What can a modern enterprise learn from the transformation of a city? How to unlock the value behind legacy walls while building on core strengths. How to build for scale and to provide a great user experience. How to remove friction and unleash the innovation of myriad architects and developers. These themes are common to both urban transformation and digital transformation. Neither is simple.
Digital transformation can be difficult to get a handle on – for some it’s overwhelming, for others it’s empty jargon, and, for everyone, the goalposts of becoming a digital business are constantly moving, and the state of being “transformed” is always shifting. Where to begin? How to approach? Who to follow? Agile? DevOps? Innovation labs? UX? Platform businesses? Social? Mobile? Cloud?
Sometimes, on our quest to define the future for ourselves and our endeavors, we forget that the human experience repeats similar patterns – the past can provide us with tools to navigate the future.
Founded in Roman times, Barcelona was a city within a wall, which was built at first to protect the busy trading port from pirates, marauders, and kings. That same wall eventually was fortified to be a wall of control, built by the king to stifle the unruly citizenry.
By the 1850s, Europe was in the throes of the Industrial Revolution. Society was changing rapidly, governments and institutions were confronting new types of problems brought on by a growing middle class, rural populations were transitioning to crowded, polluted cities, and radical new political ideas of nationhood and economics were being debated in streets and in the halls of government.
Barcelona very much represented these dynamic times. It was a city bursting at its seams in population, wealth, and political intrigue.
It was challenged to meet the needs of its growing, restless citizenry and rapidly expanding working and middle classes. Rather than protecting the city, the wall that encircled Barcelona had become a hindrance, the streets were filled with riots and disease, businesses and factories could no longer expand, and the most creative elements of society began to abandon the city.
Finally, by the 1850s, the wall came down. Barcelona began its transformation from an essentially medieval city plan to eventually become the modern city it is today, known for its commerce, culture, architecture, food, nightlife, soccer, and global events, including the Olympics, World Expos, and annual Mobile World Congress.
The story of Barcelona’s transformation from a wealthy but constrained medieval city to a modern dynamo offers lessons about leadership, platform thinking, ecosystems, and organization for those leading digital transformation efforts in enterprises. Watch the video below to explore this further:
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