One of the most popular business buzzphrases lately is “digital transformation,” as both organizations and individuals are grappling with the profound changes disruptive technology is unleashing on our jobs, industries and lives. I’ve never cared for the term as it implies a one-time change, meaning after you’re finished “transforming,” you become “transformed.” This term has always puzzled me as it seems inadequate when applied to the lightning pace of innovation in the digital realm. We live in a world where technology is constantly changing and where new norms, business models, and communities are created and updated on a constant basis.
Instead, I’d like to offer an alternative phrase: “digital evolution.” If digital transformation is a strategy, then digital evolution is a mindset—one that requires a fundamental acceptance that responding to constant change is necessary, unavoidable and never-ending. To begin, ask yourself, “How do I normally respond to change?” Do you resist it? Fear it? Are you anxious about it? If so, you might need to work on that evolutionary mindset.
In order to thrive in today’s complex global economy, we must start with an understanding that our roles (regardless of our titles) are to do one thing: adapt. You will do it over and over and over again in response to rapidly changing market conditions, technological advancements and geopolitical developments. I don’t need to give you an example of a period of massive upheaval, as we’re currently living through one right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has the economy in a standstill; it has plunged us all into a period of uncertainty and chaos.
If digital transformation is a strategy, then digital evolution is a mindset—one that requires a fundamental acceptance that responding to constant change is necessary, unavoidable and never-ending.
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How we respond is the difference between those who have transformed for a world that no longer exists and those who will adapt to this new iteration of normal life. To develop this evolutionary mindset for yourself in the midst of this pandemic, a few tips:
- Spot the opportunity. In every disruption, new opportunities arise. They say necessity is the mother of innovation and we’re witnessing this firsthand right now. People are innovating and coming up with new products, services and experiences. Concerts, meditations, fitness classes, speeches and more have gone virtual. Zoom has now been used to host everything from team meetings to bachelorette parties. Sites like GitHub are facilitating the sharing of scientific data, allowing researchers, programmers and scientists to work together to learn as much as possible about this new virus. In Italy, a 3-D printed ICU valve helped address a key equipment shortage in emergency rooms across the country. Go online and see what people are trying in your own industry and see if you can come up with a few experiments of your own.
- Speed is key. As business conditions change, the speed at which leaders respond is critical. Because of the pandemic, businesses across the board have implemented new policies quickly. Grocery stores invoked set shopping hours dedicated to elderly and high-risk people. Amazon and other logistic companies introduced “no-contact” delivery options. Businesses that have put off setting up their e-commerce websites were able to be up and running within a few days. What can you be doing right now to adapt to this new (hopefully temporary) reality?
- Find your community. As self-isolation continues to be the best way to flatten the curve of this virus, new online communities have sprung up. As Mr. Rogers once said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” There are plenty of groups of people who are trying to do as much collective good as possible during these uncertain times. Users created technology dashboards to help fellow citizens track the spread of the virus. Numerous charity initiatives have popped up to support local businesses and individuals who need care. Neighborhoods coordinated deliveries for elderly neighbors. Volunteer chefs sprang into action to deliver meals to healthcare workers. In the Czech Republic, citizens shared tutorials on how to create homemade masks to donate to hospitals with limited protective supplies. There are support groups for those isolating alone—online writing clubs, books clubs, art clubs all showcasing the power of groups of people coming together to help and collaborate. Do you have any people you can reach out to? People in the same industry, colleagues, friends or family? Identify a few communities and join in. I always like to advocate for a mix of social (just for fun), skills (learning something new or improvement) and service (volunteering to give back), if you have the time.
- Nurture your creativity. Change can take a toll on our energy and, by extension, our creativity. Those who embrace an evolutionary mindset know that this is a marathon and not a sprint, meaning that we need to nourish and replenish our creativity with regular periods of rest and recovery. Don’t be tempted by productivity addicts who’ll convince you to schedule each second of your day. Take the time to breathe and move through this period of transition with ease. If you feel stressed or overwhelmed, take a break. Step away from the computer and go do something fun and frivolous. This will ensure your long-term creative performance remains strong, an essential skill needed to adapt.
If you believe in digital evolution, then you know that what we’re seeing today is not “the end,” but simply “the next.” New challenges will create new solutions, and new setbacks will yield new opportunities. We’ll adapt, we’ll adjust and we’ll evolve. And then some new disruption will come along and we’ll have to go through this process all over again. These initiatives are a good reminder that despite the scale of whatever threat we face, our collective creativity, ingenuity and generosity are more than enough to see us through. The key to success lies in our actions, and in how we respond, how we lead and how we step up to contribute during these difficult times. I know we’re all up for the task.
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