Digitalization is the most impactful development in society. Everything in our lives these days is driven by software. Ranging from software enabled toothbrush ecosystems to self-driving cars and from quantified self movements to factory 4.0 initiatives, it’s clear that we’re in the early days of the 4th industrial revolution. In the words of Marc Andreessen, software is eating the world.
In my research, books, keynotes and blog posts, I have mostly focused on the impact of this transformation on companies. The average tenure of companies on the fortune 500 is down to 10-12 years from more than 30 only a few decades ago. Many companies are disrupted and fail to successfully reinvent themselves and build new core capabilities. Of course, in the age of the digitalization age, these new core capabilities are concerned with everything software.
During the last year, however, I increasingly realized that it’s not just companies that are affected. As individuals, we are as much affected by this digital transformation. In our professional lives as well as our personal lives, many, if not most, aspects of our existence are touched by digitalization. Of course, the virtualization of work has advantages, such as the ability to attend meetings even when you’re not in the same physical location or using digital assistants to find slots for these meetings in the first place.
At the same time, with the emergence of the digital age, many tasks and activities are not just supported by software but automated altogether. And when all tasks and activities in a position or job get automated, the job disappears. Although the estimates differ, the consensus is that many millions of jobs will be fully automated in the coming decade or so. Although many professionals and highly educated people tend to think that this only affects blue collar workers such as taxi and truck drivers, the fact is that also in medicine, accounting, law and even programming, there are many tasks being automated and performed by machines already today and this development will only accelerate.
The societal disruption will, of course, be major but there seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to the long-term implications. One perspective assumes that we are moving towards a society with a permanently unemployed class. People that lack not only the skills, but even the capabilities to successfully operate in this new economy. This perspective assumes that the number of jobs will be so limited that there will be fierce competition resulting in part of society unemployed through no fault of their own. In this context, the notion of a universal basic income is often brought up as a mechanism to ensure that everyone can live in basic, but reasonable conditions.
The second school of thought assumes that the disruption will be temporary and that history will repeat itself: digitalization, in its various incarnations, has many times before, starting from the introduction of automated looms (and the reaction of the Luddites), removed the need for certain types of jobs only to lead to the creation of many new jobs that didn’t even exist even a decade earlier. For instance, social media managers didn’t even exist at the change of the millennium. So, the expectation in this school of thought is that many jobs will disappear due to digitalization, but that we will see the emergence of new jobs that we can’t even imagine today.
Although I consider myself squarely in the second school of thought and I am not at all concerned about the future from this perspective, I do realize that the way that we operate as professionals, as citizens and as individuals will fundamentally shift due to digitalization. As professionals, there is a clear shift from more repetitive forms of “knowledge work” to a focus on innovation and constant reinvention of our work and the positioning of oneself in the organization. Even in large companies, each individual is constantly managing his or her brand, ensuring to have the “right” connections, building temporary teams to accomplish results, etc. In the words of Reid Hoffman, the digital professional is concerned with “The Start-up of You”.
So, how does one best prepare for a digital future? What are the skills that I need to develop? What are the capabilities that I should have? These questions have been playing in my mind for a good long while now without me reaching any solid overall conclusions. As I often learn from examples and generalize from those, I realized that what I needed was to talk to people that have mastered some aspects of digitalization; that can be considered digital leaders, with the intent of identifying the traits, viewpoints and habits that make these individuals digital leaders.
Even though this would help me, it wouldn’t help the community at large. When I thought about the right model for combining my own curiosity with the desire to offer the same insights to the people around me, it became obvious that a beautiful form was, simply, to start a podcast. In this podcast, I regularly interview digital leaders to identify what has made them successful and what we can learn from that and apply in our own lives.
So, if you’re interested in what digitalization means for you, how you can become an even better digital professional, citizen or individual, subscribe to my podcast and listen when new episodes become available either directly on my website or via iTunes, Android or via RSS. Welcome to the Digital You!