Mao Zedong is quoted as having said that: “A revolution is not a dinner party . . . A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

However, history also shows us that violence is not the only way to lead transformational change in a society that is locked into a traditional way of being. Some iconic campaigners for peaceful change, such as Gandhi or Leo Tolstoy, come from relatively privileged backgrounds and were well positioned to take a front seat in leading change. However, others have risen from very humble beginnings. Martin Luther King. Sophie Scholl. Emmeline Pankhurst. All people from ordinary backgrounds who rose to prominence through their single-minded vision of a better world, their ability to communicate their passion, and the courage of their convictions in the face of overwhelming opposition to their way of thinking.

So why is this relevant to a blog that’s normally about eBusiness?

Well, over the last few months, I’ve been researching and writing about how to drive transformational change in organizations to progress toward a vision of agile commerce — placing the customer at the centre of every decision and developing a culture of “fail fast, win quick.” For many traditional companies, this is a fundamental change in organization structure, ways of working, technology, and metrics that requires a shift in C-level thinking.

Some visionary companies Burberry, Marks and Spencer are lucky enough to have CEOs who grasp the power of digital. These companies are embedding digital into every aspect of their operations and are collapsing the walls between “eBusiness” and the traditional store or branch chains.

But most organizations aren’t so well positioned. Many eBusiness leaders have a vision for agile commerce that isn’t shared or even understood by their senior management and are now finding that their primary mission is to drive transformational change across their companies from within their area of accountability selling the vision upwards, sideways, and downwards and positioning themselves as cross-functional leaders.

This takes vision, great communication skills, and the courage of their convictions much like our pacifist revolutionaries. Change driven not from the top, but from small seeds.

The good news is that we are starting to see some techniques and approaches that are working. In Driving Agile Commerce Transformation, I take a look at some of the strategies eBusiness executives are adopting to create and communicate their vision of agile commerce, and I also examine some of the approaches they are taking to foster cross-functional working and a more agile approach to launching new products and services in an increasingly complex business and technical environment. I will also be presenting some of these findings at the upcoming Internet Retailing conference on October 9 in London.

This brings me back to Mao Zedong, who also eruditely said, “The great man, Genghis Khan, only knew how to shoot eagles with an arrow.” He recognized that past greatness does not translate to future success in a world operating on fundamentally different rules. Agile commerce transformation also requires a change in culture and skills. I will be continuing this theme in my next document, looking at the rise of the digitally savvy organization, but more on that soon . . .