Digital and Leadership – #digiskills15 #CIPD

A few weeks ago I was at The Oval cricket ground for the IBM Smartworking Summit, part of a roundtable about the increasing digitisation and socialisation of work. The way we access and process information is increasingly taking similar formats inside and outside of the office. The adoption of this is not evenly distributed, but the capability is there. The days of technology being clunky are numbered, we will simply start not accepting poor user experiences. Google, as you might expect, cuts through any jargon and simply states that you should be able to ‘work the way you live’. I couldn’t agree more. It is at the heart of the challenge for technology – to be user centric, not task centric and to be as much about accessibility as it is function. And that’s why most of my life runs through Google – they keep things simple and allow for high levels of integration and flexibility.

It is increasingly important for business leaders of all disciplines and areas of focus to appreciate the changing external landscape. This isn’t change driven by the odd hipster in Shoreditch, this is a change in the way that the world works. A change in the information we can access, a change in how we can process it and a change in what we can use it for. That change will increasingly become apparent in all walks of life, in all areas – it will just take time. And less time than most people think. The first iPad was released in April 2010. Facebook is only 11. Twitter is only 9. Uber is 6 and has only operated internationally since 2012.

This evening I’m attending a CIPD event on digital skills at the Google Offices in London (sold out…sorry). For any readers with exceptionally long memories going to Google completes the list of workplaces I wanted to visit when I had much shorter hair. It is also a chance to listen to business leaders talk about the challenges and opportunities that these changes bring. With any change comes choice.

The most obvious choices are

  • Go fully ostrich and hope it will go away
  • Stand to one side, observe what happens to early movers and cede that advantage – but avoid the risks that come with making early commitment
  • Become an early adopter and see where that takes you

With digital skills the chance to become an early adopter has passed or is passing. If you are not digitally aware you risk not just missing out on the opportunities that come with adopting early, you risk being that ostrich – unaware of what is going on around it and therefore unable to adjust to the external environment.

We’ve never before had the opportunity to carry so much of the world’s knowledge in our pocket. We’ve never before had the ability to connect with so much of the world instantly and at such little cost. We’ve never before been able to access so much content to enable us to learn and live better. Businesses have never been in a stronger postion to understand the needs and responses of their customers. We’ve never before had to consider how we live our lives when we are connected to the world 24/7. We’ve never before had to live in a world where so much of what used to be private is potentially public.

To live in that age and not make the most of those opportunities or to understand those risks – well that doesn’t feel or sound like leadership. Digital or not.

This isn’t a ‘if you don’t tweet then you don’t count’ blog. This is a ‘if you ignore any external factor that is significantly changing people’s behaviour you aren’t doing your job as a leader’ blog.

Wikipedia put the Encyclopedia Britannica out of business in 10 years, that organisation had been running for 243 years. Change is coming – it is up to leaders to decide how to react – or if they will react.

PS – our events team asked me to write about this the day after the event… but unfortunately I’m with an employer that day talking about the increasing requirement for HR to understand an increasingly digital age. True story.

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