Updated: May 25, 2020
One of the most obvious consequences of the current Covid-19 pandemic will be “the infusion of data-enabled services into ever more aspects of life.” We expect digital transformation to be an even bigger imperative for organizations in the short-term future.
Contrary to popular belief, digital transformation is less about technology and more about people and talent. You can pretty much buy any technology, but your ability to adapt to an even more digital future depends on developing the next generation of skills, closing the gap between talent supply and demand, and future-proofing your own and others’ potential.
As it turns out, most of us end up in jobs and careers for various reasons and stay in them for a long time, rarely pausing to rethink our potential: Am I in the right job? Is my career or the company I work for the best fit for by interests and abilities? Would I enjoy my life more if I had chosen something else? Furthermore, while every job requires learning, we are prewired for familiarity, routine, and simplicity, which is why most of us end up learning less on the job, the more time we actually spend on the job. This is good in the short run, because we can do our jobs on autopilot, freeing up mental resources; yet it’s counterproductive in the long run, because what we gain in experience, we miss in new learning opportunities.
An even bigger loss is that we may go through our entire working lives without discovering, let alone unlocking, our true potential. As Winston Churchill once said, "we should never waste a good crisis". Perhaps this is the biggest gift of the current pandemic, that it provides us with the opportunity to rethink our potential and ensure that we are positioning ourselves toward the future. To be sure, it is too soon for most people to realize this, yet in the long-term, a significant number of people will likely end up in better careers and look back on their less meaningful and less engaging past careers.
With this in mind, we wanted to provide a few suggestions: some based on science, and some based on our own experiences leading, coaching, and mentoring current and future leaders across a wide range of industries, helping them ready themselves for an even-more-digital future. Our main assumption here is straightforward: While the future is more ambivalent and uncertain than ever, we are confident that a pretty strong bet on the future is to focus on reskilling and upskilling people so that they are better equipped to adjust to change. Just as our past efforts have enabled us to adapt to our more digital and virtual present world (and a non-trivial fact is that we are writing this, and you are probably reading this, in physical isolation), there are few reasons to suggest that this trend will go away or be reversed anytime soon. If anything, an even bigger proportion of jobs, tasks, activities, and careers will find ingenious and novel ways to coexist in the digital world. Here’s how we can all prepare for that eventuality:
Put people first: If we can leverage human adaptability to reskill and upskill our workforce, then we can simultaneously augment humans and technology.
Focus on soft skills: Just as digital transformation is more about people rather than technology, the key technological skills are soft skills rather than hard skills. Our own talent development philosophy is to combine this dual focus on potential for soft skills, and knowledge for hard skills: we select people with high learnability (people with a hungry mind) and match their interests to in-demand skills, while understanding that those hard skills may soon become outdated — so the key is that their curiosity remains intact. Technical competence is temporary, but intellectual curiosity must be permanent.
Drive change from the bottom-up: The idea of bottom-up or grassroots change is the method we chose at NEWMA. Bottom-up approaches emphasise the participation of the community in development initiatives so that they can select their own goals and the means of achieving them. We are active in collective branding and marketing education for a new generation of talent and business owners.
Make sure you’re acting on data insights: In our view, data without insights are trivial, and insights without action are pointless.
As the last several weeks have demonstrated, we are agile as a global community. This agility has been people-led and technology-supported. Human beings are the common denominator to the concept of future proofing, whether it’s as a complement to the technology being unleashed for remote working, or whether it’s because we possess the soft skills and leadership needed to navigate a historic crisis, or because we have the insights needed to drive slow success or fast failure for a cure. It all starts with each and every one of us, and those we are responsible for developing. The key is to nurture curiosity, so we have options, even outside of a crisis.