How does the digital transformation of your organization go? According to the global study DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION: A ROADMAP FOR BILLION-DOLLAR ORGANIZATIONS from CapGemini just 50 of 157 executives say that they have an effective approach. Not an easy task it seems...

But why is this so hard? The report states that

Successful digital transformation comes not from implementing new technologies but from transforming your organization to take advantage of the possibilities that new technologies provide. Major digital transformation initiatives are centered on re-envisioning customer experience, operational processes and business models. Companies are changing how functions work, redefining how functions interact, and even evolving the boundaries of the firm.

I couldn't agree more. But isn't this difficult? Yes, really! What makes it even more difficult is further described in another conclusion:

Successful DT comes not from creating a new organization, but from reshaping the organization to take advantage of valuable existing strategic assets in new ways.

This means that in order to succeed you have to understand what your valuable existing strategic assets really are and transform your business to leverage them in a digital approach.

I think these statements are correct, are really important and points in the right direction. But judging from my 10+ year experience in working with intelligence, strategy and change in a global company, I see is that this is incredibly difficult to do in practice. Is it really so that as much as 1 in 3 are successful in this process? And to what extent are they successful?

From a historical perspective from other technology driven transformations, there are extremely few companies that have been successful in transforming themselves across societal and technological shifts. How many companies are e g older than 100 years? 100 years ago there was another, albeit a magnitude smaller, technological and societal shift that also required transformation and how many organizations survived that?

We must correlate these insight with other findings e g John Hagel's analysis of the performance of today's companies:

Firms in the Standard & Poor's 500 in 1937 had an average life expectancy of 75 years; a more recent analysis of the S&P 500 showed that the number had dropped to just 15 years.

I think it is time that people reread the former Shell executive Arie de Geus' book The Living Company, Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business and Alan Deutchman's Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life.

In the end of the executive summary the CapGemini reports correctly states that:

Despite the hype around innovative digital technologies, most companies still have a long way to go in their digital transformation journeys. Leadership is essential. Whether using new or traditional technologies, the key to digital transformation is re-envisioning and driving change in how the company operates. That’s a management and people challenge, not just a technology one.

From my view from the outside I still wonder if change really is happening to the extent that people think it does. Because if it does it is against all historical odds. Or are we creating an illusion of change, when in fact organizations are failing more dramatically than ever?

The good thing with this report is that they are starting to formulating the difficulties in a much more realistic way than I have seen before from IT-consultants. And that is a good thing... If they show the correct picture of the reality, I am not at all sure.

3D Printed shoe

This is a 3D-printed shoe I recently found search Flickr for images on 3D printing. It is obvious that the quality of 3D printing is rapidly getting better and according to the discussions on the Internet most people seems fascinated of and apparently caught in the race towards higher and higher quality. The problem with this race is that it might draw us down into the technical details of 3D printing rather than into the important implications 3D printing might have in the future.

There are (at least) four aspects that is much more important that product quality to note when thinking about where 3D printing might take us in the future. 3D printing might:

  1. Potentially fill the basic but enormous global needs of relatively simple objects - From a global perspective the greatest need for things is not the need for advanced and complicated things like Stradivarius violins or electron microscopes but more small and mundane things like cogs, wrenches or gaskets that is needed for maintaining or developing the irrigation equipment that is needed for producing food. What 3d printers is on it's way of doing is potentially give the people of the planet the access to the spare parts and daily practical tools that is needed to help themselves and fight poverty.
  2. Redefine the distribution and personalization of products - Since the industrial revolution a product is typically mass produced in a factory and distributed over long distances through a complex web of transportation modes and storages. If 3D printing becomes more widespread production can instead be performed by a local and basically unmanned printer, which also with no extra effort can produce a personalized version in a way which is very complicated to do in a traditional mass production facilities. If this happens large parts of the distribution and production structures will then be bypassed for a long row of small products. A direct consequence for trade regulations is that they will most likely to be obsolete since the current ways of limiting import of products is by border controls wheree customs personal looks for physical objects.
  3. Blur the border between ideas and physical things - Since we have been living in a world of physical things, our thinking, habits and rules are constituted by physical objects. E g society have decided that certain objects are illegal or heavily regulated since they are potentially dangerous if spreading in an uncontrolled way. Guns and certain drug manufacturing equipment are examples of such regulated physical objects. What if everybody everywhere can download or draw and then print out those objects on their personal 3d printer? Should ideas and sketches of illegal physical objects also be illegal? When the border between the physical object and the idea of the physical object blurs, we will have unprecedented and conceptually really difficult challenges.
  4. Break down the current model of factories and value chains - What is becoming possible with 3D printing in the longer perspective is the transformation of one object into another without the need of a factory. That means that if you have an empty plastic bottle you could use a 3D printer to transform it into things like a required spare part, a wrench or a shoe. Or if you have a pair of childrens shoes which becomes too small, why not scan them in a 3D scanner, reuse the material of the old shoes (and maybe add some material from the empty plastic bottle) and print out a pair of identical shoes in a larger size. All without the need of a factory, distribution chain and a shoe store.
Every one of these changes has the potential of radically transform the industrial society into something very different. I think it is worth thinking about the consequences and track the development in this area closely. Especially since most of the 3D printing development currently seems to happen outside all the large corporations.

