Digital Innovation. The New Transformation

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3 Minutes Read

Transformation. We hear it everywhere and usually prefaced with 'digital'. I think there's a lot of confusion around this, not least because it means digital technologies enabling transformation, emphasising the 'digital' instead of the 'transformation', and this where the problem starts.

 

Transformation isn't easy. It's complex and, very often, not incredibly successful. Still, everyone uses the term digital transformation as though they know their efforts will be successful.

 

Digital transformation has become a buzzword and follows the trend of 'innovation' and 'disruption'. It's exhausting to hear, yet I still find it numbingly in my vocabulary. We've gotten so used to these words, in so many contexts, they've nearly become irrelevant. Regardless, I thought I'd share some thinking around transformation and how you might be successful, not least by approaching the concept slightly differently.

 

Acceptance

I believe that having even a remote chance of success, all {digital} transformation efforts need to understand and accept the existing circumstances in an organisation. Genuine understanding and acceptance mean taking full responsibility for your, as a leader, contribution to the way things are.

 

At this stage, you need to ask a few questions: 

  1. What is the current reality? Be thorough.
  2. What role did we play to create this reality? Take accountability.
  3. Are we satisfied with this reality? Be honest.

 

If you're happy, the only thing is to continue doing what you've always done. You're not going to force transformation onto people who are satisfied with their reality. 

 

But, if the reality is causing hassle, frustrations or unhappiness, the questions become: Does it hurt? How much? Change is exceedingly challenging, but it can become gruelling for those who are unwilling for it.

 

Vision

After deciding that the reality bites enough to change, you need to start and create a vision of the future. Here's where rising to a leapfrog challenge would be perfect. What's leapfrog? It's an innovation process highlighted by author Porus Mushi. If you haven't heard of him, check out his book, "Making Breakthrough Innovation Happen: Making 11 Indians Pulled Off The Impossible". It's a very good read. Anyway, leapfrog challenges are for you to aspire to change how things are done. The more daring your aspirations, the more it becomes actual transformation - the power of a Leapfrog comes less from the scale of action or effort and more from the scale of the shift in thinking. You'll scale much better when taking on ten-fold challenges instead of 20% or 30% challenges. 

 

As soon as you attempt a ten-fold improvement, you'll know immediately that the same old routine won't make a difference. The real opportunity is to transform lives or your organisation on the scale of a 10x project. It will undoubtedly force new thinking, different working methods, compel unique opportunity searches, and let you challenge assumptions across your business or even your entire industry.

 

True transformation means reimagining work, not doing the same work cheaper, better, or faster. Improving work is called continuous improvement, not transformation. Here's an example: the introduction of ATMs (automated banking machines) is an excellent example of transformation. They profoundly changed how we interact with banks forever. Peer-to-peer lending is now creating that same revolution for fintech firms.

 

Alignment

Sharing the new vision and getting your teams excited and rallying around your vision won't easy. Ten-fold improvement projects sound too labourious and seem likely to fail, and will bring about some of these excuses from your team: 

  1. This just is not possible.
  2. Nobody has ever done it 
  3. We don't have the talent or resources to do this
  4. We can't afford it 
  5. The partners will disagree 
  6. Our margins cannot support it, and many more. 

These excuses should indicate to you that you're on the right path. If there aren't any negative responses, you probably haven't aimed high enough. But it does become a management responsibility to get buy-in. So, to get that, here are two ideas: 

  1. Dystopic: Demonstrate or prove the ugly truth of the current trajectory and how it influences everyone. Help the team feel the pain they'll have to endure if nothing changes. Show them the only choice is to "burn their ships" and march onward to a new reality.
  2. Utopic: Talk about all the wonderful things a new reality could create. Motivate your team so that no doubt remains about the new reality being their future.

Because we usually react substantively more to negative than positive emotions, the Dystopic approach is pretty straightforward. Nonetheless, people are not that easy to deceive, so do be careful using a Dystopian scenario everyone agrees with.

 

In Conclusion

The two guidelines for successful transformation are (1) the scale you're aiming for and (2) getting buy-in from the team. Another condition for success is sound execution, which I'll share some thoughts on in another article.