Buzzwords may be the demise of society. “Pivot,” “onboarding,” “synergy” – each of these words have risen to the level of visceral impact, yet few of us even understand what they really mean on a practical corporate level. “Digital transformation” is no different. It’s at the tip of the spear in corporate America right now, and it’s easy to envision a robo-receptionist sitting at the desk typing 900 words per minute. In reality, however, digital transformation is more about thinking and adapting than AI and software. It’s about a mindset within an organization; not the implementation of technology.

In its most basic form, digital transformation is about shifting from analog to digital thinking. It’s about innovation and strategy. It’s about understanding why we use the latest developments in technology, not the mere use of them. It’s about understanding changes in our culture, customer base, and society in general, and then adapting in a future-thinking modality. In other words, if you want to digitally transform your organization, you must look first to how you are thinking about transformation before you look at the tools to get you there.

Here are four secret tactics that future-proofed corporations use to stay in front of the digital transformation revolution:

Think strategically, but differently

Digital transformation relies heavily on a deep understanding of customer needs and behaviors. In business, we often focus solely on internal efficiencies and objectives. In the process, we forget the needs of the customer. At the forefront of digital transformation is the vital connection between the corporation and the customer. If customers are ‘analog,’ for example, digital transformation may be an analog solution. However, as we step into the shoes of the customer, we should never forget Henry Ford’s famous words: “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Sometimes digital transformation is about giving the customer what they need by addressing what they want. In Henry Ford’s case, it was about speed, not about horses. In the corporate context, it’s about understanding where the organization stands (behind or in front of) in relation to the customer, and behaving accordingly.

Rely on data, but embrace instinct

With every incremental progression in technology, there is infinitely more data to assess. Digitally transformed companies understand the importance of data, they know where and when to find it, and most critically, they know how to use it to gain an advantage in the marketplace. However, just as we can easily become overwhelmed with too many options at the coffee shop, we can quickly become overwhelmed with the omnipresent nature of data. Companies leading the charge in this space understand that instincts are mission-critical in digital transformation. The smartest way to leverage data is in conjunction with instinct, where intuition is never sacrificed at the altar of monochromatic information.

Appreciate the map, but start the journey with the first step

Digital transformation is an ominous, long-term journey that will necessarily involve patience and action. Rather than become immobilized by the future, companies that succeed in digitally transforming do so because they understand the value of the first step. Many times, this can be as simple as updating software and hardware within an organization. Other times, it involves embracing an emerging technology or investing in technological infrastructure. Whatever the decision may be, the point is that a decision is made, and digital transformation takes place when action on that decision occurs.

Make a plan, but plan on changing it

The vast majority of companies fail to digitally transform because they fail to plan for digital transformation. Digital transformation is not about relying on AI, implementing new technology, or switching from dot matrix to laser (although in many cases, that is precisely how it appears). Instead, digital transformation begins to take shape when a plan is conceived based on relevant strategies and tactics, and that plan is deployed throughout the organization. If it’s not planned, it simply won’t happen. However, as with many areas of business, plans for digital transformation must evolve and change. The point is not to plan and walk away, but to plan, implement, and plan again. Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination.

Bonus: “Hot” Topics in Digital Transformation

Podcasts: A report by Edison Research indicates that podcasts are experiencing incredible growth and that more than 50% of all Americans over the age of 12 have listened to a podcast this year. Companies that invest in podcasts as part of their digital transformation strategy are much more likely to reach consumers with a curated and clear message. The most ‘transformed’ companies are using podcasts externally and internally.

Privacy: Recent and dramatic changes to privacy laws in and outside of the United States have invited corporate pandemonium. Companies with a strong command of privacy regulations will be better positioned to target consumers in legal, yet effective ways. Research shows that many companies refuse to embrace digital transformation as a result of fear and the uncertainty associated with privacy regulations. A company that is investing in a deep understanding of privacy will be positioned to stay ahead of the curve.

Mindset: The psychology of digital transformation is confusing, particularly in the corporate environment. Many times, the emphasis is directed to the rote introduction of new software and AI. The greater challenge is understanding digital transformation, which requires a pivot in mindset. Digital transformation, after all, is not simply about technology, but about adaptive thinking. More today than at any other time in history, large companies are beginning to understand the value of an “entrepreneurial mind” within the organization. These same companies are starting to perceive the deficiencies that have surfaced from depression and anxiety among staff. Companies embracing digital transformation are looking directly at the mindset of staff and executives, making this a crucial topic for today and the future.

If your organization hopes to survive and thrive in the coming years, it’s essential that you begin to assess where it stands within the framework of digital transformation. Refuse or fail to adapt and it’s more likely that your organization will be left behind. Take decisive action towards digital transformation and your organization will be poised to beat the competition and lead your industry. The choice is yours.