On October 11 Thomas L. Friedman, author of widely selling books like The Lexus and the Olive Tree, The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded as well as a NY Times columnist wrote a massively referred and tweeted column by the name Something’s Happening Here, which he started off by:

When you see spontaneous social protests erupting from Tunisia to Tel Aviv to Wall Street, it’s clear that something is happening globally that needs defining. There are two unified theories out there that intrigue me. One says this is the start of “The Great Disruption.” The other says that this is all part of “The Big Shift.” You decide.

And ends with:

So there you have it: Two master narratives — one threat-based, one opportunity-based, but both involving seismic changes. Gilding is actually an optimist at heart. He believes that while the Great Disruption is inevitable, humanity is best in a crisis, and, once it all hits, we will rise to the occasion and produce transformational economic and social change (using tools of the Big Shift). Hagel is also an optimist. He knows the Great Disruption may be barreling down on us, but he believes that the Big Shift has also created a world where more people than ever have the tools, talents and potential to head it off. My heart is with Hagel, but my head says that you ignore Gilding at your peril.

You decide.

Since I have been following and been talking about the future based on the underlying driving forces that lead up to this development for many years now, I couldn't agree more to about the relevance of these narratives. But I think Friedman makes a mistake when he thinks just one of these two narratives about "The Great Disruption " and "The Big Shift" are right. To me these two theories actually describes two driving forces that play out simultaneously , which both will have huge ramifications on our society. Because of this model I call our society which now lives through this the transition society.

This is a compressed version of a slide I usually show in order to talk about how these forces are related to each other. As you can see here I think of the impact as a transition phase where one s-curve shaped development is replaced, being succeeded or eventually melted together with another development in form of an s-curve. As we know from ecological systems, the outcome from such a transition is highly uncertain, and I think we should think about our future in the same way.

This way of visualizing the future is of course highly abstract and theoretical, but is nevertheless one of the few ways I have found to visualize the complex development of what we see happening around us. One argument for this S-curve/transition model is that it would also explain the transients and rapid swings we see today and which is a normal effect in the observation of phase transitions in e g  physics, chemistry and biology.

Courtesy of Agecom Bahia (Creative Commons license)

We can talk about scenario planning in order to see, understand and manage uncertainty on a longer term planning level but when it comes running the daily business the result of the process i e how we design companies and structures will be the crucial point for the future.

I am again talking about the need to redesign society and businesses and build resilient and shock-managing institutions, rather than slim, lean, efficient and just-in-time structures. Or maybe they can be slim, lean, efficient and just-in-time, but ONLY of these properties are helping organizations to be better at managing dramatic and sudden changes. Otherwise this mental heritage (or garbage) of efficiency and just-in-time thinking from an obsolete industrial age will lead to a certain death when the grim reaper of unexpected shocks or changes comes to take his tribute.

One sign of change comes from Toyota who seems to maintain it's thought leader position when it comes to taking the next level of industrial development into the area of resilience...

