Digital Transformation: Could we put a Man on the Moon – Today?

From The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA

Lessons learned from this historical event, and our ability to succeed at Digital Transformation.

Michele and I in front of the statute of Ben Franklin as we look forward to the IMAX movie and compare how this relates to Digital Transformation
Saturday, July 20, 2019, at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA

Boy was it hot in this part of the country over this past weekend. If you live in the Eastern or Central part of the US we are experiencing high temperatures (95 deg F or 35 Celsius). This past Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon. Besides what a better way to stay cool then to watch the IMAX film of the Apollo 11 mission at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

So what does this have to do with Digital Transformation?

I remember this event, yet many don’t know the details behind how this became a reality for our country. Also, I read this Forbes article Think Going To The Moon Was Tough 50 Years Ago, Try Digitally Transforming A Corporation Because 72% Of Us Are Failing At It This article got me thinking about Digital Transformation. In the context of landing a man on the moon.

When I compare the technology and tools we have today versus what was done fifty years ago. This should be easy for many businesses to achieve digital transformation. As the Forbes article points out many of our organizations are failing at this. We have a difficult time reconciling what to do or how to get there.

There are similarities to the Apollo 11 mission with today’s executive challenge around digital transformation. Based on my visit to the Franklin Institute and spending time in the details of just how we got to the moon. Most importantly I will compare the challenge and solutions in today’s context of digital transformation, and suggest possible next steps.

Leadership and Vision for Digital Transformation

Image of Lens from Stock Snap to help focus on Digital Transformation
Image: Stock Snap

The way leaders think is crucial. In the 1950s our country was politically challenged by Russia from a technology perspective. Therefore I see this no different in today’s business world. Where your competitors and the marketplace are global. President Kennedy had the vision to see that the space program would help put our country on firmer footing because he saw the opportunity as well as the challenge.

Where do you see your business going in the next few years? Is your goal to improve your business or create new market opportunities, etc? President Kennedy was a leader in the sense he was not steeped in the technology yet saw that the are of space exploration, as a good thing for our country. As a leader what do you see?

In this video, you see President Kennedy lay out the rationale for the space program. First, he lays out who is responsible. Secondly, why this has such importance to the country. He identifies the competition (the Russians) and the consequences for failure. Thirdly, his vision is lofty and without specific details, as to how this will happen. He clearly layout the ‘proposed’ solution. There are lessons for leaders willing to share the vision as to why change is needed.
May 25, 1961 – President John F. Kennedy’s Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs

Getting the whole organization behind Digital Transformation

Were you aware that the space program and the effort to build the rockets? Amazing to think – what if someone makes a mistake. A few months after President Kennedy’s speech to Congress he addresses the country to motivate and inform the public on this goal of putting a man on the moon.

President Kennedy’s Speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962. He does a wonderful job of instructing the public on the rapidly changing technology. Above all why this is so important not just for him personally, and to his administration. He boils down the current technology with simple examples that are easily digested. While recognizing the task will be hard and full of risk. As well as the cost for this effort.

As a result, your team needs a goal to reach for. Why digital transformation will ensure that your business will be relevant now and in the future. Certainly pulling this off requires the support of your company as well as the trust of your key technology leaders. Similarly without this vision and effort. we would have never landed a man on the moon.

What about technology?

Incredibly the team to accomplish this was 400,00 people (not kidding – a big team). Certainly a large team but when you see the tools they had to work with back in the 50s and 60s an amazing accomplishment. Likewise, we have more computing power in our mobile phones capable of figuring out the design and related calculations. Back then everything was analog.

Therefore the ability to manage the team becomes paramount. Breaking down each task into smaller manageable parts of the project.

What are some next steps?

Consequently, I would like to think we could put a man on the moon with the tools we have today. In re-reading the Forbes article consider the following possible next steps as you look to manage your digital transformation effort.

  1. This is a technology-driven economy. Where one person with a smartphone and Internet access can start-up a new business. Gone are the days when you could invest and hire new people rather it is more about your vision for your company or organization.
  2. Supply and demand, innovation and cost have dramatically changed. Part of your vision is to keep this in mind. Explain how to you need to reach the next steps and allow your team to solve the problem. Do you have someone to lead this effort? If no, then get a Chief Digital Officer or assign this project to your best ‘linchpin’ in your business.
  3. Data matters today more than ever today. So many companies I speak to have the problem of access to your data. Do a ‘proof-of-concept’ and launch an initiative to gather up all your data into one place. Then give your organization tools to extract meaningful information.

Above all begin to avoid being one of those companies that are failing at digital transformation. Certainly, you run the risk of going out of business. If I can help you please do reach out to me. Now let’s go land a man on the moon.

Thank you,