The story of a unicorn that took on an elephant!

Jane Peacock, Chief Digital Fear Slayer

 March 2016

There is a lot of discussion around #digitaltransformation and how it benefits businesses. There is also a lot of valuable and evolving debate about how best to undertake the process and who should own it. My observation is that it boils down to one simple choice. That choice is between road A and road B, and that choice is presented well before you start…. even if you don’t know it until you are well underway. In fact, it happens well before you have a chance to engage in the brilliant minds who are developing the modality.


Road A offers a path towards the unknown. There are bumps and turns and potholes along the way. It doesn’t have a map as the territory is often unchartered. Its dark and a little scary but the opportunities are boundless. You cant travel it alone as you need experienced guides. Not just one, a collection of experts who can help build new bridges, pave the road and light the way.

Road B is the path well worn. You may have in fact been there before. There is a map that is now wrinkled with overuse, and you can lead the way yourself as you have been there before. It is comfortable and safe. It is also the road that many others have travelled down, and this leaves it ripe for disruption.

The following is a story about digital transformation, and it involves a unicorn, an elephant and a choice between road A and road B that came a little later on.

The elephant is digital transformation. It is significant, complicated, challenging and a little scary. It takes courage, an appetite for risk, a compelling purpose and a vision for what the business wants to become even if the details are a little ill-defined. And of course, it takes financial commitment.

For me, the unicorn is the business owner/ founder/ leader/ disruptor who wants to take on the entire elephant. They don’t come along that often, and my unicorn arrived six months ago.

We met over the possibility of some help with marketing measurement and optimisation. Initially, it was to take a small bite of the elephant. In my experience, it often starts with something small, and for me, starting is, in fact, the most critical step.

At this point, I shared with them the many opportunities for us to delve a little deeper into what digital transformation can do to help amplify their value.

I remember that first discovery session. “9 out of the ten people in the room don’t believe you can do anything to help our business”, the founder said.

That is always the case and taps into my purpose, but more on that later.

I sent them homework to prepare for the session which looked a bit like the slide below.

“When eating an elephant, take one bit at a time”. Creighton Abrams

The discovery started with me asking one fundamental question.

What keeps you up late at night with worry? (given the context above of course)

The ten people then spoke for 30 minutes, and I listened. I also wrote a lot. I am a visual person, so that led me to the whiteboard to start sketching out the current business model. A B2B business who is passionate about supporting their clients. (side note: clients who have a clear and compelling purpose are already ahead of the game… and these guys had it in spades.)

Then something interesting happened.

They mentioned the end user. The consumer.

We dug a little deeper, and by the end of the 45minute discovery session, we had co-created a new business model. One that engaged with and focused on the end user.

Here is where the unicorn starts to reveal itself.

They were worried about their current business model and the impact on their clients and so they should have been… as that was their core purpose. At this stage, it is not my job to challenge their purpose but rather illuminate a future vision based on new possibilities.

Super powers in 1990

Graphics by Partners in Digital

So despite concern… they were willing to trust in the process as long as we nailed the initial bite.

We interviewed all critical people in the business.

Another great indicator of the unicorn. Willingness to collaborate and engage the broader team.

During this process. I am focused on the single bite but building the vision of the entire elephant and what it could look like. I don’t build it alone; I co-create the future vision with every key person in the business.

I am their guide. Their translator. Their enabler. I am not telling them what to do. I am merely listening and yes pushing when things get a little hard. As they often do. These involve complex issues and challenges for a business which is 20 years old, and it can get emotional. It can push specific buttons and cause fissures… cracks.

It took two full days of workshops to co-create solutions to their complex challenges. It also took weeks to solidify the strategy, build the data model, establish the tactical plan and engage some brilliant builders. It also took a long time to engage the rest of the team. Time worth spending as every single person in the business must be on board.

It took an openness to reveal all of those challenges and complexities.Another characteristic of a unicorn. At every step in the process, we would stop and dig a little deeper. Are there any other problems or challenges we need to explore at this point? We took our time to tease out the complexities, and when they hit a nerve, we kept on digging.

They also had a genuinely passionate and brilliant project sponsor. A person was willing to drive the process and keep pushing. A person, although not technical, a quick learner and a person willing to ask the questions.

Again, a unicorn characteristic.

At the end of the process, the ten key collaborators were presented with the options — to take a single bite or eat the entire elephant. The decision was hard although apparent. The team did the due diligence required to prosecute the brief.

Another unicorn characteristic. To own the process and genuinely challenge every step.

At this point, the decision to choose road A over road B was made. It was an obvious choice, but there were sticking points (and not the obvious ones)… but more on that later.

Once the choice was made, the solutions flowed, and a team was built.

And this was only the start of their journey. Technically its the hardest part but it’s not smooth sailing from then on.

Road A has a lot of hidden challenges as the destination is not known. There will be bumps in the road, forks in the road, obstacles that come up, but a team of unicorns promises the most significant opportunity for success.

Are you are a unicorn who is willing to take on an elephant?

If the answers is yes, let’s talk!

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