A Change Management Approach for Quantum Technologies & The Quantum Mindset
By Esperanza Cuenca-Gomez, QSI Head of Change Management
“I am here for the quantum talk” I informed the receptionist. “Sure, would you please hand me your ID card and please fill this form?” she said. This was November 2019, in the ‘before-times’. That day, I attended my first ever talk about quantum technologies, held at IBM headquarters in Madrid. The speaker, Sonia López-Bravo, now a technical writer for quantum at Microsoft, brilliantly explained the basics. My mind was racing with all the implications, particularly for businesses.
Quantum technologies are full of promise and potential. These technologies also bring their own challenges. Governments and businesses must start taking decisive action to manage the quantum changes as the second quantum revolution unfolds. Not doing so carries the risk of being left behind, and experience from other revolutions (like for example, artificial intelligence) shows that this is not a favorable position to be in. Organizations without an AI mindset failed to execute on AI projects. Thus, organizations need a change management approach unique to quantum.
The ultimate goal of quantum change management is to achieve a quantum mindset, because it is actually the mindset that differentiate companies which successfully evolve and transform themselves during technological revolutions. Read on to understand why.
The Quantum Change Framework
Quantum change management comprises specific actions at the conceptual, strategical and tactical levels (Figure 1 lays out these various levels).
CONCEPTUAL LEVEL: Why Do You Want to Be a Quantum Company?
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe” – Simon Sinek
Finding out why a company wants to be a quantum company is a vital task because of its impact on success. To do this, conceptual reflection is crucial. The goal of this reflection is to achieve the quantum mindset.
Quantum Mindset – A Definition
The quantum mindset is the collective mentality of an organization that allows it to harness the power of quantum technologies as a crucial enabler of its ‘why’.
During my years as a strategy consultant, I saw few companies embarking on this sort of reflection. I admit that I have not seen many more as my career has progressed. However, I witnessed the result of conceptual reflection at an unexpected time: during Spain’s first national lockdown. In April 2020, Spanish bank Bankinter launched a moving campaign focused on the special measures taken to alleviate the effects of the halt of all non-essential activities. Doing so, Bankinter broadcasted its ‘why’: “the bank which sees money as you do”. The campaign was a roaring success, rapidly going viral. Bankinter’s advertisement never failed to move me at that time. In fact, it still does because it addresses some of the best qualities that ultimately make us humans: solidarity, resilience and compassion.
The conceptual reflection requires inputs from a diverse set of key players inside and outside the organization. What’s important to them? Why do they work here? How do they envision the organization? What do they believe in? What roles do quantum technologies play into all of this?
Leaders and their mindsets play a pivotal role at this level. “What is differential in organizations which embrace change are the attitudes and mindsets of their leaders, especially senior leadership at the board level” remarks Michelle Moore, Senior Vice President of Strategic Solutions at HORN Sales & Leadership Development. “When leaders show courage, that permeates across the whole organization, and people quickly get on board with the transformational and change management efforts. Leaders also need to cultivate self-awareness as a fundamental skill.” While not necessarily new, these skills are critical when combined with incredible pace of change of quantum technology.
Intertwined with this is the ethical perspective. Are we as an organization doing something for a greater and common good? What could be the unintended consequences? How are we making a difference here?
“One thing I learned during my years leading research in artificial intelligence is that you need to consider the public policy, or more broadly, the ethical perspective in change management. This, of course, is also very important for quantum technologies” suggests Robert Loredo, Quantum Technical Business Development Lead and Quantum Ambassador at IBM. “Technology is neutral. But the uses of technology might not be so” Loredo concludes.
So, at the conceptual level, organizational leaders need to consider the pace of change, its ethical implications and how they develop the quantum mindset under these parameters.
STRATEGIC LEVEL: Defining Your Quantum Strategy
“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old” – Peter Drucker
We all have been there. That sinking feeling when you see that meeting deadlines are going to be challenging. The uncomfortable feeling when delivering bad news, and the more uncomfortable sensation when answering difficult questions about your companies’ strategy. This is far from an uncommon experience. In fact, strategy implementation failure rates are estimated to range from 60% to 90% .
Why is this so? Certainly, it is not due to novelty (after all, the business discipline of strategic management, often referred to simply as “strategy” originated in the 1950s and 1960s ). Lack of frameworks and approaches doesn’t seem to be a problem either (Porter’s, the resource-based view and the delta model are ubiquitous ). Moreover, most companies have a dedicated function for strategy (organizationally things look adequate).
What I have seen is that trouble actually starts in formulation. Formulation is a process plagued by uncertainty. “Any transformational effort is going to face challenges, and, eventually, even failure. To deal successfully with failure, organizations need to change the prevalent mindset which pretty much focuses only on results.” Moore explains. “This, in a sense, explains also risk aversion at the board level. When things start to go wrong, biases such as sunk cost, escalation of resources and reputational concerns appear, and this can lead not to the best decisions and not to the best outcomes. However, there is a way out of this – focusing on efforts instead of focusing on results.”
