Innovation chief Claus T. Jensen on executing a vision

Claus T. Jensen, PhD, is known for boldly initiating and leading complex, multi-year transformation initiatives. The author of six books, including his latest, Digital Transformation for Dummies, Jensen’s career journey spans 20 years of transformational leadership in CTO, CIO, and CDO roles at organizations like Danske Bank, IBM, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In his current position as chief innovation officer of Teladoc Health, he oversees technology, innovation, R&D, and more.

As both a technology and talent innovator, Jensen is adept at reframing problems to tackle them in unique ways. On a recent episode of the Tech Whisperers podcast, we delved into Jensen’s leadership playbook, mindset, and philosophies and how they help him foster innovation and build a learning culture.

Afterwards, we spent some more time discussing Jensen’s current role, his broad and ambitious mandate, and why the “magical translation of direction to action” is pivotal for transformation success. What follows is that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Dan Roberts: Like many technology and digital executives today, you wear many hats in your role as Teladoc Health’s chief innovation officer. Who are the C-levels reporting to you, and how does this allow you to drive the kind of innovation you envision?

Claus T. Jensen, chief innovation officer, Teladoc


Claus T. Jensen: The people who report to me are pretty much all the senior leaders that are part of building, deploying, sizing, shaping, planning the products and services that we sell. So, it’s the chief information officer, which is all things enterprise technology operations, etc. It is the CTO, which is part of engineering. That’s the technology behind the products that we sell. It is the chief data scientist, which is all things data and analytics. It’s the chief architect, and it is also the chief product officer.

The product strategy, the product roadmap, the product plan, and product execution are part of my organization, with full integration of the clinical leaders that design the clinical components of our products. And we run one road-mapping planning execution model. So, it’s like one team that’s multidisciplinary. It’s not a delegation, because it’s truly a unified way of working together to deliver meaningful change. That’s the scope.

During the podcast we unpacked many of your ‘superpowers’ as a leader, including how you build learning programs and actually facilitate those yourself. What we didn’t talk about is your ability to turn vision into action. I understand that’s the closing slide of many, if not all, of your internal presentations to the team. Why is that so important?

It’s a way of living. It’s a slogan. It’s belief as to what matters. It’s where I try to help my organizations and the places I work. If what we’re trying to do is change healthcare for the better, then there is a vision associated with that. Having a vision, the right vision, can be challenging on its own. Execution can be challenging on its own. And then there’s this middle ground, which is usually more complex, which is: How do you take the vision that you have expressed and turn that into tangible material action that’s close enough to something people can actually go do? It’s the magical translation of direction to action.

Can you talk about what you refer to as the ‘village doctor paradox’ and what that means in your world?

The village-doctor paradox is: I want access to modern specialized healthcare. I want access to the academic medical institutions, the Memorial Sloan Ketterings of the world. But I also want the intimate, connected, family, everybody-knows-each-other feeling of the best village doctors as we knew them a hundred years ago. We have accepted for a century that the specialization of healthcare meant that we have to give up on the village doctor experience because we couldn’t piece it together.

What if that’s no longer the case? What if you could blend the five sciences — clinical science, technology science, logistical science, behavioral science, data science — so you can decompose the current towers and put them back together better, more meaningfully, if you can actually transform through integration? What if we tackle the village doctor paradox and deliver a next normal care model that feels like a village doctor experience but doesn’t lose access to specialized care? That is the ambition. And that’s a generational challenge.

There is a lot of good intention around shifting to a platform strategy, but I find most don’t understand what this means or how to execute on that. What’s your advice on making this shift successfully?

It starts with a deep understanding of what a platform should be. To me, a platform is a pre-integrated set of capabilities that does something meaningful for someone. There are two keywords there: One is pre-integrated, which is a lot harder than post-integrated. It requires a lot of technical leadership to think through what things need to be integrated upfront. And you can only do that in the context of someone. It’s in the service of a particular group of people and giving them a meaningful integrated experience. So, the way I think about platforms is through the lens of a group of end users and what is the set of capabilities that we need to pre-integrate to meaningfully help that group of people.

You’ve always told me that ‘What keeps you up at night?’ is a boring question, and instead we should be asking, ‘Why do you care?’ What is the significance of that twist in perspective?

It’s based on the fact that time is our most precious resource. We don’t always realize that. The decisions we make about how we spend our time — that’s actually what should keep us up because that’s what defines how we impact the environment around us.

‘Why do you care’ is a way of saying what’s important in what you could choose to spend your time, energy, and attention. In the context of my current role, for example, the reason I care is because I believe we have a unique opportunity to change healthcare for the better. It’s all about taking a leap of faith. I believe that we have a good shot at solving a generational challenge. I do believe that we can meaningfully — by putting the right pieces and people together — define what the next normal model of care looks like.

When you believe that, then you have to make up your mind as to whether you want to do whatever you can, whatever it takes, or not. I’m not a good role model for how you should manage work-life balance, but it comes down to the strengths of my belief that I can make a difference.

You recently accepted a CIO100 Award on behalf of your team. You’ve also been recognized with a Top 25 Innovator Award. What do these industry recognitions tell you, and why are they meaningful?

They’re meaningful because of what they say about the team, and what they say about our accomplishments. There are lots of awards out there that are more celebrating how an individual shows up. The ones I like are the ones that say something about the achievements of a team that you happen to be a part of. If you look at the Top 25 Innovator Award, it has some criteria around what is the actual real-world effect of the work done by you and your team. It’s the same for the CIO100 Award. We actually just received a Zero Distance award, which is, it’s not just what you achieve, it’s that you achieve meaningful impact in a way that reduces the distance between you and your end users.

For more from Jensen’s unique leadership playbook, tune in to the Tech Whisperers podcast.

Innovation, IT Leadership