The digital leadership – disruptive technologies oxymoron
Many business leaders have mistakenly subscribed to the myth that disruptive technologies will protect their organisations in these increasingly disruptive times. This post exposes this myth and provides a set of principles that will better serve your organisation.
Disruptive tech has its place
You likely clicked on this post because you believe technology is the vaccine against the disruption that we are all facing. Or perhaps, you have already made that decision and are looking to fine tune your approach?
Disruptive technologies do have their place. However to pin your hopes on a tech makeover is a mistake. This post is to highlight what might be called digital myopia and thus in turn improve your organisation’s chances of thriving in what is an increasingly unknowable future.
I’ll keep it concise. Apologies in advance for what might seem a laconic approach.
Towards the hi-tech Titanic?
The Swiss Alps continue to echo with the siren call of Industry 4.0. The gist of the message is that by throwing tech at your business model you’ll be all set for the future. Well unfortunately a blockchain-centric Titanic with robotic butlers is still a Titanic. Even one that uses AI and quantum computing to detect icebergs is no match for air travel.
New tech doesn’t fix a broken business model. And today, any organisation built on industrial era principles is, by definition, broken.
Digital is a disruptor, but it is only one of many. Covid-19 of course is currently taking centre stage. But we must also consider demographics, geopolitics, economics, the wars for natural resources and talent, trade agreements and the environment. And there are others. I encourage you to avoid digital myopia.
But this raises the question of what digital leadership is. I would suggest that you interpret this as leadership for the digital age, as opposed to leadership of your organisation’s digitalisation. Thus the focus needs to be on developing a modus operandi that is fit for an increasingly uncertain and volatile world.
No more Mr (Not) nice guy
Much has been written about transformational leadership and the wisdom of not being a professional tyrant. But there is little evidence of its widespread adoption. HR continues to behave like a subdivision of procurement. Its role being to acquire organic cogs for the factory machine and to ensure they do not deviate from the operations manual.
Possibly this is the reason that HR is so underrepresented in the senior leadership team? I suspect that the reality is that despite good intentions, many leaders simply don’t value their people.
Some may even view the arrival of robots and algorithms as the perfect opportunity to create a low maintenance technology factory. Such leaders are unfamiliar with the importance of innovation in respect of value creation and the essential role of humans in the innovation process.
Failure trumps efficiency
The industrial era factory model was essentially an efficiency play. Lean, Six Sigma, BPR etc attest to this. Find a model that works and optimise it for profits. Again, given the disruption we are facing, such a steady state model is no longer fit for purpose. Thus each day is ‘day one’ and so innovation trumps process. Thus even the most mature of organisations need to operate with a start-up mentality.
Innovation necessitates experimentation and experimentation necessitates failure. Failure and process are not compatible bedfellows. Hence why factory modelled businesses are in a ground-facing tailspin.
Welcome to the infinite game!
So what are we to do? Firstly recognise that the rules of the game have changed and will continually change. We are now in what is sometimes called an infinite game. The aim is not to win, but to stay in play.
I have worked in the field of transformation for some time now and I have identified 5 tenets that organisational leaders need to embrace. Briefly:
- The focus of the organisation needs to shift from profitability to asset building.
- Risk management needs to be redefined as risk acquisition, particularly in respect of developing new business models.
- Innovation needs to be the core business of the organisation. Thus making the CEO the Chief Innovation Officer.
- To harness the innovative capacity of your talent, you need to create an environment that plays to their natural wiring.
- To operate successfully in what is an unknowable environment, you need to embrace a tribal approach.
Technology is key to all of these, but simply embracing technology is not enough. Data is a potentially potent asset, but it will require more than just the purchase of some intelligent analytics tools, unless you are looking to embrace ‘artificial stupidity’. Most critically, your organisation’s ability to pay attention will be the key factor in respect of how long it remains in the game.
A problem shared…
I have dwelt more on the problem than the solution in this short post. My concern is that many leaders are unaware of the myriad of tsunamis coming their way.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, there is no new normal, next normal or post-Covid. From here on there is only abnormal.
As far as I can see many leaders are inadvertently being misadvised by the business schools and management consultancies who, unfortunately, are too invested in their industrial era thinking and their tools.
WEF has a good point…
The World Economic Forum adherents are correct in that a great reset is required. One that embraces equality, the environment and the future of our societies. But the last thing we need is a technocracy whose leaders see technology as the solution to every problem. We need a humanocracy, as famed management consultant, Gary Hamel, highlights in his recent book of the same name. I similarly believe we need to build people-centric super-resilient organisations.
If you would like to explore this further, then please