BOOK REVIEW
  • Leadership

The Age of the Digital Human

How people and their organizations must develop to get the best from all that digital has to offer

 

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Being described as a ‘digital human’ will make some of us reach for our fountain pens but for the majority of the working population, born after 1980, it’s a fair description. The questions now are: how will the digital-to-human ratio play out in the age of AI? And how will digital connectivity continue to change the way we live and work?

In their new book Alive: Digital Humans and their Organizations, Paul Ashcroft and Garrick Jones, founders of the Ludic Group, consider these questions and focus on the impact of digital on the way organizations are structured and led and how they should evolve to meet the future.

For all of the benefits in ease of living, travelling, and economic growth brought by the industrial revolution it plunged the mid-nineteenth century into a miserable era of disrupted communities, poverty, and social unrest. Facing a comparable technological revolution, the ability of organizations to evolve and leaders to manage through radical change will be critical in ensuring the mid-twenty-first century doesn’t experience similar turmoil.

Ashcroft and Jones take a positive view, they appreciate the fears many have (‘robots will take all the jobs’) and agree that the connected world is so complex and fast evolving that it can be considered ‘alive’, but they counter with a clear exposition of how organizations and their people can prosper in a world greatly enhanced by technology, based on their many years’ experience leading digital transformation in global companies.

Digital humans are demanding “a sea change in how people are prepared to work.” The upside to this, suggest the authors, is that organizations can stop relying on the same external consultants who have advised them for the past 30 years, and engage with their digital-savvy millennial employees to build capability internally, creating agile technology-powered teams to embrace transformational change.

The authors central message is that “digital transformation requires a significant shift in mindsets of leadership.” Following a brief survey of the current and changing state of digital at both a personal and organizational level, the book focuses on what the “digitally activated” organization can achieve that pre-digital organizations couldn’t and on the practical steps that leaders must take to fully realise this potential, offering twelve principles for change.

These twelve principles, elaborated in the core of the book, are split across three areas: decision making and executing; engaging and motivating; and learning and getting to the next level. Using concepts like “app-ability”,theatres of work”, “the power of small things” and “targets and mirrors”, this is a deeply considered check-list of advice that links how organizations operated and were led in the past with what they need to do to thrive in the digital future.

Although this is a practical book which highlights what actually needs to get done to “make the most of all digital has to offer,” it is also an enjoyable read, rich in references to current new thinking and historical precedent, from Cathy O’Neil’s warning about algorithms, ‘Weapons of Math Destruction’, to how Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Florentine ‘Gates of Paradise’ kick-started the Italian renaissance.

Alive: Digital Humans and their Organizations, Paul Ashcroft and Garrick Jones. Published by Novaro Publishing, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-9998329-2-6


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