Fast Times; How digital winners set direction, learn and adapt is a business book with a difference. The authors Arun Arora, Peter Dahlstrom, Klemens Hjartar and Florian Wunderlich have condensed knowledge and insights from their work at Mckinsey & Company to create a book that is one of the must reads of the year.
Not since I read This is Service Design Doing have a books authors considered the design of their book so critical to its success. The book is designed to sit on a coffee table and can be read either in a single sitting or in multiple snippets. It is therefore larger than the average at 26 cm squared. This means it would look good in a reception and attract interest from visitors wanting to peruse something.
The authors are also clear in their forward that this is not a blue print for a digital transformation. There are insights that are familiar to the writings of such authors as Geoffrey Moore, Eric Ries and Daniel Pink. What they have done is crafted a book that makes any business leader consider why digital transformation is important. Additionally it includes the questions they need to ask and some of the actions they might consider making on that journey.
You want to digitally transform
The book is divided into three main sections which contain 18 chapters in total. Each chapter is only a few pages long and takes only a few minutes to read. Importantly every chapter includes a food for thought section. This enables a business leader to reflect on the content they have just read.
The first section is dedicated to strategy. The content reflects the old saying of “more haste, less speed”. The section also advocates planning but not at the expense of delay. It offers a leader with some pertinent questions to answer about their own organisation. Are they ripe for disruption? If they are then they need to consider how and where business value will come from in the future. This section alone is worth reading just for its tips on strategic thinking. It does not deliver how leaders should strategize though, merely providing insights from the authors. Throughout the book there are also supporting comments from business leaders from across the world.
How to transform
The second section studies capabilities. It looks at what skill sets are required, where to find them and how to keep and improve them. This aligns with much of the modern thinking on talent. It is also relevant not just to those companies considering digital transformation but to the wider job market as well. The book also highlights the importance of cybersecurity. So often in the past left to after the fact companies now need to adopt a secure by design approach. Beside talent there are also sections on culture, technology and IT.
The final section on adoption and scaling bears some similarities to Geoffrey Moores views in Dealing with Darwin. Transformation is not a short sprint but is often a marathon. Leaders need to prepare both themselves and their workforce for that. Critical to success is leadership and communication, which the book touches on.
This was a relatively easy read but a book that continually left one pausing and thinking, a lot. As the authors say this is not a comprehensive blueprint on how to digitally transform but it does pose many of the key question that companies need to consider. It also offers insights from both the authors and industry leaders that have gone through transformation. One can argue that with the COVID-19 pandemic reaching its height that many companies will put this down the agenda. However, there is another argument to say that this has never been a better time to reset. Change is already being forced upon many companies. The CEO that can guide that change to a better future for their organisation could benefit from reading some or all of this book.
If there is one criticism of the book is that the authors focus on questions and insights in their summary. Throughout the book there are also highlighted approaches that have failed. Pulling these together in a “what not to do” section might have also been useful. The problem with that however, is that there is rarely a right or wrong answer for every case. Without context, insights become mere thoughts.