The Could Should Conundrum

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

In this muse, I am going to look at the conundrum of digital ‘Magpie Syndrome’, otherwise known as “Just because you could do a thing digitally, doesn’t mean you should”.

There are many times over the last three years that this has been apparent but one particular standout was during my Digital Transformation work with Turning Point Scotland as we worked collectively to map out their journey to digital-first thinking and implementation. During a session with some of their service users, one gentleman was vociferous in his main fear, that this “digital thing” was going to replace the most valuable thing for all of them, face to face human interactions. An ongoing concern across all of the service user workshops and interviews was that the drive for digital and the attraction of perceived, if not real, savings was going to force decisions that were counter to the value of their human contacts.

This was reinforced, yet again, at a half-day conference I presented at,  discussing the need and merits of Digital Trustees on charitable boards, one of the main purposes of which was to guide decisions on what not to digitise!

I have found over the years working on Digital Transformation, or Digital Evolution as I prefer to call it, that three main factors can drive technology investment decision making: 1) it’s new and shiny, 2) everyone else is using it and 3) cost savings/efficiencies. This is why I always start by defining what digital means to an organisation, as it is different for every single one. Almost as important is what digital doesn’t mean.

For example, when working with Falkirk Community Trust it was clear from the outset that digital to them was tested by asking “is this the most effective way to reach a person/audience?” They didn’t need to be cutting edge in tech use, they didn’t even need to be at the forefront, they just had to deploy reliable tech that met the needs of the user. That could be the phone, by email, online booking, social channels, or just a simple face to face encounter. By defining user personas and using what data they had to support decisions, we were able to descope a lot of digital ideas as not meeting their core digital criteria.

Often, my role is to refine and make realistic hopes and expectations of what digital can realistically achieve, whilst still allowing our clients’ to achieve their stated goals. This is, more often than not, by defining needs, excluding possibilities and enabling informed decisions to be made.

I have seen this described as defining the art of the possible, informed horizon scanning and removing uncertainty. However you want to describe it, it removes option paralysis, which is the number one reason I’m given for not starting the Digital Evolution process. By removing what digital isn’t, you allow the art of the possible to surface, with the needs of users front and centre.

Always start with the position that just because you could use digital for a thing doesn’t mean you necessarily should. After all, nothing is more important than the needs and expectations of your users, whoever they may be, However, if they want to connect and for whatever purpose that may be, only use digital if you should!

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