Insights | By Howard Tiersky

Are You a Digital Transformation Groundhog? 

Since today is Groundhog Day, I thought it’s the perfect time to share with you some groundhog analogies that might describe how your company is approaching digital transformation. 

Now, I do not mean to be in any way critical of groundhogs. Groundhogs have clearly figured out how to survive effectively in our modern world and have been around probably longer than humans have on this planet. But interestingly, there are many companies that behave like groundhogs when trying to drive change in their organization. This article will tell you what those behaviors are and whether or not they’re good for your business.

1. WAITING IN A BURROW

If the weather is nice, groundhogs are out and enjoying their lives. And when times get tough, they just go underground and hide in a burrow. Eventually, if they wait long enough it will be nice again and they could come back out to do exactly what it was they were doing previously.

Is that the strategy your company is using to approach this changing world? Digital transformation of the world has caused the expectations of your customers and probably many parts of your ecosystem to change. And now Covid has only accelerated that.

If you’re taking the groundhog approach waiting in an underground burrow, then you’re not doing anything to align yourself with the changes that are continuously reshaping the world. 

Waiting is only putting you further behind. We’re not going back to steam engines and 8 Track tapes. We are not going back to the way it was before digital transformation.

Waiting in a burrow for things to get back to the way they were isn’t probably going to work for you, although it works for the groundhog.

2. BEING TENTATIVE

As the legend goes, on Groundhog Day, the groundhog will emerge from his burrow and look around to see whether the time is right to come out of the burrow, or whether he should come back into the burrow for six more weeks. Again, this works for the groundhog. Because if the groundhog emerges too early, he could die. He could freeze or might not be able to find any food if it’s still wintery.

But is this right for your company? Should you take a tentative approach to digital transformation because you want to make sure that everything is 100% right?

The companies that are successful in digital transformation have a willingness to fail. They create minimum viable products that aren’t necessarily ready for primetime and bring those to market.

In the world of digital, there is a huge first-mover advantage and a tremendous benefit in getting a product out into the marketplace, trying it, seeing what works, and learning from your failures, rather than staying in your burrow waiting until everything is just right.

So, I’m going to suggest to you that being tentative, while it works for the groundhog, is not how you should approach digital transformation.

3. BEING AFRAID OF ONE’S OWN SHADOW

As we know, when the groundhog emerges from his burrow, he looks to see whether he has a shadow on the ground. Of course, the shadow could be long and much larger than the groundhog. And so the groundhog becomes scared if he sees his shadow and runs back into his burrow.

I’m not sure if it works for the groundhog. There are many predators that can kill a groundhog so it’s logical for groundhogs to be scared of big shadows—big shadows could be big animals. But if the groundhog is really scared of his own shadow, then he may wind up running back into that burrow for six more weeks of living in the dark, with little to eat, when he could be out enjoying the early spring.

So, I’m mixed on whether this is a good strategy for the groundhog. But I’m certain that it is not a good strategy for your company in its digital transformation.

What does it mean for a company to be scared of its own shadow?

It’s the fear of changing. After all, very often when we create a vision for what digital transformation might mean for our company—new ways of serving the customer, new supply chains, new whole ideas about what products and business models you bring to the market—we may look at that shadow of ourselves and see that while it looks like us, it doesn’t really look exactly like we look now. Maybe it’s bigger or longer. It’s scary to think about changing in that way and we run back into our burrow because we’re fearful of that change.

Digital has changed everything about how customers shop, how companies do business, how employees work, how people date and find someone to be with, how weddings are planned, you name it. 

Just about every aspect of life has been changed by digital. If you’re not prepared to change your business for a digital world, you’re likely to become irrelevant to your customers.

Being afraid of your own shadow is a groundhog-like behavior that you should not be engaging in as you try to transform your business.

4. TRYING DIFFERENT THINGS

My last analogy is not about the groundhog but about the movie Groundhog Day. In case you’re not familiar with it, here’s the quick synopsis.

Bill Murray is a newscaster who is sent to Pennsylvania to cover Groundhog Day. He is a nasty fellow who’s not very happy in his life. He’s in love with one of his coworkers but she won’t give him the time of day. What happens to him is he falls asleep, wakes up and the next morning it’s the same day. It’s still Groundhog Day. He goes through his day and he wakes up the next day and it’s still Groundhog Day. He’s stuck in a time loop.

What he discovers is that this means he can learn because he has the same experiences every day. He is able to figure out over time how he can grow and change who he is through a wide range of trial and error in what must be hundreds of repetitions of Groundhog Day. He eventually becomes a good person, gets the girl, and changes his life through the reliving of the same day over and over. And that is how Bill Murray succeeded in the movie Groundhog Day.

Now, is this a good strategy for your digital transformation?

Digital transformation can feel like it’s Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day because we’re trying to do things over and over and it can be difficult to get traction. We’re not getting it. It’s not happening. Customers are getting irritated, annoyed, frustrated, or confused by what we’re doing.

Similarly, most digital transformations are not a straight path. We don’t always know exactly what to do. But like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we need to try different things. We need to do user testing, bring products to market, have methods of evaluating their success, get repeatedly iterative customer feedback, and make changes very often over many days, weeks, months, or even years to find the right path to success.

That might sound like a lot of work but every digital company that you see that’s successful has done that and has been doing that for years.

The truth is finding your path to digital transformation is often experimental. And it requires a clarity of what you really want. 

In this case with Bill Murray, it’s to win the girl. In your case, it’s probably to win your customer.

My Wall Street Journal bestselling book Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance is all about that idea. It’s potentially a very valuable tool for you to learn how to win digital customers by making them fall in love with you and the experience that you’re providing.

So don’t be like the groundhog in terms of hiding in a burrow waiting for the new season. Don’t be like the groundhog in terms of being tentative when you come out. Don’t be like the groundhog in terms of being scared of your own shadow. But do be like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Do use the continued repetition. Every day is another opportunity to create that experience for your customer and to try something new that will resonate with today’s digital audience.

Those are my four groundhog-related digital transformation analogies. I wish you a very, very wonderful Groundhog Day. Let’s hope the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow because, I don’t know about you, I’m ready for spring.

Get free access to the first chapter of Winning Digital Customers when you click this link https://WinningDigitalCustomers.com.

Get FREE access to the first chapter of FROM`s
Wall Street Journal Best Selling Book

WINNING DIGITAL CUSTOMERS


  • Learn the three patterns of all successful digital brands (including companies like Apple, Netflix and Uber).
  • Understand why many great new products fail, and the formula for building products that won’t.
  • Discover the key reasons companies resist change and how to overcome them.
Get FREE access to the first chapter of FROM's
Wall Street Journal Best Selling Book

WINNING DIGITAL CUSTOMERS


  • Learn the three patterns of all successful digital brands (including companies like Apple, Netflix and Uber).
  • Understand why many great new products fail, and the formula for building products that won’t.
  • Discover the key reasons companies resist change and how to overcome them.