Transformation, we are all Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz

A friend of mine in the world of Citizen Development, Mario Trentim, referred me to “The Technology Fallacy: How People Are the Real Key to Digital Transformation (Management on the Cutting Edge)”. The book is also a  lovely combination of new project management, new leadership, citizen development and innovation.

Wizard of Oz

The book starts with that as CEOs; we are all Dorothy in the wizard of Oz. The story of The Wizard of Oz isn’t really about the cyclone. In the same way, the story of digital disruption we explore here isn’t really about technology. Instead, it is about how companies navigate their way through the new competitive environment to which technology has brought us.

The cyclone

Let’s start with the cyclone. Digital disruption has just begun. Analytics and data science have come into their prime and other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual and augmented reality, and autonomous vehicles, loom on the horizon. It’s the speed at which the landscape is changing through digital, allowing new competitors to play, that makes it really transformative. The shelf-life of knowledge used to be 10 to 12 years. Now it is 18 months.

Here are a few questions:

  1. Are you continuously innovating?
  2. Is information real-time and on-demand?
  3. Are decision rights and power shifting?
  4. Do you modulate risk and security boundaries?
  5. Are you fluid?
  6. Are you geographically agnostic?
  7. Do you allow for morphing team structures?
  8. Are you intentionally collaborative?
  9. Do you focus on dynamic skill-building: 
  10. Are you customer-centric?
  11. Are you adaptable to the changing nature and types of work?
  12. Can you cope with digital disruption and other digital innovations change 
  13. Is information democratised?
  14. Are you multimodal?
  15. Are you synchronised?
  16. Are you mobile?
  17. Have you mapped the traditional and nontraditional stakeholders?
  18. Is your hierarchy flattening?
  19. Are you nimble?
  20. Can you cope with the continuous disruption of your ecosystem?
  21. Can you cope with constantly changing decision criteria?
  22. Do you experiment enough?
  23. Are you iterative on an ongoing basis?

We have met the enemy, and he is us

Knowing digital disruption is happening and doing something about it are entirely different matters. Everybody (well, almost everybody) knows digital disruption is happening. Yet, only a minority report that their organisations are doing enough to respond effectively. The truth is that most executives don’t understand exactly the key challenge facing organisations. They also can’t formulate the answer to “why” the organisation needs to change. They underestimate the speed of change and the ability of the organisation to respond.

The will to transform

The will to transform is the first piece of the digital leadership puzzle. The time to start is now. The gap between digital capabilities and how companies operate grows wider each day. The problem is the needed step change. It isn’t easy to keep the current business running while also preparing it for a digital future. Combining “permanent beta” with Six Sigma. Many enterprise technology departments’ “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies highlight the lag between adoption and adaptation. That is before we talk about BYOA (Bring Your Own Application) in citizen development. Employees have become increasingly frustrated by the gap between what they can accomplish with technology in their personal lives and what they can get done at work when they are limited to email and non-mobile computing. This means you will have a talent problem


Only by fundamentally changing the way the organisation works—through flattening hierarchies, speeding up decision making, helping employees develop needed skills, and successfully understanding both opportunities and threats in the environment, can an organisation truly adapt to a digital world. Starting with 

1. Augmenting the prior knowledge base of individual employees by providing them opportunities to develop skills for working in a digital environment.

2. Enhancing the organisation’s sense mechanisms 

3. Increase the velocity of internal information flows through initiatives that range from employee rotation to collaboration tools

4. Focus on helping employees understand the “why.”

Incremental vs transformational

Training, outward-looking, transparency and purpose. That does not cover the transformation that is needed. “Transformation” is a powerful term, conveying a sense of dramatic (as opposed to incremental) change. The ability to become a shapeshifter, with constant adaption to change as a muscle. Ongoing alignment of culture, people, structure and tasks with technology. 

Solvitur ambulando

Less planning, more doing. “Solvitur ambulando”, a Latin phrase attributed to the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, means “It is solved in the walking.” You may have a better idea of what digital maturity is for your company only once you start moving toward it. It is a recursive process of identifying the overall goals of digital business, developing short-term initiatives that get the organisation closer to the goal, and then rethinking the nature of those goals based on what the organisation has learned from those short-term initiatives.

Change is resistance

The natural tendency of organisations is often to move toward a stable state that becomes resistant to change, so they must constantly work to maintain the necessary flexibility for ongoing transformation. The cultures of most legacy organisations have evolved to reduce or eliminate the variations. Leaders find it challenging to innovate while also keeping the company’s core businesses running efficiently and effectively. Being innovative is also about a willingness to act, take risks and experiment.

Leadership is a key factor

It is the question if your current leadership is fit for purpose. Sixty-eight per cent of CEOs interviewed for the book agreed that their organisation did need new leadership to compete. Leadership in most cases is trapped at the upper levels of the organisation and is not seen as a collective mindset.

