22. How disruptive innovation and proprietary technology are the future of work | SCOTT HARPER, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Dialexa


SCOTT HARPER | Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Dialexa


This week we spend time with Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Dialexa, Scott Harper.


Scott Harper smiling in navy suite

Scott Harper is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Dialexa, a technology consulting firm founded on the belief that every industry would be won with technology. Dialexa works with category winning companies to deliver exceptional client experiences, new digital products, and proprietary technology that delivers competitive advantage. Clients include world-class brands such as Boston Consulting Group, Toyota, Topgolf, Unisys, Genentech, and Audi.



[00:00:00] – Scott Harper
The only thing you can’t do in this day and age is do nothing at all, right? That’s the most dangerous thing you can do, is to bank on the fact that things will not change.

[00:00:15] – Doug Foulkes
Hello and welcome to The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at, you’ve guessed it, the future of work. It’s brought to you by WNDYR for their blog, Chaos and Rocket Fuel. WNDYR are productivity and human behavior specialists who use technology to help us humans on our digital journey from disruption to transformation. For more information, you can check out their website. That’s WNDYR.com.

I’m Doug Foulkes. And along with WNDYR CEO, Claire Haidar, we regularly meet up with industry experts and mavericks to get their take on work in the future. This week we spend time with co-founder and chief executive officer of Dialexa Scott Harpa. Dialexa is an award winning technology consulting firm who work with their clients to design and build new digital products and proprietary technology that delivers a sector winning competitive advantage. Scott has been awarded, amongst others, with the Ernst and Young EY Entrepreneur of the Year award. He’s a family man living in Dallas with his wife Lindsey, and their three children, Scarlett, Camiel and Clifton. Claire, over to you.

[00:01:25] – Claire Haidar
You’re in a room full of people. What is your wow factor?

[00:01:32] – Scott Harper
Besides my work, I’m going to have to say, I think one of the things that has worked really well for me professionally is working and being a great conversationalist and which is something that I think people like Ziggler and Dale Carnegie talked about a long time ago, even write great books like How to Win Friends and Influence People. And, you know, lots of things that have just very common sense approach to how you engage with people.

And so you’re trying to work a room or get to know people. I think those types of skills are really valuable, and that’s something that I think I have a natural gift for and have also worked on. So I think I’m able to make friends with people and develop fairly deep relationships at a quick pace.

[00:02:30] – Doug Foulkes
Scott, hello from from my side. Nice to chat to you today.

[00:02:33] – Scott Harper
Nice to chat with you again as well.

[00:02:35] – Doug Foulkes
My first question to you is really just a little bit of background. Dialexa, it’s not your first your first gig. Could you share with us briefly a synopsis of what your life has been about workwise?

[00:02:46] – Scott Harper
Yeah, so I studied mechanical engineering with a biomedical specialization in college and really had no idea what I wanted to do leaving that, because I think for the vast majority of my life, when I actually thought about a career, I thought I wanted to go into medicine. Lots of physicians in my family and I actually ended up marrying one. But decided I didn’t want to do that and didn’t want to do the standard engineering route that my degree provided, at least the things I was aware of at the time.

And so, yeah, my professional career is a bit of a random walk about. I’ve done things in retail banking, did a banking startup where we were doing insurance and wealth management, retail banking focused on doctors and dentists, health care professionals. Participated in that for a while, did a few consumer tech start ups. And that’s really where I started getting the bug and saying, OK, I think I want to do technology.

And I’ve done some real estate things as well. So really, like I said, a truly random walk of several things I really had no no clue about, entering into the space. But I think it was those, you know, interesting projects, cool ideas. One in particular that one of my college best friends and I had, which was how to leverage affiliate marketing programs to generate money for nonprofit organizations through e-commerce.

I got really intrigued by that space and the power of technology. And ultimately landed in a role leading operations for an enterprise platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS) company where I met my now business partner, Mark Haidar. He was the CTO. I was leading operations, all sales, marketing implementations, that kind of thing. Like I said, really a random walk about things that was just a little, I guess, soul searching I needed to do as a 20 something who wasn’t one of the fortunate ones who knew, starting at age five, what they wanted to do and never change their mind.

