Listening for Sounds of Digital Transformation

“Digital transformation” is a phrase bandied around relentlessly these days. Yet no one seems capable of defining it clearly — much less correctly.

Case in point: this article claims that “Digital transformation is about the use of technology to radically improve the performance and reach of enterprises. Digital transformation is also about change and adapting to turn technological capabilities into transformation”.

I’m not even sure what the last sentence means but in any case, equating “digital transformation” with technology, reach, or performance is missing the big picture.

Because digital transformation revolves around two things: mindset andinnovation. None of which requires technology per se. Yes, it’s all in your head — and in the language.

Mindset means several things. It’s challenging traditional assumptions. It’s iconoclastic in nature. For instance:

Traditional: Our business is mostly transactional.
Transformed: Our business is mostly relationship-based.

Traditional: Our customers will always remain loyal to our brand.
Transformed: We design brand experience around the customer journey.

Traditional: Our product or service will always be needed.
Transformed: We can become obsolete in a New York minute.

Traditional: Our size and economic power ensures we can remain competitive.
Transformed: We can be disrupted out of business at anytime by any startup.

Traditional: In an organization our size, nothing can get done very quickly.
Transformed: Speed is part of our competitive advantages.

Traditional: We couldn’t survive without a customer service department.
Transformed: We couldn’t survive without a customer support community.

Traditional: In our organisation there are decision makers and then there are executors.
Transformed: Everyone from the janitor to the CEO is on Slack (or Chatter).

Traditional: If we only had more people and more time, we could accomplish more.
Transformed: All our meetings are virtual and capped at 30 minutes.

Innovation is also thrown around with many different sauces, and often mixed in with “disruption”, which in itself is a tricky concept to explain. Being customer-centric, I like to define things in terms of “customer speak”. For instance, assuming you’re a successful innovative brand, what would customers — or the general public — say about your company and product? What might innovation “sound like” in their minds?

“Wow, I can’t believe no one ever thought of that before!”

“It’s so simple, how can it actually work?”

“That’s just crazy. It’ll never work.”

“We didn’t even know how much we needed this.”

“Oh that’s gonna put a lot of people out of work.”

“Oh that’s going to create a ton of jobs.”

“This could actually benefit all of humanity!”

“Can they get regulatory approval for this?”

“Every kid in school has one of these.”

“I already forgot what using the previous product/service was like”

“[Huge Brand] will never let this happen.”

So listen carefully both inside and outside an organization’s walls. Because although you might not be able to define digital transformation, you might just pick up on the many tell-tale sounds of its existence before anyone else does.