Unpacking Transformation 2020, Part 4: …The 22

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

Stop Chasing, Start Building

Catch 22: a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. e.g. 1) I provide consulting services and I advocate commonplace digital transformation tactics. 2) I recommend enterprise software and/or various 3rd party systems, for which I receive reseller commissions. 3) I hold the contract/subcontract for the implementation & integration teams. 4) I hold the contracts for training and ongoing SLA work. 5) I focus my interest around data strategies – collection, security, hygiene, mining, analysis, AI/ML, portability – on opportunities that track to additional software sales.

Catch: the digital transformation narrative is stacked against you. 22: inaction is not an option. While the above example leans toward the extreme, it’s not uncommon. Bypassing the accepted narrative is the way forward. The mindset is so deeply entrenched that it demands a way around it in the same way a boulder demands water to flow around it. Be water.

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. — Bruce Lee

Analog Building Blocks

Beginning with Part 5, I take apart overlooked analog factors (context, culture) of “digital” transformation. Analog factors that drive results and get your flywheel moving. Later in the series I’ll revisit a practical approach to digital technology that arms your warriors, not empties your war chest.

Hindsight reveals rackets. It also reveals legends who caught the trick and took the road less traveled to astonishing results. It’s not complex or prohibitively expensive. But it’s not fast and it’s not particularly sexy until the results start to show up. It’s a cultural slow cooker, led by a handful of extraordinary leaders. It is rare.

3 Persistent Obstacles

  1. There’s nothing OOTB: “everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face” (–Mike Tyson) is a fitting counter to vanity definitions and generic sales pitches that drown thoughtful approaches to digital transformation. Universal, off-the-shelf, out-of-the-box solutions are myths.
  2. There can be milestones but never, ever an end-state: any discussion of “finishing” a digital transformation indicates a willingness to go only so far before reverting to a kick the can down the road approach. The pace of change will only increase.
  3. There will be more resistance than cooperation – until there’s not: stop wasting time chasing permission for change. People naturally align behind results — gradually, not all at the same time. Let it happen.

Why Companies Do ‘Innovation Theater’ Instead of Actual Innovation is a worthwhile, short article from Steve Blank for HBR. You won’t find any mention of digital transformation in the article but it’s all part of the same chess set. “…each layer of process reduces the ability to be agile and lean and — most importantly — responsive to new opportunities and threats.”

The category is change. Innovation, digital transformation, and agility are all related forms. Be responsive. Be water.

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

Part 5: Context is the next in the series and tackles how to ask better questions and gather more reliable, actionable insights.

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