company is “making life multiplanetary” and blowing our minds along the way
  • Michael Dubin’s Dollar Shave Club helps you “shave time, shave money” and was picked up by Unilever this year for $1 billion
  • Jeff Immelt has relentlessly pursued innovation at GE, and “imagination at work” can be seen in every story told about the company in any and all media.

Creating a digital strategy that sets you apart

The last five years has seen a significant change in the way that we consume and produce news and media. Gone are the days of the once and done TV ad. Sure it may work for some Superbowl scale brands, but even the largest enterprises realize that digital strategy is the new “main game”.

Returning again to these three leaders and their businesses, we can see that their approach to digital activation and content truly sets them apart:

  • Behind the scenes with Elon Musk at Cape Canaveral produced by National Geographic is as inspiring as it is groundbreaking
  • The Dollar Shave Club’s videos poke fun at many aspects of current culture while conveying a sense of fun and excitement – a very different proposition than its more established competitor brands
  • GE sees its content strategy as an extension to the DNA of the company. Founded by the inventor, Thomas Edison, digital strategy is about try, test and learn as much as any other part of the business.

Restructuring for agility

Digital disruption is accelerating change – and this often causes friction within traditional organizational structures. These structures, often coupled with outdated systems and processes, struggle to operate at the speed demanded of a globally connected customer and employee base.

In 2016 we have seen many organizations supplement or move away from the matrix structures that served us well in the late 20th Century. Supplementing these structures, many businesses rely on standalone and/or integrated innovation labs and teams.

This agility in process – think lean startup meets corporate strategy – can see new products brought to market in faster and more innovative ways, while avoiding the bottlenecks built in to traditional business structures. Obviously, this accelerated approach can be a challenge for leaders who must now find comfort in managing greater levels of risk across their businesses.

Leaders must be change champions

I have said this before and will continue to advocate for leaders to lead “from the front”. Whether we like it or not, the agility of the leadership and its willingness to tackle change head on models the behavior that will be followed by the rest of the organization. Those leaders wanting to see results, can no longer sit on their hands. We must, must, be the champions of change in our industries and businesses. And this includes everything from social media and digital strategy to storytelling, innovation programs and technology – and everywhere in-between.

And we can expect more of this in 2017. It’s time to buckle up.

Nina Nets It Out: 2016 has been a fascinating ride – but for leaders the world over, it’s the continuation of a long cycle. Next year promises more of the same.