THE DIGITAL PULL: A leadership reorientation

Why is digital pull a leadership concern? Let us hark back to the formative aspect of learning; Teachers, professors, guides, and supervisors do play a significant role but are no more the sole imparters of knowledge. The world-wide web in all its resplendent forms be it online games, poems, songs, you tube clippings on to resources for senior students such as eBooks, PDF’s, white papers, virtual classrooms, videoconferencing, social networking sites, seminars, training programs, news letters, discussion forums and myriad resources provide the new knowledge assets.

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Look at the behemoth, the distance learning industry has become. Collaborative learning is pervasive. A whole gamut of tools are available to encourage knowledge fraternization right from social network sites LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, Myspace, Flickr to instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Kik, Skype, Go sms pro etc. to storage sites that aids collaboration such as Google Drive, Evernote, YouSendit, JustCloud and Dropbox. Real time communication is the new standard. Knowledge distribution has evicted the erstwhile behaviour of knowledge retention and hoarding and from a teacher centered approach it has transitioned into student centric approach in learning. Apply a multiplication factor for future and it would be evident that every individual will have the resources to acquire knowledge be it any field and combine this with wearable devices such as iWatch or Google Glass and the likes and the scenario explodes. Wearable devices itself are expected to reach 112 million units in 2018.

Digital pull in all fields and its accelerated occurrence is unrestrainable. Internet existed in the 1960’s but from the old immutable and static web to the new dynamic and interactive web in conjunct with ease of its usage, the playing arena has changed distinctly. Take an internet minute, 60000 hours of music downloads, 47000 app downloads, 100000 new tweets, 20 million photo views, 1.5 million video views, 20 new victims of identity theft, over 700000 Gb of global data transfers, the numbers are striking. The web is incontrovertibly the most powerful platform today and will attain a strapping and ‘in the saddle’ status as we go forward. Collaboration and Web 2.0 has transformed organizations. From casually rummaging the internet to passive reading, listening and getting entertained the whole terrain has now transitioned into sharing, collaborating, action, casting opinion, views, ideas, concepts, expressing conviction for causes, socializing, creating, publishing, game playing, networking, buying & selling and so forth. Such a remarkable emphasis on ‘doing’ as against the earlier passive Internet experience.

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Any organization and in particular leadership teams remaining impervious to these changes in the way we learn, do business, manage, lead, communicate, associate, collaborate, experience, indulge, play, socialize, buy and sell is on the path to progressive attenuation.

ONGOING CHANGES AROUND US : 

News papers are perceptibly closing down
• Photo industry is astounded by smart phone leaps (cameras, photo printing paper all tapering down)
• Mom & Pop book stores are getting maimed
• Large book stores are dying as e-readers emerge (Borders shut in 2011, Barnes & Noble is reducing staff significantly and 20 stores are being shut down each year)
• Music industry: Streaming video has made video rental business obsolete. The spree of Netflix, Flickr, AppleTV and others change the dynamics.
• Travel industry: How online bookings have brought eternal damnation to middlemen and agents intensive industry once.

The above examples are just the tip of the iceberg and the list is endless and to corroborate here are a few. Dictaphones are out as smartphones have voice recorders in it. Torches are not needed if you have an iPhone (for small purposes). 100’s of photo editing applications are making professional photographers redundant. Face book has a staggering 140 billion photos, a few seconds back! Once upon a time people use to discuss aperture speed, shutter timing, angle, focus, exposure etc. With autofocus, auto exposure, auto image stabilizer and auto eye reduction, photography has been made simplistic and even a common man can now do it. There is learning in this for organizations. Find out what technology can make your entire business redundant. Afterlight application allows iPhone users to do basics like crop and rotate photos and has an expensive collection of filters, borders and textures that embellish the experience. Duolingo app helps users learn a new language from their iPhones both visual and verbal lessons. Learners are rewarded with experience points which they can use to buy perks within the app. There are 1.5 billion smartphones in the world today. 30 % of Americans now get their news from social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. Who feeds this, the 1.5 billion users do and it is free. The list of digital augmentation is indescribably endless.

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What is this digital pull doing to various industries; it merely accentuates the need to reexamine the industry one is in. Leaders need to fathom the complexity in terms of sustenance of one’s business line and either strategise to insulate it from future vagaries or better, overhaul operations, adapt and embrace quickly to the ongoing changing trend. Motorola, Nokia, Kodak are examples of firms who couldn’t change quickly in their respective categories and we know their outcome. What does all this mean in leadership parlance. Creative teams used to be within the fortified walls of the organization but now ideas are coming from outside, the social community. P&G CEO A.G Lafley transformed the firm with Web 2.0 innovation. He raised new product development success rate to an impressive 80 % vis- a- vis industry average of 30 %. Now 35 % of the ideas come from outside through collaborative web sites.

CONCLUSION :

All leaders must have ‘a technology bent of mind’ with abiding relevance to modern context and the future will be classified under the rubric; Digital Leaders and Non Digital Leaders regardless of the industry one is in (including non-profit ventures). Depending on market dynamics, people may need to adopt a style of leadership such as participative, laissez-fair, authentic, compliant, autocratic, defiant, commanding, coercive, pace setting, coaching, affiliative, transactional, task-oriented, people-oriented, servant, transformational, paternalistic etc. but future leadership will also be measured by the CEO’s who clearly evince a predilection towards technological vision and digitization. Considerations of digital relevance will take precedence over talks such as ‘in the past we could do it like this’ and any associated past statistics and data. CEO’s who remain dissociated from the digital arena or express reticence to embrace it will be forced to conceal uncertainties leading on to anxieties and the organization would eventually be creating a system of casualties.

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Regeneration is a phenomenon in biology, which signifies the process of growth, restoration and renewal that makes genomes, cells, organisms and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage. Most species are capable of regeneration including humans. Similarly leadership needs to be a regenerative process, always sizing up the environment and effecting appropriate changes. In humans and other species regeneration is a natural process but alas in leadership arena such a phenomenon must be initially induced depending on extraneous business environment and over time the firm’s core gets so trained and accustomed that adaptation becomes instinctive. This time the fluctuation is the digital pull. Future leadership keystone will have the following inscriptions :

Innovation
• Technology
• People-centered
• Interest group mobilization
• Instant community creation
• Social media galvanization

amongst others. Future CEO’s will essentially understand the business implication of the digital pull and the importance of ICT because for a firm to make it to the future itself would mean that their leadership would have had an understanding and radical conviction in technology led business arena and would already be radiating affinity towards it. The very foundation to create those breed of leaders is being cast today in the modern corporate world. If a firm isn’t expressing solidity of intent on this count then the organization would seem to manifest a behaviour of contentment in adopting a pursuit of ‘wait, watch and catch up attitude’ thereby allowing the situation to play itself out conventionally which falls within their behavioural comfort zone. Such an indolent dispositional stance might have aided their composure in the past but may not offer future organizations the luxury of a re-strategizing time, perhaps it may be too late then. These days just three years is what it takes to slaughter a market leader. In essence, it is not excessive attention on digitization of one’s business that is called forth from the CEO or leadership team but a proclivity to make technology an essential component whilst weaving the vision of the firm the lack of which will draw in chrysanthemum’s (symbols of death in Europe) to the organization’s ruination. As Esther Dyson puts it “It may not always be profitable at first for businesses to be online, but it is certainly going to be unprofitable not to be online.”

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