Real World Futures explores the boundaries of possibility

Futuristic office
Real World Futures (RWF) events presented by QUTeX explore the boundaries of possibility, consider our future state and delve into what the future of work and living will look like.
At the latest RWF event presented by QUTeX, Prof. Malcolm Thatcher and Dr Shari Read explored how the cultural and human imperatives of digital transformation have been made salient by the pandemic, but importantly how the renewed momentum can be harnessed.

The pace at which we are adopting and relying on technology could easily be framed as just another chapter in the evolution of work and life, but are we any better off?

In this live webinar (view the recorded presentation below or view the presentation) and in the context of digital transformation, we stopped to consider whether technology is overshadowing the need to spend considerable time and effort on understanding the paradigm and mindset shifts needed to work in truly new ways.

 For better or worse, COVID-19 exposed everyone’s digital maturity. Indeed, businesses outside the fallout zone have been transforming at a breakneck speed in recent months[1]. For some this was an opportunity to grow and thrive. For others, it was quick pivots and investments to keep pace in ‘the new normal’.  ‘Navigating the Future of Digital Transformation Risk’ accepts that technology can be transformative, but also hints at a precarious path to change. Professor Mal Thatcher and Dr Shari Read explored the cultural, organisational, and operational change components of digital transformation. How leaders and managers should best explore the smart integration of digital technologies, processes and competencies to create value for their stakeholders.

 The cost of failure

 In recent months, some could point to digital transformation projects being the catalyst for productivity and/or efficiency booms in their organisation. However, have we considered whether we are merely accommodating the change, adapting to it, or truly transforming? Are there new ways of working, collaborating, communicating, and getting things done that transform the way we do business?

 Professor Mal Thatcher and Dr Shari Reed presented the case that human factors ultimately determine the success of any project. Full Stop! Any thoughts of technology being the panacea to our problems were quickly dashed and my learned colleagues highlighted that organisations often ask the wrong questions of the wrong people; moreover, fail to consider the impact of the human element. Rest assured though, Mal cited that 70% of digital projects fail, which suggests that success is elusive to most. The cost of such failure Mal calculated at around US$900billion, globally. An incredible number! Given Australia’s GDP is around 1.7% of the global GDP[2], that equates to around US$15 billion in failed digital transformation investment in Australia. Challenging economic times aside and irrespective of the number, we cannot sustain these odds. I guess this also gives credence to why Mal describes IT systems as ‘incubators for chaos’.

Adaptability and emotion

IT systems are complex; hence we are prone to errors, embroiled in a perpetual battle for clean data, and resist changing systems. If there is one thing that could be tackled in a variety of ways, resulting in any number of conceivable outcomes, it is an IT System. Think, you just wrapped your head around the current system, you are familiar with the processes, created your procedures, but then time comes to update the system. These changes are challenging, but their frequency is such that we have merely adapted now; indeed, adaptability is on the rise and we are ‘increasingly learning in the moment’[3].  Building on this notion coupled with the adage, ‘best laid plans fail at first hurdle’, we have seen a rise in adaptability as the must-have mindset and there has been a proliferation of agile thinking courses[4]. Yet, when much larger projects are mooted, or the word transformation is bundled into the conversation, adaptability will only get you so far. This is where Mal suggests accountability should not sit solely with the CIO or the technical specialist, it is the wider business leaders who need invest in the TIE principle. Investing the requisite Time, Intellect, and Emotion into any transformation project, as these three investments are critical to success.

 Capability and transformation  

Building on the TIE principle, it was interesting delving into the emotional element; particularly when Shari highlighted how a truly transformational change project can draw emotions akin to the seven stages of grief and loss. Yet, it does not have to be this way! The human-centred approach championed by Shari sought to switch the feelings of fear and stress into motivation and enthusiasm. In doing so, momentum is sustained and there is no shifting wave of emotions or a need to endure the ‘valley of tears’. With the right investments and thinking, we can shift mindsets to embrace change; consequently, taking on greater levels of change, scale-up or move away from iterative processes, and truly transform.

Recent months have proved that many businesses and their people are capable of great things. Leaders have stepped up, quick decisions and rapid changes have been made, and we are united in our ambition for a better, digitally enhanced and emotionally engaged world.

Looking to the future, and for many the future is now, the practical skills required to implement truly transformational strategies are on the rise. Leaders will increasingly need to understand and articulate what disruptions mean for their business and the industry. Effective business strategies will morph into transformation roadmaps. We have led through turbulent times and proven our adaptability and resilience, but it is time to harness the power of disruptive thinking and technologies to sustainably improve our operations and increase the value to our stakeholders.

Opportunity and collaboration

 To drive the innovation agenda forward and shape decision-making in digital maturing and transformative environments, QUTeX has been a guiding light for many businesses and peak professional bodies. Consistently ranked as one of Australia’s leading universities for corporate education[5], QUTeX works with a wide range of government and corporate organisations to boost workforce capability and carve paths to meaningful change. QUTeX can deliver immediate capability uplift with challenging, on-the-job training and bespoke development programs. Our programs are co-designed with you to deliver return on investment through real world application. We deliver where it is convenient for you and are in the unique position of being able to draw upon an immense bank of knowledge, resources and world-renowned educators from a range of disciplines.

To continue your learning on transformation, you might be interested in Activate, our transformation eXcelerator program. Next intake commencing February 2021.
Kickstart your innovation roadmap, explore future-focussed challenges, and understand future capability needs by connecting with QUTeX.  Get your team future fit. Fast.

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[1] Newman, D. (2020). The Top 10 Digital Transformation Trends Of 2020: A Post Covid-19 Assessment. Retrieved 3 September 2020, from

[2] The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade). (2019). WHY AUSTRALIA BENCHMARK REPORT 2019 (p. 4). Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from

[3] Dwoskin, J. (2020). Council Post: Adaptability Is The Key To Business Growth: Five Ways To Stay Ahead Of Real-Time. Retrieved 7 September 2020, from

[4] Mersino, A. (2019). The Circus of Agile Certifications…And a Challenge. Retrieved 7 September 2020, from

[5] Business school rankings from the Financial Times – (2020). Retrieved 7 September 2020, from


Adam Lenihan is a Corporate Partnership Manager at QUT, leading a portfolio of corporate education partnerships in the mining, resources, construction, and utilities sectors. Adam works with his clients to develop a thorough understanding of their executive and professional development needs to deliver high-impact, real world education partnerships and leadership development programs. Adam’s partnership activities for QUT have resulted in a range of specially designed programs that have harnessed the University’s capabilities to develop leaders and equip organisations with the skills and confidence to succeed in complex, ambiguous, future-focussed and emergent environments. Adam holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Master of Security Studies, a Bachelor of Creative Industries (BCI), and is recognised as a Fellow of the Institute of Managers and Leaders (FIML) and in 2019 was awarded the Chartered Manager (CMgr) designation by the Chartered Management Institute.

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