The fallacy of (digital) Transformation

As Carrie Bradshaw says
“the more words we invent, the harder it becomes to define things”.
She talked about relationships, I’m talking about strategy.

In this short post ( I needed to get it out of my system), I’d like to point you to 4 common mistakes and misconception that lead to poor thinking in organisations.


Digital doesn’t mean anything, because it means too many things to too many people. Latest executive research performed by INSEAD & this fluid world provides valuable insights.

“Digital” does not have a universal meaning: the research identifies 20 key categories of engagement in digital with multiple subcategories of varied levels of complexity”

I invite you to read the research here.




Common mistake being made between the artefact and the underlying process.

The term “digital transformation” is essentially preempted by IT firms in order
to sell their services (check for yourselves). Again, see recent INSEAD & this fluid world research or insights from 2014 Altimeter research (mentioned here)

Success is perceived as being rooted in leadership and management, yet a significant proportion of respondents feel this gets insufficient attention



Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 17.04.32

Digital is not just another app, or a connected device…
Just like electricity is not just a fridge or a TV set…

Although digital enables some components of innovation
(see 10 types of Innovation graphic below) – it must not be confused with innovation – innovation being “the creation of a new, viable business offering.”

The most important word in that phrase is viable: innovation must result in the creation of new economic value – for customers but also for companies.




Strategy is getting the job done –  that means winning competitively in a given situation.

There can’t be one strategy, but there needs to be a portfolio of strategies depending on:

  • the breadth and depth of a companies products and services and markets served
  • the predictability of the business environment
  • the shape-ability of the business environment
  • the favorability or unfavorability of conditions

 Innovation is the component of your strategy that allows a company to adapt
its capabilities, assets and processes to continue to create value for its customer.

Because strategy is about making choices, innovation is also about making choices.

Evidence-based research led by Larry Keeley for his book demonstrates the superiority of
strategy combining multiple innovation tactics across more business components than product performance alone.


Finally, this means Strategy guarantees survival – and poor choices lead to death.

As Martin Reeves explains in his TEDTalk : “transformation is about survival”.
Not competitive advantage …but survival. If you need to transform… you probably made some poor choices, and you’re paying the price.

In a world that is more complex, strategy has changed and how you think about strategy
needs to change. strategy is not a luxury: it’s a requirement.
As french poet Nicolas Boileau explains:

Whatever we well understand we express clearly, and words flow with ease.
(Ce qui se conçoit bien s’énonce clairement – Et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisémement.)

I thought it was worth a post. So next time we talk about digital or transformation, let’s be specific.

sources & links:


Courage is the new competitive advantage

A lot is currently written about challenges mature corporation face to innovate : various mavens and gurus exemplify Uber, Airbnb (add yours here) as models to follow, urging businesses to disrupt themselves and behave like startups.


There a is indeed a wide broadcasting of this polarised view of old world vs new world, without much thought being given to the underlying laws of strategy and business at play nor long-term impact on wealth, labour, society, etc…

We are hammered with the transformation imperative, with an obsessive focus on technology and a total ignorance of the challenges of adoption inherent to human behaviour.

Big players create research lab, corporate accelerators, hackathons to look like startups:
it seems it is more important to appear innovative, then to actually do the hard work of rethinking the way you do business.
They spin off digital academies, digital or disruption days, visits to Silicon Valley, or dedicate a section of their executive training programmes to this thing called “digital”.
It’s like going to visit the gym – only once – to get an idea of what it could look like to be fit.

Less than ten years ago, I remember a client of mine at Nokia stating that Nokia was now an ”internet company” (today, the equivalent is “everlasting startup”).
Makes me smile: You can mimic the looks of an internet company or a perpetual startup, but you ain’t one: you copy the artefact, not the underlying “reason why”.

As I’ve stated this previously:

  • mature organisations are good at executing a business model, but not good at innovation (mostly because they tend to only focus on one type of innovation: product)
  • Startups are good at creating products, but not good at operating at scale.

Both mature companies and startups both face a common challenge:
how to design an organisation for scale in a highly unpredictable environment,
when obviously organisations models inherited from previous ages do not work anymore.

