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Isabelle Perreault of Differly: “No one likes change”

I would say that it’s important to understand that digital transformation is a business strategy first and foremost, with no end game. It’s a process of continual improvement. In order to address both the threats and opportunities brought about by technological change the concepts of “digital transformation” must be ingrained into the strategic planning framework […]

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I would say that it’s important to understand that digital transformation is a business strategy first and foremost, with no end game. It’s a process of continual improvement. In order to address both the threats and opportunities brought about by technological change the concepts of “digital transformation” must be ingrained into the strategic planning framework of an organization. In five years from now, I hope we are no longer thinking of ‘transformation’ but rather fostering a continual process of innovation.


As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Isabelle Perreault.

Isabelle Perrault is a Founder /CEO, a digital transformation and go-to-market expert, and mom of three young girls. Along with running her company, Differly, she is also a speaker and business advisor. She helps leaders re-think and adapt their business to become more competitive in a digital economy.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Well, I’d say my journey has not been “conventional” and characterized by doing things that scare me. Early in my career, I left a safe, comfortable position at a University leading the digital marketing for a 12-month contract with an NHL Hockey Club, the Ottawa Senators (I am, and was, a big sports fan). It was there that I began to see firsthand the deep impact of technology on virtually all aspects of the business, in particular on consumer habits and expectations. I turned that contract into a full time career leading the marketing and digital strategies and spent the next eight years laying the foundation for the team’s digital transformation. I then left to create and lead a digital transformation practice at a management consulting firm for 3 years.

However, even with a healthy 6 figure salary, I felt unfulfilled. I had a burning desire to create something of value and a clear vision for how I could fill what I felt would be a gap in the market place. So, with 3 young daughters, the support of my husband and fantastic collaborators, I launched Differly as a platform, bringing together cross disciplinary expertise to focus on tech-enabled, human centered business transformation. We want to help businesses not just survive but thrive in the next decade of disruption.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Oh boy, the entire article could be about the mistakes I’ve made both in leadership and building Differly. I was not exposed to entrepreneurship growing up. It didn’t have the visibility it now has for young people. My father was a radio announcer and my mother was a very hardworking teacher. I learned early on that human beings can’t thrive in corporate cultures that use burnout and “always busy” as definitions of success.

I’ve tried to model those who are successful at what I am trying to do, and then, well do it. I suspect I will continue to make many mistakes, which is acceptable to me as long as I learn from them quickly and not repeat them. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying anything new, which would be the biggest mistake of them all.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There have been too many to name. I am a huge believer in building a circle of influence and guarding the energy you allow into your life. I have tried to surround myself with kind, incredibly smart people over the years that challenge me and make me better than yesterday. But I have to say, my husband has been one of my biggest champions over the years, never wavering in his belief in me and support my next big idea (I have many, not all of them good).

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am an avid reader and try to dedicate at least 1 to 2 hours a day reading. One of the earliest books I read in my 20s was the Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer. I became fascinated with the idea that we see life as we are, not as it is. Meaning, if you focus on obstacles, you’re much more likely to run into them. If you focus on possibility, you’re more likely to go around them.

From a business perspective, I consume everything from Peter Diamandis, author of “The future is faster than you Think” and creator of the XPRIZE who said “the best way to predict the future is to create it”. True in so many ways.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Yes, I agree with that. Purpose keeps you feeling inspired, not just motivated. There is a difference. Motivation will push and drive you (sometime right into the ground). Purpose is what pulls you towards something bigger than yourself. At Differly, our purpose is to help leaders re-think, adapt and work differently to become more competitive in a digital economy and ultimately create more value for the people they serve. All industries, careers and disciplines will be impacted by the speed of change and the intersection of exponential technology. The “best practices” of the past, in particular those rooted in deep bureaucracy, no longer work. We need to reframe how “companies” work, how humans thrive inside of them and how they serve their customers.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

At Differly, we want to expand our reach outside of Canada, creating a broader platform bringing together expertise in all major drivers of change (customer experience, data, technology, innovation and change) to help as many organizations as possible rethink their business for a digital age. The pandemic has forced many businesses to fully adopt virtual work allowing smaller businesses like us to work with a broader network.

