Why a digital detox is not a good idea
There is a lot of talk about the need to take a digital detox, a kind of short vacation back to the physical world as it were. Living a large fraction of our lives online has yet to have an epigenetic impact on humanity, so deep down we hanker for the return to a more physical existence, at least for a few hours.
But there is a sense at a strategic level that we too are in need of a digital (strategy) detox. One might say we are hitting ‘peak digital’. Digital as a conceptual term has progressively invaded the business world in much the same way as water invades sand. There comes a point where the sand cannot take on any more water, and I feel from a hype perspective we are approaching this point quite rapidly.
If I had to place a bet on the next trend, based on sentiment rather than action, I would say we are now entering the cognitive age.
An age where the technology gets smarter and smarter. Possibly even smarter than us. Machine learning will lead the way with robotics providing the shell to give it mobility and other physical, even humanlike, capabilities.
To some extent this is a matter for the marketing departments of technology companies. But the reality is that even though we are hitting peak digital, very little has changed from a business perspective.
Peak digital is not accompanied by peak transformation.
Far from it. So there is a real danger that such a useful concept implodes before it has been put to use. A lack of a strategic reference point will in turn cause many industrial age organisations to similarly implode.
You might say that what we are witnessing today is ‘industrial digital’. In this phase, we have organisations built on industrial era premises believing they are digitally transforming by, for example, automating here and there, and offering some services as apps. This is IT transformation. Digital transformation is much more profound.
I believe the next phase will be ‘human digital’ whereby we use new technology to augment the capabilities of the people in our organisations. Those people will only be in the organisation in the first place because they can do things that create value that technology cannot (yet) replicate.
The final phase will be ‘full digital’. Here the technology will have evolved to a sufficient degree that it can outperform humans even when we are working at the peak of our cognitive capacity.
At this point, there will be no need for the majority of us to work.
I suspect this is a few decades away, but societal leaders need to be preparing for it today.
So, I think we can map the cognitive age onto phases 2 and 3 of the digital age as I have described it. In phase 2 the emphasis will be on helping humans make better decisions. In phase 3, the technology will take the lead in respect of decision making.
My focus today is on helping organisations make the transition to phase 2. This requires putting your people at the heart of your business model. It doesn’t require you to ‘pull up the floorboards’ on your existing business model, but it does require you to extend your focus beyond it.
Digital iceberg ahead!
The big challenge is in helping organisations understand that whilst operating an industrial digital model might feel like digital transformation, it is the equivalent of arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I encourage organisations to break out of their digital delusion / industrial trance and focus on the digital iceberg that lies directly in their path. The last thing business leaders need is a digital detox.