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Foreword from Dr. Peter Hirst,
Senior Associate Dean, MIT Sloan Executive Education

Digital Transformation is everywhere.  Yet business and organizational transformation are not new phenomena. They have occurred throughout human history, but digital transformation arguably is different in several important ways.

Historically, transformation can be seen as a period of disruption leading from one relatively stable condition to another relatively stable condition. This has been true even when the cause or enabler of that change has been a significant new technological development, for example the mechanization of work in agriculture, manufacturing and transportation; or the generation and distribution of electricity as a source of light and energy; or the invention of the printing press; or the telephone.

The benefits for people, businesses and society from these transformations can be seen as “step-functions” between periods of relative stability.  If you were late to the game, you could potentially catch up by climbing up that same step, albeit a bit later (or, significantly, a lot later) than more innovative “early adopters.” Indeed, there might often have been advantages to waiting – while others may be making mistakes, incurring higher expenses while costs of new technologies were still higher, and having a harder time motivating and managing people to change.

 

In contrast, in the era of digital transformation, there are believed to be advantages to moving first, moving fastest, and moving furthest. But you don’t need to be the first, fastest or furthest mover to discover that digital transformation is a different kind of transformation in another important way.

One way to understand this is to note that scientific and technological advances build on each other and themselves, so the step-function changes all pile up on top of each other, magnifying both the pace of change and the impacts of those changes. The step-functions, which previously separated time into distinct “epochs”, have merged into a continuous curve, whose gradient is ever increasing.

 

Consider the famous “Moore’s Law”, that estimated (historically) that the processing power of computer chips doubled every 18 months and hypothesized that the trend would continue. (It has.) The math can be deceiving:  2,4,8,16,32 all seem like similar numbers, but continue the trend and the numbers get very large rather quickly!

Fall behind a step-function, and you only need to take more or less the same step later to (more or less) catch up. But fall behind a continuously accelerating curve and the longer you wait the further you fall behind, and the harder it is to catch up, if at all. This is what is happening with digital transformation.

Another very important consequence of this, and which differentiates digital transformation from previous business and organizational transformations, is that digital transformation is not simply a journey (however turbulent) between two stable states. It is instead a leap from a stable ground (albeit ground which may be shifting and crumbling around you!) into a state of continuous, forever change.

 

Almost everything we knew about helping humans and organizations to plan and implement a major change (and let’s face it most of us were never very good at that either) relied on strategies for getting us between islands of stability. We could reassure ourselves and others with the message that while change can be hard, we will get through it and then the change will be over (for a while at least.) Not so with digital transformation. We now face the challenge of preparing and supporting our people and our organizations to not only survive but to actually thrive on change. Forever.

How can we meet this challenge? One thing we can be certain of is that to succeed in this environment we must keep learning, exploring, experimenting and connecting with each other and with the ideas and technologies that are changing our world.

 

Hamilton Mann demonstrated these attributes (and skills) on his own learning journey through digital business transformation, including taking multiple executive education courses at the MIT Sloan School and engaging in a variety of ways with the extended MIT innovation ecosystem, receiving along the way an Advanced Certificate for Executives (“ACE”) in Management, Innovation and Technology.

 

Consistent with the aforementioned themes, Hamilton has not stopped, but continues to imagine and build, and share his passion for and experience of the power and practice of digital transformation. The 'Hamilton Mann Conversation', conceived and created by Hamilton is a fascinating, imaginative and above all practical experiment in bringing together and connecting thought leadership and thought leaders around the topic of digital transformation, which seeks to leverage the very same network effects that are driving digital transformation itself.

 

Dr Peter Hirst MBE
Senior Associate Dean, MIT Sloan Executive Education
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
February 2022

About Dr. Peter Hirst,

Peter Hirst is the Senior Associate Dean of MIT Sloan Executive Education. He leads a team of professionals who partner with clients and MIT faculty to design, develop, and deliver innovative and impactful executive education programs for individuals and companies. He has over twenty years of experience in international strategy, technology consulting, and organizational leadership and development.

His past roles have included: CEO of the commercialization, consulting, and executive education business of the London School of Economics; Senior Science and Technology Policy Officer and Westminster Fellow in the UK’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, where he advised MPs and Peers of all parties on policy issues in the physical sciences, defense, IT, and entrepreneurship.

 

Peter has served as director and board adviser to businesses and non-profit organizations on three continents. He served as an elected board member (2014-2020) and chair (2018-2019) of Unicon, the international industry association for university-based executive education; is a board director and current co-chair of FRED Leadership, a collaboration between educators and business leaders to elevate the field of ethical leadership; is a founding director of the Internet of Things Talent Consortium; and is a director and former president of the British American Business Council of New England.

In his philanthropic endeavors, Peter is a member of the advisory board of Self Help Africa, an international charity that enables economic development in Africa by supporting robust farm-to-fork supply chains to create sustainable business ecosystems in place of unreliable subsistence farming; and serves as a trustee and president of the American Foundation of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews.

Peter earned a First Class Degree with Joint Honors in physics and electronics (1989) followed by a PhD in physics (1992) from the University of St. Andrews. In 2012, he was named a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) by the HRM Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his service to British and American business and academia interests.

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Dr Peter Hirst MBE   ©MIT, 2022

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