Based on the terrible experience of the Japanese earthquake Toyota are now aiming at change their manufacturing and supplier structures with these three steps:

  1. Standardizing parts - so Japanese automakers could share components manufactured in different locations
  2. Increase supplier inventories - so the outsourced delivery of components will be able to deliver parts longer and not so fast be victims of sudden shortages of material
  3. Making each region independent - i e procurement of components are local so a disaster somewhere would not affect production overseas

This is really interesting but it is worth noting it is just a part of the solution and just from the perspective of the manufacturing plant. There are much more and deeper work to do in order to make the whole value process around the automotive industry resilient and future ready.

But from a longer term strategic perspective, taking this path, or rather being forced to go down it, could turn out to be as important for the long term future success of Japanese auto manufacturers, as the collective Japanese decision to decrease fuel consumption was in the 1980:s.

Are the Japanese again using their problems and tragedies in order to improve before everybody else does?

Read more in Reuter article.

Mr Sarkozy has now taken the battle of the Internet to the next level of open conflict between governments and the Internet by initiating the e-G8 meeting where he argued:

"The universe you represent is not a parallel universe. Nobody should forget that governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies. To forget this is to risk democratic chaos and anarchy."

“We need to hear your aspirations, your needs,” but that “You need to hear our limits, our red lines.”

(quote from Don Tapscott - G8 and the Internet - Sarkozy Messes With a Good Thing - you can read even more about this in Alex Howard's article: At the eG8, 20th century ideas clashed with the 21st century economy)

What Sarkozy miss completely is that the current form of democratic government system, the current ideas and laws around Intellectual Properties, well the whole concept of the nation state and even of our current civilizational form is in fact a result of, and is completely built on the previous major communication revolution: the printing press.

How revolutionary we might regard the printing press, we must understand that it provided just a gradual change of human organization. It was a innovation that only increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the old model of one-to-many communication. We are now facing a much bigger and more profound change in human organization than ever. The global diffusion of Internet is the birth of something completely new and unprecedented, a fundamental change of the inner wiring of human society and organization: many-to-many communication between already hundreds of millions and soon billions of people and artifacts on this planet.

Fundamentally new communicational and computing capabilities is on it's way to  completely redefine almost everything and in particular how humanity is organized in larger groups as e g cities and countries. To use Sarkozy's words and seeing the world from his or many other traditional democratic governments perspective: this will without doubt result in democratic chaos and anarchy. The change will not take the form of something to fight with or decide about but will rather emerge from the inside of ourselves and take the form of old concepts, systems and structures that suddenly and curiously become irrelevant or at times even dangerous and counter productive.

The challenge for all of us now (including governments) is to put ourselves into a state to avoid repelling everything new but continuously learn about the new logic as it emerges in order to 1) dismount the current systems which in the current situation might cause more harm than good and 2) in their place develop new interim systems that will result in temporary islands of order where we can thrive in waiting for the next wave of deep change. Always knowing that the current structure, the current idea or the current system soon will be irrelevant again and need to be rebuilt .

It is becoming increasingly clear that the knowledge and systems that have taken us this far NOT will take us into the future.

And in times of fundamental transformation any firm and unadaptive construction will most likely turn out to be the things that keep you immobile and stuck to the bottom when the water rises and the tsunami is rolling in.

Is the Wikileaks conflict leading us towards a better and more open future or can it result in the opposite?

The Wikileaks phenomenon in itself is nothing but the natural consequence of Moore's Law and the emergence of omnipresent and ubiquitous communication and data gathering technologies. It is an effect that is one interpretation of the concept of radical transparency , a situation when there doesn't exist any barriers for information anymore and where everything is potentially known by everyone.

What Wikileaks really is doing is showing the world a small and relatively isolated (!) glimpse of what radical transparency might mean for governments.

One thing to note is that in the not too distant future we can expect that radical transparency will spread to companies, corporations and basically all other organizations as well.

The bigger picture - towards a completely new society

But what does this mean in the long run?

To understand the bigger picture and where this might lead we also need to add another underlying driving force to the puzzle. The driving force is the result of two distinct human capabilities: our ability to communicate and our capacity to innovate and create tools and structures. When looking back in history with these glasses we can identify this key driving force behind almost all major reorganizations of human society.

