The Anti-Problem: Digital Transformation

What’s the opposite of digital transformation? Analogue Preservation?

First of all, if you’re not familiar with the anti-problem game from the GameStorming playbook, here’s the basic jist.

The Anti-Problem game helps people get unstuck when they are at their wit’s end. It is most useful when a team is already working on a problem, but they’re running out of ideas for solutions. By asking players to identify ways to solve the problem opposite to their current problem, it becomes easier to see where a current solution might be going astray or where an obvious solution isn’t being applied.

So, let’s suppose you want to do the exact opposite of digital transformation (analogue preservation??). Your goal is to actively stop the organisation from responding to people’s raised expectations of the Internet-era. What behaviours might you adopt to stop digital transformation in its tracks or even reverse course?

Start With Organisational Needs.

How will you figure out what your digital services need to do?

First, compile a wish list from one or more departments who may or may not directly interact with the service user. Your list will likely be comprised of a set of solutions to problems that occur because the service user doesn’t follow a desired process or path.

You’re going to aim for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach because you won’t have the data to recognise any diversity in the needs of the people accessing the services. You’ll most likely operate off some broad assumptions about the technology & skills people have (or not) and where they use it (or don’t).

You’re now on track to provide a digital service that works really well with your internal departments and processes, but is confusing and muddled for the service user who knows nothing about the internal machinations of your organisation.

Hide The Thing.

Work privately wherever possible in whatever way possible. Lack of useful information and needless repetition are effective tools for slowing progress among groups of people trying to solve a similar problem. This approach scales surprisingly well.

Your goal is to create an environment where the sharing of good practice is discouraged or at the very least met with apathy. Most importantly, failure should buried or redirected to a scapegoat as to ensure it can’t be utilised as learning.

When implementing change, you may find it useful to involve as few people as possible. In practice this may mean applying change ‘top down’ and only revealing the specifics near the end when key assumptions can’t be challenged and ownership among those impacted is suitably low.

Use Niche Proprietary Technology.

Effective digital organisations rely upon joined up systems and services. Therefore, you will want to ensure there are numerous incompatibilities in place to stop this from happening. Avoid widely supported open standards and well documented API’s at all costs.

Obscure technology choices will mean professional services are both more challenging to engage (due to low supply and high demand) and more expensive than the standard market rate.

It will also guarantee that systems using these niche standards will remain in situ for longer than required, as the process to replace them will be more complicated and more costly.

Closed Data / No Data

Ideally you will want to make data hard to get at for even the most curious members of your organisation. Failing to do so runs the risk of giving people the means to identify or evidence potential areas of improvement.

As an additional safeguard, you may want to fragment data across multiple systems (or spreadsheets) so that it’s more challenging to piece together a unified picture that can later be acted upon.

Reinforce Silos

In the same way that fragmenting data makes seeing the bigger picture more challenging, you should employ this approach with people and teams.

Each team must keep its own activities under tight wraps and only provide the minimum amount of information upon request through official channels.

The organisation as a whole should adopt a ‘black box’ approach where things go in and come out without any clarity of what’s taken place in between.

The liberal use of email, meetings and network drives are also recommended as a way of inhibiting any unintended collaboration.

Promote non-Digital Leadership

To ensure that the digital agenda isn’t carried forward at a strategic level there should be minimal (preferably no) digital representation at the top of the organisation.

In the instance that any teams or staff members show early signs of digital leadership, they should be chided and given the mandated set of Enterprise IT tools regardless of suitability to the tasks they need to do.

At no point should anyone actually attempt to educate or engage staff regarding the safe, secure and positive uses of technology and the Internet.

Avoid automation at all costs.

Computers are entirely too efficient at moving data and information around. Humans on the other hand have limitations in terms of attention span and the need to sleep periodically.

Therefore you should encourage the use of manual processes wherever possible. Especially needlessly complex or undocumented ones that are seemingly impossible extricate.

By leaving these processes untouched you ensure that any attempt to provide simple, friction free digital services are met with plenty of human intervention.

Word forms and Excel sheets are recommended, but for maximum inertia look to retain paper records with inconsistent formatting that can’t be easily digitised.

Move slowly.

This is an important one. Technology is rapidly transforming how society lives and works, so you want to ensure that any progress in this area is positively glacial. Fortunately there are a number of ways you can make this happen.

First, you should seek technology partners who operate on long development cycles. That should ensure that any technology used is at least a few years behind what people are privately using in their own homes, including your service users.

Where possible, choose high cost multi-year contracts to keep the organisation fully committed to specific systems, preferably on a 5 or 10 year basis. That should prevent any early attempts at speeding things up by exiting.

Projects should aim to run for 12+ months per change. If you can make the project truly huge and all encompassing in scope, you may be able to stretch the implementation window to 24 months and beyond.

Adopt extreme risk aversion.

Sandbag any particularly innovative or transformative ideas by labelling them as too risky.

Determined individuals may attempt to experiment and iterate with concepts to make risk manageable, so it would be prudent to ensure you have no mechanisms to recognise or support such activities.

De-invest in digital.

You will want to ensure that there’s minimal resource available for digital transformation. Having any concrete commitment may result in unwanted progress.

If you really must carry out digital transformation activities, at least ensure they’re being done at the fringes in self contained pockets and in no way joined up or co-ordinated. This should ensure that any momentum gained is quickly minimised and later dissipated.

Always be busy.

Free time is the enemy of inertia. You should ensure that all available time is fully allocated to ongoing or legacy projects or processes. Under no circumstances should you reduce, automate or kill any activities that might make room for new thinking or service improvement.

Hopefully you’ll recognise that large swathes of this is written with tongue firmly in cheek. I’d hope there aren’t any organisations in 2017 that are actually employing these principles for the intended goal of resisting change.

The point of this game is to come up with extreme outlandish ways of NOT delivering digital transformation. In doing so you might begin to see shades of how you are unintentionally hampering your own efforts. In many cases these behaviours would of been the standard operating procedure of yesteryear.

My take away from this little exercise is that we have to be more deliberate in how we are pushing transformation forward. Anything less will result in repeating the patterns of old.

The good news is that this work cuts across so many areas that there are lots of opportunities for putting theory into practice, both big and small.

All it needs is a little bit of room to breath, and some people who are willing to work in the open, do stuff, learn and iterate (iterate, iterate, iterate).

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