von Michael v. Kutzschenbach

We are living in truly exciting times. We have the capital, knowledge, and technology to shape a future where the planet thrives, where human creativity and collaboration can flourish, and where society is stable and prosperous. One of the drivers of this development is technology. It has always been an enabler of societal change and it will also play a pivotal role in our transition to a stable and sustainable future.

Today, digital technologies are the strongest driver of progress in the business world. Technological concepts such as big data, real-time computing, social media, and cloud computing have radically changed the nature of work. They will continue to do so for the foreseeable future and beyond. Thus, digital technologies have tremendous potential to be the engine of increasing individual, organizational, and societal prosperity (Porter and Heppelmann, 2014).

However, digital technologies are not the whole story. Fulfilling technology’s potential will require managers to re-design the way their organizations think and act. Leaders will need to re-define what their organizations do and how they do it. Consequently, businesses need to become learning organizations. This aspiration will only be achieved through transformative learning. In transformative learning, there are no problems to be solved independently. Each challenge is connected to one another and to how we think and see the world around us. Such learning is not ultimately about best practices, accelerators, and standardized techniques. It is about thinking differently; thinking in such a way that new beliefs about a sustainable future are feasible. Thus, in digital times with digital technologies, digital transformation is a key managerial imperative for today’s organizations and people.

But, are the established organizations and their managers ready to think differently and engage in the digital transformation? It is not clear that they are because the theory of success taught in schools and management training courses today are still grounded within the “old” paradigms.

Thus, it appears that many managers have not yet adapted their theories of success. As managers, we always have a certain perspective on things, a certain opinion of how the world works, a certain ideal or vision. One of the main barriers to transformational learning is that our mental models, our theories of success, have an immune system that protects them against significant change. Even when we claim that we want to learn, what we normally mean is that we want to acquire new tools or techniques. However, when we see that in order to learn we must be willing to abandon our old certainties and to put our old theories of success on hold, the enormity of the challenge can be too much. Thus, most of the time we prefer to continue with the familiar routines, with predictable outcomes, rather than accepting the unknown consequences of adopting new perspectives.

Regardless of industry or geography, it is inevitable that businesses will become much more digitized in the years to come. So, it is imperative to create alternative ways of working and learning together. We need to invent new ways how organizations can change their business model with the help of digital technology in order to operate in a flourishing world.