How to break through the gravitational pull of your legacy organization

Legacy companies have made significant strides in digital innovation. You’d be hard-pressed to find a business that hasn’t launched an app, redesigned its website, piloted digital tools, or opened a Twitter account. Scaling all the benefits of digital is the next frontier, but it’s proving to be a significant barrier for many companies. While it’s possible to muscle your way through a single digital initiative, scaling them requires breaking through the gravitational pull that the legacy business exerts as it reverts to ways of working that have been successful for decades.

Breaking through that force field demands strength, conviction, and, in most cases, a trigger. CEOs need to create a sense of urgency, even fear, to spur their companies to embrace innovation and change at scale. Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner put it like this when he saw that his company faced a new level of competition: “Suddenly others are earning the money.” Denner initially invited the entire workforce to form “disruption discovery teams” to develop digital strategies that attacked the Bosch business model—and received 1,800 ideas in less than a week.1Ideas are easy, but unless they address the core issues of the business, they often fail. Denner helped break through the old ways of doing business by institutionalizing these teams, which are now a core part of the Bosch training program and create a “disruption engine” that’s continually in motion.

So how do companies successfully break through the gravitational pull of their legacy businesses? That struck us as the key issue to address in a digital transformation. So we analyzed more than 50 case studies of companies that have made significant strides in scaling their digital transformations for our book Digital @ Scale.

Read more from Jürgen Meffert and Anand Swaminathan at Mckinsey.com.

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