A recent Nimbus Ninety survey found that:
88% of organisations are digitally transforming – but just 41% have a clear strategy for doing so
While this mirrors one of the key reasons we have identified for why digital transformation programmes fail, it got me thinking about the nature of transformations. Looking at both the research I have done in the field and my nearly two decades of experience, we can identify both the science and an art of transformation.
The science of transformation
The science of transformation draws from the work that was popularized in the English speaking world by Thomas Kuhn. His book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, describes how a field, like science, can be viewed as a paradigm. This paradigm exists in an environment and has various tools, knowledges and practices at its disposal to interact with that environment. When these are no longer able to provide adequate answers to the environment, either because the environment has changes or the paradigm is now investigating parts of the environment it was not originally designed to, it begins to break down. New solutions are proposed and argued over. In time, people congregate around one of these solutions and a new paradigm is born.
The basic process of paradigms can be applied to other fields, such as my work in copyright law. It can also be applied to business and digital transformation. The digital transformations that we at Plus or Minus Seven specialise in are paradigm shifts. In these cases, a business finds that the models, technology and processes that have worked up to now are no longer adequate to respond to the changed environment.
The art of transformation
While having a framework or system that explains what is happening in what can be a very stressful situation is important, transformations need more than science. There is an art to reinventing yourself. It is a creative act that requires a level of sensitivity to the environment and the ability to be flexible. Time and time again, I have met with potential clients and see them in this or that stage in the transformation process and know what the next steps are. However, each organisation has its own, unique environment, context and circumstances. This requires developing a bespoke version of the process to work with that client at that moment. In addition, everybody has their own level of comfort with change. This needs to be understood in order to ensure that a critical mass in the organisation supports the transformation. The art is in sensing how far and fast an organisation can go, then helping them push just a bit further.
The science and art of transformation
Digital transformations are a combination of science, a defined process that can be followed, and art, a creative response to a unique circumstance that gives form to the science. In this sense, digital transformations are not about creating new products or enabling workers. They are about organisations reinventing themselves for the digital age.