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Digital Mindfulness: Being Digital Instead Of Doing Digital

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at October 5, 2021

Be the change you want to see. 

This saying, often misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi but actually penned by Arleen Lorrance in her book, “The Love Project,” encapsulates the difference between doing digital stuff and being a digital business. 

Organizations attempting digital transformation tend to fixate on projects and processes in lieu of people and products. Worse, in a post-pandemic world, organizations that attempt to return to normal are more apt to be lapped by competitors, or not return at all. McKinsey reported that in the past year, companies accelerated their implementation of digital capabilities 20 to 25 times faster than their executives thought possible. Yet most of these changes were not core transformations, but urgent, imperative technology projects to enable remote work or the migration of assets to the cloud. They did not represent a change to the business culture, business model, or organizational mindset. 

Even Gartner acknowledges this difference, arguing that these kinds of projects are more digitization than digitalization. The latter involves a disruptive transformation—disruptive not only to an industry but also to an organization itself. Digital transformation follows from longer-range strategic plans, not a set of technology projects.

“Many businesses think going digital means adding more technology,” says Giles Crouch, Chief Digital Officer at sapient.d, a digital strategy and design firm. “Sometimes, though, it’s about taking technology away, or combining what already exists in smarter ways.” Crouch observes it is a challenge for many executives to think in terms of two worlds at the same time: the physical and digital worlds that people inhabit, and how they behave differently in each. 

Indeed, a cautionary pre-pandemic study led by North Carolina State University revealed more than half of organizations’ investments in digital transformation initiatives have been wasted. Stanford University Executive Program Director, Behnam Tabrizi, explains, “Fundamentally, it’s because most digital technologies provide possibilities for efficiency gains and customer intimacy. But if people lack the right mindset to change and the current organizational practices are flawed, digital transformation will simply magnify those flaws.” 

CPG manufacturer Mars has implemented some “fancy tools and capabilities,” according to its Chief Digital Officer, Sandeep Dadlani, but its secret ingredient is the amplification of its employees. The company has trained and immersed over 20,000 of its people in design thinking, 30,000 in data and analytics, and 8,000 in AI and machine learning. Not only has Mars gone big with digital, but it also has put a speedometer on its transformation. “Our way of looking at digital is to go ‘100x’—a 100-times-faster pursuit of our purpose,” Dadlani says.

How urgent is it to be digital rather than simply do digital stuff? Only 11% of 1,140 business executives surveyed by McKinsey earlier this year believe their current business models will be economically viable through 2023.

 Digital Transcendence Versus Digital Transformation

“When we are constantly in a state of doing, we lose the big picture,” contends Jim Stadler, EVP and chief marketing officer with First Midwest Bank. “Being digital is a way of life and how you operate the business. If it’s just another project, it’s not part of your DNA,” says Stadler. 

Easier said than done. Many executives have recurrent nightmares about the emergence of upstarts in their industry. That kind of agility can seem unreachable for legacy company executives. Startups are born and bred digital. So if your business cannot adopt a startup state of mind, then expect a digital upstart to upset your market. 

But the prospect of digital-native upstarts should be more than a psychological torment to executives. Rather, it should motivate them to change both their mindsets and their organization’s entire DNA. 

4 Steps Toward Achieving Digital Mindfulness 

Being is about authenticity, while doing is about achievement. Customers, investors, and partners can tell the difference. Being can be a transcendent state not only for individuals but also for your organization as a whole. But, ultimately, the consilience of doing and being is essential. They must be balanced. Mindfulness suggests that our existence is primarily shaped by our mind. We can become what we think. Accordingly, keys to achieving digital mindfulness on the path to being truly digital include:

  • Being intentional rather than responsive to the activities and situations within and around the business. Embrace and be part of the metamorphoses happening both inside and surrounding your market.
  • Being open to and aware of the whole of the business and market, not just seeing it as a set of components. This allows for new framing, resulting in the emergence of new and broader digital business models.
  • Being non-judgmental about what’s happening with employees, customers, suppliers partners, competitors, regulators, etc. Instead, accept the ebbs and flows of the entire ecosystem. This allows for less reactionary, more strategic thinking about how to achieve interconnectedness. 
  • Being self-actualizing by seeing your business compassionately through the eyes of others, and not just your immediate stakeholders. This will help you conceive new ways to augment their experience or introduce new individuals to what you offer. 

Western culture places a lot of emphasis on doing, or getting things done. This manifests in a project mindset instead of a product mindset—-leading an organization to be focused inward rather than on its place in the world. We must remember our customers, partners, and employees are human beings, not human doings. The more your strategy empathizes with and accommodates their raisons d’etre, the more your organization will achieve a change to its cultural genetics—and ascend to a higher state of being.


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