Cultural Morphology

As a digital transformation specialist, it’s amazing what you get to study over the course of your day job. One topic crops up time and again as we work with clients, large and small, on how they deliver true Digital Transformation – that of their culture and how it needs to change in order to support the digital roadmap they need to deliver. So over the last year or so I have become a student of Cultural Morphology. How do organisational cultures change over time and what role do senior leaders and grassroots staff have on that culture?

Let’s start by defining what we mean by Cultural Morphology:

Cultural: Relating to the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a society such as “the cultural diversity of British society”
Morphology: The study of the forms of things

So Cultural Morphology and digital transformation meet neatly. Time and again when conducting our research, workshops and interviews, we hear how the culture of our client is not conducive to dynamic and flexible change. Yet, to quote Stephen Wells (Fast and Future Publishing) during a talk I saw him at earlier this year:

“Through the explosion of science and technology developments,

our world will change more in the next 20 years than in the previous 300.”

To put that into context, that is 12 generations of change completed in the space of under one. What is clear then is that the traditional, legacy cultures and business models are not fit for purpose in dealing with this rapid rate of change.

As a result, I find myself increasingly a student of Cultural Morphology, because only by understanding how the form of a culture enables, or more prevalently, disables rapid change can I get to grips with how to engineer a rapid change in a world that, until now, has had generations to effect change. What is clear is that the old models are dead. Single line linear ‘command and control’ processes are slow, monotheistic, too narrow and often ill-informed.

Increasingly, I am of the opinion that we need to embrace an older cultural model that existed, possibly for aeons, before our more hierarchical EGO driven model arose. Across my work, the term “collaboration” is used constantly and consistently. There is even a BSi Standard for it. A study of tribal models from native cultures showcases a collaborative approach that is intuitive, powerful and flexible. The form of leadership morphs as the needs of the tribe change. For them, expertise is the deciding factor, not authority. As there is little to no formal authority.

Cultural Morphology and digital transformation
It is expected that the expert will lead on their area and then hand over the reins to the next person, almost as in a relay race, with everyone reliant on each other to build momentum, deliver success and collaborate to reach the finish line. This model allows them to morph rapidly, to test and learn, and where failure is not seen as a bad thing, it is simply part of the process of iterative success.

It is kind of “Agile” but also kind of not. It is kind of free thinking but also kind of governed by the group or tribe. It is a very natural and comfortable state of being, where the group mitigates the risk, controls the cost (emotional, intellectual and financial) and oversees the quality as no one person wants to let the team down.

It does though bring a number of challenges:

  • There is no boss, so this undermines any autocratic, insecure and authoritarian “leader”.
  • It requires everyone to accept accountability and authority. There is no room for shirkers and no capacity to carry dead weight.
  • It is ultimately a challenging and change-oriented model that can be a scary place for those unaccustomed to leading and making decisions.
  • It takes time for some to embrace the freedom not being told what to do brings.
    Some can’t make the transition.
  • As such, whilst this model is undoubtedly the way to scale up the rapid change in support of the technological capabilities that now exist, it must be done sensitively, with care and training and with clear outcomes and goals that focus activity.

The consulting team at One Pebble has been developing just such a programme that wraps the tribal culture soft skills into the harder goals and objectives of any Digital Roadmap. We have used tried and tested methodologies for training, knowledge transfer and learning to ensure that the soft skills can be practised in safe environments, whilst still working on the goals any organisation needs to achieve the cultural and digital shift they need.

For any organisation to successfully deliver a change as pervasive as the digital culture shift that is required for a Digital Evolution programme, they need to focus on the cultural needs of their people. It is always the people that deliver the process and tools that will morph the organisation into the mould our 21st-century technology requires it to be in order to continually deliver success.

Influence, Persuade, Inspire

Over the last two years, the title of Digital Transformation Specialist has become more and more prevalent. There are now C-Suite roles that encompass this activity and the impetus for Digital Transformation is increasing day by day. Despite the noise and the chatter, there is still a real hiatus in successful projects being declaimed from the media and social platforms. Why is that? From my experience, it revolves around the need for emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence and the soft skills that are all too often hard to find.

How then do organisations actually get Digital Transformation done? Over the last few years, I have seen two distinct approaches: one that brings with it some success, the other not so much. The first approach offers an almost total focus on the planning and the delivery process, with little regard for the people required to deliver it, let alone engagement around their motives to deliver it. The second places the people at the heart of the planning and the process. The teams, therefore, have a level of commitment and pride to the quality of the output, thus impacting the efficiency and standard of deliverables.

The only real difference is the level with which the organisation allows their staff to influence, persuade and inspire on all things digital across all aspects of the organisation they touch.

“The major challenge for most companies is that digital is

everyone and no-one’s responsibility.”

