Braving New Frontiers with Learning: A Q&A with Andy Billings, VP of Profitable Creativity & co-founder EA University of Electronic Arts

Andy Billings 300px

 Andy Billings

VP of Profitable Creativity  & co-founder EA University

Electronic Arts

Sometimes organizations need to change to survive. While change can be a scary notion, having the proper mindset, the right leadership and a strong learning strategy can take your business to a whole new level.  Prior to taking the stage of August’s highly anticipated Chief Learning Officer Exchange, Andy Billings gave a few bite-sized insights into this topic. In this Q&A, Andy discusses the best first step of shifting business focus, some of the challenges and solutions to that process, the best types of leadership for continued innovation and what he is most excited about for the Exchange.


What is one of the best ‘first steps’ to shifting from a retail/product mindset to a digital/service mindset?

The best first step includes multiple small steps. First, you must create the right balance of motivation for your leaders to embark on the transformation process. Next, you need to convey the benefits of moving the organization into a digital future (new growth opportunities, new ways to reach our players).  This gives a path and a sense of capability.  Finally, you need to balance the first two parts with a candid picture of the very negative likely outcomes of being left behind and failing to make the transition (shrinking business, losing touch with players).  A balance of capability and urgency is a good place to start.

What is one of the challenges EA faced when making that shift?

The first challenge is that transformations are distinguished by knowing that you need to move in a new direction but there is a level of extreme uncertainty on what that new destination might be.  You have to begin moving even when you don’t know exactly what you are changing towards. 

What are some of the ways that EA solved those challenges?

Successful execution loves high clarity – but in transformation, you need to learn to lead without it.  This gets people thinking about experimentation and innovation to shape the future; rather than wait to until the point where you can carefully forecast it.  We had to face the erosion of a very successful part of our business - and one in which we were proud of our capabilities.  We had to venture into an uncomfortable and ambiguous new world.  We began a series of small new ventures to prepare ourselves for the future.  We also made a conscious effort to begin trimming back our investment (people and spending) in our legacy business

What type of leadership do you feel fosters the most innovation?

Innovation usually comes with a high level of insecurity on the part of the participants.  Sometimes even fear if the innovations do not succeed.  Innovation leadership needs to create a powerful combination of urgency and experimentation with a sense of personal safety.  People need to feel that they can say what is on their minds and try new approaches.  Fear is the enemy of innovation.  People often mistakenly say that you should celebrate failure.  Yet, no one is motivated to have failures so this exhortation rings hollow. You should celebrate experiments and learning and accept some failures – not punish those that bring back info on what doesn’t work.  So it’s an adequate sense of security to innovate – not country club cushy and entitlement, but room to try new things at the edge.  That’s an important part of innovation leadership

What do you look forward to about the 2016 Chief Learning Officer Exchange the most?

I look forward to connecting with and learning from leaders facing similar learning challenges in their organizations.  It’s exciting to see all the different ways that are successful in leading change. There is almost always something new to take away from seeing what others are doing in their worlds.

Join Andy and other HR Leaders at the 2016 Chief Learning Officer Exchange, August 14-16, 2016  at the Loews Chicago Hotel in Chicago.