Chris, what can you tell us about the background and the big idea behind Transform!?
You know, that’s a great question. Transform! was conceived exactly two years ago, and it was designed to solve one very specific problem – how do we train leaders and managers and students, decision makers? How do we teach them the basics and the complexities of a successful transformation? Transform! was really designed with one very clear purpose in mind, and that was enabling people to successfully lead transformation at scale.
How did you come up with the format and the idea behind Transform! ?
Transform! followed closely on the steps of Scale Up!, the first simulation that we developed. Scale Up! was basically a crash course in entrepreneurship and company building designed for the Norwegian Innovation Agency and the Norwegian Cluster Program. Once we saw the success and the impact, engagement and enthusiasm of many, many types of executives, we said, wow, we shouldn’t limit our work to just to Scale Up!. We should see if we can develop more such simulations. And that led to the early ideas behind behind Transform!
What can you tell us about the actual development and how you work to develop such a simulation?
Not a lot of people know this, but Transform! was actually designed on an airplane flying from Oslo, Norway, to Istanbul, Turkey, middle of December 2018. I basically sketched out the whole concept – the ideas, the board and the cards and all the sort of interconnectivities on the flight down. So when we arrived in Istanbul, I was working with one of our startups, we drove to the hotel, it was pretty late and I sat down for a couple of hours in the hotel and basically finished the creation of Transform! that evening.
I could tell you we put a lot of work into it, but the reality is that the actual creation and the shaping and the design happened in a few short months from middle of December 2018 to early spring, 2019. So the reality is that Transform! was really designed in a couple of weeks. But it all started on that flight down to Istanbul two years ago.
Of course, there is a lot more to it than that.
Transform! is really built on my experiences over the last two decades, and notably a lot of my experiences helping companies transform over the last ten years. In Transform! we have modelled the genuine, real-life situation and challenges that face a new CEO and a new management as they step into the role as management of this new company. This may sound strange, but in my experience, a lot of new CEOs don’t really know what they are getting into. They may be great executives, but walking into a new company, with a new culture, structures, business models and innovation strategies – they all grapple through the initial ‘fog’. This ‘fog’, the early complexities, are a big driver and have been modelled into the creation of Transform!
Second, we should really also mention the role of the design. Our team – led by Jolene – has really put a significant amount of time and creative energy into the visual design. That has of course taken time, but the visuals make up an incredibly important part of the user experience.
You’ve now been running simulation sessions over the last two years. What are some of the big takeaways you have from working with Transform! and using Transform! in action?
We originally designed Transform! as a physical, paper-based face-to-face format. People were supposed to sit around the table. People were supposed to chit chat and work in small groups and compete with the other teams around the table. But, of course, COVID-19 accelerated something that we had been working on for a long time, which was how do we build the simulations in a digital environment? So over the last two years, we have run, on the last count, around 100 – 130 various simulations, big and small.
And it has just exceeded our expectations by tenfold or more.
People learn. So there’s been a number of big takeaways for us. Point number one – people learn. People learn so much more in this format, you can pack an MBA in a box and they’ll take it in in just a few days.
So the number one key point for me personally and what we have observed is just an amazing learning uptake. It doesn’t matter if you’re a board member, an executive, MBA student. Across the board, people just soak it in.
Point number two is it’s really, really, really complicated to successfully lead a transformation.
One of the things that we found over the last two years is that a lot of companies and a lot of executives will tell you that “we know transformation. We have a transformation roadmap in place even”.
But what they have is actually bits and pieces, it’s a little bit like you’re building a car and you only have two and a half wheels and half an engine. I mean, you can still drive it, but it’s not going to drive really well. A lot of people have said, “wow, this exercise, working with Transform! in action has really given us a much better understanding of what we’re missing. We thought we had a good roadmap in place. We realized we didn’t.”
So the first is learning. The second is the holistic view that people get. The third is really how impressed we’ve been with the larger partner community. Of course, Strategy Tools has about 80 some partners around the world. And it’s just been, you know, deeply enjoyable and really a privilege to see how partners have been able to pick up and absorb Transform! in action. And I mean, they’ve used it in Latin America with MBA programs, in Europe, with large industrial companies. There’s been sessions in Italy for education purposes. I mean, there’s just been more than I’m able to count.
