Can Digital World disrupt the Digitised Mindset?

The smartphones have revolutionized the world… the possibilities today on a touch are infinite… Be it commerce, collaboration, learning or getting any assistance at hand, it’s all possible. The phone owner gets a pat or gets chided for their fitness targets, gets reminded of that critical meeting, woken up softly in the morning, get the best pizza in town with the best deal, guide a cab to the exact point to pick you without any verbal directions, navigate you a foreign land, hold your money, automatically pay for your spa treatment, read out the latest recipe for paella for an enthusiast cook in Japan while she experiments in the kitchen for her European partner… It’s right in our face anywhere we go and lawmakers are grappling with the changing world order it is ushering in.

But then, We all know many who are still most happy using the same phone for calls and occasional SMS. That tells you who defines the smarts in the digital world. Unfortunately, if you are not stretching your imagination and the capabilities using one of these devices, neither you nor that device can be called smart, at least in the digital world!

We went through a wave of visible change with the advent of digital technology. We saw the phase of “paperless work environment”. It was probably first visible impact of digital technology to the world as we saw it. It was a huge change. We saw the phase when basic computing skills (read data input skills) became mandatory. I saw my bosses struggle with the keyboard trying to type using one finger (I still see the current ones struggling with the WhatsApp trying to manage the deluge of messages pouring in). It might appear as a skill challenge superficially, but in reality it is a mindset challenge. How difficult could it really be to learn how to use a keyboard? After all, we are talking about moving ten fingers over a three rows of keys! Now, if you extend the logic to the technology ecosystem, all those devices, networks, applications, peripherals and anything else is rendered to be a dummy unless the hidden potential of smart/intelligent outcomes are not engineered by using them!

It is important at this time for us to distinguish between “digitized” and “digital” because the differences could blur if you are the victim of a digitized mindset! To appreciate the difference, let’s go back to the age when ERP had just made a grand entrance to the businesses. The classical approach followed was – business process reengineering, technology implementation, process migration, new process definition and new system ramp up. The more evolved implementation ensured proper documentations, critical assessment of the benefits, identifying redundant or non-value adding processes and host of other people based considerations. This lead to a complete rejig and redefinition of processes defined by systems and procedures that were value enhancing. Organizations that followed this approach reaped immense benefits and were suitably rewarded by the stakeholders. GE’s digital transformation journey is an example of such an instance. Contrast this with an organization that just took an off the shelf ERP product and just to ensure the statutory compliances recreated business (mostly accounting) processes on them while running the business as usual. They of course missed any befits from the ERP implementation and had to compromise on their productivity for the compliance. Unfortunately there are many examples of such digitized approaches.

One could blame the present generation of professionals at the helm for any of this happening as much as one could blame our Stone Age forefathers for not exploring the power of metal when first of the Bronze Age tools began appearing. Remember a smart device with such a ubiquitous existence is only a marginal extension of many a mechanical (say a wrist watch), electrical (say a motor) or an electronic device (say an organizer) which was equally ubiquitous earlier. We seem to forget the ease with which we adopt the earlier change when we are faced with another one to adopt. How do we tend to ignore the fact that all we do with such ease and preference followed the same pattern of “haven’t done this ever before?” Something sure seems amiss here.

What then is the real problem? I believe that it is a mindset problem. We seem to be either getting blinded by the transactional view of life in general or we are being dishonest to the process of our own learning. One could even overlook the first challenge. In the real world we often see important taking a precedence over the necessary. Immediate fires are bound to get more attention; however, if this is done at the expense of addressing the cause we would be consumed in lose-lose play. It is far more productive and an approach with longer term value if one can look at the underlying motivations and greater relevance when looking at a challenge at hand. It is worth spending a moment reflecting on the idea – are we letting the things that we deem important to take over the things that are necessary?

While organizations can develop roles and responsibilities matrix to address the critical need to balance here-and-now doers and future gazers, unfortunately at an individual level we need to be conscious of the two and take steps to integrate them. A conscious approach to ones learning could address this gap to a reasonable extent. When we consciously adopt the process of learning a necessary part of learning along with the outcomes that we see as the important goals, we are truly on a win-win path.

If one now tries to see the conflict of important digitized actions and the necessary digital mindset, hopefully the gap I am pointing out would become better visible. Digital mindset is more about questioning the impact we are willing to work with when a new technology appears. Remember it is easy to be satiated by the wondrous world of technology, it truly has galloped at a pace that even the sci-fi authors have been challenged by the reality of progress. It is however important to cross through the instantly exciting digitized experiences into the realm of the possibilities it opens. These would surely be disruptive and unsettling to cope with but at the same time hold the real rewards of the digital revolution.

So next time you are immensely impressed and excited about a new technology offering, step back and revisit the premise – is it a digitized illusion standing in form a digital innovation or is it truly a disruption of current mindset…