For some time now, I’ve been hearing and I reading a lot about “digital transformation” or “cultural transformation”, as though the company should become something else, rather than adapt to its environment. Are we using the word transformation appropriately?
Or is it, we’re so eager to change that any alternative will do? Do you know companies being transformed? Or are they simply adapting to their environment?
There is a noticeable distinction between transformation and adaptation. Similar to that of evolution and revolution.
In evolution, the past stays within arm’s reach, but we gradually abandon the starting point while proportionally projecting ourselves toward the future.
Vital innovation = natural evolution
The natural course of life is evolution; revolutions serve to change the course of evolution. In both cases, evolution and revolution, project toward the future, they write it, because the future is the result of where we go, and what we do and say, and how we live…
A visual example that explains transformation is the transformation of a worm into a butterfly. It changes its shape in a remarkable fashion – but ultimately it remains unchanged – a worm with wings; its initial state vis-a-vis the resultant, is very different.
Most of the time, when we talk about vital innovation and organizational creativity, we talk about adaptation, not transformation. Organizations, like all living beings, live in a continual process of change and are naturally obliged to adapt to the environment if we want to remain there.
We could say adaptability is the ability to change in order to continue progressing in a different environment.
As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” In the long history of mankind (including the animal species), those who learn to collaborate and improvise are most likely to prevail. It seems quite contemporary, don’t you think?
One of the best ways to explain adaptability is in Bruce Lee’s water metaphor. Watch this video and tell me if you agree.
So why is everyone talking about digital transformation now? Or cultural transformation? Because human instincts urge us to reject what doesn’t work and replace it with something new.
That’s why we adopt every new word that comes out, as though it were some magic formula, as if “the name did the thing” when in reality, whatever we call it, people and organizations are not transforming themselves, but adapting to the environment in an agile way.
Technology progresses exponentially, people progress organically.
Big changes take years not months, and yet we want to transform everything as soon as possible. As I once wrote, technology is not the underlying factor of “digital transformation”, it’s thinking differently.
The truth is, digital transformation is but an excuse. Our discourse must focus on the client, not only in lip service (or marketing) but in body and soul (operations). If we don’t, someone else will do it for us. So the next time someone talks to you about transformation, make sure you know what it means. And don’t forget to ask how many companies have been transformed…
This isn’t to say I think transformation is not necessary, sometimes it’s imperative to move forward. But let’s not fool ourselves, a transformation is not necessarily the solution.
Many things do not require transformation, rather than need to be properly adapted to the environment, which is both easier and often more effective. We’ll talk about when a transformation is important another time; as so many people are doing it today, although it’s not always necessary.
As Heraclitus said, the only constant is change. And it will come faster and faster, whether we like it or not. We can anticipate and lead change, or let it come and be forced to manage it, what do you prefer?