What is interesting to me is that most of us get very little, if any, formal training on how to influence, persuade and inspire our colleagues, peer groups and indeed bosses. There are of course some unique characters that are naturals, who ooze charisma, who can “talk the legs off a donkey and then convince it to walk again” to quote the inestimable and sadly missed Douglas Adams. They are the exception rather than the rule though.

Successful digital transformation projects are reliant upon a set of softer more fundamental skills that are native to us all, but that are stressed and stretched when it comes to day-to-day use, never mind in such a dynamic and fast-paced initiative as driving digital transformation across an organisation.

This is why One Pebble has developed its IPI Development courses that help create organisational Digital Ambassadors. They assist in the delivery of the digital roadmaps we create, by up-skilling those responsible for the delivery of the roadmap in the softer influence, persuade and inspire (IPI) skills they need to get the whole organisation moving in the right direction. The staff involved in delivering the roadmap usually have no command and control authority (such as a line manager) and they are often being asked to operate well beyond their area of authority. This means they need to affect change through their ability to get things done without instructing change directly.

I often talk about these “Digital Ambassadors” operating in the white space that surrounds the traditional operating models of most organisations. That white space is a “boss-less, authority vacuum” where only the influencers and persuaders make progress.

Digital in 2019 touches pretty much every aspect of every type of organisation from sales and marketing to finance, admin and HR to day to day operations.

It is everyone’s responsibility but often no-one’s day job.

Herein lies every C-Suite’s challenge. They know they need to digitally transform, they know they need to do it now and do it quickly. They also know how to find out what to do – they hire in a company like One Pebble to develop and deliver the roadmap, business case and organisational reports (something we’ve done many times, to great effect). Where the C-Suite then traditionally struggled is implementing it. That’s where the motivation to develop our courses came from. I see this missing link cropping up repeatedly when working with businesses. Whilst we provide guidance and outline activity, they needed that additional shift in mindset and culture to really push things through. So, leveraging my leadership development background, One Pebbles team of experienced consultants came up with our I.P.I. courses, which aim to up-skill the team, challenging them through experiential learning and interactive workshops all driven by roadmap outcomes.

“Truly digitally-able organisations empower their people.

Creating a collaborative workforce rather than siloed activity.”

If you are going to invest in the roadmap, commit to investing in up-skilling your people to be able to influence, persuade and inspire. That, aligned with the objectives of your roadmap, will have a much greater chance of success than if the roadmap and it’s attendant plan are deployed in isolation.

Digital is changing behaviours and expectations of all your stakeholders (audiences and staff members, partners and directors).

You need to look at the culture of your business and how you embrace this change for the positive. If you fail to do so, you will fail to drive true digital success.

Are Your People Ready for the Journey


In this muse, I am going to discuss the importance of people and the overarchingly critical nature of their support, involvement and energy. This segues neatly into the need to build collaborative working models that promote cross-department and cross-silo working.

This is not new. This is not even a revelation. From a time in memoriam, humans have worked best when they work as a team. One of my favourite sayings of all time comes from the Masai:

“If you want to go fast go alone
If you want to go far go together”

Traditional Masai saying

The paradox of many a “digital” discussion is that the vast majority of the time is spent talking about the need to build your team, to create group-think and the incredible power of people to block progress.

One insight that, again, repeats itself across these discussions is that technology is the catalyst, the enabler if you will, but the key driver is simply business change; just like it has been across the millennia. From wood to stone, bronze to iron, the wheel to the printing press to steam, electricity to computers, iPods to the IoT. Our species innovates, invents, discovers, enquires, is endlessly curious and has an overwhelming desire to be better, faster, higher, longer, deeper, and more than the day before. It is both a curse and blessing.

So, if we have been facing this challenge for 1,000’s of years why is this (r)evolution so much harder, so much more involved and causing so much disruption? Hand in hand with the theme of people was the issue of speed of change. In a recent conference presentation, an analogy was made that really struck home for me.

The speed of change in technology over the next 20 years is equivalent to that we have undertaken in the previous 300. That equates to 12 generations of change in less than 1.

No wonder humans are struggling to evolve fast enough.

This underlines even further the need to get your team’s/staff/people onside as early as possible. Those who were sharing success stories were unequivocally clear that the success they enjoyed was in no small measure due to the fact that the people part of the equation was considered, planned, embraced and consistently supported across the lifecycles of the roadmap. I have to say that I enjoyed no small amount of satisfaction in having One Pebble’s intrinsic position that a people-first approach is the only way to truly achieve success was so well evidenced as the right one.

Taking this a step further is a second main theme, that of collaboration, the removal of silo mentality and the need to successfully redraw the organisation model of operation.

What is clear from the all of the presenters I listened to, all the questions I fielded and the general groundswell of opinion in every group was that traditional organisations are increasingly not fit for purpose in the digital age. We always refer to this as the EGO vs. ECO paradigm.

