Small beginnings (and quickly) – overcoming digital anxiety

The notion that ‘digital is about people not technology’ is a theme that has echoed around the debates of 2018. This is to be applauded – purveyors of snake oil and other miracle cures tend to miss this item so it is gratifying to hear it so consistently. (As one client said yesterday, “the large advisory companies sell technology because it is easier – the real problems are hard to solve and the skills to do it are hard to find”).

One of the consistent themes I observe in trying to help teams figure out ‘going digital’ is the tendency to overthink and try and plan for every eventuality. This is usually born from anxiety about letting go of the present and all of its comforts and apparent certainties. It is a significant problem.

To state the obvious: if you really want a genuine change in how a business works, the patterns of the past will no longer help you. You need new data about new activity to help decide what to do next. Pondering and wondering will not provide that information. Doing things will.

The older and more established an organisation is, the harder this challenge feels. Danger signals to look out for are: templates, process maps, frameworks and the like. These are a cry for help from those who are seeking false certainty. Sadly, they also offer false confidence to stakeholders (who may well have asked for them for the same reasons). It is not smart to draft a map to an unknown destination. What kind of a framework will you create for a service/product/experience you have never offered before?

Real change causes anxiety. But that anxiety cannot be treated with a management placebo, it needs a new treatment. It needs information.

Start small and start soon.

I reckon the maxim “start small and start soon” is a decent principle. (I did consider “start now” but having a vision is a requisite and might take a little time to develop). In the face of the imperative to change and the consequnet lack if information of what to do and how to do it, take a small step in a good direction and see where you land. This will answer a series of handy questions for you: how was that? Did it work? Should we go back? Where is the next step? What do we need to take it? And so on…This is what an agile approach is for, I think.

That quickly taken small step will give you a great deal more useful evidence about your objectives than the familliart furniture of management practice will be able to. Plus, it is more fun and much more energising. You and your teams will learn more quickly and develop more usefully. You will also understand your customers better. You can also speak to stakeholders with the genuine confidence borne from experience. If you really need to, you could communicate your new knowledge in a template, I guess.