Thor Madsen

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Thor Madsen
Executive Partner
10 years at Gartner
20 years IT industry

Thor Madsen is an executive partner with Gartner Executive Programs, supporting CIO clients. His primary areas of focus are executive communication strategies, innovation and the evolution of IT. Read Full Bio

Capturing the Digital Business Moment: How the Techniques of Improvisation and Jazz are Defining the Age of Digitalization

by Thor Madsen  |  October 1, 2014  |  1 Comment

Here I will add ideas and case examples of how improvisational technique (a non-random, framed approach to eliciting value from ambiguity) is critical in an era of mass-change; in this case due to digitalization of all aspects of organization.  As a start, here is a link to a quick set of slides pointing you to several resources that I have found valuable on the subject.

I look forward to discussing this further – especially after results/feedback from the CIOs and other executives attending my Symposium Workshop – “…Preparing for the (Seemingly) Unpreparable“.  See you there!




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Hacking the Customer Experience – Part 1: Are You Experienced?

by Thor Madsen  |  March 13, 2013  |  2 Comments

I had a great “customer experience” last week.  My interaction with a particular online music service left me happy, open to possibilities, excited about a seemingly endless set of access options, and enjoying music I never knew existed.  I think of the service as a horizon-expander as well as simply a fun, easy way to listen to music.  For now, unless someone comes up with a better interface (who might that be?), I am happy to pay the $9.99/month for go-anywhere musical entertainment and discovery.  And if they tweak up that interface, I’d be happy to pay an extra dollar or two – or perhaps even more important to them, be less likely to consider the next service that shows up.

I also had a poor “customer experience” last week.  My interaction with a particular software company left me confused, somewhat depressed, a little angry and, in the end, perceiving them as a distant, disconnected entity mostly concerned with the upholding of internal processes that, as far as I could tell, had little to nothing to do with the needs of the moment as I tried, and failed, to acquire one of their services.  The good news, for me, was that I was left with a bit of happiness; in our increasingly open and frictionless world, I had many options I knew I could pursue beyond this company and its offerings.  As a matter of fact, I am testing one of those right now as I type this post.  It’s actually quite fun, the possibilities beyond them, really.   All of this is to say, that the two real-world stories I’ve shared, randomly picked from interactions I’ve had over the last week, contain all the elements of what’s referred to in the business (and at Gartner) as the “Customer Experience”:

Customer Experience /ˈkəstəmər ikˈspi(ə)rēəns/ n.
The customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, channels, systems or products.1

In other words, how happy, sad, mad, or scared we feel and what we think of a company after interacting with it in any way, place or time.

Why focus on Customer Experience?

We already make “amazing” products!  OK. “Amazing” to whom?  And how do you know?  The only way we know if our product or service is “amazing”, or “great” or even just “good enough” to our customers is because the customers say so.  And how do say so?  They buy it, of course.  And buy more of it the next time.  And, more importantly, why do they buy?  Increasingly, the research showsthat the most profitable customers (by multiple measures) buy based on a combination of perceptions and emotions they feel towards the “selling” organization and its offerings.  In other words, the buy based on Customer Experience. To use a former example from the poster child company for “amazing” products, it wasn’t the product itself that really mattered, but the creation of an experience around “Think Different”.

So if Customer Experience matters, why do we need to “Hack” it?

We are product-driven.  We are service-driven.  We are operationally-driven.  We like to say we are customer-driven.  However, “customer-driven” typically means asking the customer what product, service or operationally efficient delivery they think they want in a way that will then allow us to build and sell that product or service to them in as efficient and effective manner as possible.  The customer’s emotions and perceptions of all of this is literally an afterthought.  Many of us simply don’t have a good way of involving the customer close enough in our internal product development and marketing process to understand let alone have them help create positive customer experiences.