The fascinating element for me is that our new digital age is actually better supported by reverting back to a more tribal/communal leadership and team model. Studies of indigenous peoples across the globe have shown that their more collegiate, collaborative and communally based decision making processes, where everyone has a say and everyone holds accountability, where leaders change as the skills required change and where team success is sought above individual achievement, are quicker, less risky, more flexible and more able to react to the environments they find themselves in.

The irony that we are increasingly needing less “traditional” and more “ancient” methods is not lost on me as we approach the highest level of technological advancement our species has ever achieved.

This brings some unique challenges.
Firstly, leaders, who were once “power” centred, now need to embrace consensus over command. They need to re-engineer a hierarchy into a community. They need to accept that they are just one of many voices, not a single voice of the many. In reality, this takes a pretty special kind of leader. They can be hard to find and are often viewed as too Maverick, too (r)evolutionary, too anti-tradition. But, if successful in their ambition, their leadership and “power” becomes a thing of real impact and change. These are hugley valuable individual’s, emotionally intelligent, culturally astute and very comfortable in their own skins.

Secondly, and potentially even more important, is that teams that are currently comfortable being told what to do under a command and control culture need to change. Many will be unconcerned about accountability and little stretched in terms of individual thinking. Their challenge now is to embrace ideas such as persuasion and influence over task completion, of operating beyond the job title versus staying within their comfort zone, managing their “Boss” and peers as much as their teams.

Thirdly, all of this has to happen as quickly as possible, without too much disruption and whilst ‘business as usual’ is still delivered successfully.

No wonder this needs to be carefully planned, deeply considered and invariably have some form of an external support structure to help all those involved stay focussed on both the here and now and the long term.

These two interrelated themes, your people and their successful collaboration, are of critical importance to allow organisations of any size the chance of successfully evolving into a digitally centred team that can go far together rather than fast individually.

Three Digital Transformation things you can do today!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years delivering Digital Transformation projects for a myriad of clients large and small it is that clients often become paralysed by the sheer noise surrounding the digital space.

Every day a new platform is launched that makes your life better, faster, more effective, more flexible, adds efficiencies or replaces human interactions. Whether it’s Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) Artificial Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) Extra reality (yes this is indeed a thing! XR, a combination of AR and VR), big data, Macro Data, Micro Data, API’s, non legacy systems, Legacy system integrators, phone apps, social channel aggregators….the list just seems endless.

So the first 3 things any organisation needs to do are:

  1. Define what “digital” actually means to them
    1. Don’t assume it means you need the very latest cutting edge tech
    2. Don’t assume it means massive reorganisation
    3. Don’t assume that it will be expensive
    4. DO – focus on what your customers and internal users ACTUALLY need
  2. Define their state of “Digital Maturity”
    1. Are you a toddler, just starting out on your journey
    2. Are you a Teen, maturing but still with a lot to learn
    3. Are you an Adult, invested in your journey, knowing what you don’t know and considered in your approach to the ongoing journey
    4. Are you a Digital Master, focussed, Zen-like, on continuously improving the wealth of knowledge and expertise already embedded in your business from top to bottom
  3. Then, armed with these two salient bits of knowledge, you agree on the vision of where they want to be at a point in time in the future. 

Then, and only then, can you sidestep the noise and begin to map out the journey ahead.

Critical to this journey is aligning it with the organisations “Why” statement.

“Why are we in existence?” 

Then you can look at:

“What do we need to do digitally to support this?”

Lastly, you can consider:

How do we deliver over this over our agreed timeframe?

Let’s be clear, none of this is new, none of this is rocket science, it is, however, fiendishly difficult to be objective, distanced and centred around your current state and your desired state when you are mired at the coal face chasing the Business As Usual maelstrom that only increases in pace as each day passes.

This then is where expert consultants like One Pebbles Steve Plummer come in. We help our clients find that objective distance, we facilitate the conversations around the now and the future vision, we capture and invigorate it with decades of digital experience and multi-sector expertise to advise you on what the next steps are going to be.

If you are deafened by the digital noise but determined to make digital work for you rather than have it happen to you then Get in touch. 

Looking forward to hearing from you.



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!

Why One Pebble

The least movement is of importance to all of nature.

The entire ocean is affected by one pebble!

Blaise Pascal

Over the years that I’ve been running businesses and leading change programmes what is apparent is that large problems are made up of many, many small but interlinked issues. that add layers of complexity and shadows to hide in. Usually I find plentiful systems, processes, management information, data, virtually anything other than the human factor already in place. It’s inherently possible to measure everything but achieve nothing.

More often than not that “One Pebble” is the team, the individual, the human factor that needs to be activated. The key element to this is the word Act!

The key then is to find that “One Pebble” that will act and effect the change.

This is the inspiration behind “One Pebble Consulting”, it serves to remind me of what we seek to change and the impact One Pebble can make.