The Monster of IT Conformism

Published on Friday, December 6th 2019


Opinions differ when it comes to raising children. According to the dictionary it means ‘bringing up physically and mentally’. Other words for it are rearing and breeding. In the Western world it means that as children we are handed all kinds of truths by our parents or caregivers, which we accept unquestioningly. In the first years of our lives we copy more or less all the examples of thinking and doing, without really being aware of it. The ‘bringing up physically and mentally’ places us in patterns that can only be broken with great difficulty later on. This explains why regional accents, sports clubs, and chains like McDonald’s are so persistent. They are handed down from parent to child, and children are powerless to reject them. What could be safer than going to the water polo club with mom and dad, or the stamp collector’s club, the brass band rehearsals, or anything your parents and all your other relatives are members of? What child doesn’t love going for a burger with their mom once a week? It’s a feeling you readily remember later in life. I like to call this the McDonald’s effect: a very pleasant association with the snugness of your safe childhood, whether or not imposed by the context in which you live. It can go on for ages and lots of people grow old with it.

Exactly a hundred years ago, Hermann Hesse pointed out the effect of this kind of peer pressure in his novel Demian. At the end of the Great War he described how disappointed young Germans were in the ideals of their parents. It had a tremendous impact on that young generation. ‘Be yourself’, Hesse taught them. It took a mass psychosis (National Socialism) and another world war before the German nation could really make a new start. After all, the cart tracks made by traditions and convictions run very deep

Let’s return to raising children. After about seven years children develop a level of awareness; depending on the setbacks we experience and the mistakes we make, we can learn from them. As we grow older, we can also learn to wonder what drives us and whether that contributes to the person we want to be. Naturally that is not always the case. If that makes us want to change, we have to learn to banish those old convictions and associations. This can only be done by long routine training. In psychological terms it’s called cognitive behavioural therapy. Our subconscious wants to hold on to the old habits, but as soon as the new habits and the corresponding framework of thoughts gain a firm foothold, things will change almost naturally. Our conscious mind helps us absorb information in real time and process it for our new habits, but it takes practice and it won’t happen overnight.

In a book entitled Zen in the Art of Archery, one of Hesse’s contemporaries, Eugen Herrigel, explains that we can only get really good at something by practising it consistently for many years.

What does this mean for the world of IT and our collective achievements there? Again, constant practice is the ticket here. An organisation that performs badly today really needs time to become good. Sadly, everyone looks for short-term success and is always prepared to join the next collective trend when it presents itself. Something like a Digital Transformation, once started, is a process that will never be finished. Organisations that realise this and keep practising it will be successful. Others will fail.

Innovation is not so much about technology and brilliant solutions, but more about how you run your business. IT started off as a pocket calculator. Significantly, this functionality still plays a part in digital infrastructure, although obviously supported by other technologies and with an updated design. This goes for practically all functionalities in our IT landscape. Therefore a Digital Transformation is nothing more than managing the transient nature of an organisation’s IT landscape. Managers who put artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and blockchain at the top of their agendas just because everyone else does are in for a nasty surprise, because they try to initiate innovation with a technology they don’t understand at all. This is where the monster of conformism triumphs. We adapt organisations too much to what we see all around us and don’t pay enough attention to ‘bringing up’ the business. Hermann Hesse’s work focuses on self-development, or as he put it: ‘Sei Du Selbst’. Who are we? This is a question that should be asked more often in the boardrooms. And while you’re at it, ask yourselves what you think something like AI should do, and if that’s actually possible. If it gets too complicated, I’d be happy to help you answer this question.


Hans van Bommel,
Digital Transformation Accelerator