Culture is the other key factor 

It turns out that cultures are like snowflakes. No one is the same. Culture is critical to driving digital business adoption. Digital culture is distinct and consistent, associated with digital maturity. Digital culture is intentional. Drive digital efforts by cultivating a strong culture that prizes risk-taking, collaboration, agility, and continuous learning.

What do you need to do?

  • Empower people to think differently.
  • Develop a continuous learning mindset.
  • Cultivate an organisational growth mindset aligned with your digital strategy.
  • Create an organisational talent magnet.
  • Make people part of exciting new things, where they can see the impact they make.
  • Give managers have a good understanding of what disruptions are likely on the horizon.
  • Digital leadership requires approaches that differ from the entrenched command-and-control structures of traditional manufacturing age companies.
  • Cultivate an appropriate risk tolerance for the organisation.
  • Create a manifesto.
  • Use cross-functional teams.
  • Intentionally work to develop, maintain, and strengthen employee engagement.
  • Success is not the short-term goal, but learning is. Just as learning is essential to the digital talent mindset, it should also be a key part of the organisational mindset.


  • The most significant barrier that plagues most companies is too many priorities.
  • Do an impact analysis of how technologies will affect your business (start with blockchain, AI, IoT and 3D printing) and how these technology trends will reshape your industry.
  • Map the options/actions that those technologies afford you. Identify potential new services, sources of revenue, and ways of interacting with employees.
  • Think long term, and then think longer. Think “Day after tomorrow“. 
  • Appropriate levels of investment are a critical factor in success. Investment also involves investing in the right things.
  • You need to understand what infrastructure, processes, and mechanisms to put in place that enable people to collaborate at scale since much of the value that talent brings to an organisation is unlocked when individuals interact with one another.
  • Start with improved customer service or exploring new ways to connect as the driver.
  • Think open-source
  • Think citizen development and agile.
  • Think distributed leadership
  • Think talent ecosystems
  • The transition between augmentation and replacement will likely happen quickly when it does.
  • Expecting that the value of this technology will become so apparent to employees that they will be naturally drawn to use them to perform their work is unrealistic.
  • Read Humanocracy 
  • Organisations will become a lot more fluid. The degree of ambiguity will be increased, and the degree of speed required will be increased. They need leaders who are able to assemble at any point in time a coalition of people who are guided by purpose, more than a task or functional area.
  • Although core employees will likely be working with other core employees, increasingly, they may be delegating work to on-demand talent, which will require specific managerial skills.
  • Think flash teams. Flash teams are computationally guided teams of crowd experts, supported by lightweight, reproducible, and scalable team structures.
  • Apply sociometric. “Sociometrics”. The study and measurement of relationships and social structures, as well as the measurement of groups and the behaviour and status of individuals within such groups.
  • Measure transactive memory. Transactive describes the extent to which people are aware of who knows what in an organisation so that they are able to access that knowledge when needed.
  • Apply the wisdom of the crowds, inside and outside of the organisation.
  • A critical factor in helping organisations become better experimenters is helping them become better at testing ideas, learning from these tests, and scaling quickly when the tests reveal productive insights.
  • Put a fixed short-term timeline on experiments.
  • Test enough. Managers should remember that if they aren’t failing enough, they may not be bold enough.
  • Create a sandbox.
  • Experimentation just for the sake of experimentation isn’t particularly valuable. You are looking for scalable solutions.
  • Fund innovation
  • Organisations should only learn but also develop new ways of learning (double-loop learning)
  • Focus on minimum viable changes (MVCs). These are changes big enough to help splice in aspects of new digital DNA but small enough to reduce resistance and rejection.

 Not only organisations are changing

We used to work with our hands for many centuries; then we worked with our heads, and now we’re going to have to work with our hearts because there’s one thing machines cannot, do not, and never will have, and that’s a heart. Anthony Goldbloom, the founder and CEO of Kaggle, suggests that making decisions from incomplete data is one way in which people are better. Pablo Picasso said of computers: “But they are useless. They can only give you answers.” Before Picasso, Voltaire said, “Judge a person by their questions rather than their answers.”

Ongoing pivot

The pace of technological disruption is such that any jobs people do at the beginning of their careers will be obsolete long before those careers end. Even if the jobs still exist, technology will have reshaped the work required to perform them to such a degree that the required skill sets will be almost entirely different. Instead, people will “pivot” to new careers as their skill sets become undervalued in one job or sector, requiring them to repurpose them in new roles or industries. This need to pivot will mean that individuals will need to chart their career path amid these changes in work.

We are all Dorothy. Let’s find the yellow brick road and have some fun. 

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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