[00:04:59] – Doug Foulkes
Very interesting. And is that sort of typical you think of where you were brought up?

[00:05:07] – Scott Harper
No, I think it was probably uncommon as I think back. I think most of the people I grew up with knew what they wanted to do. There are some some exceptions to that. But you know where I’m from. I grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and I think most people there tend to go to school. They were aiming for some kind of professional trade generally or going into a family business. I needed to kind of roam around and wander because what I initially thought I wanted to do turned out not to be the case, but I had no idea what I wanted to do in place of that.

[00:05:42] – Claire Haidar
Scott, take us take us back into your childhood. You’re somebody that really appreciates and values details, more so than most people I know. You really go into the “but why? But how? But where?” type of questions what were the things that really fascinated you and help your attention for very long times when you were a kid?

[00:06:07] – Scott Harper
Besides girls and sports, which were two things that occupied much mental bandwidth for many years. I think I was really fascinated with nature, with medicine, the heart. I actually had an aunt who passed away from heart complications. And that really is one of the things that drove me towards my interest in medicine at the time and also in biomedical engineering because of her condition, that ultimately she didn’t then survive, unfortunately. So the heart, the role that plays in the body, the importance of it, which is fairly straightforward. But there’s a lot of nuances to the conditions and things where the heart is a very fragile organ.

But I also really was interested in animals, specifically reptiles. I’m not sure why I had a fascination with that. I think most people were scared of things like snakes and that kind of thing. I don’t know, for whatever reason, things people are frightened of, like tend to draw me in. That’s hard. That’s a challenge that’s scary. Like, I think I just have a natural curiosity towards things like that. So, yeah, as a younger kid, yeah, I used to go out and catch snakes and I could tell you really an odd level of detail about that kind of thing.

[00:07:32] – Claire Haidar
It in no way surprises me that you’ve ended up at Dialexa building what you have there because you guys at Dialexa live on the edge of enterprise innovation and those are some of the toughest challenges that we are facing, you know. So I’m not talking about the big, massive systemic issues that we are facing in society. But if you look at enterprise, I mean, you guys are really dealing with some of the toughest challenges right now that businesses are facing.

So do you want to share with us? I know that you guys are working on some incredible projects at Dialexa. Do you mind sharing with us how some of your clients are really disrupting norms right now?

[00:08:11] – Scott Harper
If you look at digital health care products, for example, like remote diagnostics type of applications or digital diagnostics. A really fascinating company we worked with can actually monitor and identify and diagnose macular degeneration right through a mobile app. So that’s something that you would have historically only been able to tell or even get an inkling of an idea by going physically in a doctor’s office. Now, that’s obviously not something you try to self treat at home, but paired with your doctor and partnering with your doctor, even whether that’s through telehealth or physical presence, that’s something that is really fascinating that people can do. And it makes the world more efficient, smaller, and provides access to people who may not have had that before. Much lower cost, much greater accessibility, no transportation issues, things like that. So those are some of the things that stand out in the health care space, these digital front door initiatives the hospitals are having. Whether it’s onboarding, check in, accessing your health care records, paying your bills, understanding your bills, tremendous amounts of cost in health care and frustration, by the way, associated with those types of things that don’t need to be complicated. They’re solvable problems.

I think of things like the automotive sector, about the way people are thinking about how people access transportation in the future. So people are thinking of not just automakers, but they’re thinking of themselves as mobility companies because they’re just thinking of how do we help people get from point A to point B? Historically, that would have been a car. Now it could be micro mobility. Historically was you’d buy a car or lease a car. Or maybe you’d rent a car on vacation or something, but now we help people bring car subscriptions to market where you can actually subscribe to a car now. And it includes everything from your insurance, your maintenance, all of that bundled in to a single cost. You could do all that through a mobile app or the web. The most fun part about our job at Dialexa is that we get to help our clients think through that.

