In Pursuit Of The Gummy Bear - What a neuroscientist taught me about digital transformation.

Raid Naim • Head of Digital Transformation

With a simple experiment, a neuroscientist was able to teach me why so many organisations are getting it wrong when it comes to the change for digital transformation. The experiment is meant to explain how our brain works and emphasize the role of experience in learning. Yet, it made me also understand how the aggressive marketing of agile development methodologies and frameworks has put many transforming organisations in a hamster wheel.

The experiment goes like this: grab a bag of your favourite gummy bears (or jellybeans) and open it. Close your eyes and nostrils while reaching for a random piece from the bag and slowly chew on it. Try to guess the taste and color of the gummy bear for a moment before opening your nostrils and eyes and continue chewing. Simple, right? What did you experience?

Most of the experiment takers would say something like “I wasn’t able to taste anything until I opened my nostrils and eyes” or even “It was like chewing on plastic at first. The flavour only came when I opened my eyes and my nose.” So although we believe that our tongue is responsible for the taste sensations (as we have been educated since school), most of people taking this experiment would strongly disagree with this, as they would only get the “sensation of taste” when they activate their other two senses in the chewing process happening in their mouths.

The scientific explanation for this phenomenon is that taste, smell and vision converge to convey information and recall memories stored in our limbic system. The brain puts together this composite in what we commonly experience as a taste sensation.

Break out of the hamster wheel!

Many organisations have adopted agile development as “the new way” of creating digital services. Some of these even consider agile development frameworks to be the centerpiece of their digital transformation. But there is much more to creating digital services than agile software development exactly as there is more to capturing the taste sensation of a gummy bear than just blindly and anosmicly chewing on it. Organisations that have adopted agile development frameworks and principles in their R&D departments while running all other departments in a “business as usual” manner, have created what is referred to as “water-scrum-fall” process.

The effect of water-scrum-fall is similar to the one of eating a gummy bear with closed eyes and nostrils. It feels like chewing on plastic and does not really relate to the intended taste experience.

In digital transformation, we consider Lean Startup and Design Thinking to be the eyes and nostrils of the organisation while reaching for the gummy bear. The principles of Lean Startup (especially entrepreneurship, validation and innovation accounting) are the vision sense that keeps putting learnings, insights and actions into perspective and fosters for a focus on value. Design Thinking on the other hand is similar to the sense of smell that helps approaching the rather emotional side of the experience that is hard to get to using facts and numbers. It does so by constantly collecting detailed customer feedback based on tangible prototypes to validate the needs a service or a product is trying to fulfill. It is only when these principles and frameworks being active in an organisation that it will be able to utilize Agile Development to do the rights things right: creating lovable digital services that serve the business. The value is in the continuous iteration between why, how and what.

Stop chewing and start tasting!

To create the “gummy bear” of digital services, the value creation chain needs to apply principles of Lean Startup, Design Thinking and Agile Development while continuously iterating connected cycles of build-measure-learn. This is what Lean Service Creation is all about.

For large organisations, connecting business, product and IT is of course not an easy endeavor. In this blog we will be presenting a few tips on the water-scrum-fall jailbreak that might help you stop chewing and start tasting.

Meanwhile, keep reaching for the gummy bear! You are almost there. :)

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