Diversity and precise blurring


We know from pre-digital times: Transformation processes should be set up as programmes consisting of small, focused projects. The programme sets the strategic direction, which the projects implement tactically. The design of the transformation programme and the design of the implementation projects present very different challenges that require different approaches.

When designing the programme, it is important to consciously deal with the different perspectives of the stakeholders. Because even in so-called win-win-win situations, where there are (almost) only winners, the interpretations of the change programme usually differ greatly. Comprehensive unification can only be achieved through dictatorial means that undermine support for the programme.

In the design of implementation projects, on the other hand, the aim is to involve as few different stakeholder groups as possible by design. This is because in implementation projects it is important that everyone fully shares the goals. Discussions about goals are harmful above all because they reduce the readiness for the necessary discussion of methods. Especially in digital transformation, however, a colourful bouquet of different methods is often needed to be successful. Those who discuss goals become methodologically simple-minded and therefore do not move the transformation forward. By focusing on small, focussed projects, you create the conditions for all those involved to actually pull in the same direction and have enough energy to select the right mix of methods in an internal, constructive discussion. The core team in particular should have a high degree of diversity in terms of personal experience.

Diversity in the concept

In transformation processes, we have to deal with very different levels, the programme design and the project design. You could put it this way: There is diversity in both, but it occurs in entirely different ways. The diversity of the programmes is involuntary, does not allow for consistent standardisation and represents the real challenge; the diversity of the projects is deliberately chosen under the boundary condition of complete consistency in relation to the goal and increases the probability of success: it ensures that one is well prepared for unexpected difficulties.

But how does one deal with the diversity of perspectives of different stakeholder groups in programme design? There is an approach to this called “precise blurring”, which originated in the Kakan vocabulary. The idea of precise vagueness is to work with abstract concepts that are deliberately not defined exactly, but are nevertheless used very carefully, precisely. They serve to set goals. With their precise fuzzy formulation, it is possible to achieve a common orientation of different stakeholder groups in the same direction without conflicts arising from different points of view.

Of precision and intrigue

Mathematical precision in defining target concepts blocks the transformation process just as much as sloppily devised concepts. Both – precise definitions in an early phase, flexible interpretations in a later phase – are therefore demanded especially by those who want to prevent the success of the transformation programme.

Who has not experienced it: In the management it is demanded that one must first define very precisely … before one can act. And who has not experienced that, conversely, after a strategy or an ethical principle has been defined, everything is declared as fulfilment of the strategy or implementation of the concept, even if it is the complete opposite. In the first case, sharpness is demanded where it harms, in the second case, vagueness is interpreted according to the Jekami principle and everyone carries on as before, only more shamelessly.

But intrigues of the kind described are not the real problem. Intrigue is part of business and administrative life and is so ubiquitous that literature and theatre are also overflowing with it, or at least they were until a few years ago – read about it in the Swiss classic “Intrigue – Theory and Practice of Deceit” by Peter von Matt. The real problem is usually that even well-meaning supporters either demand inappropriate sharpness of concepts or display sloppiness where precision is needed. They want the best and in the process erode the foundations of the intended transformation. What would it take to prevent this?

Courage for cultural process

The cause of the problem is often, on the one hand, the uncertainty that triggers blurring and, on the other hand, the inability to recognise the dissimilarity of the similar and thus to deal with blurring with sufficient precision. There seems to be no short-term remedy for such fears and perception problems. We only know how to impart in education the qualities necessary to deal with precise blurring well. Necessary – or at least very helpful – is the practice of inventing definitions. A person who has learned to invent a definition when necessary, which is devastating, is much less afraid of blurring, but recognises very clearly the dissimilarity of the similar. In addition, she or he finds it easier to recognise the sameness of the dissimilar. This helps in the cross-domain transfer of solution methods.

And in the digital transformation? All this is even more important. Transformation must be understood as a cultural process that is developed programmatically with precise fuzziness and realised with small focused, optimally pre-planned and yet disciplined agile projects. For this, we need to train the capable junior staff at the universities. The fact that this is done by training thinking, specifically by practising the invention of definitions that go astray, is neither intentional nor accidental, but unavoidable.

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AUTHOR: Reinhard Riedl

Prof. Dr Reinhard Riedl is a lecturer at the Institute of Digital Technology Management at BFH Wirtschaft. He is involved in many organisations and is, among other things, Vice-President of the Swiss E-Government Symposium and a member of the steering committee of TA-Swiss. He is also a board member of eJustice.ch, Praevenire - Verein zur Optimierung der solidarischen Gesundheitsversorgung (Austria) and All-acad.com, among others.

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