Nobody ACTUALLY needs ‘Digital Transformation’

I’m really interested in how ideas become things with the power to shape reality. My interest is not idle. It’s also not strictly academic (despite the fact that I have written a book on the subject). It comes from a desire to explode hype cycles by working with businesses to understand and address real issues instead of being distracted by secondary anxieties created by marketers and industry ‘experts.’ 

So let’s talk about ‘digital transformation.’

The language that is most commonly used to describe ‘digital transformation’ makes a crucial mistake. It treats ‘digital transformation’ as a thing. More than a thing, ‘digital transformation’ is talked about as a thing that businesses need and can consume. The result is a framing of business problems along the following lines:

  1. Businesses need ‘digital transformation’ to survive
  2. Your business does not have ‘digital transformation’ 
  3. Therefore, unless your business invests in ‘digital transformation’ now, it will not survive.

That’s super scary.

Framed in this way, technology vendors, consultants, and industry analysts will use the concept of ‘digital transformation’ to define a problem that businesses didn’t know they had, in order to sell them products and services they might not need. 

But the problem is NEVER that a business lacks ‘digital transformation.’ Digital transformation is never an end in itself.  True, some kinds of technology and certain types of transformation may be required to solve particular business problems, but until those actual problems are defined, it is impossible for a business to know whether ‘digital transformation’ is necessary, or to even know what it means. 

So let’s stop talking about ‘digital transformation.’  Instead, let’s put in the hard work necessary to understand our business challenges, and to seek out the right solutions.  Let’s stop talking about ‘digital transformation,’ and instead talk about problem-solving using any and all resources we have available.  

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  If you think of all your problems like they require digital solutions, those are the only ‘solutions’ you will see.  Let’s not limit ourselves. Instead, let’s adopt a more holistic perspective that looks to solve well-understood problems using any and all available resources. This includes the digital, of course, but in a way that intentionally complements more analogue solutions like people and processes as well.