Digital Transformation Lessons from Piano Teachers and LEGO Company

Can you follow the “practice, practice, practice” model of the best pianists to succeed at digital transformation? Cindy Olsen, Sr. Manager, Brand and UX at Micro Focus thinks it’s about more than developing expertise. The LEGO Company is a great example, and offers a starting place for understanding how to embrace the tensions that accompany digital transformation.

Many of us embarked on the path of musicianship by learning how to play piano when we were young. Some of us endured it, and hopefully many enjoyed it. The skills you need to master this instrument require doing many things all at the same time. Reading two different lines of music. Left and right hand each doing multiple things independent of each other. But all in a way that it synthesizes together—and sometimes coordinates with other musicians—to reveal a hidden world of soul-stirring beauty within the piano’s 88 keys.

Fighting nature

The problem I had—and I suspect many others do, too—was that I couldn’t make my brain, hands, and sometimes feet, do all of that together at the same time. And it turns out that’s how nature intended it. Studies show that we can’t really multitask—and if we try we’re prone to mistakes. Our limbic systems, or our “lizard brains”, try to make us prioritize immediate needs over future needs. With all the tasks laid out in the music, it just wasn’t in the cards for me.

In business terms, figuring out everything that you have to do at the same time for digital transformation is a bit like learning to play the piano. You have to do many things, all at the same time. Ultimately, piano players figure it out by devoting hours and hours of practice over many years. But is it the same for digital transformation? There are some important differences for organizations who want to succeed.

Embracing the tensions of digital transformation

A recently published book, Both/And Thinking, by Smith and Lewis, helps us understand that those organizations with digital transformation agendas need to embrace what’s made them great in first place. But they can’t let it make them complacent. Their book cites the example of LEGO Company—so successful they were named “Toy of the Century”—and how they started to lose their market position in the late 90s because they didn’t embrace new ways of doing business. In fact, when Lucasfilm proposed a partnership of the two companies for introducing Star Wars, a vice president was quoted as saying, “Over my dead body will LEGO ever introduce Star Wars.” Now more than 30 years later, six of the top-10 owned-LEGO sets, according to, are Star Wars-themed.

Clearly LEGO found a way to embrace not only film partnerships, but movies, computer games, theme parks, and more. Smith and Lewis show us that they managed to navigate the tensions “between innovation and efficiency, modernization and traditions, flexibility and control.” Now LEGO is even more iconic than just the classic brick construction toys so many of us played with as children.

And so it is the same for digital transformation. The global economy is quickly moving to digital-first, and IT must learn to embrace the tensions that it brings. Attitudes like, “This is how we’ve always done it, and it still works,” need to change to, “This is how we’ve done it. What can we keep? What bridges do we need to build? How can the things that make us great make us better as we move forward?” And of course—how can we do it all at the same time?

Five strategies for digital transformation agendas

Micro Focus has five strategies that help IT work through—and embrace—the tensions and dilemmas of digital transformation. Each of these help our customers develop a tailored approach that works best for them to run and transform at the same time.

  • Don’t replace, update: Enterprises invest significant capital and resources into their technology choices and are often reluctant to abandon them—because they still work. But they become more expensive and riskier to maintain. These organizations can make incremental steps toward digitalization such as virtualization, containerization, so they can begin moving that intrinsic value to the cloud.
  • Incorporate insights quickly: Finding a way to improve customer experiences with the immediacy required by customers today means releasing applications on an increasingly accelerated schedule. Adopting software development lifecycle practices that allow you to input feedback and act quickly is key. Value stream management applies well-known manufacturing principles to application development, makes processes transparent, and gives visibility into value.
  • Automate everything possible: Automating processes and procedures that were once manual removes both risk of error and drives down cost. Robotic process automation, machine learning, and AI are all solutions you can pursue to move toward smoother digital IT operations.
  • Augment your analytics: Analytics used to come from humans digging insights out of spreadsheets that were thousands of lines long. In the digital world, change happens in hours, not days. Selecting a strong analytics solution for your enterprise can help surface critical insights early so you can feed them back into your business.
  • Be proactive about security: Unfortunately, “security by obscurity” isn’t always enough to keep your valuable data and assets safe anymore. Criminals are highly motivated, so you must protect what you already have, and simultaneously anticipate where they might try to attack next. Cyber resilience must always be on, and is a board-level imperative.

Practice flexibility

So as organizations “practice the fundamentals” of their business, it’s important to stay flexible with an eye to the horizon. Move forward by taking incremental steps and finding the right digital technology for what you’re trying to accomplish, not just the new and shiny thing. The game is changing—are you ready to find a new way of thinking that could change everything? Embrace the tensions of digital transformation so you can build a pathway to success.

To learn more about how Micro Focus helps our customers embrace the tensions of digital transformation so they can run and transform at the same time, check out our website.

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Senior Manager, Brand and UX

Micro Focus

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