“If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you do not understand quantum mechanics” said Richard Feynman (pictured), who won a Nobel prize in the field. Digital disruption is beginning to feel similarly hard to understand, for three reasons. Firstly, digital is becoming broader. What began as a channel became a capability and is now an ethos. Secondly digital is getting deeper. Management techniques that businesses use to optimise their digital capabilities (e.g. SEO, agile) are becoming more sophisticated and refined by the day. Finally, digital is moving faster. The world around is evolving dazzlingly quickly as Moores Law plus combinatorial innovation drive an explosion in new technologies and derived business models. The net result is that it’s becoming hard for one person to really understand digital in a holistic sense. For business leaders who want to get the best from digital there are several implications:
- Increase internal orientation. I meet too many digital leaders who are ‘heads-down’ in execution mode and consequently are not keeping up with recent important developments. Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted.
- Scope roles realistically. Finding a Chief Digital Officer who can cover every digital topic can feel like ‘finding a unicorn’ to quote one colleague. Sometimes it’s easier to split the role, for example by separating out innovation.
- Make it a team effort. Digital leaders are good at listening to customers – that’s at the heart of the digital ethos. They can use similar techniques to iterate their plans rapidly with a broad network of colleagues, hence bringing many different specialist perspectives to bear.
- Delegate the details. At some point Bill Gates lost the ability to understand every line of the code in Windows. But that didn’t stop him leading the business. Digital leaders need to think carefully about where to keep control vs. where to step back.
In summary, digital is too deep, broad and fast moving to be understood by one person. A true team effort is required to make progress.