Needless to say, this is a very difficult mindset to get out of.  It will take a strong effort – one that “shoves” us out of our internal, process-driven worlds and forces a rethink.  One that starts with getting to the real problem of understanding how customers actually experience our organization, how those experiences can be re-thought and what it will take to begin creating new ones.  By the way – that’s the definition of a “hack” and what we’ll be looking at next:

Next week:  Hacking the Customer Experience – Part 2: Before the Enlightenment Comes the Pain (The Hack Revealed)

1 The Customer Experience Is the Next Competitive Frontier – A Gartner Executive Programs Report
Partha Iyengar | Gene Phifer | Ray Valdes | Jeffrey R. Cole

2 “2010 Customer Experience Consumer Study,” Strativity Group, 13 September 2010; “2011 Customer Experience Impact Report,” Harris Interactive study conducted for RightNow Technologies, September 2011 (also summarized in reference 1)

Welcome to the Experience Economy“, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, Harvard Business Review, 1 July 1998

The One Number You Need to Grow“, Frederick F. Reichheld, Harvard Business Review, 1 December 2003


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We the Competent

by Thor Madsen  |  July 25, 2010  |  1 Comment

Last month in a workshop for a CIO and their IT leadership team we helped address the new capabilities each of them think they will need to bring to the company’s impending transformation.  Rather than the “skills” they and their sub-teams will require (i.e. trainable, technical and focused on what we do) we spent the entire session focused on what “competencies” they will need (less trainable, built on existing strengths and focused on how you do what you do) to navigate the change (let alone meet with success).

The most interesting part in this session was the team’s honesty – to an individual, for both themselves and cross-team – in confirming the necessary competencies they did and did not have.  By the end, I witnessed the group transform their thinking from “how can I build myself to meet these challenges?” to “I need my team-mates’ help(!).  How can we share our competencies together in order to meet these challenges?”.  That, from my perspective, was the penultimate “ah-ha” moment.  I think it represents the key challenge to transformation at every organization: that is, moving from an individual contributor-based focus (even among the management ranks) to a social/group-performance focus that is required to create break-out value (especially if “transformation” increasingly becomes the new “maintain”).

Following are examples from my CIO client base where competencies are lacking yet required to make business performance impact (notice that all have a social component):

  • The CIO is building a new Enterprise Architecture (EA) team from ground up.  Who should lead?  What capabilities will they need?  Technical skills do not even come up.
  • Evolving an EA team from technical to business architecture focus.  Same as above.
  • The CIO is building a small (2-person) innovation team for the first time – to help the organization survive in a rapidly changing market by becoming more intentional in driving competitive advantage out of emerging trends.  Who should lead this effort?  How should it be led so that this is seen as directly correlating to business growth and transformation?
  • The CIO is readying an team to support major cross-organizational transformation including helping launch a new businesses.  Who are the individuals capable of “thinking different” and standing up to the current organizational atrophy?  In a professional, marketable way?
  • The CIO is building a PMO designed to fundamentally shift project management from time/budget-focus to business-outcome/capability focus.  Should we prioritize the best project management skills or the best business acumen?  How to balance?
  • Even the “we have to fix the foundation first” reasoning goes away as how “fix” gets done must be considered paramount.   To that end, I think of another CIO who focused their team on technical infrastructure excellence over a three year period to address just this problem.  At the end of three years they ended up with IT at the lowest group rating across their organization.  The new CIO who has taken over is completely shifting the team’s focus to prioritizing their work on business performance – whether applied to infrastructure or otherwise.

When I step back from these real-world examples above, the move in IT from prioritizing the task to prioritizing the approach just seems like a natural, necessary evolution.  If so, the next big question is what will the new IT “department” look like and what will we call it?


