Quantum Transformation: Holistic, Concerted, Undetermined

“Digital transformation” is a buzzword brandished by executives and consultants as the axe to slay all evils. But as you well know, mere digitization (or “cloudification”) is far from enough: what is needed is a holistic, concerted, undetermined approach – let’s call it Quantum Transformation.

“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988)

Normality is just not in the cards anymore. Each crisis seems to hit individuals and societies harder than the previous one, and our resilience is strained to the brink. “New Normals” are melding into a continuous Never Normal. Yes, our comebacks too are occurring at increasing velocity, but we keep on answering each transition with tit-for-tat logic and makeshift fixes. Value models that proved their worth in the past are now hopelessly archaic and unsustainable. Businesses and governments know our fortune hinges on the ability to innovate with speed, impact, and scale – but complexity, fear of new technology, ill-defined executive strategies and shifting goalposts make it a delicate affair.

Don’t you find yourself, some days, better off ignoring the news, stay blissfully unaware of the slew of worrisome events, gloomy stories, and not-so-unexpected surprises — and focus your mind on tasks you comprehend and problem you can solve? To get down to business though, you need a big-picture perspective: how else otherwise, can you be sure you’re focusing on what matters?

But where should you start? No single human being, no single organization, no single country has the capacity to grasp, let alone manage, the sheer complexity of the entangled system we have created. Apart from a radical change in behavior and organizational models, little seems to stand in the way of our civilization spiraling out of control — should we just wait for AI to divinely clean up our mess? You’d rather not, I presume.

So, if politicians won’t miraculously turn the tide with Marshall plans and economic stimulus packages; if industry captains won’t hack our way out through some tech revolution; then who is going to ensure our children and theirs can enjoy a future that isn’t an ill-fated extrapolation of current affairs? Can we change our linear approaches to exponential movements? You’ve already heard Einstein’s famous quote: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. But this one, from Peter Drucker (1909 – 2005), may be new to you:

In the past, revolutions were won when the masses followed a leader, enthused by a shared ideal. But today’s remedy calls for a scale and multiplicity of change that humanity never had to envision. Salvation won’t come from the narrow top; it must necessarily come from the distributed, scalable groundswell. And we have something our predecessors didn’t: an ability to raise organized, global movements acting with purpose, clarity and intent. In the case of Business Architects (BA), it’s about helping organizations innovate with speed, impact, and scale.

“Digital transformation” is the bread and butter of Business Architects. But all too often, it’s brandished by executives and consultants as the axe to slay all evils. Unfortunately, as you know, mere digitization is far from enough – what is needed is a holistic, concerted, undetermined approach. Forget about digital transformation, let’s call it Quantum Transformation.

Holistic

When presented with a complex problem to solve, our natural reaction is to discard a few variables in a laudable attempt to simplify and speed up our path to triumph. Unfortunately, this is often the very reason why the solution won’t work in the end. So, before jumping into the development of any system, a Business Architect must develop a holistic, multi-dimensional understanding of the problem at hand: it’s about fleshing out the interrelationship of the different parts of the architecture to deliver an expected outcome.

When running an innovation sprint, you should look at the following 6 dimensions of a challenge:

  • People – get everyone engaged. Ensure you’ve assembled a multi-disciplinary team of motivated contributors. Build a diligent understanding of each stakeholder’s perspective on the challenge. Digital is 10% tech and 90% human – don’t get it the other way around.
  • Processes – rethink how value is produced. Follow Peter Drucker’s advice above: don’t get stuck with yesterday logic. Take the opportunity to fundamentally reimagine the best (and more sustainable) way to solve the challenge.
  • Data – remove the blinders. Do you know what you don’t know? And what don’t you know you don’t know? What do you wish you knew? What kind of information will help you demystify your challenge.
  • Places – locate the action. We may live in an increasingly virtual world, but the physical planet is still what really matters, and we can’t just reboot it to the last best place. So, think about the locations where your challenge takes place.
  • Things – sense the physical. The digital twin we’re building to simulate and improve its older, physical brother requires a link to reality. What real-time data do you need to extract to monitor the environment of your challenge?
  • Apps – create frictionless flows. Once you’ve assessed the 5 dimensions above, you’re ready to build an app to put the wheels into motion and start solving your challenge. But not before.

Concerted

To reach an exponential speed of innovation, it’s vitally important to let events and initiatives happen simultaneously, in a parallel, multi-threaded fashion, driven by a distributed, multi-geo team of actors. This requires Business Architects to hone the skills, tools & techniques to become effective orchestrators, and ensure the piece of music we are writing together is a symphony, rather than a dissonant cacophony.

