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March 26, 2024

Finding Digital Treasure Through the Science of Happy Accidents

By Summary by IT Revolution

In a recent talk at DevOps Enterprise Summit 2023, industry veterans Stephen Fishman and Matt McClarty shared insights from their upcoming book on how leading companies are finding “digital treasure” through what they call the “science of happy accidents.” 

Fishman and McClarty argue that in today’s rapidly changing digital landscape, the most valuable opportunities are often ones we can’t predict or don’t even know about yet. Rather than tightly planning and trying to predict the future, successful companies take an experimental approach that allows them to stumble upon digital treasures through “happy accidents.”

The Science of Happy Accidents

Fishman and McClarty outline three key elements of their “science of happy accidents”:

  1. Create optionality: Build modular, composable digital capabilities behind APIs that can be mixed, remixed, and consumed in unlimited contexts. This decomposed, API-first architecture leaves options open rather than locking into singular uses.
  2. Identify opportunities: Continuously explore the landscape of options to identify promising new opportunities for delivering value. Visualize and analyze value flows using techniques like value dynamics mapping.  
  3. Optimize value: Rapidly run low-cost experiments, get feedback, and optimize to capitalize on the most promising opportunities. Techniques like multivariate testing and real-time analytics help accelerate beneficial insights.

Digitally native pioneers like Amazon and Google have used these techniques to stumble into major new initiatives like AWS and Google Maps. But the principles can be applied by any company.

Examples from the Trenches 

Fishman and McClarty provide several examples of established companies finding accidental digital treasure:

  • Coca-Cola built the capability to customize beverages via APIs, opening up new channels for data collection and customer loyalty initiatives. 
  • Capital One API-enabled internal capabilities then rolled them out as commercial SaaS offerings, spinning out an entirely new software business.
  • Best Buy set up a program to funnel used phones from their retail buyback program into their Geek Squad repair business, benefiting consumers, retail, and services.

Key Takeaways

The core advice from Fishman and McClarty is to take a venture capital approach—place lots of small, low-cost bets across the landscape of options. Let the results guide where you double down rather than betting big on any single path. Slow down and allow for serendipity. And focus on creating business capabilities that can be endlessly remixed and reused rather than building for a specific purpose.

By taking this experimental, composable approach, companies can increase their odds of stumbling upon digital treasure, even if they don’t have a map leading them there.

To watch the full presentation, visit the IT Revolution Video Library here:

And watch out for the upcoming book Unbundling the Enterprise from Fishman and McLarty coming from IT Revolution later this year.

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Summary by IT Revolution

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