Digital emperors are those in the public and private sectors who are exploiting the digital wave for all its worth in spite of having no real domain knowledge, leadership capabilities or strategic vision.
They are politicians, civil servants, corporate execs, trade show promoters, digital startups and venture capitalists. In reality, most are complete phonies or digital posers, and all suffer from a common challenge: they are digital emperors without any clothes.
Genuine (much less competent) digital leadership is hard to find these days in any sector, but those who believe that either by title or remit that they are true leaders can be found either at every tradeshow or digital event (TED, SXSW, etc.) espousing their well-rehearsed opinions on ‘all things digital’.
Very few have anything of substance to say or to herald in respect to actual accomplishments (other than spending billions on transformation projects and getting little in return). But nonetheless all seem to have a cult-like following of sycophants and others who fawn over everything they promise, say or do. I myself find it all quite nauseating and feel compelled to call them out.
Across the globe there are major programmes in virtually every government to digitally transform services and capabilities provided internally and to their citizens.
Many of these programmes portend to transform governments themselves using what I refer to as ‘digital transformation by magic’, a common thought process where a digital emperor can simply undo the past and, armed with a great PowerPoint and some funding, they can create a new digital future for everyone overnight.
In reality, it turns out to be more of a digital love fest where everyone spends their time in endless self-promotion and glory seeking while the group squanders countless fortunes on technology that users wants nothing to do with at the end of the journey.
We have started to see this in the UK already, with the US, Australia, the EU and others no doubt to follow. One of the key critical success factors these programmes miss is ‘engagement’, aka cultural adoption, with those who ultimately use the digital outcomes that they have foretold. Culture eats strategy (and hype) for lunch.
These programmes all seem to feature high visibility in regards to the governments that sponsor them, with numerous photo ops, hackathons and coding weekends, and lots and lots of meetings to discuss their latest accomplishments, but have little self-examination or transparency when things go pear shaped and the finger pointing begins.
Much of this is further obfuscated by numerous re-organisations and the rotation of senior players to other agencies. All are plagued by acute attrition, churn and a lack of both raw and seasoned talent.
In my own experience, everyone wants to be part of a highly visible transformation programme (especially digital), but no one actually knows how to get the job done. We see this in the post-failure analysis that accompanies the crashing and burning of large transformational efforts everywhere.
Transformation is hard and not for the weak of heart. Successful digital transformation is yet to be realised anywhere. Leaving these high risks (high rewards if successful) to the fatuous behavior of digital emperors is clearly a formula for disaster.
Successful digital transformations create a digital strategy that serves everyone, and are funding properly with plenty of contingency for the unknown. Transformational leaders and doers are hired (not appointment) and empowered to get the job done.
All digital emperors should be locked in the palace until the wrap party when the programme is successfully completed.