In 1995, cartoonist Garry Trudeau coined the term “egg freckles” as a way of poking fun at the performance issues facing the Apple Newton, the now infamous personal digital assistant which was at that time the technology company’s flagship product.
Whether this was a deliberate attack on Apple is debatable, Trudeau later insisted it was a satire on ‘boys and their toys’. But the damage was done. The Newton was already struggling to take off and, even if it was inadvertent, the week-long cartoon series sealed its fate. Steve Jobs returned to Apple and stopped production – coining a number of now famous phases in the process:
“God gave us ten styluses, let’s not invent another.” – Steve Jobs on the Apple Newton
Fail but push forward
So, did the failure of the Apple Newton destroy the company? Clearly not. Looking back, it was a technology ahead of its time. Handheld personal technology existed but the digital tools to make it a streamlined user experience did not. Twelve years later the iPhone was launched with its intuitive touch-screen and the rest is history.
Apple is an example of a company which failed but didn’t give up. It moved on, refined its approach, improved its R&D and eventually launched the product its customers deserved. In short, Apple failed forward. My rallying cry as we move into a truly digitally-led age and business of all sectors and sizes begin the path to digital transformation: do the same.
No business will undergo digital transformation without making any mistakes. Even if an organisation has the best possible strategy in place, there will be stumbling blocks on the road to success. In the grand scheme of ICT, digitalisation is a relatively new concept and the technologies themselves innovative. It is only natural that it will experience teething problems as it becomes commonplace across a business. When you consider our recent study showed 76% of businesses want to move faster towards digital, but only 20% strongly agreed they have a clear digital strategy and 36% say their business shares a common view of digital priorities, you can see the problem.
Pressure to digitalise faster + lack of clear strategy + competing priorities = hurdles ahead
For example imagine a financial services organisation seeking to digitalise its front and back-end – perhaps it is launching a mobile app for customers and then also moving to a cloud model for internal staff-used systems. These kinds of multifaceted digital projects will require the input, assistance, time and collaboration of the following: the board of director, marketing, sales, customer service, IT, finance, HR, payroll and PR. With so many different teams working together, it’s extremely unlikely they’ll get everything right first time.
That is by no means an exhaustive list. My point is that there are always going to be problems but the key is to try following three simple rules:
- Plan for any issues as much as a business can
- Communicate and work as a team
- And then to be agile enough to adapt when things go wrong
If a business has planned effectively, they will spot many potential crunch points in the digitalisation process and will be able to work around them as much as possible. This should mean that a failure of one part of the process won’t hugely impact the company financially.
From here, it will be the responsibility of the board and the team leading on that specific digital project to reconvene, rethink and revise the plan – or, to fail forward, fast. The ability to switch strategy or perhaps just change part of it can define a business’ digital success.
No-one remembers Apple for the Newton.
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