3 Keys to Surviving in the Age of Digital Transformation

3 Keys to Surviving and Thriving in the Age of Digital Transformation | Workfront

When your product becomes a verb, you know you’ve reached critical mass—with name recognition, at least. It may even mean you’ve achieved market domination. We’ve all watched it happen with Google, Photoshop, Skype, FaceTime, and other brands.

TiVo, it seems, had reached this vaunted status, only to be cast down. So, what happened to TiVo?


In his viral TED Talk (hello 36 million views), Simon Sinek used TiVo as a classic example of a company that had all the ingredients for commercial success: the right people, the right funding, the right market conditions. They verbed up! And yet their IPO was a disaster, with stock that started at $30 or $40 and had rarely traded above $6 even 10 years later. (It was around $15 at the time of this writing.)

Sinek says TiVo’s critical error was a continuous focus on their “what” over their “why” or the “how”—to their own detriment. “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it, and what you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe,” he said.

But that’s not the only thing that went wrong.

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In his 2014 obituary to the sleek black box with its peanut-shaped remote, The Verge’s Chris Ziegler, who was an early TiVo adopter and longtime devotee, said this:

“TiVo innovated at a pace unbefitting its role as a disruptor; it got weirdly complacent for a company that was facing constant threat from the cable and satellite providers who were creeping on its only game.”

Many an obituary has been written for TiVo, and yet the brand hangs on, largely due to settlements and judgments from patent lawsuits against a long list of competitors, including: Samsung, Comcast, EchoStar, Cisco, Motorola, Time Warner, Verizon, and Google.

As Time Magazine reported last year:

“TiVo won all its patent infringement cases, bringing home $1.6 billion that has sustained the company to this day. But considering that many consumers think TiVo went out of business, in the end, did it really win?”

In short, TiVo stopped adapting and transforming. Even now, with over 6,000 patents under its belt and plans to release new technology, TiVo's chances of reclaiming its former glory are marred by its inability to maintain a competitive pace of innovation.

And TiVo isn't the only company moving too slow in the fast lane of transformation. If you keep your ear to the ground even a fraction of the time, you've likely heard about the impending need to get on the "digital transformation" train. Those companies that hasten their transition from analog processes and tools to digital processes and tools, they say, will eat those who can't make said transition fast enough for breakfast.

According to thought leaders and the crowd alike, digital transformation is bearing down on us like a freight train. So, what's going to make the difference between the TiVos and the winners?

Internal vs. External Factors

Only 11% of large companies (defined as public companies with more than $500 million in sales) become sustained value creators, according to figures from Bain & Company. Of the remaining companies, 85% blame their failures on internal factors, rather than external factors like competition and market conditions. The top five barriers to growth cited by the companies’ CEOs include:

  1. Insufficient resources
  2. Inability to focus
  3. A culture of risk aversion
  4. Organizational complexity
  5. Weak business plans

digital transformation graph

Sineck already established that external market conditions were ideal when TiVo launched. So which of these internal factors did TiVo fall victim to? Three of the top five.

Dozens of online sources point to problems with focus (its marketing focused on the wrong problem), a culture of risk aversion (aka that “weird complacency” Ziegler cited), and weak business plans that bet on the wrong approach—e.g., playing nice when they should have dominated and taming their revolutionary features to please TV providers, on whom they were reliant, according to Time.

Where the company may have gone right was in the critical area of organizational complexity. It used a hub organization that concentrated on technological innovation while establishing outsourcing relationships for “distribution, manufacturing, the process of setting up retailers, public relations, advertising and customer support,” according to MIT Sloan Management Review.

Neither was a lack of resources problematic for TiVo, as Sineck pointed out.

Are you ready to win in the marketplace 5 years from now? Find out by watching our on-demand webinar "A Survival Guide For the Future Workplace."

Could it be that these two internal factors TiVo didn’t struggle with were enough to help the brand hang on through decades unprofitability and stagnation? Possibly. But in the age of digital disruption we inhabit today, it’s going to take a lot more.

According to another report from Bain & Company:

“Global financial assets are now 10 times global GDP, making talent and ideas rather than capital the binding constraint on growth in most large companies.”

It goes without saying that stalled and failing companies are less likely to attract the top talent that will bring with them the best ideas.

So what can organizations and individuals do to inoculate themselves against crippling stagnation in a digitized world marked by constant disruption? How can teams attract the talent and ideas they’ll need to both survive and thrive?

We asked a few of today’s thought leaders to share their perspectives on the need for digital transformation, and three overarching themes emerged.

Flexible Work

freelancer coffee shop

More workers than ever are choosing to freelance. The latest stats from Upwork and the Freelancers Union peg the total at 55 million people, or 35% of the total U.S. workforce. Younger employees in particular, who now outnumber every other group, are far less enamored of corporate career paths than previous generations have been. Many prefer the “gig economy” provided via organizations like TaskRabbit, Uber, Amazon Flex, HelloTech, and others.

How can traditional workplaces compete? By embracing flexibility themselves. Flexibility about when and where employees do their work. Flexibility about start and end times. Flexibility about how teams are expected to work together and collaborate. Proximity does not always equal connectedness.

