Unpacking Transformation 2020, Part 3: The Catch…

A Guide To Subverting Digital Transformation Hype And Clearing Your Path To Discovery, Ignition & Growth

Chasing Our Tails

The catch is that digital transformation is not digital and it’s not transformation. It’s just change. Change that got renamed digital transformation and now we’re stuck with it because marketing.

Analog Muscle, Digital Steroids

Resistance to change is a highly developed analog/mental muscle. We’ve been exercising it instinctively since childhood. Ask any parent about the impact of small changes to a child’s routine, and the resulting meltdown. Survival mechanisms and social conditioning are powerful – that’s why attempts at sweeping change end in catastrophe.

Certain people, however, are more receptive. Perhaps naturally, or perhaps because they’ve learned that purposeful change is a supercharged growth engine. They possess the analog muscle you need to identify and enable. They are also the group who will readily adopt technology, make it work, and evangelize its potency. For this group, digital is like steroids – a performance enhancer.

Making Sense Of Digital

For an athlete in top form, steroids can deliver a critical advantage a la Bonds, Armstrong, McGuire. Same goes for a business but without the ethical dilemma – you have to be at peak operating performance to realize the full potential of digital. We’ve all seen people at the gym who clearly took the steroids without doing the work – before, during, and after. It’s not an attractive transformation.

Digital is a massive opportunity that has the tendency to behave like a supermassive black hole due to entrenched mindsets. The most common duality is the mythical presentation of digital command & control tools for leadership (a stand-in for trust, human intelligence-gathering and visibility) vs. time-sucking spyware with the ultimate goal of rank and file automation. With these 2 opposing views, it’s no wonder the steroids are resulting in disfigurement.

“The hardest part of a digital transformation is us, the ‘analog’ humans.” — Jesus Mantas

Here’s what digital must deliver for the humans:

  • time savings
  • elimination of friction
  • enablement of higher-value work

Focus on the humans first and you’ll see faster adoption rates and fine-tuning of systems & processes. The command & control mechanisms will result from harmony, not conflict.

Digital Economy, Analog Problems

Uber provides a great example of the unbalanced focus on digital. A “born in the cloud” member of the new “digital economy,” their growing list of challenges includes: internal culture, gig workers’ demands, politicians targeting them, unions fighting them, wall street pressuring them. Analog problems.

Read any digital transformation failure story and it’s always about the humans, not the machines. I haven’t found a single one that indicates otherwise. Analog problems.

Digital Is An Extension Of Us

  1. It’s not digital, it’s human: digital tools serve at the pleasure of the humans. We create them, supply their input, and interpret their output into part of the value chain.
  2. It’s not digital, it’s opportunity: the transformation that takes place is one of opportunity a) for legacy category players to retain and expand market share b) for existing companies to break into, or create, new markets and c) for start-ups to enter and disrupt markets. Wider access to powerful tools transforms opportunity and barriers to entry. Most critically – it transforms opportunity to connect and deliver for your customers with lower friction and greater value.
  3. It’s not digital, it’s a set of tools: even pounding nails requires practice and skill. Access alone to digital tools doesn’t correlate to better business outcomes. A pen and a word processor both rely on communication skills. A rolodex and a CRM both rely on relationship skills. An abacus and and excel sheet both rely on math & logic skills.

Sometime there’s a catch and sometimes a 22. In the next article, I’ll explore why doing nothing is not an option and lay some groundwork for the next section of the series where we dig into context, cultures and a framework for discovery, ignition and growth.

ICYMI here’s the first post in the Unpacking Transformation 2020 series.

Part 4: …The 22, spotlights the Catch 22 and enlists a bit of mental insight from Bruce Lee to get around persistent obstacles.

Thomas Irre is the founder of HK5, LLC and an advocate of analog transformation – a common sense approach to sustainable business transformation that emphasizes people & performance first, and arms them with a flexible technology arsenal that aligns to clear-cut business goals.