I think everybody understands—all these clients, the smart people understand that the only thing you can’t do in this day and age is do nothing at all. Right. That’s the most dangerous thing you can do, is to bank on the fact that things will not change. The rate of change—change is not only happening, but the rate of change is increasing all the time. And so, you know, you really do have to be looking through that forward looking lens because I think technology is going to play a huge role in winning every industry out there, whether you’re an automotive or commercial real estate or banking or health care. The companies who leverage technology the best in addition to the fundamentals of their business, those paired together, that’s who’s going to win every industry. And I think that that is something we saw fairly early on and latched on to and how these companies can differentiate through better customer experiences, new product offerings that didn’t exist in the past in your space. Thinking about it differently, how you provide value to your customers, not just through the historical offerings you have, but through digital product innovation, even giving them a better experience, like I said, putting technology, proprietary technology in the hands of your workforce. Maybe that gives them an edge over your competitors. It either lowers your cost, enables you to turn around something much quicker than your competition could. All those types of things are the value that technology unlocks. And those are the type of things we’re helping people through every day. And it’s really fascinating because you get a peek into the future of all these various industries.

[00:12:26] – Claire Haidar
For me, a golden thread that runs through every single example you’ve shared is the creation of an experience. And I think it reminds me of a piece of research that Adobe released actually a few years ago. So even outside of the pandemic where they basically said the ability for us to create those outstanding customer experiences is going to be what is competitive advantage in the future.

[00:12:51] – Scott Harper
Absolutely. You can buy the same thing from two places and one is much easier and more delightful to deal with of an experience. I mean, you’re going to do that. You’re going to pick that every time. It’s the path of least resistance. Whether you’re talking about fluid mechanics or people. I mean, the path of least resistance is where people and matter will follow. They’ll follow that path.

It’s not rocket science. When you’re thinking about that and how insightful that is. But that’s why you have to build really great products because consumers don’t care about—or other enterprise clients—they don’t care about your legacy, technology baggage or your budgeting shortfalls or whatever else. It’s not a checkbox for them. Like, you know, when the mobile app wave came about, lots of businesses said, oh, we have a mobile app like it was a checkbox item. It’s like, yeah, but is it any good? And you look at it and it’s got a one star rating and, you know, it’s terrible. Right? And it’s just because they try to do it cheaply or it was a check box, like that’s what their consumer wanted was just for them to have a mobile app. Does it provide value? Is it enjoyable to use? Is it efficient? Again, you get back to that, hey, if I can buy something in two clicks, I don’t want to go buy it from somebody who’s going to make me come in in person or do it in ten.

[00:14:20] – Doug Foulkes
I’m actually going to move on to the future of work because it certainly is a hot topic at present and something that’s been very real in your your own world because of the changes that Dialexa’s had to make this year. As a leader and executive, Scott, what change would you want to embed and are there any changes that you actually want to fully avoid?

[00:14:40] – Scott Harper
Yeah, I think the changes everybody is thinking about is, one, the physical presence aspect, how that would change. Being in client services, a lot of times clients would want you to be there in person. We’d want to be there in person. You know, these are things that the consulting world is thinking about doing all the time. And I think there’s going to have to be a dramatic shift in flexibility around that in the future, especially during times of COVID or pandemic, because for health reasons, you can’t be there. And so then that begs the question of what does it look like when you can be there? There’s no pandemic, but do you need to be there? And I think that there is a—the trend I think that I’m seeing or predicting for us and for others is a greater amount of flexibility around that. I don’t think that it’s as easy to build deeply personal relationships remotely as in person. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have more balance and flexibility around that.

[00:15:54] – Scott Harper
So that’s what I think is really going to change. And the tools—it’s going to push the tools to get better. It’s going to expose the weaknesses and the current tools like Zoom. They’re going to learn a tremendous amount. Companies like Zoom are going to win big in this because they’re getting an onslaught of businesses using this. And it’s going to be a treasure trove of information for them.

I think what I hope and I don’t want to do, what we hope to avoid is a knee jerk to things. And I think that’s what people have a tendency to do, is some some kind of event driven change arises. Right? You didn’t have a choice to go remote, really with COVID. Like, you had to. So that event happened. You were forced to do it. I think some people I speak to are like “this changes everything forever, completely.” And they’re going to go try to swing the pendulum way too far over in another direction without trying to say, “what can we learn from this? Was good about this? What’s not great about this? What was better about before?” and try to take some learnings and some wisdom forward to understanding what works best for your business, for your clients, your customers. So that’s what I’d say that we were trying to keep a very close eye on, is that we don’t over or under react to the current environment.

