Unpacking Transformation 2020, Part 2: 3-Card Monte

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

The Game Is Rigged

Humans are masterful at cobbling sketchy theory into saleable packages. The internet extends this capability at massive scale because everyone is drinking from the same information fountain. It’s a side-effect that vaulted the “on-message” strategy, an established favorite of White House press secretaries, to wider application in marketing. It can give the appearance of synchronized messaging even in the absence of direct or deliberate coordination. Pack behavior dominates.

Business magazines continue a gradual slide toward content & affiliate marketing sites. Marketers declare themselves “thought leaders.” 🤮 B-School mags seem increasingly willing to publish advertorial-ish content. Traditional sources face an erosion of trust & authority.

“Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” — Albert Einstein

A robust spectrum of knowledge survives in books. Podcasting is another good platform for discussion that goes beyond buzzwords. The most valuable lessons however, tend to surface in conversations that crisscross business and human behavior – not from those preoccupied with DX posturing. I’ve begun collecting some of them here, along with a handful of articles and wikis.

The Brutal Truth

Garden variety digital transformation ideas are bullshit wrapped in infomercial tactics. Use cases are just doctored before & after photos. Best practices are feelgood soundbites that lack any real power. Consensus offers the false promise of safety in numbers.

Need attracts greed. A noisy market signals both legitimate demand and the likelihood of quicksand.

The technology sector is achieving record earnings and acquisition activity. The economy as a whole fared well in the 2010’s but digital transformation spending vs. results are lop-sided.

A bit of good news: responsibility & respect for customers seems poised for a comeback and the drumbeat for trust in technology, and business in general, is getting louder. “Subvert the dominant paradigm,” as the saying goes, to tip the scales in your favor.

Play Your Own Game

To play your own game you have to rewrite it. Create more flexible rules, redraw the playing fields, consider how you choose leaders and draft teams (hint: everybody doesn’t make the team), identify sponsors & advisors (semi-active stakeholders).

I’m not suggesting you discard your successes, works-in-progress, or learnings. Instead, re-frame them in context and aggressively pursue a less-is-more strategy. Less generic, rah-rah team activity aimed at the general population / more surgical operations led by purpose-built, small teams or individuals who have no responsibility to hand-hold or solicit buy-in. The larger organization will naturally begin to align as results evolve.

3 Myths, 3 Alternatives

  1. Best practices: the idea that generic “best practices” can be applied across different industries/companies/teams indicates a lack of seriousness. Patty McCord, architect of the famed Netflix culture, says it best. Build culture, not rules and practices.
  2. New names: digital transformation is just a new name for the change that’s always been a requirement of successful companies. Technology can offer new efficiencies but the fundamentals of human interaction hold steady. Grow people and prioritize technologies that transform human interactions. Command & control mechanisms are subordinate.
  3. Consensus: org-wide, buy-in and best practices all lead back to the single most effective way to achieve mediocrity. Consensus. Instead, plan for friction and figure out how to build triage teams that acknowledge & address the issues. At some point, the people who refuse to move will have self-identified as people who don’t really want to be there. Say thank you!

A final point of reality worth keeping in mind is that job satisfaction numbers (U.S.) hover at around 50%. That leaves the other 50% on a spectrum somewhere between unengaged and actively working to thwart change. Instead of forced, global changes, consider making your transformation efforts invitation only and watch what happens.

“Every company needs to be excited for change” is lesson #8 in the 5-minute Patty McCord video linked above. Build toward that idea and begin to shift your mindset about transformation from process, to result.

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

Learn about analog muscle and digital steroids in Part 3: The Catch

Thomas Irre is the founder of HK5, LLC, Practical Business Technology and Mental Self-Defense for leaders & teams.