Organizing for Success

New Roles and New Competencies: Blurring Boundaries

The Quest for Talent in a Digital Age: New Thinking, New Challenges, New Assumptions

First, Break all the Rules – The Gallup Organization

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Seeing What’s Next v. Translating What’s Next – part 1

by Thor Madsen  |  May 19, 2010  |  Comments Off

Over the last week I have met with three CIOs focused on helping their organizations become better at recognizing and exploiting emerging trends and technologies for competitive advantage (yes, it must be time to focus on growth!).  In each case, the challenge from their perspective is not a lack of general awareness in their organizations of promising trends or technologies but in not having a method for turning them into value.

There are many reasons for organizational inertia around tapping value from external innovation ideas including the innovator’s dilemma and the general risk of change in any established organization.  But from the perspective of these CIOs the key missing ingredients are two-fold: that the organization values the seeking of innovation from beyond where it traditionally looks and – what proves this value – that it puts in place a common practice – almost any practice – to accomplish that.  The inherent point here is that if you see value in tracking and exploiting emerging trends or ideas, you will put in place a transparent, across-the-board method for doing so.  In this case, there are many innovation processes available to literally pull off-the-shelf including a lightweight structure from Gartner here that I have seen used to great success by several of my clients at multiple stages of the innovation maturity scale.

The good news is that I am no longer finding many organizations that are not generally valuing and attempting to locate new ideas outside their traditional realm.  Their challenge, as my three CIOs would agree, is the cultural movement beyond individually disparate, ad hoc and ultimately low-impact innovation spurts to putting in place a structure that makes tracking emerging trends for future growth opportunities an on-going, standard cross-organization practice.  Eventually – it’s just what we do.


Driving the STREET Process for Emerging Technology and Innovation Adoption
30 March 2010 – ID:G00174060
Jackie Fenn

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“In-Crowd” Sourcing

by Thor Madsen  |  May 3, 2010  |  Comments Off

Innovation doesn’t happen in a bubble.  Organizations such as IBMNetflix and P&G provide examples of breaking through boundaries by sourcing innovation to the “crowd” with step-change results at a fraction of the time and cost.  Social Media like Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter provide a framework for communicating and connecting that is changing the design of organizations.  So, for those of us still living in a traditional org chart, what are ways to start testing the idea of crowdsourcing?  Perhaps we can start at a more local level – by facilitating an “in-crowd”.

One of my CIOs and their leadership team created a smaller scale crowd or “in-crowd” by simply extending the internal concept of cross-functional, collaborative teams to external relationships already in place.  In this case, to vendors already doing business with the organization – the first line of an organization’s extended “crowd”.  To signify these vendors’ expected contribution, they were renamed “partners” and invited to a Partner Summit to share in the company’s goals and contribute ideas on how to achieve them – together.  That is, these partners would be expected – unlike the typical vendor – to develop project proposals as a group (most of them compete in several markets) and present back to the company.  To help facilitate this, the CIO and the IT Leadership Team left the room to allow the partners to more independently brainstorm project ideas with a facilitator (Gartner/me).  The goal was two-fold: 1) generate project ideas that leverage the cross-capabilities of all the partners in the room and 2) learn how to work together as an extended partner community.

The 1-day (including a ~3 hour closed door brainstorming session) in-crowd sourcing pilot generated eight project ideas that coalesced, roughly 50/50, around grow-the-business and run-the-business type opportunities.  One set of projects leveraged new tools or new methods of using existing tools to improve customer access, increase customer service and even alter how the company’s core business is managed.  The other set focused mainly on legacy systems migration and efficiencies to be gained from improving existing processes.  These proposals coming out of the session provided the IT leadership with much deeper insights into their partners’ approach and perspective than from the more traditional one-one relationships until then.  Likewise, the overall summit and information sharing upfront gave the partners much greater insights into what drives the business and IT leadership team which also helped them see this exercise as a mutual opportunity.  Most important, it provided everyone with new project ideas that would not have been considered outside this boundary-breaking approach – all done on a small scale, in one day (with preparation of course) with existing, albeit external, relationships.

