This post is the first of our two-part series on digital transformation and evolution.

“I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”

“But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything!” howled Loonquawl.

“Yes,” said Deep Thought with the air of one who suffers fools gladly, “but what actually is it?”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The point that Douglas Adams makes in his seminal masterpiece is that when one does not really know the question, then the answer will not make any sense. When it comes to Digital Transformation, I’m with Douglas Adams. I see the term used a lot by publishers, indeed by all organizations I work with regularly. What’s more, I see money being earmarked toward Digital Transformation, and extensive programs of work put together to “achieve digital transformation outcomes”, or some such ambition. Far too often, the results they achieve after all of the work and money poured in is the business equivalent of “42.”

Typically, if anyone attempts to define what ‘digital transformation’ means – what is the question we’re asking, if you like – I get the equivalent of the philosopher depicted by Adams above. The truth is that while we use this term widely, there is no single definition of this term that is universal.

And if we do talk about Transformation at all, then it probably only makes sense within a particular organization. Or, more likely, a subset of the organization who have created a vision of a future state to aspire to.Don't Panic

What is the ultimate question?


This past year, I have contemplated and reevaluated what we actually mean by “digital transformation” And I have come up with a few conclusions. We talk about transformation in terms like:

· the goal

· the vision

· the future

· the endgame

Because of this, I have concluded that we have been using the term ‘transformation’ wrongly. We have let it become the goal, the vision, the endgame. Transformation is a means to an end rather than an end unto itself. We can only know we are transformed when we have achieved it; we can only know what transformation means (for us) with hindsight. But to make it the goal is to make it the elusive pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. It’s like the question of Life the Universe and Everything, no one can actually state what it is.

These days I have come to think:

Rather than talking about Digital Transformation, let’s talk about Digital Evolution.

It’s about the journey, not the destination. I recently spoke with a group of publishers at an event co-hosted by Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) and BookMachine and posited this alternative view. It’s one that in my experience seems to be a better fit for what really happens.

Why “evolution”?


Because evolution is about:

· continuing and continued success

· adaptability

· favoring strengths

· seeking to thrive

· weeding out weaknesses

· change

Evolution is about the journey itself, not the end (if ever there is an end). It’s about having a consistent approach and mindset that favors strengths and advantages. It’s not about a desired and fixed end state – that would lead stagnation in my opinion. It’s about accepting that we continually need to adapt, to learn, to grow and to change.

In this view of our world we maintain a state of readiness and we are prepared for cataclysmic events. What constitutes a cataclysmic event will be organization-specific: it could a merger of two large publishers changing the dynamic in the marketplace. It could be a global pandemic changing the way we have to deliver content; the way people consume content – shifting what ‘normal’ means. But our continued state of readiness means we are more able to respond positively to these evolutionary events.

Digital readiness, then, is about our ability to adapt, to evolve, to weather extraordinary challenges by favoring what will ensure our continued survival and growth. It’s a positive message that says: when things happen, we can adapt, to embrace what it means and to thrive. I return to Douglas Adams to share his sentiment which was written in another work of his, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. He writes, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”


Author: Carl Robinson

Carl Robinson has been in publishing since 1995 and has worked for Pearson Education, Macmillan Education and Oxford University Press. At CCC, Carl’s focus is upon helping clients look at business vision, goals and strategies around their content and tooling to enable flexibility and readiness to meet the ever-changing demands of the digital market.
Don't Miss a Post

Subscribe to the award-winning
Velocity of Content blog