3 Sound Bites to Lead by

Written by Robin Knowles, Founder and CEO of Digital Leaders

I admire anyone who can reduce the complexity of Digital into a soundbite to live by and who better to get them from than the illustrious academic professors of the Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS).

Digital Leaders was invited by CJBS, our new Digital Talent partner, to take part in and invite speakers and delegates to a day in London thinking deep thoughts about Digital Transformation. Our reward to participate and I found myself listening to a series of “dons” on everything from disrupting professional service firms to the predicted death of the banks and the reasons why industry sector analysts are often the worst enemies of the dominant players in a sector.

Interesting stuff and a lot to take in, all chaired by Digital Leaders regular and CJBS academic Mark Thompson.

As usual I came away confused by a mass of research and data, but which I managed to distil into three sound bites to share and bore colleagues with for the next month – you have been warned.

The first is “Consumers use new products seamlessly – they are not disrupted, your business models and industry boundaries are”

One of the first things Digital Leaders showed me was that each sector: public, private and non-profit, sees the other as single structures. The “Council” or the “Hospital” is used and understood as a seamless whole, ignorant of the internal complexity, boundaries, and silos and where the power sits.

A resident doesn’t care who collects their bin or runs their local hospital as long as it happens and offers value. Digital is making it possible for the blurring of sector lines and whole new business models to emerge that make little difference to consumers. However, these sectors, filled with silos and historic structures and delivery models, think this disruption to the status quo should be defended to avoid disruption to their consumers. With sectors protecting the consumer, it’s being mistakenly used to support their worldview.

The second “Stop going to your own industry’s trade conferences – friends and colleagues will convince you what worked yesterday, will work tomorrow” 

A bit nervous of this one as an event producer myself, but its so true that if you go to these gatherings then the sector incumbents are there in plain sight as role models for you to copy, you read their commissioned reports that support their world view and it reinforces your behaviours. But, we all know the dangers of networking in a bubble and its even more true in a digital age where bubbles are artificial inventions of an out-of-date and soon to be disrupted world. I am too young to have been to a Kodak convention, but I imagine everyone their would have convinced me that film had a future.

One of the inbuilt strengths of Digital Leaders is that it is completely cross sector. One of the most consistent bits of feedback we get is that our events and networking bring senior leaders into contact with other leaders from other sectors with very different perspectives and priorities to their own while discussing the same digital topic and often sharing similar challenges. It usually gives them a jolt that they have peers with very different worldviews and gives our events a content rich feel.

Finally, “Industry Boundaries, what industry boundaries? Ecosystems cut across boundaries”

Digital is blurring the boundaries of sectors with the rise of ecosystems and the new danger for leaders in a digital age is to not see this change.

The reasons for not seeing it, comes down to analysts and the behaviour they reinforce. We all love our pigeon holes to help us understand and describe businesses activities. Old school thinking says that a business that strays outside of a specific sector is failing to focus and will exhibit business structures that by definition fail to be best in breed for the sector.  Sector analysts and investment markets have a vested interest in keeping well defined boundaries to allow them to analyse and measure activity and will mark a business down that crosses these boundaries. A CEO who ignores this faces the threat of sector criticism and share price reduction.

Ecosystems from Uber to Amazon are disrupting these boundaries and mean business needs to have a rethink.

So all three follow a common thread being that: business models need to be built from the needs of consumers outside the business inwards; that you should assume most analysts are probably measuring the old and wrong things; and stop thinking in silos because consumers and ecosystems ignore these boundaries and think in ecosystems.

Oh dear that looks a lot like three more soundbites!

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