The fire at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris earlier this year triggered a remarkable mix of personal emotions and memories, as I expect it did for you too.
As Gaby Hinsliff of the London Guardian pointed out the day after the disaster, when old buildings — particularly religious ones — and fire meet, the metaphors write themselves. But the words of Rahm Emanuel, about not letting a good crisis go to waste, come to mind, as does the 2012 article, however clichéd, by Scott Anthony about the usefulness of burning platforms in transformations. But since I received my first communion in 1977 in Notre-Dame as a young boy, I feel strongly entitled to my own metaphor about Notre-Dame.
For me, it’s about the role of leaders as interpreters and translators, making sense out of something we don’t understand and shaping recognizable order out of chaos.
Intriguingly, the modern profession of translation and interpretation in Paris was actually centered on the Île de la Cité, where Notre Dame stands. This is perhaps less curious than it seems, since the Courts of Justice were also located there. Legal translation was, and still is today, a key revenue stream for interpreters.
In a recent blog, I wrote about my belief that IT leaders need to be bilingual to succeed.
Yet, as the Italian proverb Traduttore, traditore (that is, Translator, traitor) shows, translators have not always enjoyed the best of reputations. This may explain in part the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute’s prediction that translators (along with other easy-to-automate jobs such as taxi drivers and shop assistants), will be among the first professions entirely replaced by machine. But as Carole Cadwalladr pointed out in her recent TED talk, the technology gods of Silicon Valley are unlikely to betray us any less than the Italian translator of old.
In reality, successful translation and interpretation companies today are increasingly using artificial intelligence (AI) to assist and accelerate the work of their experts. Friends who work in this space report substantial efficiency gains, as well as the need for continuous human intervention, particularly for more difficult languages.
Granted, 1 The Road, the first AI novel, came out in 2018, but frankly, it’s not very good. Or as poet Anne Michaels wrote, quoting Bialek, reading a poem in translation is like kissing a woman through a veil. Well, I’m ready to bet that reading a poem in AI translation is like using a tea towel.
So, like gifted translators who combine their knowledge and experience with AI tools to create true meaning, digital leaders will need to blend the best of their humanity with the latest technology. This is the unique skill that will bring their teams, their businesses and their customers together to make digital transformation happen – burning platform or not.