On a personal level, I’m most excited about an upcoming program I’m building for senior leaders who want to be catalysts for change within their organization or those who must lead a transformation. It will be a six-month accelerator program where we will dive into a topic every month from innovation to exponential tech. A boot camp of sorts to inspire as many leaders as I can, and arm them with the knowledge they need to disrupt themselves first, then their business. I’d like to create a movement.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

This is a great question to start with because it’s become so all-encompassing. The great irony here is that Digital Transformation is not about technology in and of itself. Rather, it is about how we, as leaders, adapt to the pace of change and continually rethink how we create and deliver value in a digital economy. Technology doesn’t disrupt. People do! It’s how we leverage those technologies to solve human problems both internally from an operations perspective and externally, serving rapidly changing consumer needs.

Therefore, transformation requires us to upgrade our strategic and operating framework much more than out IT infrastructure. Organizations need to embrace a present-forward and future-back mentally to grow in the next 18 months and survive the next 10 years.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

Let’s look at this from a business lens. If you think of a pyramid, you have your business strategy at the top where your vision and purpose belong. The digital and technology strategy sits right underneath the business strategy — before the departmental and operating plans — because quite often, technology is changing the game itself for many industries.

The term “transformation” came into being for those industries that are facing massive disruption such as education, health care, entertainment and for incumbent companies that existed “pre-internet” to describe the urgent action needed to right the ship on many fronts: disjointed customer experience, disparate data in several systems yielding no insights, top-heavy bureaucratic processes making it hard to respond to market changes quickly and so on.

But this is a business strategy first and foremost.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

All of these elements are interrelated. This is why the term “transformation” has taken hold. You can’t typically improve customer experience without changing internal processes and the way people work. These processes in turn are often tied to the underlying technology or platforms that support each step of the customer journey. I’ve been the most gratified in my work when we are able to bring some peace of mind and clarity to a leader mandated with such a transformation. It can feel overwhelming. Understanding what will benefit customers first and foremost is always the best starting point.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

No one likes change. Unfortunately, with the impact of the pandemic this past year, we’ve seen that for many organizations the risk of doing nothing or the risk of status quo is no longer an option. Which is why most transformation efforts are triggered by a sense of urgency or some form of catalyst indicating that change is needed.

We help resolve this by putting one foot in front of the other, assessing their starting point and evaluating the gaps against their vision and building a pragmatic plan to bridge them, over time.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Video Version Here:

Firstly, I would say that it’s important to understand that digital transformation is a business strategy first and foremost, with no end game. It’s a process of continual improvement. In order to address both the threats and opportunities brought about by technological change the concepts of “digital transformation” must be ingrained into the strategic planning framework of an organization. In five years from now, I hope we are no longer thinking of ‘transformation’ but rather fostering a continual process of innovation.

However, we are far from this reality today as many industries and organizations are facing an urgent need to re-think how they create and deliver value in a digital economy. Here are five things to consider:

1. Always put customers at the heart of the transformation

As Peter Drucker put forth, businesses exist to serve and meet the needs of customers, community and society. And customer behavior is arguably the biggest shift of the digital revolution. How can you design and deliver a better end to end experience leveraging both on and offline channels seamlessly? Can you leverage digital technologies to remove barriers, friction and continually deliver additional value? Understanding the needs and behaviors of the digitally enabled consumer must be at the heart of ANY transformation effort. This helps to frame the “why” into a vision of the future that is endorsed from the top, driven from the bottom and most importantly, funded for consistent execution.

2. Align on vision

Before jumping into basic digitization efforts to address immediate pain points, it is imperative to spend time on envisioning the future at least 5 to 10 years out. This is less about certainty as it is about clarity. How is our industry changing and what major trends are we seeing that have staying power? What shifts are we seeing in customer behavior? How might other players disrupt us? Which technologies will impact how we do business?

Note this exercise is about making educated assumptions and should be iterative in nature. Innovative companies typically conduct this type of visioning exercise at least once a year, often referred to as the 70–20–10 rule, whereas 70% of time is focused on incremental improvements, 20% on adjacent growth possibilities, and 10% on net new, art of the possible innovation programs.