“I could feel disconnected in an office and feel super-connected to people remotely if it’s handled right,” said TedX speaker Terri Trespicio in a recent interview. “And the right tech will make connection instantaneous and make for seamless productivity.”

Naturally, technology is set to play a huge role in facilitating the kind of flexibility that companies will need to stay competitive. Cloud-based work hubs, for instance, will erase the communication and information barriers present when working with remote workers, whether they be contractor or employee.

Companies could even offer greater flexibility in job descriptions and org structure. In Fast Company, Stacey Engle, executive vice president at global development firm Fierce, suggested that employers could implement the gig economy within the workplace. “For example, providing opportunities for employees to choose assignments in different areas.”

If you’re a person who craves the autonomy and variety of working on different kinds of projects but the security and predictability (not to mention the insurance benefits) of corporate employment, Engle’s idea would provide the best of both worlds.

Alex Shootman, CEO of Workfront, believes that in the future, all work will follow this pattern, which he likes to call “the Hollywood model” of work.

"Teams will self-organize around particular project that could take weeks, months, or years," Shootman says, "and then they'll disband and move on to the next thing, much like film crews do as they move from one movie to the next. I believe we'll see this more and more as digital natives continue to enter the workforce."

But none of this can work without high levels of transparency and a strong communication infrastructure, which is where work management software—also known as “an operational system of record”—plays an important role. Businesses that neglect this part of their digital transformation, Shootman warns, will be caught unaware by this unorthodox shift in work organization.

Are you ready to win in the marketplace 5 years from now? Find out by watching our on-demand webinar "A Survival Guide For the Future Workplace."

If remote teams and project-based work are to be effective, processes need to be documented and accessible by everyone, not to mention automated as much as possible. Cloud-based communication and collaboration tools are a must, and increased visibility is key, if people are going to be able to work well together from dispersed locations.

Patrick Lencioni, founder of The Table Group and author of 11 books on leadership and organizational health, told us:

“I think, in the future, we’re just going to see more and more people doing their work in a way that’s completely integrated into their lives, which is actually a good thing because I think that work-life balance people used to think that it meant just leaving earlier. I think that it’s actually being able to do things when you want to and making your life a lot more flexible.”

Just how important is flexibility and work-life balance in the workplace of the future? Well, considering that 74% of workers would quit their current jobs today to work for an organization offering remote-work options, “important” is an understatement.

“I think [flexibility] is already happening,” Lencioni says, “but there are still so many workplaces where that’s not true.”

Our own State of Work survey shows that most U.S. workers are optimistic that technology will increase the freedom of employees to work where and when they want.

flexible workplace graph

Transforming For a Flexible Future

We’re making strides, but we’re not there yet. While 79% of knowledge workers have access to flextime, one in six is still afraid to use it. In a recent article for HR Dive, Shootman offers six tips for helping organizations get over their fear of flextime:

  1. Start at the top—executive and managerial support is essential.
  2. Set core hours—designate certain times of day when most everyone should be available to answer questions and collaborate.
  3. Be clear about expectations—communicate a shared vision of what a healthy balance of at-home and in-office work looks like.
  4. Empower everyone to set boundaries—everyone has a say, not just the boss.
  5. Be considerate—reserve evening and weekend communications for rare emergencies.
  6. Keep workloads in balance—flexible teams need more visibility and better communication channels to keep workloads from getting uneven.

For seasoned corporate employees—and managers especially—this is a big shift in office norms. But the benefits are worth it, Shootman says, including: “higher employee engagement and retention, reduced carbon footprint, equal or even increased productivity, and a work environment better suited to the needs and preferences of the rising generation.”


Ever heard of the digital maturity curve? It measures where traditional enterprises fall in seven key dimensions:

[Curious where you land on this curve? Here’s a survey that will reveal where you fall.]

How much does this matter?

“Companies that have made the most strides in digital outperform their rivals,” Bain’s research concludes. “The 15% of companies that are farthest along on the digital maturity curve are 8 times more likely to have increased market share and consistently exceed multiple goals than the 15% of companies that are least mature.”

In other words, it matters a lot. And automation is a big piece of the pie. Automation allows companies to know things and pay attention to things they never could have known in the past. Manual work goes away, as do some of our more manual jobs. But new jobs arise as new types of work become possible.

Are you ready to win in the marketplace 5 years from now? Find out by watching our on-demand webinar "A Survival Guide For the Future Workplace."

“With increased digitization in the enterprise, knowledge work is going to move from what has been a support capability to more closely related to the production and revenue-generating capabilities of a company,” Shootman says, “and therefore, people will begin paying way more attention to whether or not the knowledge work is being done effectively.”

This may be one of the most neglected aspects of the digital transformation. Many business leaders get so enamored with the technology required, they totally miss the massive shift this will create in the skill sets team members will need to succeed.

As artificial intelligence, robots, cobots, and other automated technologies continue to proliferate and take over our mundane tasks, humans are freed up to do more of what humans are uniquely capable of doing. So we’ll need to get better at our human work—not only to stay relevant but also to capitalize on the incredible opportunities this offers.

