“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don’t much care where.

The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.

The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The management guru – Cheshire Cat – has some of the best free advice we need on digital transformation. Lewis Carroll’s famous paragraph on the interplay between where you want to go and how you want to get there, perfectly applies to the challenge facing executives on digital transformation. They need to get both parts correct. Digital transformations fail if one or both these issues isn’t addressed.

The first half (Where to go) is in setting the target correctly on “perpetual” or ongoing transformation.  In the world of digital transformation, perpetual transformation means getting to the stage at which a digital backbone for your business and a truly agile culture underpin your business model. It’s the stage of disciplined market leadership where you’re able to stay ahead perpetually. The biggest challenge in today’s world is the language related to digital transformation. The term has been coopted by every IT marketing person selling anything from an email upgrade to artificial intelligence. It’s a mess, but it’s not unexpected. Any powerful new concept will be hijacked. It’s our job as leaders is to cut through the hype and focus on the substance.

Once we set our sights on the correct target, the second half of the issue, i.e. How to get there, assumes importance. The biggest insight gleaned from my research is that successful digital transformation takes highly disciplined, methodical execution.  Fortunately, there are proven models for disciplined execution that are directly applicable to digital transformation, including the checklist approach from the airline industry. The airplane takeoff methodology has also been reapplied with amazing success in the medical industry.

The timing is right for building discipline for digital transformation. Airplane takeoffs weren’t 99.999999% successful in the early days. A ton of hard work went into creating structure and discipline to ensure successful execution. The resulting checklist model has become a role model for other industries and has been reapplied in other high-impact areas such as medicine. It’s a worthy model to address the urgent issue of failed digital transformations.

Or to paraphrase our resident philosopher, the Cheshire Cat, if you don’t care what digital transformation is and which way to go, then you will definitely get there!

Tony Saldanha