[00:17:17] – Claire Haidar
Is there a change that you wanted to bring about with regards to how your teams work but the environment didn’t allow it? And this forced change that we’ve been placed in because of COVID has actually created that opportunity?

[00:17:33] – Scott Harper
With being remote, and Claire you this, operating a remote company, forces intentional communication. It also forces you to be more mindful about interruptions of your coworkers. So I think that’s been a really positive trend. I think for us operationally, it has caused us to focus on buttoning up certain things that just would have happened by brute force had we been all sitting next to one another.

The number one question I get asked is around productivity. How are your people as productive? And I think measuring, monitoring productivity is great. But also if you’re not sitting next to somebody all the time, how in tune are you with their mental well-being?

[00:18:22] – Claire Haidar
OK, moving on to a completely different topic, but one that definitely does relate back to your childhood that you shared with us earlier in the conversation. You’ve recently been trekking in the wild of New Mexico. I know that this is your escape and very much something that you do to really switch off. What lessons have you learned in your time away that you’ll be applying to business moving forward?

[00:18:47] – Scott Harper
Yeah, that was a great experience and I had absolutely no connectivity. So my cell phone didn’t work. I had no Internet. It enabled me to get away from the distractions and a lot of the noise. There’s just so much noise around us every day from external sources, whether that’s at work or news or social media. There are lots of things vying for your attention and competing for your attention and bandwidth. And that was really great to essentially be forced into shutting off. Taking that time to think enables you to think clearly. And taking a break from things enables you to think clearly about things that maybe you’ve gotten stuck on. You can revisit with a clear mind. And so I think that was really greatly beneficial to me and I think to our company and for me in my role to be able to disconnect and really focus on some challenges that needed that full focus and attention. The other thing is the resting aspect of yourself. Revisiting things when you’ve broken away, come back, take a fresh look. It’s amazing how clear things can seem.

And the other lesson, I think is you can push yourself much harder than your mind tells you you can. This was a fairly strenuous endeavor, in the mountains and desert in New Mexico. And there are many times where your body or your mind starts telling you, oh, man, you can’t go any farther. You need to stop. And, you know, if you can persevere through that, you can do things that you just didn’t think you could do. Understanding that you can you can push yourself that hard is really valuable.

[00:20:40] – Doug Foulkes
I find it sometimes interesting that when you’re away, say, doing something completely different and you don’t have any agenda, you’re so focused on achieving those goals as you’re saying, it just frees up time and space in your mind to do the more creative stuff.

[00:20:55] – Scott Harper
I totally agree with that. And that’s that creative bandwidth. If you clear out your head with all the thousand threads that are entering and running simultaneously, then that’s where most creativity happens. And I think that’s why a lot of artists go to places to be inspired or to get away, so that they can actually have these these moments of creation, these singular moments of creation that just don’t don’t happen when you’re running a thousand miles an hour all the time.

[00:21:28] – Doug Foulkes
Scott, you’re a father of three incredible little humans, and they’re all very, very different from each other. What are you teaching them at the moment about the world of work, which that they will one day enter?

[00:21:40] – Scott Harper
The number one thing I think that we want for our kids is a sense of purpose and happiness. I think that’s why a lot of people that are unhappy in their jobs aren’t really the world’s greatest at their jobs because they’re not inspired or happy you. A lot of people have to do that just out of necessity. So I think what we want for our kids is to try to get them into a position where they find something they’re passionate about, that they find happiness and choose to be happy because I do believe happiness is more of a choice than a lot of us are naturally inclined to believe. In other words, there’s there’s not really a pathway to happiness other than choosing happiness. I think it’s easy to be really good at something when you’re really passionate about it and you’re happy. That’s when you are setting yourself up for success. Without those things I think it’s very difficult to be great at what you do.

