Digital Transformations — The Making of the Butterfly!

Bharath Kumar Balasubramanian
6 min readOct 18, 2019


Butterflies are a result of a biological process called Metamorphosis. The origin of this word is via Latin from Greek metamorphōsis, from metamorphoun ‘transform, change shape’ (Morphe = form, shape)

The making of a butterfly. Miriam Fischer —

From Egg to Larva (caterpillar) to Pupa to a Butterfly — The transition is quite dramatic. At every stage, the form is different, the eating habits are different, the shapes are different, the exposure to the elements is different and the time spent is different. Yet, the final result still inherits the best of the features from the preceding stages to develop into a beautiful Butterfly.

Digital Transformation is for Organisations what Metamorphosis is for the Butterfly

Organisations have to be ready to let go of their existing state, just build on it to become the brilliantly coloured, talented best form of themselves. Culture, Processes, Habits, Outlook, Operating Rules, Skill Sets, Technology Clusters, Sales and Marketing practices, Decision Making — all this and many more underlying facets of the organisations would need to undergo a radical change to truly achieve Transformation.

Just creating a new website or a mobile app does not cut it to be called Digital Transformation — that would be just like a caterpillar strapping a wing on and calling itself a butterfly!

It is not a Digital ‘Upgrade’ — It is a Transformation.

The change is much deeper, much expansive and much more transformational from the core. It is the making of a new you!

Last year, nearly $1.3 Trillion was spent on Digital Transformation initiatives. 70% of them are touted to have failed — That is nearly $900 Billion that did not serve the purpose of investment.

With so much at stake, Organisations are still taking up Digital Transformation initiatives in droves. How many turn out to be focussed, well-directed at solving the core issues, ready and persistent enough to realise the benefits? For now, it seems to be just driven by the need to transform, even if you are unsure of how you would turn out in the mirror!

What makes Transformations…….Interesting?

The business environment is changing rapidly by the day. Companies that topped the charts in their respective sectors are now just a memory. Business Models and services that used to delight shareholders are now forgotten, Products that used to grace homes and were ‘assets’ are now contributing to eWaste.

Shifting consumer preferences, Regulatory changes, marketplace dynamics, emergence of smaller but skilled players playing for niche competencies and changing workplaces and populations provide an open challenge for the companies of today and tomorrow to take up. There are many who will start on this quest, many will fall by the way side and a few will complete and just a minority will actually get into a sustainable mode.

So, what does it really take to get ready for Digital Transformations and to ensure becoming a Butterfly at the end?

Organisations need to gear up on all fronts — Technology, Processes and most importantly people and culture to be able to run this race. It is like how the caterpillar prepares itself for the long transformation phase as a pupa and enters the stage strong and prepared to wait out and make the amazing amount of change happen.

Is it in response to a threat? Is it to prevent obsolescence? It is to go from Good to Great? Is it for new channels or products or services? Is it to just follow something as a fashion fad?

Is the WHY clear?

This is the North Star that is going to keep you focussed — both on ideal sailing days as well as on frigid nights when you can’t see anything around except darkness.

Commitment does not start and end in the boardroom meetings. It lies in management by walking around, motivating people everyday, selling them the vision of tomorrow while ensuring they believe they are part of something much bigger, than themselves and the organization itself. It is in the ownership that has to be taken at the highest levels while effectively delegating responsibilities until the last rung in the ladder.

One cannot galvanise an entire organisation into performing if the end goal isn’t clear, believed in and adopted.

Effecting a Digital transformation that is going to affect the future of the organisation isn’t the handiwork of a team or a department. Setting up Omni-channel, for instance, is going to necessitate changes right across the inventory management to supply chain to finances, not to mention Sales, Marketing and other support functions.

It is the coming together of the orchestra to create a symphony that is going to fascinate!

There is no real guide for ensuing transformation success. If that was the case, then we would be seeing the amount $900 Billion amount to no more than a few thousand dollars. Each transformation is unique. Every single transformation that I have handled or been a part of was different. There are of course a few common threads that run across, but the real game changers are in the unique situations or predicaments that the organisations tend to find themselves in. A learning mindset, moving on from mistakes and still willing to try out new things constantly will enable the transformation process. A fixed mindset and ‘That’s the way we always do it’ attitude will merely enfeeble the attempt.

Culture is the secret sauce behind successful Transformations!

Ownership at the levels of what the Armed forces such as our Navy, Air Force or Army operate at. Responsibilities are meant to be taken and roles are meant to be fulfilled to the last of the expectations. Going beyond expectations — that’s even better! The strain of a Digital Transformation initiative, no matter how well planned, is going to take its toll on the teams and the leaders. And that is completely natural. The learning is going to be immense as I had with my team while handling a transformation with 10+ organisations and hundreds of stakeholders!

Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.

From the Book: Extreme Ownership (Jocko Willink and Leif Babin)

Transformation is about technology right? Sorry to prick your bubble, but any transformation does not really have Technology as the lead actor in it. Technology enters the picture only after the Business Strategy is firmly in place along with the accompanying mindset. Technology alone is no panacea and there isn’t a ‘One-size-fit-all’ solution that would work wonders if implemented. We have been on useless paths before based on ‘advice’ from product consultants who have oversold underperforming technology

“I think that’s the big difference. I think digital transformation within a business is not about putting in technology that does digital, it’s more about the way that you work with those tools and work across teams”

-Phil Lewis, director of digital experience at retailer Boden

Customer experience that dictates the true need, Experience of veteransin the organisation who have been part of the growth story and understand the systems and processes, Experience of sound Project and Deliverymanagers who deliver to plan. Experience of designers and marketeerswho understand what appeals and what doesn’t — they all deserve a seat to voice their views and to enable course correction at every point.

Being obsessed about customers — that’s what Digital Transformation tries to achieve

Success in transformations is about getting to the fundamentals. It is about figuring out the Why and the How before the What. It is about readying yourself through the metamorphosis cycle and getting into a position of change, for the better.

Becoming a butterfly isn’t the easiest of transitions, but it certainly is the best state to achieve.

Like evolution, Digital Transformation does not have a definite end. It will continue to evolve, and ensure that we evolve as well to keep up!

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Bharath Kumar Balasubramanian

I transform organisations. I collect life experiences. I share practical wisdom. Happy to Help — Just reach out!