Adapt for Success – Digital Transformation in Practice

Tim Hartford’s book – Adapt: Why success always starts with failure makes a compelling and insightful case for why we need to embrace risk, failure and experimentation in order to create innovation in any setting and should be required reading for anyone working in either a public or private sector environment.

He cites many examples from US Military to the Soviet Union government to private sector organisations including Coca Cola showing how a willingness to adapt and accept failure can lead to extraordinary results. In particular he cites the case of Peter Palchinsky in the 1920’s who was assigned to advise on important projects in Stalin’s first 5 year plan – The Lenin Dam and the steel Mills of Magnitogorsk. His advice went totally against the command and control culture of the Soviet system. He was eventually arrested and executed for going against the Soviet system.

What Palchinsky realised was that all problems are more complex than we think and as the problem changes so the response must be adapted as well. Tim Hartford summarised Palchinsky’s 3 principles:

Digital Transformation

  1. First seek out new ideas and try new things
  2. When trying something new do it on a scale where failure is survivable
  3. Seek out feedback and learn from your mistakes.

Hartford also quotes the 3 elements of idealised hierarchy: a big picture view produced by a refined analysis of all available information; a united team all pulling in the same direction, and a strict chain of command. He argues though that this ‘’doctrine of unanimous advice’’ can be very dangerous and that trial and error will always be part of how any organisation solves complex, ever shifting problems. He says in the organisations of the future decisions won’t be taken in some high tech war room but on the front line with technically advanced infrastructure.

Digital Transformation is the mechanism to move from a traditional organisation, [even one with loads of technology] to one that meets Palchinsky’s principles, an organisation that is digital in it’s very essence rather than simply doing digital. This is the secret to remaining relevant to customers, citizens and stakeholders in today’s digital age.

It is essential however to work within a Digital Transformation Framework – not a command and control environment but a framework which ensures that all issues are progressed within a supporting structure that allows rapid experimentation, creating space for new ideas and as Tim Hartford puts it – “the winnowing out of bad approaches from good ones”.

At Ionology we have invented the only peer reviewed Digital Transformation Framework that allows the 5 building blocks of Digital Transformation to be coordinated providing a real digital leadership model for today’s digital age. 

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The framework allows innovation to be developed quickly, tested rapidly and discarded quickly so that the good approaches, which focus only on the strategic goals of the organisation, can be accelerated. The Framework keeps you on track and constantly links up the 5 change blocks. Failure can then be accepted as a survivable part of the process and a valuable learning tool. As Tim Hartford says, “here’s the thing about failure in innovation – it’s a price worth paying”. 



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