Digital Transformation is a Journey, Not a Destination


How the amazing physical feats performed by a 60-something woman half a century ago can show us about the complex journey of digital transformation.

The internet is awash with journeys. Everyone has a story. Everyone is on a journey. Yet that doesn’t make the notion of a journey any less powerful. For leaders who are struggling to bring their company into the 21st century, digital transformation is among the top goals. That can mean moving to the cloud, updating or replacing legacy software, changing processes and reorganizing your business structure — none of which even by itself is a small goal.

That’s why we talk about digital transformation as a journey. But it goes deeper than that. Lots of knowledgeable and trustworthy influencers out there say it’s wrong to characterize digitization as a goal in the first place.

To illustrate why these experts take this stance, take the case of Emma Gatewood.

What Grandma Gatewood Can Teach us About Digital Transformation

In 1955, a quiet, unassuming 67-year old grandmother of 23 became the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) all by herself. Wearing only ordinary sneakers and carrying only a blanket and a plastic shower curtain, she hiked the entire 2050-mile stretch without a compass or a map.

Quite an accomplishment. Believe it or not, however, completion of the AT was not where she found her true rewards.

The Rewards are Found in the Process Itself

You see along the way on the trail, Grandma Gatewood was able to find her true identity. She drew enormous strength from the miles she walked and incredible peace from the strangers who housed and fed her along the way. Those rewards stuck with her long after she reached her destination, even in her off-trail life afterward.

Completion of the hike was never her goal — in fact, she went on to hike the entire trail two more times. For her, hiking wasn’t about bagging summits. It was all about the rewards she experienced during the journey itself. Once she reached the end of the trail, it was time to go home and think about doing it all over again.

As it turns out, digital transformation is just like hiking the AT.

Just a Grandma Gatewood discovered the joy of the process and made her life better, companies who embark upon a journey of digitization learn to see the value in the process rather than the ultimate goal.

Self-Examination is Good for Business

The things that companies do to prepare for a successful digital transformation include:

– Digital Assessment. What are your reasons for transformation? Will your business model need to change? What are your customers’ expectations? What are your employee pain points?

– Examine the Customer Journey. To become customer-centric, you’ll need to know about your customer journey. Identify the different stages along that journey, what their main motivators are at each stage, how you serve them, and how doing business with you makes them feel.

– Examine your Vision. How well aligned is your current company with the customer journey you just mapped out? What will you need to do in order to add value and identify your priorities?

– Assess Your Digital State of Affairs. How’s your legacy software holding up? How much cloud adoption have you done? How secure are your enterprise systems? What technology gaps do you have?

– Get Comfy With Data and its Requirements. From acquiring to storing to analysis, how you deal with data is a big part of digital transformation.

Specifically, we’re talking about taking a deep look at company culture if you’re going to be successful at digital transformation. As you are hopefully aware, one of the driving forces of digital transformation is becoming more customer-centric. That’s no easy task, as it requires deep soul-searching that goes all the way back to the company mission and the vision that leadership is promoting.

There’s Power in the Process

Grandma Gatewood knew this half a century ago. She knew that her real victory wasn’t reaching the end of the trail: it was the self-empowerment she experienced on the trail itself. The friends she made along the way, the confidence she gained with every step, and the new ways she learned to interact with her environment…all changed her life in ways that persisted long after she stopped hiking.

As you have seen, that’s sort of akin to what occurs in a business culture when a company is undergoing a digital transformation. In order to make the kinds of radical changes required for a successful transformation, like the ones described earlier, companies need to do a lot of homework. It’s work that benefits them in countless ways beyond the goal of digitizing their culture. Start small, enjoy the journey, and consider the process to have equal importance to the destination itself. Grandma Gatewood would approve 100%!!

Author: Catherine Tims is the editor at NoStop Blog Management. After receiving her Master’s degree in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Arizona, she taught writing to graduate students at the University of Illinois/Champaign-Urbana. She has her own writing business, Ivy League Content, and freelances full time for business clients who need highly-researched articles.