Whenever you engage with a customer, running interviews and workshops to extract wisdom from the teams, keep this in mind: they know exactly what they need to do. Or more accurately: collectively, they know exactly what they need to do. Everyone owns a piece of the music sheet: The Infrastructure & Operations team, the developers, the security group, and of course, most importantly, the lines of business. They are the experts of their industry, not me. Your job, as a Business Architect, isn’t to pretend you are an expert of their business and tell them what to do; your job is to extract a clear big picture from the apparently chaotic maelstrom of viewpoints, to crush complexity, to bridge the gap between business & IT, to stimulate pilots built on low-code, and to define a step-by-step roadmap for delivering business innovation with speed, impact and scale. Your job, as a Business Architect, is to orchestrate the symphony.

Undetermined

It’s an uncomfortable truth: in life and in business, certainty and control are illusions to appease our fear of the unknown. Yet, everything about the human enterprise seems to be about mitigating uncertainty and lack of control. So, it comes as no surprise that the most important aspect of Quantum Transformation is arguably the most controversial: no one has a definitive answer to any given issue, and the most dangerous people are those who rally crowds behind their tunnel vision and infallible plan. The fellow on the podium is just a fellow, like you and I — and he or she gets it wrong, just like you and I.

Oxford Dictionaries defines “Undetermined” as “not authoritatively decided or settled”, and provides the following usage example: “the acquisition will result in an as yet undetermined number of lay-offs”. For better or worse, that is the reality: until events play themselves out, no one knows for sure the outcome.

Confident leaders admit they simply don’t know for sure. They are able operate and lead teams within an uncertain frame, and yet provide clear direction — and that’s really tough: it feels like trusting your compass in thick fog while navigating through daunting reefs. But this intellectual integrity is essential to Quantum Transformation: the same facts in a particular environment can always tell a number of different, yet equally-valid stories. The fallacy comes when a HiPPO (Highest Paid Person in the Organization) authoritatively presents one side’s arguments, backing them up with precise misleading numbers and falsely consistent proof-points. That’s the best way of effectively shutting down the debate under the pretext of urgency, and embark on a single-minded journey doomed to fail.

Quantum Transformation calls for an ability to hold two or more opposing thoughts and work them through. You gain an understanding of challenges from diverse perspectives, and shape non-trivial solutions. You embrace seaming contradictions and balance viewpoints. You empathize with arguments from both sides of the aisle, and keep an open mind on the eventual outcome. You look for the flaws and weaknesses in your own pleas. You remain objective while developing, defending, and sharing our own beliefs. You communicate your opinion in a rationale and non-binary way.

But as a practicing Business Architect, how do you uncover and document those coffee-corner/watercooler viewpoints? Say you have the opportunity to interview 10-20 people from a customer your are working with, or from your own organization: who do you pick out, knowing that the lucid people with the clearest ideas of what needs to happen often sit at the edges of the corporate food chain? When asked who you should meet, I suggest you request to include a few “opinionated misfits” on the roster: they’ll gift you with some of the most enjoyable and memorable conversations in you career. You rarely get straight-talk from the HiPPOs, who have learned that being lucid-but-overly-outspoken might get in the way of their promotion.

The bottom-line is that Quantum Transformation enables you not to just think for yourself but to think how your decisions will impact others — and quite frankly, this makes your thoughts much more worthy of others’ consideration.

Note to reader: I used the “quantum” analogy to conceptualize the “holistic, concerted, undetermined” nature of transformation. You may argue we could add the “step change” or “probability” aspects, or as Feynman, the fact that no one truly understands it. But an the end, it’s just an analogy — let’s not strain it too far.

In my next post, I’ll look into redefining the job of Business Architects in the context of Quantum Transformation.

Author: Patrick Bikar

I head Cisco's Global Business Architecture Center of Excellence with a strategy built on 3 pillars: [1] COMMUNITY: I build the organisational structures and internal/external partnerships for a tribe of 250+ Business Architects, empowering them to continuously hone their BA know-how and vertical expertise. It’s a movement, the BA Makers, skilled and tooled for helping our customer drive business innovation with speed, impact, and scale. More info on: https://bamakers.org/digital-transformation-heroes/ [2] CAPABILITY: I co-created a powerful framework helping our customers deliver on the promise of Digital Transformation. We call it the BA Poppy, and we're now in the process of fully revamping a 4-stage Business Architecture training curriculum around it, so we can scale our approach to the whole of Cisco, our partners, and our customers. More info on: https://bamakers.org/ba-rethought/ [3] CUSTOMERS: Every year, BA Makers support dozens of business-led customer engagements, interacting with CxOs, IT Leaders and business executives. We help them ensure that technology investments deliver the outcomes and benefits expected by users and the business, crystallizing a digital transformation strategy in a way that is holistic, concerted, undetermined. More info on: https://bamakers.org/quantum-transformation

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