When it comes to digital transformation, the stakes are high and advice is cheap. As pressure mounts to infuse digital into the way we work, the risk of tripping over our own ideas is significant. Perhaps, there is no better time to fall in love with the problem.
I still get sucked in… the new… the transformational… the bleeding edge.
It’s a bad habit.
But ooooh, such a tasty one!
A conversational thread between Alex Osterwalder, author of Business Model Generation and Value Proposition Design, and German business analyst Oliver Haas caught my eye the other day:
Let’s, for a moment, stop… take a breath…
Put down the cell… look away from the SharePoint Roadmap… ignore the alluring yet terrifying robots who might take our jobs… unravel our religion… rest for a moment before tackling another upgrade…
Cover our ears and dim the deafening clamor of DIGITAL and all that it is purported to do.
Now that it’s quiet: let’s think about the problem
When it comes to the current state of the workplace, what is the problem? I can think of a few areas that have become familiar themes (or should I say ongoing headaches?) amongst some our clients:
- The accelerating pace of technological change means that the raison d’être of an organization is continuously and rigorously challenged
- Laying bets on products and services becomes increasingly challenging as we bump up against the constraints of 20th century organizational design
- Crushing pressure to be cheaper, faster and more tuned-in to customer needs as the level of friction in switching providers continues to decline
- An increasingly fragmented media landscape means greater difficulty in attaining customer mindshare
- Complex problems are cropping up that extend beyond the scope of singular human brains
- A blasé workforce thwarts productivity and innovative capacity as engagement levels linger at low levels
Do you face these challenges? Or maybe something else? Is there a different way to frame them?
Exploring problems and asking questions
Fast Company Design recently threw a punch at brainstorming - suggesting that the process creates a situation where there is too much pressure to be creative and that the resulting ideas are truly anything but. The article, How Brainstorming Questions, Not Ideas, Sparks Creativity, highlights the value of using questions to explore how problems are framed. The author, Warren Berger, posits that by working through questions rather than trying to brainstorm ideas – participants tend to dig more deeply into a problem and challenge assumptions:
they may inquire about why the problem exists, why it’s even considered a problem (maybe it really isn’t one), whether there’s a bigger problem behind that problem, and so on. The process gives people permission to ask fundamental questions that often don’t get asked; not just "how can we do it better?" but also "why are we doing this in the first place?"
– Warren Berger
He goes on to suggest that questioning promotes broader participation because there is less judgement perceived amongst peers versus putting forward and defending an idea.
Building the Digital Transformation Death Star
The hype related to digital transformation now verges on Death Star-like proportions. A looming threat to business of such epic proportion that it requires immediate migration to the cloud… a rally cry for arming knowledge workers with artificial intelligence… a revolution that demands fundamental change to organizational structure and business models…. a need to understand… nay, anticipate the customer’s fickle whims that could blast the company into total oblivion.
But there isn’t a tidy maturity model for digital transformation.
No step-by-step solution.
What works for one company or industry – may not apply in the next. In the Oil and Gas sector, digital transformation might mean automation of the oil field relying heavily on the Internet of Things. In retail, it might be about anticipating the customer’s needs across physical and digital landscapes. In law, it is about challenging the partner-oriented business model and exploring new forms of digital service delivery. Blockchain might mean the disintermediation of the financial services industry…
Is the threat of this Digital Transformation Death Star real? Maybe. Probably. I think so.
But the underlying questions are not one-size-fits-all.
There is no better time to fall in love with the problem. Ask questions. Test theories.