FWD Momentum: How a Mindset of Change Drives Continuous Transformation

During her opening keynote for the third annual FWD symposium held last week, Solstice CEO Kelly Manthey invited an audience member on stage to ride a bike across the stage. The task seemed easy enough: simply make it from one side to the other without falling.

The catch, of course, was that this particular bike had its steering mechanism switched — turn right and the wheel went left, turn left and the wheel went right. This tiny modification to the steering column flipped the term “just like riding a bike” on its head, and made it all but impossible to ride it without falling.

Of course, the creator of the backwards bike eventually re-learned how to ride it, but it took nearly a year of frustration, failures, and repetition to do it.

So what, exactly, does this have to do with digital transformation? A lot, in fact.

Relying on legacy thinking in the Digital Age is a little like trying to ride a backwards bike: conventional wisdom doesn’t serve us well, and more often than not, it’s precisely what holds us back.

The advent of AI and other emerging technology switched the steering mechanism on modern business years ago, yet many organizations continue to rely on the way problems “used to” be solved.


Simple ≠ Easy

Transformation in the Digital Age takes time, attention, and patience. It requires a commitment to relearn the way we solve problems and being okay with doing the things that initially feel unnatural or uncomfortable. Like learning to ride a backwards bike, adopting this organizational mindset of change is simple, but not easy.

Consider the experience of Richard Wright, Managing Director of Global Digital Transformation at Citibank. His FWD keynote chronicled a campaign he spearheaded with Citi, which aimed to build a world-class lending process that rivaled the speed of its global banking competitors.

Like many champions of organization change, Richard’s story included a moment of panic when he realized something terrifying: he didn’t know where to start. But since defaulting to the status quo simply wasn’t an option, Richard had no option but to find a way forward.

“That’s the thing about change — creating demand for it is hard to start,
but it’s equally hard to stop.”
—Richard Wright, Managing Director, Global Digital Transformation, Citibank 

His solution was twofold: break down a big problem into smaller, more manageable steps organized into themes — something he called a “transformation framework” — then empower the “execution-minded complainers” to execute against it.

By creating a strategy that was not only anchored with clear principles but backed by people who had the right amount of disdain for the status quo, Richard took a lopsided and inefficient process and turned it into one of the fastest lending systems in just two years.

But more importantly, Richard ignited a culture of change within his organization — one that would ultimately create momentum all on its own.

Transformation in Practice

More often than not, transformation starts with changing the way people think about solving a problem. For Solstice, this often comes down to throwing out the old way of doing things and building from the ground up.

Consider the implications of FLWR, a mixed reality experience that debuted at FWD. Despite assumptions about how AR and VR technology are used solely for individual experiences, FLWR challenged this assumption by championing collaborative problem-solving through a hybrid of the virtual and digital world

Beyond the tech, FLWR was a study in how changing the way you think about solving problems is the driving force behind nearly all successful transformation efforts. It’s not enough to have a vision for the future. You must be willing to reinvent your way of thinking, and ready to challenge even the most long-held assumptions about how tools and tech are “supposed” to be used.

As noted by Richard during his keynote, nearly 70 percent of large and complex transformation efforts do not meet their objectives. The remaining 30 percent are those that understand that transformation is about more than tools. Harnessing a human’s inherent disdain for the status quo might be the missing link in organizational efforts to affect change.

Whether you’re already leading a campaign or just beginning to dip your toes into the waters of digital transformation, remember the backwards bike. Sometimes the only thing standing in between your organization and its digital future is your cultural mindset. Momentum must start somewhere, so just start pedaling.

Missed my FWD talk? Watch it here