The digital five forces – Social Media, Big Data, Mobility and Pervasive Computing, Cloud, and AI and Robotics – are disintermediating, disrupting and deconstructing the old world order. The word “digital” is on everyone’s lips; however, organizations are stumbling when trying to put in place a holistic strategy and implementation plan that will take into account the mega-shifts heralded by these forces. What is often happening are piecemeal and fragmented approach at attempts to use Big Data or Social Media or the affordances of the Cloud. The reality is that none of these work in silos; they are collectively creating the disruption we are seeing and sensing all around us. We just have to look around us and we will find umpteen examples of traditional operational and business models giving way to the innovative, agile and connected models of the 21st Century – AirBnB, Uber, Alibaba are poster kids on the block but there are many more coming up just waiting to disrupt the known ways of doing business. And in ways we haven’t even begun to envisage. This kind of seismic shift happens but rarely and completely shakes the very foundations on which we have been functioning.
Dealing with this mega disruption calls for a digital mindset, which is not equal to tech savviness or the ability to use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with ease. It comprises a set of behavioral and attitudinal approaches that enable individuals and organizations to see the possibilities of the digital era, to use its affordances for deeper personal and greater professional fulfillment, and to design workplaces that are more human-centered, purpose-driven and connected. An individual with a digital mindset" understands the power of technology to democratize, scale and speed up every form of interaction and action. Having a digital mindset is the ability to grasp this spectrum of impact of the Network Era, and the capabilities and attitudes required to face it with equanimity.
Some of the key characteristics underlying a digital mindset are described in this article:
The power of digital is transformative. Individuals and organizations operating from a scarcity mindset typified by hoarding of knowledge, grasping of power, and a perception of the world as a zero-sum game cannot function optimally in a digital world. An abundance mindset symbolized by a collaborative and cooperative approach, open-mindedness, gratitude, appreciation and trust are hallmarks of a digital and connected world. When organizations comprehend this, they will be able to thrive in a digital world.
Carol Dweck, in her research, differentiated between Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset, and how these linked to people’s perception of their own abilities. Those with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is static, and this can become an obstacle to change in behavior. This in turn makes it difficult for them to be learning agile or to adjust to a rapidly changing and ambiguous world. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset are likely to take every opportunity to pull the resources they need to perform better. They are usually the ones to volunteer information, ask questions and try out new ways of doing things. It cannot be argued that the digital world calls for constant exploration, experimentation and learning. And individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to put in extra effort to learn new things, take charge of their own learning, and possess a resilience that helps them to overcome challenges.
Being agile is more than just adapting to change. In the age of disruptive tech, we must be able to foresee and change before the need to change arises. Agility in this context encompasses the skill of being able to scan the landscape of one's domain of work and organizational ecosystem, and keeping pace with what is happening at the edges to remain relevant. In the digital era, this would mean being comfortable with technology, seeing change as an opportunity, and accepting the new ways of working without feeling threatened.
Comfort with Ambiguity
In the VUCA world, ambiguity and volatility (change) is often a way of being. Life is in a perpetual state of beta. It is, therefore, essential to be able to stay with ambiguity, take decisions in the face of incomplete information, and course correct as one explores and experiments. It is also important to remember that the definition of employees today have undergone a sea change. It has morphed to include permanent, contractual, transactional workers and also, vendors, partners, collaborators and competitors, not to forget consumers who are also prosumers in today’s world. The question is, how prepared are we to deal with this ambiguity and flux.
A digital mindset includes using technology as a tool for exploration. Possessing a traveler's exploratory nature and an innate curiosity to go beyond one's defined work role is a critical skill today. Complex, unknown work and exceptions cannot be captured by pre-defined Job Descriptions. Those who can seize the opportunity to explore and learn beyond the call of duty will be the ones who remain relevant, and bring value to themselves and the organizations they work for.
Collaboration seems to be the mantra of the era. We are living in a complex and changing world bombarded by novel and unforeseen challenges. Complexity calls for diversity of thoughts, approaches and ideas to solve issues, and past experiences and expertise are not necessarily reliable predictors of the future. Innovating and creating value in this context require a coming together of cognitively diverse individuals who come with varied experiences and different ways of seeing. Collaboration is the only way to make sense in a complex world and define emergent practices that work.
Collaboration alone won't suffice unless it is inclusive. Cognitive diversity is what helps us to make sense in the face of complexity. People thinking alike are unlikely to come up with innovative ideas when faced with an exception or novel challenges. It requires people with different mental models and divergent worldviews to do so effectively. We as humans are naturally prone to homophily and confirmation bias. Any person, idea or situation that threatens our preconceived and pre-held notions are usually met with defensiveness or evasion. A digital mindset essentially means going beyond the obvious and engaging in dialogues with different minds, and embracing different ideas even when they are radically different.