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Interview with Calvin Hart

IBM ix's partner, Calvin Hart, is a key leadership figure in the digital world, having led transformation programs for companies such as Zurich, RBS, Vodafone, Ferrari World, HSBC and Jose Cuervo, to name a few. 

The former NASA researcher and engineer has recently gone on to found his own company Grampy, a digital innovation agency where 'big ideas are timeless'.

So, Calvin will be imparting his digital and creative expertise to reveal how brands can transform their customer experience using creative thinking and innovative design at our Leadership Breakfast.

But first, we catch up with Calvin to find out all about his time at NASA, what marketers can learn from Carp fish and what you need to know about digital transformation.

What does bold marketing leadership mean to you?

Bold marketing leadership is something which constantly changes and what fits today doesn't necessarily fit tomorrow. It reminds me of the 'Hero's journey' where marketers are constantly faced with new challenges/dragons and with the chance to win new opportunities and gems.

The current marketing ecosystem requires marketers to be bold enough to let go of their direct client relationships in this dispersed, socially-driven world, and instead it requires this latest breed of bold leaders to have the comfort, faith and trust in letting customers build and define their own relationships with each other and not directly with your Brand.

Being able to drive this thinking within their organisations is what bold marketing leadership is about in my opinion.


What’s one thing our members need to know about digital transformation?

I come from a Human Behavioural Psychology background and for me, digital transformation is not about your technology/digital/business/finance capabilities. Instead, the level, quality and 'umph-ness' of your digital transformation comes down to your level of thinking and creativity - its a Human Capital challenge and opportunity.

The more of a 'bubble-gum' versus a 'brick' mindset we have, the easier, and quicker our path and journey to digital transformation is, and the easier it is to make this transformation a sustainable process and platform.

What did you learn from your time at NASA?

Most importantly NASA gave me the ability to effectively deconstruct problems and also taught me how to re-construct solutions with efficiency. We use Design Thinking at IBM today - it's a process which originated in Silicon Valley and we have tailored this for our clients. At the heart of this process is the need to clearly define 'Hills' which are customer problem statements of intents.

NASA's ability to take complex Hills such as multi-function 3-D aircraft display systems and break it down into digestible parts is phenomenal and its central to their problem-solving. 'Oz' (a 3-D aircraft display system using human multi-sensory input) was my main project for them, the vision of this project being: 'Soccer mums being able to fly an aircraft to pick up their kids after a soccer game' - that was their way of addressing the 'accessibility of flight' for all.

As founder of Grampy - a digital strategy and design agency - how do design and data work hand in hand?

A ' Carp' fish as we know it mainly lives most of its life in a pond. It can stay at 2 inches long all its life or it can grow to 20 inches, depending on the size of its pond.

Experience Design is only as big, bold and useful as the amount and quality of data it is fed with.

We instilled the thinking of LEARN, BUILD and PLAY at Grampy where 60% of our effort was spent in the data absorption and learn phase. Similarly, I have just set up the first Innovation Garage for IBM in this region and central to this, driven by data is what I call the 'abcd' of innovation and design...Automation, Blockchain, Cognitive and Data.

What’s the bravest decision you’ve made in your career?

Starting up, and selling my company were two equally scary and brave moments for me. Pouring your life savings into something you have no ideas would fail or succeed takes a lot of mental convincing.

Tell us a secret?

My secret is, I wanted to be when I grew up... a 'butcher' or a 'fishmonger'! I'm still not really sure why.

I ended up settling for Fishing as a pastime.