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AgileBusinessInnovation Observations

Optimisation vs Transformation

By June 10, 2020May 11th, 2021No Comments


There’s one metaphor that I’ve found to be particularly useful in my work with clients in helping to articulate the opportunity and challenge in making smart decisions around technology and transformation. Now, more than ever of-course, these kind of decisions are critical.

If we look for examples of change within nature perhaps one of the most obvious is that of metamorphosis. There are two key types of metamorphosis, incomplete and complete, both of which are good analogies for the true opportunity that technology can afford – the opportunity of both optimisation and transformation.

Incomplete metamorphosis: Like the grasshopper above, in incomplete metamorphosis a big grasshopper looks like a small grasshopper – it simply sheds its skin as it changes and grows. This is a good metaphor for optimisation. The opportunity to use technology to do what we did before but better, faster, more efficiently or in more scaled ways. There is huge benefit within optimisation. But a bad or outdated process optimised is still a bad or outdated process. So sometimes we need to do more.

Complete metamorphosis: The caterpillar transitions into the pupa or chrysalis stage where everything goes into a kind of biological soup, the physiology and functional structure of the animal changes dramatically, and out emerges a beautiful butterfly. This is a great metaphor for transformation. The opportunity to reinvent, reimagine, remodel because to realise full the potential of technology we’re required to redesign processes, structures, operations, and culture. The challenge with this is two-fold:

  1. The ‘messy middle’ stage of transformation which is typically characterised by higher levels of uncertainty and complexity
  2. The need to unlearn some of what we know in order to put it back together again in a different way. The need to avoid looking at the new through the lens of the old. The need to move on from what we were before and embrace the new. Don’t mourn the caterpillar. Be the butterfly.

Making smart decisions about the application of technology is about understanding where the opportunity is to enhance or to drive new efficiencies, and where we need to rip it up and start again. Optimisation vs transformation.

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