Our current model of how a company works is inherited by previous industrial revolutions, and a “machine view”: a business is a well-oiled machine, with multiple parts, each assigned to a specific task. Inputs/Outputs.

“The mechanistic view of the world that evolved in France after the Renaissance maintains that the universe is a machine that works with a regularity dictated by its internal structure and the causal laws of nature. This worldview provided the basis not only for the Industrial Revolution but also for the development of the machine mode of organization (Gharajedaghi and Ackoff, 1984).”

Therefore you “just” need to optimise the parts to run at maximum efficiency.

But as the company grows, so does complexity, and the common solution is to increase processes and procedure to control chaos, by limiting the autonomy of each part.

And we roughly end-up with two types of control:
– monolithic and central: senior management reviews all tactics, lots of buy-in meetings, slowness increases with size.
– independent silos: everyone does their own thing, alienation and suspicion between departments.

Efficiency trumps flexibility. In a fast-paced and unpredictable environment: the company become irrelevant.

“The most stubborn habits, which resist change with the greatest tenacity, are those that worked well for a space of time and led to the practitioner being rewarded for those behaviors. If you suddenly tell such persons that their recipe for success is no longer viable, their personal experience belies your diagnosis. The road to convincing them is hard. It is the stuff of classic tragedy.” (Charles Hampden-Turner and Linda Arc)

Contemporary research in various fields indicates that this machine view is flawed: the interaction of the parts (ie. the dynamics of the system) matters more that the intrinsic performance of individual parts:
Proof is recent news about Google’s Aristotle Project, IMD’s or MIT’s research on collective intelligence cognitive diversity team performance

I also find Netflix’s culture deck very insightful in this matter:
“context, not control”: clear and articulated context allows autonomy and relevant, decentralised decision-making
“highly aligned, loosely coupled”: all parts are aligned to deliver on clear strategy and specific, broadly understood goals. Teams interact around strategy and goals, not tactics.


Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 14.34.40

To thrive in complexity, companies need to be purposeful systems and have a purposeful strategy: be able to produce the same outcome in different ways in the same environment and different outcomes in the same or a different environment.


To achieve that leaders and managers need to become designers : learn how to use what they already know, learn how to realize what they do not know, and learn how to learn what they need to know.
Producing a design requires an awareness of how activities of one part of a system affect and are affected by other parts.
Unfortunately, the task is not just an academic discourse; it demands enormous emotional struggles and a huge cultural challenge. Engagement in this process, in addition to competence, requires courage.
I guess courage is the new competitive advantage.

(to be continued)

Recommended links:

[Video] How Terminator inspired faster and “liquid” 3D printing

Perfect example of questioning and reframing the challenge and developing innovation from the blind spot

Joseph DeSimone is a scholar, inventor and serial entrepreneur. A longtime professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, he’s taken leave to become the CEO at Carbon3D, the Silicon Valley 3D printing company he co-founded in 2013.

DeSimone, an innovative polymer chemist, has made breakthrough contributions in fluoropolymer synthesis, colloid science, nano-biomaterials, green chemistry and most recently 3D printing. His company’s Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) suggests a breakthrough way to make 3D parts.

Read more about Carbon3D here


[Thoughts] Think like a startup… or why you need to doubt to be lean in the corporate world

I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard that phrase: “think like a startup, act like a startup”… I guess you stopped counting too.

But this imperative calls for a deeper question, why is it so hard for existing businesses to do so?And aren’t we underestimating the harshness of being a startup?

You need to start with the definition of a startup: A startup is an organization formed to search for a scalable and repeatable business model (according to Steve Blank, in “The four steps to Epiphany”)
Read it again. The startup is formed to seach
The establish organisations isn’t formed to search – it’s designed to execute.

Startup entrepreneurs undergo tremendous pain and agony through the growth process between idea and product/market fit and revenue generation.
They will have to go through  the hard questioning, doubting, hole-poking and criticism inside an accelerator to make the venture even stronger.  I haven’t met any manager or executive in established businesses willing to go through such pain… because they don’t have time to do so, and they have no incentivized to do so.

So maybe for established businesses to think and act like startups, they need to institutionalise some time to doubt, to assess wrongful assumptions, challenge their limiting beliefs, articulate their intuitions, raise questions (see leads of belief change in one of my previous posts).

