What's Going On?

Digital transformation was supposed to harness the power of technology and data to show us what was previously unseeable, and help us make better decisions going forward — but is it?

First, go ahead and cue up the song, if you’re of the age where just reading this post’s title conjurs up the chorus of the 80s one-hit wonder by Four Non-Blondes. Now that you’re jamming — let’s talk about the great big hill we are still trying to find our way to the top of.

Twenty-five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination

The “destination” I want to talk about is behavior change. And the “hill” we digital trailblazers all struggle with? Data-driven insights to empower that change.

We’ve been plugged in now for a long time, and much of our work and lives are intertwined in this digital mountain of data — yet with all this potential to see new horizons, what are we really getting? We know how many steps we take each day if we wear a smart watch. We know how many browser visits our web-pages get if we use an analytics tool. We know how many, how often, by whom, to whom, when, where, etc. And then what? What is all of this data actually showing us? If our goal is to get to a destination that shows us things which can change our behavior, improve our outcomes, have meaningful impacts on how we work and live our lives — are we connecting the right dots to create that successful route?

So many of our “digital transformation” tools just log singular data points and spit back to us what we already know, nothing more than a fancy step counter. I had 13000 steps yesterday, which was 300 more steps than I had on Tuesday — but so what? What is the effect of the steps? Just SEEING the data isn’t enough — because it doesn’t really offer a new set of behaviors that are inspired by a new belief system.

If I could look back and see all my steps from the past year, along with my blood pressure readings, my weight, my dietary intake details, and pictures of what I looked like — I would see a picture that is about cause / effect. Then imagine I could see thousands of others’ journeys (every action and outcome from every step) — THAT would give me a whole new reason to change the game, because I’d have a much richer set of data, and I’d likely see things I wasn’t aware of, or didn’t believe in because I hadn’t experienced it first hand. Now I have the ingredients for behavior change.

Do we understand which step, by whom, wearing what shoe, in what weather, on what day, in what temperature — got someone further up the hill?

It is the journey that must be studied and analyzed, not the destination. If we aren’t studying the cause / effect moments of each journey and passage of time, then how can we re-imagine the future routes we might map out for ourselves?

“Our behaviors reflect what we believe. If we want to change our behavior, we have to change our beliefs.”
Patty Houser

So what is it exactly that we believe and what are those beliefs based on? We have all this data about what we do — which should give us a pretty clear picture of our beliefs — because we do what we believe. But if the data is just parroting back to us what we already know — how can this ever become transformational?

We change our beliefs when we gain insights about the effects of our actions. If we don’t know what the effect is, or the outcome, then no amount of data will present anything different to believe in. But if we can start to connect the “action / outcome” dots in smarter ways (“she did this, and then this happened”) then we can start to see how our path up the mountain needs to change, because our beliefs will be changed.

Herein lies the power (and promise) of big data. When we exist in a microsystem and only have our own “action/outcomes” to base our beliefs on — we will likely not waver. However, if we can see a larger picture of how everyone’s “action/outcomes” are looking — we can see where we might have blinders on, and we can expand our knowledge, insights — and beliefs. Then we can change our behaviors accordingly.

Looking at disconnected data around singular patterns with no correlation to outcomes or effects serves little purpose, except to say “look — here’s some data!” Knowing all the “what, when, who, where, why” data points doesn’t make for a story unless you also know what happens as the result of these factors.

A great story is one that takes you on an adventure, shows you things about the characters, the world (and yourself) that you didn’t know before, and every data point in the story matters. It all plays a role. But it doesn’t just tell you what you already know, it’s not a recording of events. It takes all the ingredients of what you think you know — and uses them to make something previously unknown knowable. We benefit from seeing this cause / effect creation happening in the story (vs. experimenting in our own lives) and we can learn and change via the story mechanism.

So — back to the data — and to this notion of digital transformation enabling us to get up the hill to a new destination. We can’t, and won’t, scale any big hills or find any new destinations if we don’t start asking more of our data, and of the stories we want to be told by it. We need dynamic and connected data that can be “always-on” but that can also be a time traveler. We need to look into the past, as well as the future, and also have a sense of our present storyline, overlaying with everyone else’s storylines.

Seeing the big picture cause / effect of the right datasets can deliver on the promise of digital transformation — but are you looking at the right things, and asking the right questions? I’d propose that you start there — before you expect to really know what’s going on.

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