The most extraordinary technology of all
07 May 2015
‘It is impossible to contemplate the progress…in Great Britain within the last 30 years without wonder and astonishment. Its rapidity…exceeds all credibility’. So wrote Patrick Colquhoun in 1814* of the transformation of the manufacturing sector at the height of the Industrial Revolution. The digital revolution we’re living through has brought changes of a similar magnitude in a shorter amount of time. Credibility is indeed being stretched; innovations that seemed close to science fiction not long ago – robot butlers, driverless cars – are a reality, and some are close to becoming ubiquitous.
It’s hardly surprising that organisations and their leaders are preoccupied with keeping up with digital innovation and terrified of being left behind. Forming a digital, and often technology-led roadmap, as a result, is top of the business agenda. But is this really all about technology?
We don’t believe it is; we think it’s really about people. While technology is clearly fundamental to the digital age, what’s equally important is the way in which technology is changing our behaviour and the choices we make as employees and consumers, at work and at play. The Industrial Revolution brought automated factories but it also ultimately resulted in the rise of the unions. Successful change of any type is always about people.
Our capacity to benefit from digital technology is enormous – we’ve only scratched the surface of what digital can do for us. But competitive advantage isn’t about the technology; it’s about the way in which organisations use, manage and inspire their people in a digital world.
We recently published a paper looking at the significant implications of the digital age and their effect on the workforce and organisations. In each case, the root of the issue lies not in machines, but in people.
It’s predicted that by 2035, 53% of all jobs will be replaced by technology** which poses significant consequences on the workforce and raises questions for governments, employees and businesses about the implications. However, in the race to automate, there’s a big risk that some organisations will neglect talent management. We believe that the priority should not be forming a digital strategy for your people, but creating a people strategy for the digital age.
The digital world is also putting increased pressure on leaders. In the digital world everyone can be heard and everyone can contribute - ideas are an increasingly valuable currency. This is creating a workplace that is more democratic and individualistic than ever before, where transparency and information rule. These are new challenges, and demand a whole new set of leadership skills.
During a transformation as life-altering as the digital age, the most dangerous thing an organisation can do is lose sight of the value of its people. The best, most innovative technology in the world won’t create value on its own – the true value comes from the way your people make use of the technology around them. It is people (for now) who have ideas and make decisions, not machines.
To learn more, download our full paper here.
* P. Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Wealth, Power and Resources of the British Empire (London,
1814), p. 68
** Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, Vartannat jobb Automatiseras, 2014