Digital technology innovations and advancements, and our adoption of them, have changed us. We are different consumers, employers and employees. Our expectations have increased. We have become mobile, impatient and demanding. We are global. We demand immediate, accurate and real-time responses. We use our technology not just for reading historic events and news, but also for predicting our future turn while navigating at 60 MPH.
Today we want personalized and contextually relevant experiences. We want digital experiences that are beautiful, simple and elegant. We want instant access to all products, services, news, information and friends’ status. We want to share our lives instantly and globally. We want to find things, buy things, move money and complete transactions from anywhere at anytime. We want to work from anywhere and have all the information we need instantly.
Much of the world today is experiencing a digital evolution. We know when and how to reach for our second brain (smartphones) and access the information needed to both survive and thrive in the digital age. A phrase now associated with the last decade is “there’s an app for that,” but now it is Alexa, Siri or Google knows.
Last year while in Rwanda, I visited refugee camps that were operating on mobile phones. The UN, rather than delivering hundreds of truck loads of food to refugee camps every week, were experimenting with providing mobile phones to families, sending mobile payments to them, and letting them go out into the local markets to buy food, thus benefiting the local economies. Even the most challenged populations are being transformed by mobile and digital technologies.
All of these innovations and our resulting behavioral adaptions – change us, our marketplaces, industries and even economies and bring us to this tipping point - the point at which a series of small innovations or actions becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more drastic change. That drastic change today is referred to by the World Economic Forum as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Hell Creek Formation is a famous geological area in the USA spanning North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. It is filled with the bones of dinosaurs that were unable to adapt to the changes in their environment. John Boyd, a renowned military strategist, taught that life is a process of adaption, and that winners will find ways to exploit change and to adapt to it in order to win. The dinosaurs were unable to adapt, and their fossilized bones are a testament. Boyd taught that adapting and winning requires three things, 1) People, 2) Ideas, and 3) Things - in that order. To win we must be trained to think and do the right things, use the right ideas (doctrines, strategies and tactics) and then utilize the best things available (technologies, equipment, materials, design, etc.) to adapt to and exploit the changes around us.
We humans seem to prefer solving problems, and overcoming obstacles as a way to create stable, secure and predictable environments. We like to fix problems/challenges and be done with them. That desire, however does not fit with today’s reality of perpetual change. In a world of perpetual change we are bound to operate in an ambiguous environment that requires a new mindset and strategy that finds ways of winning through change. Change is not to be solved. Change is the energy that propels organizations into action, into new innovations, new business models, and new opportunities. Rarely will you find opportunities of significance where change is not required or found.
In a recent interview of 17 high tech executives, the top motivation they gave for companies engaging in digital transformation were “changing customer behaviors”. New customer behaviors introduce higher levels of ambiguity as a result of change. This change is taking place at the same time as we are exponentially increasing the amount of data we are collecting. The challenge today then is to find ways to win in the data, and in ambiguity.
As the tempo of change increases and we move beyond "human time” into “digital time” (the speed at which computers can operate) we must adopt new strategies for succeeding in ambiguity. We propose that the economic winners of tomorrow will be organizations that define processes that let them operate with agility in a fluid, ever-changing environment - always collecting and analyzing new data and perpetually adjusting to new realities utilizing artificial intelligence and machine learning. They will not, as a goal, seek stability; rather they will employ strategies for succeeding inside instability. They will understand the biggest opportunities for success in the future will lie not outside, but inside of ambiguity.