Some organisations have great tradition, and some others are wonderful at change e.g. changing products and services (or even their business models, culture and identity), but perhaps the most impressive are those organisations that eventually go on to develop a demonstrable tradition for change. This, in my opinion, is one of the key beneficial outcomes from the pursuit of digital innovation and transformation.

Anywhere you go these days, people (especially of the CxO variety) are thinking or talking about making their businesses more innovative and competitive. Business-as-usual just doesn’t seem to be able to cope with the multiple challenges / opportunities presented by digital technology; therefore it must be time for something new or different, right?

Innovation is often described as doing or using something in a new or different way to deliver value. By this definition, innovation is based on something that already exists (note: this is in contrast to invention that is about creating that ‘something’ in the first place, or improvement that is about doing the same things better). By extension, digital innovation involves the use of digital technology, in new or different ways, to transform an organisation or industry.

The development of computing and internet technologies, and the disruptive effect they had / are having on many traditional industries, is a prime example. In my 2007 book on digital rights management, I described the evolution of human communication (plotted over time and numbers reached) with an early infographic that also captured how computing and internet technologies have parallels with (and essentially re-create, re-interpret or replace) most prior communication technology and formats (e.g. spoken, written, visual, broadcast and telecommunications).

The invention of these technologies, and the subsequent disruptive innovations they spawned have had such a widespread effect on almost every facet of human existence that it has become necessary for organisations both large and small to recognise, adapt and thrive by embracing this new era of digital innovation. More to the point, it means that larger organisations, i.e. those bastions of tradition (due to size or longevity), and their smaller, nimbler counterparts, i.e. the masters of change (due to necessity), each have to acquire key attributes from the other in order to develop their own tradition for change.

How else will your traditional laden organisation cope when customers and new employees turn up expecting to engage/be engaged via their Google Glasses, or whatever device / communication format is in vogue? On the other hand, how will your whizzy, super-agile, high growth company cope with customers that expect backward compatibility with legacy PC-based client server style applications? It seems the key challenge for many organisations will be how to evolve without losing sight of the beneficial traditions and historical context of their industry.   

In any case, innovation and the ability to change (and to be changed) fast must become the common DNA / fitness attribute for most organisations and individuals. Tradition is good. Change is good, but nothing beats developing a tradition for change.