Jean Desgagné

May 27, 2019 | Gin with a Genius

Jean Desgagné is a change, transformation, and innovation leader, with C-suite experience with large multinational financial institutions, exchanges and market infrastructures. Most recently, he was President and CEO of Global Solutions, Insights & Analytics at TMX, and he currently serves as Board Director for the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario and CAA Club Group as well as a number of startups. We had the privilege of sitting down with Jean to discuss our rapidly changing world and how to stay one step ahead of the curve.


“When I think of all the things that turn me on, business model change is the biggest one.”


We are living through a time of extremely rapid and significant change. The pace of change in technology today is much faster than in any of the other revolutions humanity has faced. We have created more data in the last year than in the last 10! And, no one has any real clue how best to store it, use it or share it.  So many businesses are far behind when it comes to thinking about the impact of technology on their businesses.  In the next number of years, as new technologies become more mainstream, value chains – the way economic results are distributed – are going to change. If people aren’t at the table early staking out their part, then the prize will be distributed elsewhere. Leaders need to be proactive in developing their Plan B for when their current value chains fall apart. If not, then someone else will come in and make them obsolete (or, at least, less profitably relevant). This means that people have to work to think beyond the business as it currently is; we need to understand the status quo, but also think about – and plan for – how things could be in the future.

“Innovation requires change – and change is hard.”  

Everyone says they want to innovate…and they do…in theory. But even though we all think we want change, when it comes down to it, change is hard. The big challenge in leading a change initiative is that usually you are asking people to change in the face of an uncertain future. If the building was on fire, well, then people would make whatever immediate changes were necessary. But the fire here is less visible – it is more ambiguous to many, and ambiguity can be tough.

When people do get the need for change, they also need to recognize that change involves a grieving process. If you don’t or can’t grieve what you are leaving behind, it is hard to accept a new reality.  Leaders can help people through that grieving process by recognizing its stages and spending a lot of time at the beginning of any change process listening. It’s important to understand what motivates the team, whether or not that motivation is “moveable”, and what biases and mental models prevent people from acting rationally. Often, resistance is related to the stakes people have in the game; a junior person usually has more to gain and less to lose than someone in a middle management position. At the end of the day, helping people change is about building relationships, understanding motivations and talking to your team (a lot).

“More books, less news”

To be adaptable in the face of change, we all need to have more points of reference. This means we need to expose ourselves to ideas we haven’t thought of before and different ways of thinking. The more dots we can connect, the more we can change, grow and evolve. So, the first step is to “collect dots”: meet people, read books, experience things, and do it outside of your regular milieu. This will make you more interesting, evolve your thinking and perspectives, and will make you more open to change. Someone once told me to read the news, pick a story every week that interested me and call the person featured in that story. I actually did it, and 9/10 people said yes to meeting up for a coffee or lunch. People love to talk about themselves and the cool things they do; all you have to do is give them the opportunity and chances are you will learn something new, you’ll build your network and make a strong impression.

Read widely and be curious and focus on more books and less news; books, regardless of the type and topic, will help you to go deep and truly gain a fresh perspective. Books create who you are – I try to read for at least an hour a day and wish I could read more. It is also useful to learn how to read efficiently and effectively so that you can absorb the wisdom to which you are exposed.  I’m currently reading Michael Beschloss’ Presidents of War, a history of the US presidents who led during wartime, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch, a classic nineteenth-century British novel.


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