Dare to doubt

As I write these posts and continuously research and read about contexts and behaviours enabling innovation and creativity, I have found doubt/skepticism and questioning at the foundation of most approaches.

It is the framework which changes with each new technology and not just the picture within the frame (Marshall McLuhan)

To harness doubt in a positive way I often suggest this framework:

  • the things you know you know: norms, rules, bright spots, best practices…

check that these facts are still valid or true against data (see my previous post here)

eg. This mobile carrier brand is destined to young adult and teenagers (Sosh by Orange)… when it actually observed great take-up with unemployed population.

  • the things you know you don’t know: these are the additional questions and assumptions you’re trying test.

Try to answer the question through further analysis with the data you already have…

eg. How sensitive are our Mom consumers to the presence of this ingredient in our recipe, given growing negative buzz around the topic.

  • the things you don’t know you know: that’s you’re intuition, your know how

Try to identify and normalise it to improve effectiveness, efficiency and transferability, Turn your hypothesis into evidence

  • finally the things you don’t know you don’t know: that’s you blind spot.

This is the area where you need to accept to doubt and put your discovery skills to practice (the why? the how? the if?)

This is also where the opportunity awaits.

It is a huge task. Startup entrepreneurs have to do it, or they will fail to find a market/product fit and scalable business model or pivot to new markets.

Established businesses have a market/product fit and business model but are alienated by them, and will fail to survive if they don’t adapt to a fast moving and uncertain environment.

Data informed vs Data Driven

In both cases – this framework has to be data informed.

I’m purposefully writing “data informed” and not data-driven as I’ve encountered many data-driven-ish companies loosing sight of the bigger picture, trapped in analysis paralysis or worshiping irrelevant KPIs in the scorecard. I have so many stories it is embarrassing.

The reason I suggest data informed framework is because good metrics change the way you behave, they are a driver of action and incentive specific behaviours to create better alignement with strategy. They make you accountable.

As Jedi Master Yoda would say: “Good metric is the path to the Force. Good Metric leads to clarity, clarity leads to accountability,  accountability leads to alignement”

If you have found an nugget, idea, insight or opportunity during this discovery process it is either in line with your current product/market fit and business model – … or not:

  • If you’re a startup, that’s the opportunity to pivot it into a new market…
  • if you’re in an establish business, good luck: you are kryptonite (unless you work a P&G) – get an executive sponsor and make sure everyone else knows you’ve got one.

Measuring what matters: Debunking a few myths

  • Brand Awareness/Top of Mind: Actually consideration is a better proxy for sales and marketshare in most industries I’ve been working with
  • Number of Fans, followers, Likes: that’s a typical vanity metric. If you can’t get them to do something useful for you, they are useless
  • Number of contacts in database: as previously, useless unless you know how many will open an email for eg. and act on what’s inside.
  • Number of visits / Market Share: is it one person who visits/buys a hundred times or a hundred people who visit/buy one time?
  • Number of downloads: Downloads alone have no value. Activations, ARPU do.

Now ask yourself this question – and feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this further:

  • What are the metrics you are working towards?
  • How are they aligned to what your business – startup or established is trying to achieve today, tomorrow?
  • How many help you make business decisions?
  • Can you kill the ones not adding value?
  • Some industries use a single or aggregated success metrics for e.g.. NetAdds or CLV or ARPU… would it be possible for you?

[Thoughts] The good, the bad and the ugly in idea and best practice management

I have now worked long enough in and with global and complex organisations to notice the same challenge come again and again: How to identify, share and reapply ideas, innovations and practices… across countries and functions.

Having worked for a few years in companies that were great at doing it – namely and then a management consulting firm, I was surprised to see how many other industries and organizations failed at capturing and transferring that kind of knowledge (call me naive or idealist)

“If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive”
Lew Platt / Former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard

The biggest barriers to transfer lie in:

  • ignorance: people just don’t know the knowledge exists (and everybody keeps reinventing the wheel in their little corner of the world)
  • capacity: people know the knowledge exists, but have neither time, nor money nor details or skills to implement
  • lack of relationship: people don’t know who to go to access that knowledge, or where is the opportunity to connect

Whatever the solution put in place, adaptation will require from people in the organisation to, learn the process and the systems, but most importantly to understand the principles behind it.

