Unpacking Transformation 2020, Part 5: Context

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

Macro Sells, Micro Delivers

“At scale.” What does that mean? I know I’ve used it before because I thought it sounded good. It sounds confident – like a solution to something big. The trouble is most of our big business challenges are the result of many small problems. The complex tangle of ‘why’ leads to causal reductionism and the market devolves into one-dimensional sales platitudes. Many of them stick due to fatigue.

This is where it’s useful to start thinking micro instead of macro. Busy decision-makers hate micro because it requires their attention – a lot of it. As a result, high dollar / low return macro solutions get green-lighted. Money changes hand at scale, and small problems stubbornly linger at scale. ROI stumbles.

Asking Better Questions

Context is micro by nature and doesn’t play well in the attention economy where prescription-based marketing has seconds to set a hook. Digital transformation marketing heralds one-size-fits-all imagery, easily packaged for change-weary leaders. Context, though, is the only way to discover all of the opportunities that lie before you. Simple, not easy.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

— Thomas A. Edison

In the 7th article of this series I share a simple framework I use to create playbooks for discovery, ignition and growth. A big part of creating playbooks is gathering, organizing and understanding the contextual information that enables better questions and better decisions. As much as I’d love to sell one-size-fits-all playbooks, doing the work in context is where the breakthroughs 💥 show up.

3 Contexts For Killer Questions

  1. The context of customers: you need to dig down deep into customer experience, feedback, wins and losses. Different customers, across different product/service lines, in different regions, with different ways of buying & engaging with you will have different needs. This is where authentic empathy (not its trendy cousin of emotionally manipulative storytelling) is critical.
  2. The context of your people: it’s equally important to develop a micro-level understanding of your leaders & teams – and how to serve them so they can bring that same service mindset to customer and internal relationships.
  3. The context of your markets: a simple SWOT analysis is an easy, repeatable template that works for a high-level view and gets duplicated in increasingly granular audits of market trends, competition and opportunities.

This is what I mean by authentic empathy in a business setting:

“The source of innovation comes from having a deep sense of empathy. The more we can invoke our ability to meet unarticulated or unmet needs, the more that will be the source of innovation.”

— Satya Nadella

Context is a portal to empathy is a portal to innovation. Better questions, in context, clears the path.

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

Next is Part 6: Culture, another vexing but entirely manageable component of managing change.

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