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December 04, 2013
Thinking digitally is different than thinking you are digital
By: Mark McDonald

There is a difference between thinking you’re digital and digital thinking. The difference often gets lost in the discussion of digital business. Thinking you are digital is the confidence you get from reaching for your smart phone, looking at a display screen, using analytics to answer a question, etc. It feels interactive and engaging so it must be digital, right? Yes but there is much more to digital thinking that dreaming up ways of putting today’s business processes onto smartphone glass.

Thinking digital starts from the outside-in before it builds the business from the inside-out. Word association offers a way to expose this way of thinking and that is the focus of this post. Let’s start with the outside in aspects of digital thinking.

Customers, their voices and their choices drive digital disruption. Where prior technology disruptions started within a company, digital thinking requires a different starting point for cognition – one starting from the outside in. Here are a few words that come up:

  • Customer ability, is the fundamental focus of digital that changes what customers can do, what they become and the value they receive.

  • Experience, is the currency of digital commerce, the one with the best experience wins.

  • Pragmatic and problem focused, value comes from resolving problems, enabling opportunities rather than telling the customer what to do.

  • Behavioral, recognizing the connection between information, motivation, decisions and actions drive the dynamics of a digital world.

  • Good enough, is more than the standard, it’s the starting gun for getting a solution into market. If you have something that can create a credibility outcome than its time to get out there and start learning.

  • Graphical because while words are clear, concise and crisp, pictures work better to capture the dynamic interactions creating new outcomes that are often hard to explain in words.

Understanding the world from the outside drives the playbook for building digital capability from the inside out. This brings another set of words to the mind of the digital thinker. These ideas include:

  • Outcome, what is the customer trying to achieve? It is not a product, process, service or experience it's something that represents a tangible change in their life an ability to do something that they could not do before or do as well, or as economically. Those things are customer outcomes.

  • Combination, digital technologies work together to create results beyond simply substituting iPads with PC’s, if digital was about technology in isolation then everyone would be a winner because everyone has a smartphone app and website.

  • Experimentation as exploration, you can’t define the future in a vacuum. Columbus was wrong. He declared that he would find a way to the East; instead he found a whole new world.

  • Public leverage, it’s a big world with a lot of ready made support so why not use it. Public communications, commerce and logistics infrastructure create instant scale allowing you to go ‘over the top’ like everyone else.

  • Open, connecting, collaborative, as you want access to the world’s best thinking rather than remaining constrained within the limits of the organization.

  • Lean and simple, doing only what is needed to achieve the outcome as anything more adds needless cost and complexity.

  • Platform and reuse, because the digital world moves too fast and you have invested too much to have to rebuild everything from scratch. A platform consists of a collection of capabilities supporting support different solutions, service levels, and experiences. Without thinking about the platform digital business margins and customer experience drowns in channels filled with dedicated and costly infrastructures.

It is easy to think you are digital based on the technologies you possess. But possession is only one-tenth of the law in the digital world. If it were more, then we would be talking about another wave of technology substitution and not about digital disruption.

Digital thinking encompasses these ideas to one degree or another. Understanding how to think digitally is critical, particularly for executives, as it turns traditional notions of strength, requirements and business askew to take advantage of the realities of the first digital decade.

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