Digital Irrationality

“A sea”! he would shout. “An enormous sea”! My digital transformation mentor back in the days when I was younger would repeat this time and time again: Ratio is floating in a sea of Emotions. It was his reminder that with all the data driven, structured approach to transformation, with all the business cases, in the end it was all really driven by emotions. Emotions that would make or break a transformation, emotions that we learned to understand better, and then learn to steer, control, use. Back then this worked in the first iterations of moving to shared service centers, and even more valid in the work we do today with digital transformations. One of the reasons I keep bringing the message digital transformation is about all the new digital possibilities, driven by people transforming, centered around emotions, expectations, feelings. Scary stuff for most transformation folks out there, the reason they stick to just the technology. And digitally fail.

This week I met a brilliant guy that starts with emotions rather than end. He figured out a way to add the emotional state to observations. He uses this approach in security work, making hospitals better, improve schools. Recording an observation, a rational one, about a person entering a building, and on top of that allowing to also record the seemingly irrational emotion. Capture the facts, add the emotion. He records stories rather than observations. And use the story as the true data source. Add the emotion to the ratio allows for a so much better insight. It allows to make sense of humans, maps human aspects to events, and thus allows to map effects to intended interventions. Adding our Machine Learning skills, and voice to text approach replacing typing to capture even more emotion, will be a cool ride. Stories as true data for the empathy economy. Work can be so inspiring.

Another project that I volunteered for the last weeks also in the end really centers around emotions. The digital transformation project started a few years back. Sort as a nice to have, the kind of projects CEO start after talking to peers on yet another round of golf. The project delivered mostly insight, learnings, not much of tangible results yet. With the changing market conditions, online competition, technology changes and most off all rapidly changing customer expectations and behavior, they realize this is no longer just for fun, but for real. So how do you bring a research project, and almost academical approach, to real business life. That is the question here. Interesting enough the first approach is always the Prince and the Watermelon approach: create project files, gantt charts. Make it a project. Projects are controllable. The Prince (II) enters the transformation. And after a few weeks the Watermelon enters the fairytale. Under the now seemingly green project boundaries there is this huge read content. All the emotions, all the real Why’s still need addressing. Why did we do this in the first place, why do we spent money here, why did this fail, why did this stall, who is to blame, why, why, why. And as my mentor said: this why ratio floats in a sea of emotion. I have to tap into that emotion to digitally transform this new customer centric value chain. Add digital irrationality to the transformation mix. The want this to be successful, the business drivers are clear. Just making sure they all start to emotional align to the new goal. Connect and make it real. They are very smart, they will do just fine.

Working on our joint digital transformation canvas with my friend we are making great progress. Once we center around the customer, and integrate both the business and the digital transformation roadmap in one holistic view for transformation we now can rational explain what we sensed for years. We started remapping old projects we have done to this new approach. We can now can so much better explain the past successes and failures. And it works! So cool to do research on top of my day job working in AI. Might not always make sense to work all these extra hours, but the energy it gives is very much worth it.

Some of the failures from the past (for the US readers: challenges – same thing) we now can explain much better. And more important we now can explain what needs to be done to get a stalled digital transformation (on average 60% of digital transformations) back on the road. Better explain the true difference between a project and a transformation. Not just in words, but in a story, add the emotion. A transformation is something that has no clear end, at least yet, so starting is the most important part. Make managers think about their children starting to walk. No kid ever said after falling for the 10th time: this walking stuff is not for me. That emotion, that drive needs to be added to digital transformation. Take the transformation team to a session of Horse Coaching. Best way to experience that if you yourself don’t really belief in it, the horse will not move. And so won’t your team. Add Pippi Långstrump to the mix: we have never done this before, there is no map, so we think we can do this. That mindset allows for mistakes, short term failures, learnings, unlearnings. The goal is important, not the way we get there via a Gantt chart. The mantra should be: the most flexible wins. Emotions fuel strategy in a digital world. Add Digital Irrationality to be digital successful.


Auteur: Wiemer Kuik

Wiemer Kuik is senior expert Digitale Transformatie met focus op transformatie van het IT Operating Model en de toepassing van AI en Machine Learning. Veelgevraagd spreker en zeer gedreven docent en trainer op het vakgebied van Digitale Transformatie.

23 januari 2019

Deel dit artikel op social media: