7th April 2017

Digital Transformation is a Wicked Problem that F1.1 Can Help You Manage

Blog post

In the next ten years, CIOs will face a major shift in the digital requirements of their workforce. The scope and complexity of this transition, involving human, as well as technological challenges, means it is best understood as a wicked problem. The F1.1 approach can help you create a pathway to help you manage this digital transformation.


  • Digital Transformation is necessary for CIOs to keep pace with a shifting digital landscape.
  • Wicked problems are highly complex issues, that resist simple solutions because they are, often, contingent upon, competing, paradoxical opposites for which trade offs and requisite variety are pre-requisits.
  • Wicked Problem thinking is the best way to approach digital transformation, as an issue complex both practically and emotionally, susceptible to no single solution or existing approach.
  • The best way to deal with this, and other, wicked problems is to put the people first.
  • F1.1’s new Digital Aptitude and Pathway Transformation Lens provides a time and cost-effective framework to holistically, and consistently, address these issues.

A Changing World

According to recent research by Gartner, the digital skills and knowledge needed by high performing workplaces in ten years time will bear little resemblance to the skills and knowledge they have today.

CIOs will be judged by ‘whether they can successfully shepherd their people from the specialised technical mindsets in the 20th century to the hybrid business-IT profiles required for digital business in the 21st.’

Digital business impacts on all areas of a workforce. It shifts requirements for expertise – affecting both existing competencies and the quest for new talent. It compresses time frames to a rate well beyond the capabilities of existing models, and requires significant changes to workforce practices.

CIOs must approach digital transformation prepared to engage fully in both the depth and breadth of the modernisation. It is a process that will introduce ‘new social, political and behavioural norms’ across all areas of an organisation.

Digital Transformation : A Wicked Problem

The discussion about digital transformation needs to be acknowledged as concerning nothing less than the future of an organisation and the people who work within it. In order to get a handle on the huge complexity this involves, it is best to see digital transformation as a wicked problem.

Gartner state that wicked problems have two axes (paradoxical opposites).

  1. Behavioural Complexity – representing ‘the human side’
  2. Interactive System Complexity – practical components that are either independent or interactive within a cohesive whole.

For digital transformation – behavioural complexity constitutes the emotional reaction to structural change. This would include private concerns about job security and impact on family life, as well as more general issues such as safety and organisational social cohesion. Interactive system complexity includes the practical challenges facing performance management as requirements radically alter, such as changes to necessary skill sets and competencies, compensation benchmarks and recruitment parameters.

When behavioural complexity and interactive system complexity combine, wicked problems can turn into wicked messes and clumsy solutions. These require extraordinary leadership and teamwork to resolve.

Looking at digital transformation as a wicked problem forces us to acknowledge that there can be no single solution. In essence you are not going to resolve a wicked problem without cost.  What you need to be clear about is the ‘trade off’. Each organisation will face unique challenges managing this trade off. ‘Rulebooks, established bodies and procedurals are neither malleable nor innovative enough’ to be applied.

‘If You Build it, They Will Come’?

Accepted orthodoxies on business development have much in common with Kevin Costner’s famous line from Field of Dreams. The focus has traditionally been on keeping up with advances in technology, and expecting to build high functioning organisations around them.

Great Technology → Great Organisations → Great Products/Service

Recently, however, this fallacy has been reversed. Current thinking (Gartner et al) instead puts the emphasis on building a team first, a ‘humanist philosophy, meaning the mantra is closer to:

Great People → Great Organisations + Great Technology → Great Products/Service

The F1.1 Approach

When we approach digital transformation as a wicked problem, we accept that a traditional approach may not be sufficient. Gartner tell us that any solution ‘should be feasible and sustainable… but it must first be meaningful.’ They also remind us that ‘there needs to be a balance between the needs of the organisation and the needs of the employees it seeks to engage and motivate.’

The F1.1 Digital Aptitude and Pathway Transformation Lens is a simple three-phase analytic lens that both creates and tests a critical pathway for Framing, Enabling and Delivering digital transformation. It is a model sympathetic to both the aforementioned Gartner philosophy of humanism, and the wicked problem dualism of complicated things and complex people.

Our approach is based on the science of organisational sensemaking. Within a complex situation and facing multiple issues,  analysing the answers people give to two beguilingly (and misleadingly) simple questions‘What is the story here’  (and, therefore) ‘What do I do next?’ can give us an insight into the thought processes that inform their decision making.

In line with this model, the lens uses short questions to focus a leader’s attention on either broad or narrow scans of their organisation. Responses are mapped to models representing subject areas (for instance, organisational culture) which are then read in concert with other models (such as Performance and Engagement). A systems based approach is used, iteratively, to create a streamlined repository of data linked to what we call the ‘7 Domains’; shorthand for the broad subject areas that make up the functions of an organisation.

In a process taking less than three minutes, we help leaders to cut through the complexity that surrounds them, allowing them to focus on key areas of concern and opportunity. This assists them to better comprehend the current context of their organisations and enhances their decision-making capabilities.

The Digital Aptitude and Pathway Transformation Lens delivers ‘just sufficient’ analytics that enable leaders to make qualitatively better decisions in real time by listening to the voices of their people. It enables leaders to quickly assess capability and direct resources for much less time, effort and cost. This is realised through a seamless platform delivered on a device of their people’s choosing, at a time and place that suits them. In the digital space it answers the question for leaders ‘what’s the story here?’ by reducing ambiguity so that they are enabled to decide ‘what do I do next?’

How it works

The structure builds assessment and a critical pathway into three sequential elements; Framing, Enabling and Delivering. Those elements are themselves divided into a total of nine sequential topics. These are:

Framing  – The nature, purpose, and direction of the business indicated by:

  • Strategy
  • Organising
  • Leadership 

Enabling – The centring of the capacity and capability of people expressed through:

  • Culture
  • People
  • Change

Delivering – The way that a business delivers its products/services through:

  • Systems
  • Technology
  • Execution

Each of the topics (above) is supported by four super clues, each made up of nine questions. In total 36 binary questions are answered, in less than 3 minutes, informing leaders about either their capacity for (if the process has not yet been embarked upon) or their progress toward Digital Transformation.


F1.1 delivers adroit, fast, cost effective analytical solutions to leaders for whom ‘ambiguity is the enemy of execution’. The approach is grounded in science but expressed for people who cannot afford to be distracted from the workplace. Simple phrasing and models coalesce the thought process of leaders into actionable interventions. It does the heavy lifting of converting complex issues into simple understanding, without prejudice to either.

Development of the Digital Aptitude & Pathway Transformation Lens is an example of the F1.1 approach to demystifying important organisational issues by building on best theory and best practice.

It is a fast and cost-effective analytical solution that is in step with the day-to-day needs and tempo of business, and can help your organisation manage the wicked problem of digital transformation.

‘Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people… if you give them tools they will do wonderful things with them.’

– Steve Jobs


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