With the innovation of many-to-many communication on an individual level it is very likely that we are at a stage of radically transforming human societies once more. If this is the case we are actually part of a shift that will transform our society in a much more fundamental way than the relatively recent change from a farming society into an industrial society. Maybe the shift from an oral society to a text based society will be a more adequate comparison. If we are going to judge from previous reorganizations of humanity we can conclude that the majority of today's institutions will become obsolete or at least altered in a fundamental way. Including the corporations, nation states and even our cherished model of democracy.

Wikileaks, together with other P2P-related effects, are then just the weak signals lightening the murky path towards a very different future.

How do we get to the future?

The reason for a fundamental shift lies in the conflict of three seemingly incompatible concepts

  • Static hierarchic structures
  • Democratic models of power organization
  • Radical transparency

Democracy and static hierarchies have been working together for the reason that communication have been organized according to a broadcasting model where you have a few dominant broadcasters and accordingly can contain the discussions and the perspectives to a certain degree within a community. If you add radical transparency this isn't possible anymore and a conflict between these three takes place. The core of the conflict has not so much to do with democracy as has with the other two because the nature of the conflict lies in the fundamental incompatibility between radical transparency and static hierarchic structures and it is quite possible that democracy will be the victim in this conflict (placing nuanced comments by e g Clay Shirky in the naïve and idealistic corner).

A couple of years ago I wrote a quick post about how this upcoming conflict between new ways of organizing driven by the Internet and many-to-many communications on one side, and the traditional static and mechanically based institutions (e g governments) built on a broadcasting communications model on the other.

This conflict could be played out in one of four scenarios describing the different structures of conflict this could result in.

The scenarios were:

  1. A smooth sail - governments will just fade away with very little conflict in order for new governing structures built on new communications technologies to take their place
  2. Back in line - governments around the world will see and understand the coming dangers and will together succeed in restricting the Internet so that all threats to the traditional institutions are controlled and contained - resulting in a drastically more restricted Internet than we have today
  3. Full scale war - the world will be divided between countries who have too much to lose from letting the power move down to the Internet grassroots and others who actually have become reliant on the existence of a free and open Internet - since communication is now as crucial for survival as food and water an armed conflict of gigantic scale will follow
  4. Many small wars in different areas at different times - the conflict will be prolonged and played out in arena by arena, and not fuel a full scale global conflict, but will result in slow but steady changes in area by area

Which scenario do Wikileaks indicate?

The scale of the current conflict around Wikileaks suggest that scenario 1 is already out of the question. Then we have the other three left.

The rapid escalation of the conflict and the direct involvement of so many actors due to the choice of diplomatic arena, could suggest that Wikileaks is the first step in the chain of events that will lead to scenario 3 - Full scale war.

The force and fury by which mainly the US Government is acting might suggest that we are heading towards scenario 2 - Back in line. Will the other governments across the globe also realize who the real enemy to their position of power is and close their ranks in order to succeed in defending the current power structures – regardless of the consequences for the Internet and sacrificing the fundamental constitutional rights on which the modern democracies are built?

Or maybe this current conflict will be contained and slowly fade out? It could the then lead us towards scenario 4 - Many small wars in different areas at different times...

Any comments on this?

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If you find this blog slow in updating, why not try The Futuramb Daily, which is published daily and is automatically generated from my Twitter stream.

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Today scientific knowledge is more popular among the public than ever. It is only underscored with the success of the vast number of magazines popularizing science and the growing numbers of public science fairs popping up everywhere (e g here in Göteborg the science fair Vetenskapsfestivalen occured last week). The increased educational levels, indisputable leaps in many scientific areas but also the increasing complexity, new challenges to humanity and the growing feeling of uncertainty and need for truths is really working in favor of a public interest in scientific knowledge. So far that's fine.

As many other development in recent times, this development is due to the driving force of technology a self reinforcing force causing it to grow exponentially in all directions. But technology doesn't just propel scientific development alone. It is also a major driving force behind the development and spread of all other kinds of knowledge. One effect is that technology together with increased wealth and educational levels have rendered science just one knowledge producing niche among many others. Sometimes we talk about our times as the age of the amateurs since most the resources and know-how formerly existing within the walls of certain institutions, now are flowing freely around the globe.

