The Butterfly Effect

butterfly
Image by Desha from Pixabay

In the world around us the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies is a marvel of nature. Though technically referred to as metamorphosis rather than transformation, the process for butterflies (and all insects) involves a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change.

This got me thinking about digital transformation in organisations, so I asked on the Twitter:

Do you think transformation is something that has a result (we’ve been transformed) or do you see it as an evolving continuing process (we are transforming and continue to transform)?

There were mixed responses, some thought it was incremental, some thought it was a continual process, few though thought of it as some kind of “big bang” transformation.

Though I think transformation can be incremental, and for most organisations change is often seen as a series of steps that happen over time, rather than planning for a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change. But with incremental transformation, you still need some kind of vision or end game. Otherwise, you may find you have changed but not necessarily transformed. Another perspective is that you make incremental steps, but the full effect or possibilities isn’t immediately apparent. But at some point, in the future it suddenly all makes sense.

Of course there is the question what happens after transformation? With butterflies they flutter around, do all the stuff that butterflies do and then that’s it.

butterfly
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

With digital transformation, is there an end game, or because of the ever changing nature of digital, transformation is continual and evolving process. This is where the butterfly analogy starts to fall apart.

We can then start to see digital transformation under another lens, one of changing the organisation to one which can thrive in a constantly changing digital environment. This is where the organisation transforms to take advantage of the affordances and opportunities that, not just current digital and online technologies can bring, but also ensure the organisation is in a position, has the structure, the systems and processes, so can it take advantage of future and unknown digital and online technologies as they are developed and come on stream.

As we discuss and talk about digital transformation, it becomes apparent very quickly that digital transformation is not about digital causing transformation. It’s not as though if you invest in digital and online technologies that therefore you will be (magically) transformed.  Digital transformation is probably best explored and explained as transformation which is enabled by digital technologies and can take advantage of the affordances of digital.

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