This was not something we planned for. We didn’t plan explicitly for having partners go out and use these. Sure, we hoped for. But the whole idea of a partner-based network and distribution came later.
So those were the top three takeaways. Massive learning. Greater understanding of the missing pieces and finally, we’ve been so impressed with the partner network.
So you’ve been developing and naturally running a lot of digital sessions. What is the number one or two things that you see in the digital sessions that you run for Transform!?
We’ve now been testing out a variety of digital solutions, formats and platforms, and we do have a very, very ambitious long term vision for the digital simulations. I’m not quite going to share everything with you just yet, but what I can tell you is that we have a really, really interesting vision and roadmap for what the digital simulations is going to look like. Right now, I think we’re like we’re in level one or two.
We have a really good working solution. We have run and we still run various sessions around the world almost on a weekly basis. I see the digital simulation being an absolute pillar of what we do over the next 10 years. It it allows us to remove time and place. It allows us to work very, very interactively on a very time-efficient format. And as a facilitator, you can just take the conversation and process in so many different ways. You can expect to see a lot of development and a lot of news around the digital simulations in the coming years.
You briefly touched on it when you’re looking ahead, what do you sort of see as the as the future of Transform! for the next two years?
Yes, that’s that’s another great question that we ponder quite a bit, I would say that there’s really three things that matter to Transform! over the next two years. Number one, we’re going to get a lot more of our partners trained and certified both in the physical and the digital format, because we really, really believe now in the power of the partner network and how partners can build and expand their own business using Transform! as one of their solutions to take to market. So the number one thing is going to be expanding the training of partners.
The second thing is working with business schools. I’ve grown more and more excited about the potential that we see for working with business schools. We’re already working with some of the top business schools in Europe, the US, and Latin America. And we’re now looking at several different programs and formats and ways to roll out Transform! in 2021. If I look back to that that flight I mentioned going down to Istanbul two years ago, we never imagined we’d be in this position working with top notch business schools.
So the first is the partner network that we’re going to expand, train and certify. The second is the business schools. And the third is, of course, the upcoming book.
We’re currently writing the book for Building a Transformational Company. It’s going to fit perfectly with everything that we put into Transform! over the last two years. So I’m super excited about the partners. I’m super excited about the business schools, and I’m absolutely super excited about the the book and how it sort of brings all this together. Everything we’ve been working with and working on comes together in that book.
Final question, if you’re going to say one thing that’s really surprised you when you look back over the last two years, what would that be?
That’s a great closing question. I would probably say that the thing that surprised me the most was the complexity that is embedded in Transform!. We didn’t plan for this. I mean, we we built Transform! as closely as we could to the real life challenges, the real life work, the real life CEO projects that I’ve been working on over the last decade plus. And once we created that, we didn’t think much of it. It was just, you know, this is what it’s like and this is what it takes.
Number one feedback we’ve been getting from a lot of participants is, wow, this is complex and this is complicated. And our response initially was just like, yeah, it is. But the more we think about it, the more we reflect on it, we recognized that, you know, having that top management role successfully leading and driving through a successful transformation, it is incredibly complex. And we just have to train for it.
We have to recognize and develop the patterns and the tools and the visual concepts that allow us to successfully transform companies much better than we did in the past.
Just on a final note, I’m extremely grateful to everyone that’s been involved in that early design process, from our team, our early users, to our clients. It was Innovation Norway and the Norwegian Innovation Cluster program that really shaped some of those early, early formats, but then everyone on our team and all of our partners and business schools and clients and executives have also had a role, big or small, in shaping it. I’m extremely grateful.
And finally, I’m just really excited, excited about what is going to look like in two or three years time. But right now, we’re celebrating the second anniversary. And wow, you know, I think two years, even three years ahead, what is the fifth anniversary going to look like? I think that’s super exciting.
Thank you very much.