There’s so many ways to weave in business lessons in your daily life from, whether it’s a basic negotiation of something, asking for something, taking the order. Sales lessons. My daughter is in the Girl Scouts and we had her come up and she said, will you go sell your cookies at your office? You take this order form. And I was like, no, but you can go sell them. And we let her come up to the office and we literally let her walk around by herself and go sell cookies. And teaching a seven year old little girl or boy, for that matter, how to go sell and pitch or even upsell people, and just actually having the courage to go up and ask them if they’d like to buy something and then how to position that ask. Those types of things, just boldness, what is that not applicable to in business? And being willing to raise your hand, approach people. Because a lot of people won’t do that. It’s uncomfortable for them to approach people they don’t know or to try to sell somebody something. The worst thing they can say is no. And if anybody who’s ever been in a sales role, like it’s pretty soul crushing the first, I don’t know, five to ten times somebody tells you “No,” or slam the door in your face like it does not feel good. And I think that the quicker you can get over that, the better, because if you can overcome that and say that’s fine, it’s going to get easier every time. And one more no is one step closer to a yes. And the quicker I think in life you can get through those types of lessons, the better off you’re going to be.

[00:24:28] – Claire Haidar
Scott, we’re coming to the end. And I’m going to be asking my last question, but I’m coming back to that very first question that I asked you about your wow factor. I think for me, your wow factor is what I would call Connoisseur-ism. I don’t actually even know if that’s a word. And I didn’t go and research whether it’s a word when I put this together. But I think if I consider everybody in my life that I know, you would definitely be in the number one spot for being a connoisseur.

One of the biggest challenges of leadership is actually the skill of connoisseurism, because there’s just so much data out there, there’s so much information out there. And as a leader grappling with the why and being able to lead teams down that path of this is why, and therefore this is how you do it and this is what you do, I think you really need to be able to master that skill. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. And I’d love to hear how you’ve crafted your connoisseurism over the years.

[00:25:33] – Scott Harper
I tend to think that things that are worth doing, things that are interesting, they’re worth doing right. And I want to understand things. And I think that that seeking out the why you must you have to seek to understand first. And, you know, anything that I find interesting, I want to learn more about. I want to understand it beyond a superficial level. And I can’t go down to a true expert level, but I think that somebody who dedicates their life to a specific craft, whether it’s food, wine, technology.

However, I think that the hurdle of getting to a fairly deep depth where you could even have an intelligent conversation about various topics with those people. I don’t think it’s as much effort and information as most people think there is. And but it enables you to engage in meaningful conversation. Somebody knows nothing about what you do or what you’re talking about. You’re only going to have the niceties and casual conversation. “Hi, how are you? Where are you from?” You’re not really going to be able to dig deep and learn something from that person because your knowledge is so shallow that you can’t even ask a reasonably good question. Then it’s just not going to go very far. And I think in business there’s lots of things where that applies to understanding people, understanding technology, understanding trends. All those require you to have somewhat of a fascination with details, to get to a level of understanding to where you can properly mobilize and inspire a team to go do something.

I think for my team, there are people and lots of people in their individual crafts who know far more than I do about what they do. My job is to understand what the future of business looks like to a certain extent, right? Nobody has a crystal ball but to understand where things are headed. And sometimes these are more obvious trends, sometimes are a little more subtle. And you’re making a bet, an educated guess. But then steering our company there… I’m really focused on why. And I think our clients, the C-levels are focused on what are we going to do, why are we doing that? And then they’re relying on their teams, one for data points and conversation around that dialogue around it. But then really to understand the how something actually is going to come to life. So you can talk about the what and the why all you want. But if you don’t actually have the ability to execute, it’s kind of an academic exercise, right? It’s not going to have a real change or impact.

I just think that having a fascination with an understanding of how things work and why they’re headed there enables you to do things that are of a more strategic nature than commodity A to B work. This has to get done. So we do it. That’s our business. We’re trying to operate at a more strategic level, which, tying it back to my personality, the fascination of understanding things, it’s more suited to who we are as a business.