Another effect of technology is also the rise of the media society which have had a huge impact on our values and our view of ourselves and others. In a society where the majority of the population have a global world view, university degrees and knowledge worker positions people need to develop a strategy to cope with the flood of unrelated and usually inconsistent information.

The academic utopian idea about coping with this have to do with thorough analysis of the different sources of information followed by an evaluation of the underlying agenda of the sources in question. This is of course ridiculous in an everyday situation and what it all falls down to then is our basic demand for consistency.

But consistency on which level? Again our belief of individuals as rational agents make us think that it is consistency on the individual level. What I have observed is that in general this also is wrong. It rather seems to happens on the level that is more important to us in our daily life and probably in our long term survival as well: the group level. What this means is that whenever somebody tells us something, or we read something in an article, most of us feel an urge to test it with the group. The way we do this is usually mentioning it at the dinner table or drop it as a conversation piece during coffee break at work or around a café table.

What we do when we at an early stage in evaluation a certain piece of knowledge test it with the group is probably

  1. to test if we are in sync with the group and possibly adjust or assess our position in the social hierarchical ladder
  2. to test if somebody else have additional knowledge that could be helpful in the evaluation

Since we are social animals knowledge is sometimes considered important for group survival, but always raw material for group forming. What is really important in group forming what constitutes the group and what we say and how we express ourselves is extremely important markers in this continuously ongoing process.

The result is that today we have very different dinner conversations than our parents or grandparents had. In essence we talk about everything from the effects of a certain pharmaceutical drug, a new neurophysiological discovery to the diplomatic relations with China. Even if you don't have any knowledge of the subject we feel compelled to at least relate to it, and to take help of the community and form some kind of opinion about it, because otherwise we would risk losing our position in the social structure of the group.

What has really changed the last decades in the western world is that scientific and other advanced form of knowledge have seriously entered into our social structures and have become a raw material in the process of socializing and personal development.

We already know that scientific and other knowledge since decades have been tools in political processes. This shift in knowledge use happened as soon as new knowledge had national and military implication.

What we haven't realized yet is that exactly that transition have quite recently been happening on an individual level as well. So if the concept of truth have had it's challenges on political level the last centuries, it is probably just a breeze compared to what is currently happening. Today we live in a time when new communication technology is boosting increased knowledge and self actualization need of modern man; a time of a continuous redefinition of social patterns and creation/recombination of knowledge. Knowledge and have really become the raw material of our time and which in turn means that the concept of truth becomes being more and more obfuscated under layers of different agendas of social activity.

So just because scientific processes continue to produce knowledge and insights for the common good (or for commercial interest), it isn't necessary so that the status of science will remain. Rather the opposite. It is important to note that this is not because the scientists are doing things wrong, but because societies have succeeded in spreading knowledge and wealth and made us rise in the levels of Maslow pyramid of needs. On that level it is all about social hierarchies and inner feelings of the individual.

One of the important prodromes of this is the emergence of "science porn" which I think is an appropriate name for what is happening in many science fairs and popular science magazines. Not because it is bad, but because we consume it in unrelated fragments, it has mainly an individual or social function and it is a media substitute for the real thing which makes us feel as we are very knowledgeable and insightful ourselves.

What will happen in the future? I think it is quite clear that the serious knowledge processes like science is losing out unless they can provide real practical value. Companies who can argue that investment in research is part of their value creating process will of course thrive. The problem is the public funding of science. It is quite clear that when the scientific process loses it's public status as a method for producing interesting and relevant knowledge (not true!!) it will be losing out in favor of an emerging group of thinkers, amateur scientists and maybe even former professional scientist who find ways to fund their research through publishing books and articles that people in general want to read. And how much can a government spend on research when the common value of truths and knowledge in itself is declining?

The amateurization of knowledge production is spreading quickly and right now I can't see how science can survive in it's current form in the longer run. Bad organizations and structural inertia from which the universities in the western world is suffering from today is definitely not helping, but rather disguising the real reasons for the decline of science which is really coming from outside of science.