I used to work with an agency guy who kicked-off most of his pitch presentations with the statement “Only three percent of battles were ever won with a head-on attack”. It was years before I realised that, like a lot of advertising people, he’d invented this statistic, but it worked in encouraging potential clients to consider a less-obvious strategy.

BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning featured military historian Sir Anthony Beevor and General Sir Mike Jackson in a promo for their debate tonight in Hungerford on the subject of WWII’s Operation Market Garden. The premise of the debate, highlighted in the famous movie A Bridge Too Far, is that the exercise could never have succeeded. During the conversation Mike Jackson made a similar, but I suspect, far more grounded statement that “no battle plan survives first encounter with the enemy”.

The same applies to digital transformation and indeed the day-to-day running of any organisation in the digital economy. It’s what “agile methodology” is all about and is the inspiration for Ronald Heifetz’s “adaptive management” principle. Digital transformation is a shift from a state of order to one of constant change, but, sadly, we don’t train our managers to work this way and that’s why they both resist change and, as the stats tell us, are failing to get to grips with the issues of business in the digital economy.

The military is often viewed by trendy executives as rigid and old-fashioned, but maybe today’s managers could learn something from military leaders? One thing is for sure – I now have an interesting opening for some of my presentations!

Phil Darby
August 9, 2018

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