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How Organizations Adapt to Digital

bkirschner
Oct 03, 2016

“It’s all about people.”

Brandon Mendoza, Allstate’s director of connected car, made this point as one of our first speakers in the digital transformation track last week at Adapt or Die San Francisco.

At the end of the day, what any of our organizations are trying to do with technology might be hard, but it’s science, not magic. We know how to dive in and learn new technologies. What’s more of an art is helping people adapt to a new world, one that requires us to change the way we work. It can push people out of their comfort zones in surprising ways.

Indix CEO Sanjay Parthasarathy provided a keen insight into this later in the day: “You won’t have a very innovative culture if people only feel a sense of accomplishment from success.”

Failing fast isn’t easy

Agility at “app store speed” requires the enterprise to accept and celebrate “fast failure”—which is a big change for most, both in terms of formal performance evaluation and culture.

But people need to take that journey as individuals, too. Kendrick McLish, vice president of marketing and strategy for global higher education at Pearson, provided a good example. Pearson invested tremendous thought, time, and effort into creating an environment and processes that would treat fast failure with learning as a celebrated competency, one that’s critical to quickly discovering the big wins in a digital world.

But he also described product managers who were frustrated by the simple fact that their performance reviews no longer consisted of 100% success. For them, necessary and important failures—which the enterprise was, in fact, rewarding well—marred what they had defined for most of their careers as a winning a track record.

The future of looking outside in

Even some of our more technical sessions drove home the point that mindset matters.

Adam Zwickey, advisory architect at Pivotal, explained what it means to go “cloud native” from a “technology stack” point of view. But he also boiled down the details into a statement that’s a North Star for every decision-maker trying to understand the true importance of cloud: “Cloud isn’t where you compute, it’s how you compute.”

That’s a C-suite conversation that needs to happen in every enterprise (and if the conversation is about marginal reductions in data center costs, you’re dying, not adapting).

Finally, there was one key moment that reminded me why there is no substitute for getting practitioners together to have conversations about “how they did it.”

We’ve been talking about the importance and power of “outside-in” thinking for years (in 2014, and 2015, for example). It’s backed by research from us and many others, as well as hundreds of conversations over that time period.

But I still had on aha moment onstage with our panel on platforms and network effects. I asked Shawn Gilmour, director of PaaS strategy at Autodesk, how the company navigated its journey from a desktop software business to a cloud-based services business.

I expected him to say that in the software industry, we’ve known about the power of platforms and network effects for decades.

Instead he explained: “We looked at the future of building things, and realized that all the elements that have been done in isolation—from designing to permitting to purchasing to construction to building operations—could all be connected, digitally.”

Transforming the organization

Autodesk didn’t approach it “inside out” as a new application of the old playbook with some cloud compute thrown in. The company looked at “the future of making things.” And it re-architected not just its technology stack but also its business model around its full potential in the new digital era.

The Adapt or Die World Tour is coming to New York City on Oct. 11 and Chicago on Nov. 17.  These one-day events offer plenty of opportunities for geeking out on microservices and hands-on coding.

But if your role is about leading change—or perhaps trying to get leverage to turn some rusty gears in your organization—there’s no better place to connect with experts and peers who are doing exactly that, today.

As MIT’s Center for Information Science Research puts it, “Successful digital transformation comes not from implementing new technologies but from transforming your organization to take advantage of the possibilities.”

If you know they are right, you belong at Adapt or Die. I hope to see you there.

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