What does this mean for the people? Looking at the Human Side of Digital Transformation
As I start my PhD journey, it becomes ever more clear just how important it is to exchange with and learn from other dedicated to topics similar to mine. That is, the human side of digital transformation and innovation.
I have been told that PhD journeys can be quite lonely at times, so I hope that this blog will help me get a bit closer to the research and practice community and maybe we can have some fun, interesting and potentially very geeky discussions along the way.
For this first post, we were asked to reflect a bit on why we chose this PhD. Well, what a great task given that I love to reminisce! I hope you bear with me as I delve into times past and, in the process, I hope I get to tell you a little bit about the focus on my research.
When I was a young professional in the United Nation, I had the amazing opportunity to be part of a very small team that was put in charge of creating and leading an internal Innovation Lab. Since those early days, I was already mostly concerned with what it would take from the people point of view to bring innovation into our organisation. This was such a concern that the mission of our Innovation Lab was defined as “to unleash the creative and innovative potential of our people.”
It was a conscious decision not to worry about the technology or the ROI, and instead to focus on supporting people to innovate in whatever it was that they were doing.
As I reflect on the path I that have followed previously to joining the EINST4INE program, I come to realize that it was probably these experiences that prompted me to focus on the human element of digital transformation for my PhD.
Over the years as a practitioner, I had the opportunity to approach innovation and digital transformation from different and diverse angles, levels, perspectives, etc. Nevertheless, I always end up asking myself “what does this mean for the people?”.
I strongly believe that there is no innovation or digital transformation without people. It is the humans – that go to work every day with their fears, needs, desires, troubles, happiness, sadness, etc. – that innovate. They are the ones that transform. It is through the aggregation of their daily actions and behaviours that things change.
Yet, I was always intrigued by the relatively little attention that is given to them in academia.
I have wondered whether it is because it is challenging to understand humans – maybe because we enter the realm of vulnerability and, as Brené Brown has so well highlighted, we tend to hide from vulnerability as hard as we can?
If that is the case, it might be even more important to focus on the people in the context of innovation and digital transformation. As Brené Brown also reminded us, it is in the realm of vulnerability that the magic happens.
Thus, my PhD focus: understanding how intrinsically human factors affect efforts by traditional companies to achieve digital transformation.
I believe that by developing a better understanding of how people’s skills, competencies, beliefs, behaviours, etc. interact with organizational factors such as strategies, projects, resources, processes, structure, etc. in the context of digital transformation we can get much deeper insights into what goes right and what goes wrong.
I do not mean to be negative, but as we know up to 80% of digital transformation efforts fail. Can we pause a minute to imagine just how much time, resources, blood, sweat and tears go into these 80%?
When I look at this number, I cannot stop myself from thinking that maybe we are missing something important. I hope that this research will contribute at least a little to solving some of the problem. Perhaps by finding new and better ways to design and implement digital transformation and innovation?
As this blog post goes live, I am on my third week of my PhD journey. So far, I have been enjoying reading what all the great authors have been investigating and saying about the topic.
I have a very long and arduous road ahead, but I could not be more excited to be a part of this EINST4INE cohort. I chose to apply to EINSTAINE because of its strong industry connections and diverse and top-notch team of scholars. Having had the chance to interact with my pears and some of the great researchers that are part of this programme, I certainly have high hopes for the future.
Now that I have taken you through a bit of a personal journey, I am wondering, how about you? Do you think any of this makes any sense? Or do you think this topic is a total waste of time? What would you suggest me to look into? And if you had a wish list of things you would love to know about the human side of innovation and digital transformation, what would be in it?
I look forward to the interactions we will have as I move forward! And I hope you will find in this blog an enriching and safe space to exchange thoughts and ideas on helping humans innovate and transform their organisations.
 Brené Brown is an American research professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host. Brown is known in particular for her research on shame, vulnerability, and leadership.