Digital Transformation & Language


In the beginning, was the Word…

So begins the Old Testament, which Canadian scholar Northrop Fry called The Great Code, the blue-print for Western culture. Indeed, language reflects how we think, how we experience life, and who we are.

What’s this got to do with our Digital Transformation strategy?

Strategy is story-telling, strategy is language. It’s all too easy to forget this in our shaky, sleepless, post-pandemic world. It’s easy to get pulled into the ceaseless roar which drowns out coherent stories.

Compounding the challenge, Digital transformation entails integrating three very different personas and life views. We call these the Hipster, Hacker and Hustler, and each uses their own language.

Hipsters embody Design Thinking and think in terms of customer and user experience. Theirs is a world of acute sensation and awareness. They see and feel things the rest of us miss. Hackers embody the world of information technology and think in terms of IT infrastructure and architecture. Theirs is a world of computer languages, systems and networks. Hustlers are business people and think in terms of customers and markets, of costs, revenues and competitors.

Each viewpoint is valid and necessary for a sound understanding of the business chessboard. But too often we hear only one perspective which limits our overall understanding. We’ll hear, for example, a senior Hacker describe a given organization’s IT legacy system problems solely from the technical point of view. It becomes boring quickly but it’s incomplete. The problem is not solely one of infrastructure and architecture. The IT legacy exists within a complex internal and external social system, and is meant to serve a business system comprising complex supply chains and relationships. When we put on our 3H hat a deeper understanding is possible. Why have our legacy systems evolved in this way? Why do our people have these capabilities, but not those? Why is our Data so fragmented and of such low quality? Why is our migration to the Cloud so haphazard?

In the long term, we seek to develop the so-called ‘3H’ capability in all our people. But that takes a long time (and is a core element of our Pragmatic Innovator Network program). Our challenge in the interim is how to align such different perspectives?

Clear, simple language is an essential countermeasure. During a Digital Transformation it’s easy to get caught up in all the jargon – (new Ways of Working, DevOps, Lean experimentation and the rest). Buzz words can put people to sleep, and often mean the leader and team don’t know who they are, or where they’re going.

At day’s end, it’s all about working together to help the customer. And so, down with buzzwords, and out with tired cliché. Plain language please.

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