This past year IBM released it fourth edition of their biennial Global CEO Study series entitled,  “Capitalizing on Complexity.”  Over 1500 global CEOs were interviewed in person, throughout 60 countries and across 33 industries.   The insights gained from this study have major implications for how leaders should view strategic planning, valued leadership qualities and decision-making processes. 

The results of this study identify the following insights:  The biggest challenge confronting CEOs is the rapid escalation of “complexity.”   80 percent of CEOs expect it to continue and accelerate in the coming years. Surprisingly, most CEOs seriously doubt their ability and their enterprise’s ability to cope with this effectively. They  identify “creativity” as the single most important leadership competency for enterprises to navigate through this complexity. 

What does “creativity” mean to these CEOs?   It means encouraging experimentation and innovation through a mindset of questioning; pushing for deeper business model changes to realize strategies, inviting employees to challenge existing assumptions and having the courage to reconceive what it takes to be successful; taking more calculated risks; finding new ideas through collaboration and strong team leadership which includes coaching other leaders; continuing to innovate in how they lead and communicate, which favors persuasion and influence over command and control leadership as well as embracing viral forms of communication to engage both inside and outside of the organization; co-creating products and services with customers; integrating customers into their core processes; simplifying operations and products; increasing dexterity to change the way they work, access resources and enter markets; and designing operations for speed with flexible cost structures and partnering capabilities to allow them to rapidly scale up or down. 

Let’s now combine this data with the “New Customer”.  Saatchi & Saatchi surveyed major customers of leading brands around the world.  Results showed that the six top-of-mind questions for these customers are:

  1. What can you offer me beyond price? It’s no longer enough for me to look for the lowest price; I’m looking for value added that comes in other ways.
  2. What do you really know about me? There are things you state you know about me or pretend to understand about me, but demonstrate that you have a penetrating understanding of what I’m looking for in your category or your brand.
  3. What do I know about you? Are you being transparent enough as a brand?  Have you created a mechanism by which I can learn more about your brand and develop a relationship with your brand?
  4. Why do choices that were previously so simple seem to occupy so much of my time? There is now an information glut.  What was once an easy choice between a couple of options has now grown to be a choice between many options, with lots of information about each.
  5. What do we have to talk about?  It is no longer about what we have to tell the customer, it’s about what he wants to tell us.  This is a customer who wants to have a dialogue with their brand.
  6. Can you keep up with me?  The customer believes he is in control, out in front, ahead of us and moving quickly.

Peter Hubbell, Executive Vice President at Saatchi & Saatchi, Global General Manager of the General Mills account, describes a time of unprecedented change — where customers are moving targets and are changing before our eyes.  Their pace is faster, their demands louder, and they’re driving a major shift in the economy. 

With the “New Consumer” in control, customer relationships need to be reinvented.  Getting connected to customers is the highest priority of CEOs in the Global IBM Study — to predict and provide customers with what they really want.   CEOs are concerned about addressing what customers now care about and reassessing how value is generated.  The information explosion has provided the greatest opportunity for developing deep customer insights. However, CEOs feel that they are data rich, but insight poor – preventing them from capitalizing on emerging opportunities.   Dexterous leaders expect a significant amount of future revenue to come from new sources, which will require innovative thinking and fast responses.   

Learning how to strengthen customer bonds through communication and translating data into insights to improve customer relationships is key. It will be up to the new leader to act, despite uncertainty and to eliminate communication barriers by proactively exchanging knowledge and insights with both internal and external customers to build relationships and become even more effective in the marketplace.   Coincidently, integrity was a strong number two after creativity!   

Stuart R. Levine is Chairman and CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates LLC, a strategy, leadership and governance consulting firm. For more information, please call 516-465-0800 or visit