Digital Transformation doesn’t exist

I was watching “The Greatest Showman” last weekend. It’s one of those films I’m pleased I didn’t bother seeing in the cinema, it wasn’t as good as everyone made out, but, even with that said, I would suggest a film to see … if only to have your own opinion.
Anyway, during the film, there was a was short sentence, it was buried within lots of dialogue, but it was one that I thought was appropriate for the “digital transformation” that we are all apparently going through. More on the film later…

Like a an old fashioned light bulb being switch one, I discovered a question – why do we need to “digitally transform” at all? I have been involved in IT for a long time now. Not as long as some, but long enough. I have grown up through the birth of the home computing and home gaming when it was very much niche and not for the masses.

Back then things were flaky – actually, worse than that, they were awful. If you ever owned a tape based system you will know that compiling code could take an age, with it only having a 60% chance of it ever actually working – and that was on a good day. It was a time when you could buy magazines with coding examples in, and if you felt so inclined (and most of that age did) you could then use to code your own very basic computer games. All in all, you had to be patient and you had to be happy to try something knowing it probably wouldn’t work, if it didn’t work, you would work out how to fix it and try again – wear, rinse, dry, repeat.

During that time the level of change occurring within IT was pretty similar to as it is perceived now. There were many small games companies, small companies, niche magazines all trying to earn money from the increasing pace of process change and improvement in technology.

All of the developers were riding a wave of something new, of something exciting, something that had not ever been done before. The limit, at that time, was purely the imagination of the person or team…

And that is where we come back to the film “The Greatest Showman”. As mentioned before there was a sentence that made me sit up – during the film they said (and this is paraphrased) “A woman or man will only travel as far as his imagination takes them”. How many people can honestly say they work for an imaginative boss? For me it summed up the major problem in IT into one small sentence. Lets briefly look back… during the last ten or twelve years there has been little in the way of imagination, no-one really leading with imagination from the established big tech firms. However, take what the Tesla crew are up to (they are a tech start up not a car company IMHO), or what Amazon is now venturing into, or what Uber have done, or what we are about to see within London of lithium scooters buzzing around. It is an imagination from a leader that allows someone to want to push beyond what people expect and provide something unique. I am not going to mention then illustriously great leader of Apple, but he was a man of passion who was never happy with the norm.

It is my view that IT senior management has suffered from zero imagination over the last ten or so years – we don’t need digital transformation, it doesn’t exist, we need people with imagination and emotional resilience. Imagination is required to get us to new places, to show us what is possible and with a decent team or boss the freedom to travel there. Emotional resilience is just as important… there will be a lot of people telling you why you can’t do something, why it’s not possible, why process should be done (and is therefore is in the way). Digital Transformation doesn’t exist – what does exist, or should I say needs to exist, is a leadership with imagination and the guts to push beyond the naysayers and allow a team to flourish… we may not be in the world of tape based systems, or computer with 8kb of memory, but we could certainly do with that brave attitude that existed back then to deliver something new exciting, not matter how hard it may be.

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