Says Lencioni:

“That’s when technology really pays off—when we stop thinking

Many organizations are using AI in such a seamless way that they’re not even aware of it. In a study from Narrative Science, a leader in the natural language generation field, just 38% of enterprises say they utilize artificial intelligence at work. However, when asked whether they use voice recognition, automated written reporting and communications, and predictive analytics, 88% of the “no we don’t use AI" group acknowledged that they actually do.

“AI technologies, when combined with human skills, is optimal because it produces results reaching beyond what either group could achieve alone,” said Narrative Science CEO Stuart Frankel.

AI can comb through billions of data points, drawing conclusions in seconds that it would take teams of humans years to reach. Yes, jobs that require combing through data line by line may be threatened, but conclusions are less likely to be wrong, and humans can focus instead on what to do with the data, which is really the most important part of the equation. Knowledge by itself is useless, and humans are uniquely able to apply data-driven knowledge in ways that solve human problems.

Transforming For an Automated Future

Artificial intelligence is infiltrating every corner of the enterprise, from finance to marketing to human resources to project management. Just expect that any task that’s definable, repeatable, and manual is an eventual candidate for automation.

If you can easily imagine a machine performing the tasks you currently perform at work, you have three choices: 1) get better at working with data and AI, so you can direct it rather than having it direct you, 2) start honing your complex, managerial, and interpersonal skills, the stuff AI will never excel at, or 3) continue on as you were and eventually find yourself replaced by a robot.


To state the obvious, technology moves quickly. And because of machine-learning and artificial intelligence, which have the ability to self-improve, the pace is increasing.

Dozens of different tech solutions to the same problem tend to spring up simultaneously, and our challenge will be to make sense of the landscape and figure out two big questions.

1. Which tech solutions should we integrate into our workflows and our lives in general?

Tech solutions will never select and install themselves, no matter how intelligent they may be. We have to evaluate and decide which technologies are worth our capital and our time. While automation will take over some of our simple decisions (like what time of day to send a marketing email and to what audience), we still have to make complex decisions like which automation software to use, how to subdivide our audience into useful groups, and what content to include in the marketing email.

But how do we get better at a soft skill like simply making a decision?

Harvard Business Review reports that “effective decision-making practices increase the number of good business decisions sixfold and cut failure rates nearly in half.” And yet, “only 2% regularly apply best practices when making decisions, and few companies have systems in place to measure and improve decision making over time.”

HBR researchers designed a seven-step decision-making checklist that, when used, saves managers an average of 10 hours of discussion, helps them decide 10 days faster, and improves the outcomes of their decisions by 20%.

Are you ready to win in the marketplace 5 years from now? Find out by watching our on-demand webinar "A Survival Guide For the Future Workplace."

2. How can we make each of the tech systems we rely on play nicely together?

“I see that all the tools we use need to be connected in some form,” says Travis Lucas, creative director at a Utah-based digital communication company. “Right now, it’s a little bit difficult to do your work because we’re in multiple different tools for multiple different purposes and not all the tools talk to each other. So, I think the tools’ connectivity and the simplicity of the user interface is all going to be helpful.”

Add this to the top of your own personal decision-making checklist. Your tech solutions absolutely must integrate well with the other solutions you use most. Luckily, that’s getting easier than ever.

“Software developers have gotten so good, and APIs have interconnected so many platforms, that even software built for a narrow purpose typically has multi-faceted functionality,” business strategist Jay Baer says.

Transforming For an Integrated Future

“I think five years from now, we’re going to have every piece of information at our fingertips across different boundaries,” Lencioni says. “Companies that can help people pull that information together are going to be doing very well. I think knowledge workers are going to be less and less concerned about ‘how do I get the information I need?’ and more concerned about ‘what do I do with this and how do I work with people?’”

A Flexible, Automated, Integrated Future

future technology

If there’s anything we know about predictions of the future is that they tend to be wrong. And the future arrives much more quickly than it ever used to, if you measure in terms of progress made and not just years having passed.

TiVo’s prospects looked brilliant in 1999. Its disruptive technology rivaled that of Apple’s iPod, which was released just two years later.

“Both products established small, but rabidly loyal fan bases that spread good word of mouth,” wrote Fortune a few years ago. “Both were powered by software that was not only easy to use, but remarkably intuitive. Both products were hailed in 2004 as new technologies that would disrupt stodgy, complacent old media giants.”

Fast-forward 14 years, and their fates could not be more different, at the moment at least. The key word there is fast. The speed at which brands rise and fall these days has changed the way we think about a lot of things, not just verbification. And it also means TiVo’s story isn’t over yet.

In the age of digital disruption, the fate of every brand, whether it was founded in 1997 or 2017, lies in its ability to attract the most important capital of the day—talent and ideas. This, in turn, depends on embracing three independent but interrelated trends as we sprint to catch up with the pace of digital transformation: flexibility, automation, and integration.

Are you ready to win in the marketplace 5 years from now? Find out by watching our on-demand webinar "A Survival Guide For the Future Workplace."