Digital Emperors have no Clothes!

May 25, 2016 — Leave a comment

Preface: 

Let’s face it folks; there are a lot of #Digital phonies & posers out there. Each one has an agenda and it isn’t Digital Transformation; it’s more like Glory Seeking, Self-aggrandizement, Resume building, etc. Buyer Beware!

 Body: In today’s world of Digital Transformation (whatever that actually is) we have seen the rise of what I refer to as “Digital Emperors” who are now setting the tone and demeanor for every digital conversation out there. By definition, Digital Emperors are those in the public & private sectors who are exploiting the digital wave for all its worth in spite of having no real domain knowledge, leadership capabilities or strategic vision. They are politicians, cabinet members, Cabinet Office ministers, civil servants, corporate execs, trade show promoters, digital startups, venture capitalists, etc.  In reality, most are complete phonies or “digital posers” in the parlance of my UK audience, and all suffer from a common challenge; They are Digital Emperors without any clothes!

Genuine (much less competent) Digital Leadership is hard to find these days in any sector, but those who believe that either by title or remit that they are true leaders can be found either at every tradeshow or digital event (TED, SXSW, etc.) espousing their well-rehearsed opinions on “all things Digital”, much less competing for one of the numerous “Digital Leader” awards that are part of the media landscape these days. Few (and I mean very few), actually have anything of substance to say or to herald in respect to actual accomplishments (other than spending billions on transformation projects and getting little in return), but nonetheless all seem to have a cult-like following of sycophants and others who fawn over everything they promise, say or do.  I myself find it all quite nauseating and feel compelled to call out these Digital Emperors.

Across the globe there are major programs in virtually every government to digitally transform services and capabilities provided internally and to their citizens. Many of these programs portend to transform governments themselves using what I refer to as “Digital Transformation by Magic”, a common thought process where a Digital Emperor can simply undo the past and armed with a great PowerPoint and some funding they can create a new “digital future” for everyone overnight. In reality it turns out to be more of a digital “love fest” where everyone spends their time in endless self-promotion and glory seeking while the “group et al” squanders countless fortunes on technology that no one (aka Users) wants anything to do with at the end of the journey.  We have started to see this in the UK already, with the US, Australia, the EU and others no doubt to follow. One of the key critical success factors that all of these programs miss is “engagement” aka Cultural Adoption with those who ultimately use the digital outcomes that they have foretold. An appropriate adage for this is “Culture eats Strategy (and hype) for lunch”.

These programs all seem to feature high visibility in regards to the governments who sponsor them, with numerous photo ops, hackathons & coding weekends, hiring events & meetings (lots and lots of meetings) to discuss their latest accomplishments, but have little self-examination or transparency when things go pear shaped and the finger pointing begins. Much of this is further obfuscated by numerous re-organizations and the rotation of senior players to other agencies. All are plagued by acute attrition, churn and lack of both raw and seasoned talent. In my own experience, everyone wants to be part of a highly visible transformation program (especially Digital), but no one actually knows how to get the job done. We see this in the post-failure analysis that accompanies the crashing & burning of large transformational efforts everywhere.

As I have said before many times; “Transformation is hard and not for the weak of heart”. Successful Digital Transformation is yet to be realized anywhere and having these high risk (high reward if successful) left to the fatuous behavior of Digital Emperors is clearly a formula for disaster.

The Four keys to Digital Transformation success are;

  1. Create a relevant Digital Strategy that serves everyone
  2. Fund it appropriately (with plenty of Contingency for the unknown)
  3. Hire (not appoint) & empower Transformational Leaders & Doers to get the job done
  4. Lock all the Digital Emperors in the palace until the wrap party when the transformation program is successfully completed.
  • An edited version of this blog appears in the May 2016 issue of Information Age (UK) (www.information-age.com)

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