3. Understand your gaps and build an integrated road map.

In order to create seamless customer experiences, you must have an underlying infrastructure that supports the delivery of digitally-enabled services. Technology implementations can be intimidating since they are typically disruptive to the way people are currently working. Successful projects begin by knowing which systems and tools are being used today and mapping the key business and customer processes every step of the way. How can we reduce effort, better serve our customers, improve data flow? This is where outside help is often critical.

The plan must cross organizational units and look to create synergies across siloes. The road map takes stock of the organization’s starting point, existing capabilities, skill set but most importantly focuses on outcome vs. technology. The key is to not boil the ocean. Start with foundational projects and aim for continual progress against the vision.

4. Establish Innovation as a Discipline

Innovative companies are those that develop a framework to foster the systematic development of new ideas and the ability to bring the best ones to market. This must be funded and separate from the day to day activities of the business.

This is a bi-model framework embracing both shorter-term optimization as well as planning from the future vision as both are complementary engines of growth. If we look at this in practice, there have been many such innovations in business models over the last few years. Examples include the creation of micro services leveraging any device or location. Think of mobile bike shops that come to the user at their location, to offer just the service they want, using an app to schedule, pay, confirm and re-order. Another example would be switching to subscription services for cost savings and/or convenience such as the Dollar Shave Club has done, now with millions of subscribers, or the burgeoning home meal kit industry and, of course, Netflix.

Innovative organizations learn and respond to opportunities rapidly through the open flow of information, encouraging experimentation and learning in rapid cycles. They create a network of employees, customers, and partners, motivated by a shared purpose with dedicated innovation funding and operating structure.

5. Foster the leadership skills of the future

Transformation is more a challenge of leadership than one of technology. Leading through change and complexity, the ability to adapt and evolve the operating model and the business model takes a shift in mindset and the acquiring of core capabilities and aptitudes for the digital age. Some of which are humility and embracing the unknown, as well as building a culture where continual learning is incentivized and rewarded and failures are acceptable events on the road to resilience.

While transformations must be sponsored and funded from the top for sustained success, it is bottom-up engagement and understanding the “why” of the transformation, all the way to the front-line amongst those serving the customers that will drive it forward. Strategy is nothing without execution.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

If you put a frog in boiling water, he’ll jump out immediately. If you slowly turn up the heat, the frog will keep swimming until he’s boiled alive. Don’t be a frog. Disrupt yourself before someone else does. In practical terms, we must accept that change is certain, but innovation is inherently uncertain. It’s not just a buzzword, it’s a discipline. Build a culture and a framework around idea generation, idea evaluation and making informed bets based on customer obsession. Fund this process and protect it. If we consider transformation not as a destination but rather a continual loop of learning, than innovation is the key ingredient.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have 10 years’ worth of journals, and they have been one of my most precious assets. To me, success has largely been a game in self-awareness. In re-reading them, I’ve found 8 recurring themes:

Ditch the “balance” for a dashboard. Define what success is for you and assess if you’re either in the black or red in each area. Adjust as needed.

We are more than our accomplishments. Who we are becoming on the way there is much more important.

Feed your soul more than your ego. Ego will attach itself to a title, an identity and worst of all, fear. Fear of failure and embarrassment which feeds procrastination and excuses. Feed your soul daily.

The fail-proof, highest return on investment we can make is the one we make in our own growth and learning.

Guard your time and energy — pay attention to your circle of influence.

Live in minutes and moments: Don’t fester, ruminate or obsess. Our perception of how something happened is rarely the truth.

Find joy daily. Happiness is a choice we can make every day, not an outcome to achieve.

Start. We greatly underestimate what we can accomplish in a year because we see it as a whole. Just start. When you finish that first step, what is the next?

How can our readers further follow your work?

Thank you for asking. Please reach out to the team at www.Differly.com if any of this is resonating with you and you can subscribe to my personal insights at www.isabelleperreault.com and follow me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/isabelleperreault/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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