The 'Experimental Surgeon'

August 31, 2018

 

I was scrolling through Linkedin the other day, as you do, and came across a great comment by an ex colleague of mine, William Harris of Symphony Ventures, putting forward his view on why he thinks that the Digital Transformation/Business Consultancy Industry can, and should, be 'experimental'. He was responding to a post where the author had proposed that, among other things, the idea that Business Consultancies should or even could, go into companies offering a bespoke, or even 'experimental' service is crazy.

 

After all - "Would you trust a surgeon who wants to do a "unique", creative, never before tested method on your child or loved one?"

 

(It's worth noting that this was not the central theme of the post, but was one of the messages which came through...)

 

The original post sparked a large debate around whether Digital Transformation can or should be delivered with  a 'cookie cutter' approach etc. but it was William's comment which I thought was most thought provoking as it started to go down a bold route of saying that Digital Transformation not only can be experimental - but he almost goes so far (and I will go so far) as to say it should be...

 

I believe that the Digital Transformation Industry should be underpinned by innovation. Technology moves so quickly that those who aim to help clients by utilizing technology need to be in a constant state of flux and learning, in order to keep up to date and competent with the latest technology to help their clients.

 

Does this mean that we need to throw caution to the wind, sell experiments to our customers and hope that our experiments work out? No! of course not, but that's such a naive way of thinking about the nature of 'experimentation'!

 

Let's all cast our minds back to the experiments we did in school. did we just chuck ingredients together, hope for the best, and see what comes out the other end? No! Experiments are driven by research, by formulating educated theories about how things will progress, and performed in controlled environments where risks are mitigated against and variables controlled...

 

So going back to our experimental surgeon example - no, you may not let a surgeon perform a surgery where he just said it's 'unique, creative and never before tested'. But what if he said all these things and then also said that they had mitigated against the foreseen risks and had controlled every variable they can to ensure that, in the event of the 'experiment' not going to plan, no harm would come to the patient. Then bring in the additional factor that you aren't undertaking this for no reason, there is probably a large risk associated with not doing the surgery - like risk of death if your ailment is that severe...

 

In that example you may well now think, and many do (many experimental surgeries are performed each year - Wil highlighted his own experience with this too), that that is a risk, or experiment, worth taking.

 

I guess it depends on what you define as 'experimental', and a good way to look at this is by asking what the difference is between 'experimental' and 'disruptive' - experimental is seen as 'risky' and 'bad' whereas being 'disruptive' is often seen as a good thing and certainly a driver for innovation. Is it just that the word disruptive sits better with us professionals as it framed in a more risk averse way, or in a way where the risk is inherently expected and bought into by the client? Are experimentation and disruption just two sides of the same coin?

 

Ultimately what a Business Consultancy should be offering is the ability for companies to try new things while mitigating against the risk of failure and it's associated problems by giving them resource and capability which is designed to deliver new, potentially experimental, projects with the greatest chance of success. Consultancies have the experience to know what structure and framework you need to put around transformation activities, whether old or new, to enable SAFE experimentation.This is becoming more and more relevant as we see technology moving faster and faster to deliver business solutions at scale.

 

Finally a thought to leave you with - What if Business Consultancies never experimented on client sites...where would our industry be?

 

 

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