What can be done? Organizations need a new strategic paradigm to embrace uncertainty. We need to reimagine strategy through futures design.
How can we do this? A good starting point is to integrate futures design into the strategy process. Futures design is concerned with working towards the future instead of predicting it (Figure 2 below illustrates the possible, plausible, probable and preferable futures). It is closely related to speculative design, which aims at creating different scenarios of the future. Speculative design integrates perspectives from people from all walks of life, such as strategists, engineers, scientists, artists, futurists, philosophers, ethicists, etc.
Futures design operates in the intersection of strategic prospective, strategic design and prototyping. It also incorporates elements from futures studies. In a sense, futures design is the evolution of the field of foresight, which aims to predict what will happen in the future. The term foresight was first used in this meaning by futurist and author H. G. Wells in 1932 . The realm of foresight has been evolving and developing steadily even since. In 2013, the ground-breaking work “Speculative Everything” by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby stablished the field of speculative design . More recently, in September 2021, leading futurist April Rinne articulated the relationship between futures design, strategy and change management from a business perspective in an article for Harvard Business Review .
I came across the concept of futures design while taking a course on this matter instructed by two Spanish experts in the field: David Alayón, Chief Foresight Officer at Innuba, Chief Innovation Officer at Mindset and a Professor at Instituto de Empresa, and Lourdes Rodríguez, Senior Trends Researcher at Mindset and one of the best forty best futurists of Spain according to Forbes. This course was part of a corporate training in the leading financial institution where I work. Maybe not surprisingly, David and Lourdes told us that the interest in futures design was increasing in businesses from all sizes and sectors. Indeed, futures design is mostly concerned with transformative and disruptive changes, rather than incremental changes. Thus, it is only normal that more and more businesses are thinking about incorporating this approach into their strategy formulation processes. Others, like Google and Apple, have already done so .
Quantum vendors roadmaps are a very useful resource for futures design. These roadmaps show what the future will hold, so monitoring them is key for change leaders. The quantum strategy plan will contain some of the traditional parts of a strategy plan, such as timelines and financial estimations. Importantly, it will also contain the outcomes of futures design.
Probabilistic decision making is particularly critical at the tactical and strategic levels because decisions are taken on a daily and holistic -basis. As Brian Lenahan, Founder and Chair of Quantum Strategy Institute, puts it: “decision-making formalizes how one specific agent should take an action in the context of unknown probabilistic environments in order to optimize the reward of the decision. Each action option presented to the agent offers different probabilities of success or completion and potentially different rewards or penalties.” Getting better clarity on each tactical option enhances the probability of success.
This decision-making approach leveraging probabilities can generate strategic options for successful future designs. Quantum computing is uniquely suited to this probabilistic approach with the ability to look at all scenarios simultaneously – an interesting marriage of strategy and technology.
TACTICAL LEVEL: Addressing and Taking the Quantum Journey
“Again, and again the imaginary plan on which one attempts to build up that order breaks down and then we must try another. This imaginative vision and faith in the ultimate success are indispensable” – Max Planck – theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate.
What can companies do to start walking the ‘quantum walk’? Which specific and concrete actions can companies take at a tactical level? How can a company articulate its quantum journey?
The specific answers will vary from one company to another. Some of these answers will have to do with the ‘business quantums’ – quantum education, quantum players, quantum ecosystem and quantum projects.
Most companies I know have tackled the tactical level with a strong focus on quantum education. Often, leaders ask me about the most critical workstream in a quantum roadmap, and I answer education every time. When I say education, I mean in a broad sense. Education can be a traditional and structured training program in a company. It also can be attending webinars or meetups on quantum technologies. Experimenting with quantum computers on the cloud, for example, those available through IBM Q Experience, is a form of education too.
The quantum workforce is another important challenge at the tactical level. Speaking with leading researchers in the Spanish quantum landscape, they stressed the relevance of this aspect, which matches the views by Accenture , D-Wave  and IBM . A quantum workforce has a crucial implication for leaders: there are and will be new roles that leaders will need to contend with (for example, quantum engineers)
So, at the tactical level, organizations exploring the quantum journey must focus on workforce education and resourcing to effectively address the quantum mindset, along with their quantum ecosystem and project discipline.
Conclusions and further reflections on the change management approach
Companies can start actively managing the present and future changes that quantum technologies bring. Specific measures can be taken at the conceptual, strategical and tactical level to achieve a quantum mindset. Quantum technologies need a quantum change management – and this is not traditional change management. Finally, organizations should consider the evolving value of futures design.
Esperanza Cuenca-Gomez is head of Change Management at the Quantum Strategy Institute. She is a digital transformation enthusiast with more than 10 years of experience in the banking and consumer finance industries, focused on defining how we do things differently (processes) and articulating how we enable systems and people to do those new things differently (change management). Quantum mechanics have always fascinated Esperanza, so in late 2019 she decided to start studying quantum computing and communications. As an engineer, she sees applied science as a way to build new technologies, solve problems and, ultimately, contribute to society. She also serves as a Processes and Change management Director for a leading financial institution. Esperanza is based in Madrid, Spain.
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