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Gerry McGovern's Transform Transform offers a radical new customer-centric philosophy and approach. PHOTO: Daniel Nanescu

To channel the customer centric mindset that drives the often-disruptive — and always wholly original — arguments that digital consultant and thought leader Gerry McGovern presents in his new work, "Transform: A Rebel’s Guide for Digital Transformation," it helps to begin by noticing the book can only be bought in humble paperback form.

It’s a counterintuitive but inspired choice for a book on digital transformation that underscores the book’s guiding thesis.

McGovern suggests today’s digital tools have empowered customers as never before in history, to search, to compare, and above all, to demand that information be delivered in a form that reinforces the usability and time value of that information.

Investing in a New Way of Thinking

With examples that range from the Liberian Ebola crisis to the Ashley Madison dating site, and numerous detours into the philosophy and history behind his arguments, McGovern has delivered a book that is not only overflowing with innovative insights but exhaustively researched and annotated as well.

And — full disclosure — Transform can be a little exhausting to read. It’s not a guidebook so much as a textbook and virtually every page of my review copy has the highlighted passages, scribbled margin notes and dog eared pages to prove it.

Think of reading the book as an investment in a new way of thinking, not only about digital transformation — a concept that could use some scholarly discussion if ever there was one — but about the potential of new business models that practice radical empathy to empower today’s customers.

Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern

(Editor's Note: Gerry McGovern will be delivering a keynote speech at CMSWire's DX Summit, which runs Nov. 14 to 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will speak on the culture of digital transformation on Tuesday, Nov. 15.)

Evangelizing Customer Centricity

Even more exciting — thrilling even — is McGovern’s gift for evangelizing customer-centricity. He truly made me believe that I been let in on a huge secret and what’s more, that when I finished the book, I would have the insight and tools to be an agent for organization-wide customer service change.

For those of you keeping score at home, yes: I read every word of a densely written 193-page treatise and came out feeling like an empowered rebel ready to slay the dragons of corporate arrogance and mediocrity wherever I found them. And let the change begin with me!

Transforming in Spite of Technology

McGovern believes digital transformation holds the promise of a more equitable society that will succeed in spite of technology, not because of it.

He argues the web has shifted the balance of power away from corporations pushing their products on poorly educated consumers and toward a more equal playing field built on trust, engagement and prioritizing customer needs.

Yet unquenchable optimist that he is, McGovern does not propose sending us, his newly deputized citizen consumer advocates out to do battle without weapons. And as a real-world web consultant for more than two decades, McGovern has developed an effective methodology called Top Tasks, which he clearly enumerates in the book through a series of detailed checklists and case studies.

Nefarious or Clueless?

My issues with the book were minor. Perhaps one of the largest hinged on the sheer number of bad actors that McGovern seems to believe are lurking out in the world, just waiting for their chance to undermine customer service at every turn.

From corporate IT departments to power hungry C-suite managers to glib advertising types to hapless government officials, the list grew long — and frankly, a bit tiresome.

Perhaps the power dynamics in Europe where McGovern is based are different, but he never convinced me that nefarious motives and capitalist greed were to blame for customer experience shortfalls so much as simple, pervasive cluelessness.

Establishing the Digital Timeline

Along similar lines, I didn’t feel the evolution of digital customer service was as binary as Transform made it out to be. After all, McGovern himself has been an internet consultant since 1994.

Surely during that time, numerous hardware and software innovations such as smartphones, mobile advertising, social media and the IoT have played a role in moving us away from the supply-push marketing of Mad Men-era packaged goods to the long-tail and gig-economy business models made possible by digital?

Visionary and Scholarly

Finally, I felt several chapters of the book seemed beyond the scope, overly long and didn’t add much. In particular, the chapters discussing the history and evolution of manufacturing, product design and employee relations could have been shortened and the chapter on intranets, while interesting, felt shoehorned in and perhaps better saved for McGovern’s next book.

However, these are the most minor of quibbles. On balance I found Transform to be one of the most outstanding business books I’ve encountered in a long time, both novel and visionary on the one hand and scholarly and buttoned-up on the other. I feel like a better person for having read Transform and recommend it very highly.