What is a best practice / good idea, anyway?

Not only best is a moving target, but what is best is also situations specific. Therefore you need to define the levels of best practice.

  • Industry Best practice: This is based on both internal and external benchmarking work, including the analysis of performance data. At this point, everyone should agree that it should be a norm basically.
  • Local Best Practice: as above, but for operating company or department level
  • Good practice: technique, methodology, procedure, or process that has been implemented and has improved business results for an organization.
    This is substantiated by data collected at the location.  A limited amount of comparative data from other organizations exists. It is a candidate for application in one or more locations within an operating company or department
  • Good Idea: Unproved, not yet substantiated by data but makes a lot of sense intuitively; could have a positive impact on business performance. Requires further review/analysis


How to identify them?

Find the bright spots, i.e. focus on the areas where dramatic differences in performance point to a real underlying process/behavioral difference

Most companies do so within geographical or category specific clusters, but I’ve noticed they tend to disregard what you could call similarities, eg. clusters of countries, or industries or categories which have similar challenges.

One of my clients – in a previous life, was willing to design a central marketing strategy for a cluster of 8 countries.
Unfortunately, the marketing managers had very different challenges in each of the countries, but these could be easily distinguished between mature markets and fast-growing markets in terms of sales for the product.
We used additional criteria to manage the complexity of challenges and narrowing them to a limited number of “contexts”. The identification and replication of good ideas and best practices became more valuable and relevant for all as we avoided the “not invented here/not decided here” syndrome and provide a greater common denominator for all.


How to replicate them?

For each of the similar contexts or clusters where we identified “bright spots”:

  • determine where it fits (local best practice, good practice, good idea)
  • qualify the explicit information available
  • identify the implicit & tacit information available (the know how)

In the example I provided above, smaller groups of marketing managers and teams were gathered to identify the bright spots. Real transfer is a people-to-people process. We used technology as a catalyst, not a solution – as we combined social enterprise applications on top of the best practice/idea database as they provide:

  • User experience as the ones used in personal life : People/places/relationships/expertise/areas of interest/content sharing and rating/highlighted activities and streams…
  • Internal directories(experts/champions/multipliers)
  • Market place for expertise request and offers


Reward sharing

Most of the time new idea management and sharing is rewarded collectively through awards.

I’m not criticising awards, but it is difficult to focus people’s efforts and will for a gratification that occurs once a year and for which they might not even be invited.

In order to change and reinforce expected behaviours you need a short feedback loop.
The most critical part is to be able to reward the individual behaviour as well as the adoption.

We embedded collaboration indicators pulled from the social enterprise platform (e.g.. contribution in posts, comments, likes, projects…) into the formal performance appraisal of marketing teams and managers. One could imagine going even further and integrating learning and sharing KPIs in leadership remuneration in order to get total alignement, commitment and support.

It is also critical to be able to work with executives and leadership to embed this way or working in day to day work and methods by removing the blockers and redesigning the procedures accordingly and facilitate training & development.

Different context but good idea: One of my friends at Google shared with me this great practice – when he joined the company. He was managing a large team, but was able to identify the members who demonstrated best behaviour and skills through a program which allowed other departments to nominate people in his team for a small (let’s say couple of hundred pounds) financial reward. A perfect example of how internal norms facilitate and reinforce expected behaviour


Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard | Chip & Dan Heath | Crown Business; 1 edition (February 16, 2010)

 If only we knew what we know: Identification and transfer of Internal best Practices HBRCases| Carla O’Dell, C. Jackson Grayson Jr. | Apr 01, 1998 | Apr 01, 1998

[Video] Ricardo Semler: Leading by omission or… why change and disruption can’t happen from inside

I’m exceptionally posting two videos today. Another talk from Ricardo Semler – see my previous post for newest talk at TEDGlobal – and yes, it’s official I’m in love with that guy.

This talk was originally given at MIT Sloan School of Management in 2005.

There’s “something fundamental about organizations and ‘ leadership that makes it almost impossible for people inside a business to change their own industry.

