Culture first. Digital second.

Three things I learned attending a CDO Conference

Digital Transformation is still the topic

Digital Transformation: a content trend that started years ago.

Around 2011, the words “Digital Transformation” appeared first in reports, setting an ongoing content theme at business conferences, articles and social media posts for years to come. “Digital Business” came next — combinations of both still being used as main headlines for events and articles today. One would think that by now, everyone in business and IT would know what the term Digital Transformation means. Not only that, we’d be well into the metamorphosis of our own enterprises right now.

Not so. We are still citing the same examples (AirBnB, Alibaba, Uber, Burberry) and attempting to define Digital from every angle possible. At another recent gathering one speaker remarked: “One can hope that quantity will result in quality down the road.”

From watching innovators and early adopters it looks promising. As definitions are becoming clearer and more nuanced, how-to’s from years ago are resurfacing and connecting us to disciplines like psychology and behavioural sciences. We do see more focussed efforts, solid “lessons learned” are being eagerly photographed by the crowd.

But one of the most fundamental realizations being nodded off in conversations and panels is: culture first, digital second. You can have the best tools — without vision, leadership and crucial buy-in, transformation remains a nice set of goals in presentations on hard-drives worldwide. But fear not, the next buzz-phrase is here: Customer Experience. Shall we talk about that!?

Disruption might not hit the core, is first felt at the edges

Reminder: this is what a fax machine looks like.

Yes, you heard about Kodak and Blockbuster, and how they misinterpreted the signs. So why are large enterprises not so worried about what is happening around them?

Maybe because they are big enough to not feel it where it hurts? One strategist of a global enterprise told me that one of the sub-divisions still requires fax and paper for core processes. They are about to be disrupted by a start-up, but don’t see need for change. The shift at the fringes seems to go unnoticed, but will move closer to the core when the fringes are -suddenly?- no more.

Which leads us back to culture and psychology. We may work very hard, but not be doing the hard work?

Down to earth serves all of us

The day after: putting theory into practice.

As the event draws to a close, after cases, charts and chats, reality sets in: Next week, you, the protagonist, back in the office, having to execute.

Corporate leaders who understand this ask for patience now, with stakeholders in government organizations openly saying from the stage: “Give us double the time, please.”

This realism, beckoned as momentum is being built, serves all of us well. Why? Here’s how change works: awareness follows reflection, ideally followed by acceptance. Once that is done: priorities. Then actions and habits do the rest. All of this takes time.

And while time is of extreme essence, and leaps are real, we will not reach our goals unless we start. Or jump. For both, this applies: take it step by step. Task after task. Project by project. This points to the biggest, very down to earth, benefits of meeting peers at an event: personal conversations, shared examples and anecdotes of change. We are wired to click with stories that show us that real transformation is possible.

It’s not like a switch, more like a slider. Let’s push it in the right direction.