[00:28:51] – Doug Foulkes
Scott, I’ve got one more question for you, if you don’t mind, before we finally run out of time. Could you break down for us in practical terms what you’d be advising company leaders around disruption, innovation today? How should they be thinking about it? And what would they how should they be thinking about operationalizing it? And I think for disruption, innovation, I mean, one, I think that the biggest mistake I think big companies make is not moving quickly enough, which is not really terribly insightful. These are big ships to steer. And so it’s not easy for them to move fast, but they move a lot slower than they need to and they have the ability to move much quicker than they are moving.

You know, grocery store chains acted all surprised when Amazon bought Whole Foods and got into the grocery delivery game. But, he pulled up a newsletter from 1999 where Jeff Bezos had actually talked about that, that they would eventually be in that game. And so, I mean, literally, he gave a preview of it 17 years before they entered the space. Yet people felt disrupted by that or that Amazon was coming into their space and we better innovate. And so I think that people are too complacent and then reactive. And when a big disruptor like an Amazon enters, all of a sudden you see that they can actually move quicker than they had been in the past, but they just didn’t. And so I think it’s a conscious decision. There’s that awareness, then the acceptance, and then there’s action. And I think for business leaders, they’ve got to be aware of the world around them and the changes that are happening. Don’t have your head in the sand and just not understand what’s happening around you, where your business needs to go and say, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it type of mentality, which worked historically.

But that’s predicated upon things not changing or that good enough is good enough. Good enough today is going to be good enough for tomorrow. And that’s just not the world that we live in. So, one, you have to be aware of what’s happening in the world, the trends and where things are headed, what your customers really want, not what you’ve offered them, and essentially force them to buy in the past because when consumers don’t have choice, well, yeah, of course, they’re going to buy from you. But guess what? When somebody comes out tomorrow with something that is ten times better, you end up in a BlackBerry situation and an iPhone. It leapfrogged them so much that they were just too far behind and it really blindsided them. I think that there’s that awareness and then, you know it’s happening, accepting that that’s your reality, but then taking action. And actually doing something about it.

I was talking to one of my clients who’s a Fortune 100 company the other day. And we were just laughing because startups should never have a chance to succeed. They really, if you think about it, they should never have a shot at it because once you launch a product, it’s in the market. Everybody knows exactly what you’re doing. And these big companies, whether it’s a tech product or otherwise, they can download this. They can buy it, be a customer, use it and go “Wow, this is really great. We’re getting value. Let’s go compete with these guys.” But the speed at which they move a lot of times is so paralyzing and it’s a lot of times fraught with excuses. They can be really great excuses of well, this is a big machine or we’ve got legacy technology or budgeting issues. But at the end of the day, like I said before, your customers and the consumers, they don’t really care about all the reasons. They just care about the outcome. So you’ve got to be outcome focused. You’ve got to be future focused. And that’s really what you have to do. I think to disrupt, is just look out at what that you know, look at what your customers want, look at where your industry’s headed and deliver that to them. That’s really all disruption is is just kind of envisioning a better future and then delivering that.

[00:33:10] – Doug Foulkes
You make it sound so simple.

[00:33:11] – Scott Harper
Conceptually, it’s not rocket science, but then you just have that action part at the end. I mean, again, we could have a casual conversation here about this stuff all day long. But a lot of times the winners in spaces, they’re not the pioneers. You don’t have to be the first guy or the first lady or the first company to come up with something. You don’t have to have original ideas to innovate. You just have to understand how to get it to where it’s something useful and valuable, because a lot of people miss that. Apple is a notorious late comer to pretty much every market they’re in. There were smartphones for well over a decade before they entered that space.

[00:33:58] – Claire Haidar
Scott, it has honestly been so good talking to you. Thank you. Thank you again.

[00:34:04] – Scott Harper
Thank you guys for having me.


[00:34:05] – Doug Foulkes
Scott, it’s been our pleasure. Thank you for your insights. And there you have it, an honest viewpoint of our current work environment, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and found it of value, please don’t be a stranger. Make sure you pop back for more top of mind conversations. Just a reminder, for more information about WNDYR and the integration services they supply, you can visit their website. That’s WNDYR.com. And so from me, Doug Foulkes and Chaos and Rocket Fuel, stay safe and we’ll see you soon.

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