Ricardo Semler discusses why it is difficult or impossible to innovate or disrupt from inside the organisation – giving examples in Automotive and legacies of military hierarchies. Although I don’t agree with his point on intuition alone, I cannot but agree with his point on wishful thinking for having experimented it in multiple companies.

source: MIT Tech TV

[Thoughts] Everything you know is wrong… and it’s exciting

I have discussed in the two previous posts how a belief can determine a reality (“I don’t believe in digital”) and how our beliefs are fundamentally flawed and dangerous anyway (Quantum physics, The Matrix and the corporate world).

There is maybe an opportunity to escape this determinism, as history seems to repeat itself, and the disruptors become the disrupted (eg. Kodak, Motorola, Nokia…).
And the only way is to acknowledge that everything we know is wrong: no industry, category, company or product is safe.

Disruptive change is accelerating, driven by the rapid emergence of new technologies, the blurring of lines between industries, and competition from both traditional and nontraditional players.

As a result, corporate lifespans are shrinking. On average, a company drops out of the S&P 500 list and is replaced once every few weeks. If current trends hold, about 75% of companies on today’s list will fade away or get acquired by 2030.
(Innosight, The strategy confidence Gap, 2015)

U2 – ZooTV Tour

…And that it’s OK. It’s super-exciting. Now we can question everything, even the unquestionable as Einstein did when he questioned the definition of Time or the nature of Gravity.


As our biases are cognitive and behavioural, the solution to overcome them lays there too.

In The Innovator’s DNA, authors Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen build on what we know about disruptive innovation to show how individuals can develop the skills necessary to move progressively from idea to impact.  By identifying behaviours of the world’s best innovators—from leaders at Amazon and Apple to those at Google, Skype, and Virgin Group—the authors outline specific skills.

They outline that all innovative disruptors have in common: specific cognitive and behavioural skills, institutionalised processes to support a large number of people in the organisation using these skills, and a culture/philosophy to sustain the process.

When you question your beliefs (what I think I know and what I know I don’t know) you’ll have to face your blind spot  (what you don’t know you don’t know).
Innovators cognitive and behavioural skills, people and processes allow them to look into the blind spot by asking questions :Why? How? If?

Why by Carl Richards. Source NY Times For more of his drawings see link in source

“There’s nothing more dangerous that the right answers to the wrong questions”
(Peter Drucker,1994)

  • Questioning: posing queries that challenge common wisdom,

How do you ask yourself questions about things you’re unaware of, and incompetent at?
By starting with a clean slate, leaving all of your assumptions away.
Asking yourself how many things you are wrong about.
Simple questions – just a few words. The process is called Catalytic Questioning, as asking questions changes your perspective on the problem.
This step is hard, as it requires being comfortable with being uncomfortable (see an example with Pixar BrainTrust).
The Heath Brothers provide fabulous examples in their book “Decisive” about the importance of the devil’s advocate role.

  • Observing: scrutinising the behaviour of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new and different ways of seeing/doing things

… Look for what is surprising and unexpected.

  • Networking: meeting people with different ideas and perspectives.

In order to get valuable insights you need to go to different people – different industry, category, gender/age group…
This is a little bit like in Chip & Dan Heath’s Book “Switch”: did someone else answered that question successfully?

  • Experimenting: constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge

Make it small, fast and cheap. Experimenting should be accessible and facilitated to all in the organisation.

  • finally Associating: drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields, the combinatory play: selecting and probing the answers helps new ideas emerge from connecting the un-connected.

Innovation, Strategy, Change even are often mistaken for an Event, when they are a process. It’s everybody’s job, and anchoring it in our behaviour requires routine: we are what we repeatedly do. We are wired to solve problems (see David Kwong’s TED Talk).

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

As a 4 y.o. I was always asking Why? and If? I never stopped since.
When did you?



Innosight – The strategy confidence gap

HBR – Catalytic Questioning

New York Times – Carl Richards Personal Finance on a napkin

Credit Suisse / Forbes – The most innovative companies methodology

FastCompany – Inside Pixar BrainTrust

David Kwong – Two nerdy obsessions meet — and it’s magic