Digital transformation or die?
It has happened again. A company founded 15 years ago becomes the leader in a traditional category. Alibaba recently announced that they overtook Walmart as the world’s largest retailer.
Digital disruption is becoming a matter of survival. That’s a reality that affects thousands of business all over the world. What is not so clear is the focus that lots of companies are adopting to face this challenge.
Many times we take for granted that the digitalisation of a company has to do with transforming their giant monolithic structures into digital giant monolithic structures.
This is complicated by two factors:
1. Normally, the sector has already suffered a digital disruption and there is a new digital player that has become a digital gigantic presence
2. Digital transformation is not only difficult, it is impossible.
So… What do we do? Do we let ourselves die?
Well, maybe that is the best option. It turns out that biology, maths and theology all have good news for those who decide that digital transformation is not a matter of survival but an opportunity to evolve or to reborn again.
There are some alternatives to rough digital transformation. They are strategies inherited from other disciplines that allow for the enrichment of perspective that is sometimes dogmatic or rigid.
This concept was developed by two scientist that were worried about the restrictive vocabulary that was being used in evolutionary biology. They proposed this new term as complement to the theory of natural selection and adaptation.
Exaptation is a trait that is developed in parallel to the product of an adaptation: something that stops having its original function and become very useful for something else.
Vertebrates’ bones were born as calcium depots and later became the structures that protect our internal organs. Bird feathers arose as a sexual calling card and ended up as a part of their flying structure.
Exaptation can also be used to talk about business transformation. Playmobil is the most famous case: the company which succeeded in producing hoola hoops was forced by the petroleum crisis of the 70’s to find a new product that used less raw material. The rest of the story is history.
The Adjacency concept is used with different meanings in linguistics, maths, and genetics. In our particular case, it refers to a transformation induced by a movement into a nearby territory that turns one of our capabilities into an element of transformation. Instead of transforming ourselves, we transform our nearest environment.
One of the most interesting cases of Adjacency is American Airlines and their booking system Sabre. It’s an example of adjancecy in the most literal way because it is said that everything started when an AA executive traveler sat near an IBM executive in the mid sixties. They started talking and by the time they arrived, the spark had appeared: American Airlines developed a reservation system that later became the most used system by travel agencies around the world (worth more than the airline itself!).
In the nineties, Sabre was again transformed by adjacency and ended up being turned into the online travel agency Travelocity.
Transubstanciation is a Catholic doctrine that explains the consecration of bread and wine. Is it based on the Aristotelian concept of substance and accidents. What it tries to explain to us is that when bread and wine are consecrated, accidents (color, texture, flavor) remain, but substance (the meaning) changes.
This concept is used by Alberto Barreiro to talk about digital transformation. He propose that instead of transforming a company digitally, we have to be able to extract its meaning and inject it in an ecosystem of value. That implies that we must realize what our purpose is and have a way to export that meaning, for example, through our brand.
Virgin’s ecosystem is a clear example of transformation and growth based on transubstantiation.