My next step is to check back with the CIO and his team.  Have they taken up the projects offered by the partners?  Continued to nurture their new in-crowd?  What’s your prediction?  I may suggest a follow-up mini-summit to further develop project ideas and help keep the in-crowd in “motion” as they get up-to-speed on their own.

What do you think?  Is it possible to expect what in many cases are competitors to continue working together like this?  As a matter of fact, that was the main roadblock in mindset keeping the group from starting until we recognized that their executives were forging the same relationships already in order to successfully navigate a changing market.  Once that was recognized, everyone immediately got together and started brainstorming like they were part of the same account team.

What other opportunities are there for “in-crowd” sourcing?

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The Business Value of IT – there is none…

by Thor Madsen  |  April 25, 2010  |  Comments Off

…in and of itself; but only in its impact, contribution and enabling of an overall, larger goal (that’s where the value is measured) – whether that might be the generating of cash for a business, the accomplishment of mission for a non-profit or the fulfillment of policy set by a government.

Do you agree?  If so, how do you apply this principle in practical terms? That is the question I will be asking my CIOs over the next month.  Where are they in this process?  Going in, my hypothesis (or “stalking horse” in Gartner-speak) is that I will hear the following:

  • CIOs have started discussing business outcomes (as opposed to internal efficiencies alone) with their leadership team, fellow executives and “external” peers and advisors.
  • Currently, these discussions are ad hoc – the CIO brings up the topic opportunistically; for example, when discussing specific projects or reporting on IT.  These discussions are not part of a more ingrained or formal program evaluating this outcome-based connection to management of IT.
  • The CIO’s CFO and CEO are, for the first time, beginning to ask the CIO (not just themselves) about IT’s connection to enabling business results beyond how efficiently IT is run.
  • Although the overall organization is more likely in 2010 than in previous years to have somewhat more clearly stated internal goals, the key challenge for IT management remains how to capture and connect this information to what IT does and how it does it.   The level of this challenge is directly correlated to the level of IT management’s progress in forging non-technical, outcome-focused relationships with management peers.

Am I on track?  What would you add (or change)?

How far along do you think organizations and CIOs are on this path?  I look forward to your thoughts and reporting back in a month to see how close we are to what the CIOs have to say.

Selected Gartner Research:
Leading Indicator’s of Business Performance: The CIO’s Role
The Gartner Business Value Model: A Framework for Measuring Business Performance

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The Blank Page Ahead…

by Thor Madsen  |  April 18, 2010  |  1 Comment

…upon which my writing thoughts gaze with proud intent; yet are held fast by perfectionist inaction…


Here we go anyway!

And that’s my mantra for those of us wanting to break through whatever blank page we are staring at – whether the unknown change ahead of us – or a new blog.

So, to begin, a little background and to introduce myself:  I am an Executive Partner in Gartner Executive Programs where I have the opportunity to work with CIOs every day in addressing and helping define their top priorities.  Over the last several years, I have seen those priorities expand from managing technology efficiently to dealing more with rapid change and accelerating demands from all parts of the extended organization – many times unknown to the CIO – for increasingly sophisticated access to people and information; all to help everyone navigate that change.  As a result, a whole new set of CIO management issues have emerged around leadership, business risk and value, organization, and connecting with stakeholders.  The purpose of this blog will be to consider the ramifications of this change and how CIOs are “filling in the blanks”.

To make this tangible I will be tapping and sharing the real-world examples I am seeing and hearing across my CIO and extended community where these transformations are taking place.  The goal will be to observe in real-time the emerging trends and patterns as they take shape so that we can compare to our own planning as well as bring immediate perspective to our day-day decision-making and actions.

With that in mind, let me know what you are seeing and if there are any other patterns or trends we should be capturing.  I look forward to sharing my first observations with you and getting your feedback.

Meanwhile, you can also follow me on Twitter for shorter yet more “expansive” takes on this theme (and where the blank page isn’t so large and foreboding).

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