How I Survived My First Year of Transformation

Gavin Lum, a Master's alumni, shares his journey of transformation a year after completing his Hyper Island journey.

I recently crossed my first year at J. Walter Thomson (JWT) Shanghai as Director of Digital and here is a reflection on my learning journey so far.

My brief: To transform JWT for the modern connected age.

I set out to identify growth opportunities within the organisation and formulate solutions for them. The long term plan was to take a role with the rest of leadership to make JWT the best ‘product’ it can be in the marketplace.

My role: To serve as the Digital Beacon.

Beacon, Catalyst, Boat-Rocker, whichever name we call it, Digital Beacons in each of the JWT offices happen to be resolutely curious and passionate about digital technologies and their impact on consumers and commerce. It helped that the diversity of my past work experiences gave me multiple perspectives from the various departments within an agency.

You take that and supercharge it with my part-time Masters Programme from Hyper Island and I was armed to the teeth, ready and waiting for this sweet gig. There was a huge drive for positive change and I felt ready.


My Key learnings

Fast forward a year later, here are some of highlights from my learning journey in this role thus far:

1. Team is everything

If my mission was to digitalise the rest of the agency, to encourage and enforce that digital was not a department, then the mantle of the Digital Director is an oxymoron.

There are 2 implications behind that

  • Like the true nature of ‘digital’, the Director of Digital functions as the glue or piping behind the scenes that pulls the pieces together. There was no point in just having one person or department be the champion of digital. It doesn’t work that way. I needed to reset my thinking and to invite rest of the management team to be a part of the Digital Transformation force. Hiring the right talent was key. It was not just about having the right skills, but understanding cultural values of courage, confidence and collaboration.

  • Progression is an imperative. The 2nd implication is that my role is always charged with disrupting ourselves, responsible for shaking the status quo and always identifying ways to improve on our product and service offering as the needs of the consumers evolve. It was vital that we kept our noses to the ground and evolved along with if not ahead of the curve. Heading to SXSW to capture and learn the latest and greatest and then bring it back to our respective offices helped tremendously in fuelling the creative fire.

2. Going Agile

As we started to grow in confidence through the work, the teams started getting bolder and experimental in dreaming up ideas. We had started to dream and think digital ideas, but were doing patch work when it came to delivery of them. As we shifted from just creating assets to connecting experiences, the extent of deliverables were something very few of the teams had seen before let alone familiar in delivering them. We introduced Kanban, a hybrid version of Agile to the agency and utilised all the spare spaces we could find. It was quite well received and made us begin to understand what it meant to have an agile mindset and way of working.


Transforming the agency required us to get everyone to change their mindsets and ways of working. Digital cannot be a thought of as a department. It should be viewed as a mindset and culture across any organisation. Part of that culture and mindset involves looking at projects with a different lens, understanding that change is the only constant and we have to constantly learn to adapt. In a nutshell, it was about resetting the digital narrative.

We can now concept and deliver ideas across a wide spectrum of mediums, we can make things beyond advertising, we broke down internal silos across teams and saw closer and stronger collaborations across all functions and we have a spanking new credentials to show off a new and improved JWT.

Onward and upwards into Year 2 as I keep the our Hyper Island manifesto close to our minds.

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