The Digital Revolution Already Happened
How can companies embrace the new order?
Slack me. I’ll Venmo you. Phrases that would make no sense just five years ago. In five more, who knows how many new words will pepper our conversations. Industry upheavals may occur with even greater frequency.
“Take Uber, for example. A poster child of innovation, the perfect marriage of legacy (four wheels propelled by tiny explosions in a box) and contemporary (real time demand-based pricing, GPS navigation, automated payment),” says Kyle Rarey, a developer at Real Art. “Despite how disruptive to certain markets it may be, it is still simply a specific arrangement or ‘stack’ of many existing technologies. In the coming years, I think we are due for a true technological breakthrough that impacts or upends every industry in the world.”
What is it that made it all fast forward? Once the computer became personal, so did the ability to create, and from fabricating on a makerbot to writing software on your laptop, suddenly access is everywhere. Greater exposure and less barrier to entry makes for more variation, faster iteration, and a new pace of evolution. We learned to get better faster and with less dependency on old structures and support systems. It’s changed the way we work.
“The game-changer is speed. Digital assets download faster, save faster, are created more quickly,” says Andrew Althouse, a designer at Real Art. “It’s kind of a double edged sword. We can create faster, but clients expect things sooner. It can quickly transform art into production.”
This new pace is true not only for companies operating in the tech and design space. Because as software has devoured everything, the leading player in any category will be one that operates with a digital mindset and for older, established businesses the question becomes one of acclimation.
The more you leave unaddressed, the more you accrue interest which must be repaid in time. (This concept can also be applied to business practices, workforces, and home plumbing).
“In programming we have a concept of technical debt,” Rarey explains. “In short, as a piece of software grows there is an inherent cost in supporting your early design decisions. The more you leave unaddressed, the more you accrue interest which must be repaid in time. (This concept can also be applied to business practices, workforces, and home plumbing). Most tech companies today are hamstrung by the legacy technology they must support.”
The Digital Mindset
Aaron Dignan, an advisor to leadership at global brands like GE, American Express, PepsiCo, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has spent a lot of time exploring these challenges. His approach to organizational design, centered on the premise that digital isn’t software but a mindset, is a useful lens for considering how impactful, digitally-minded companies position themselves—what he refers to as their operating systems.
He breaks the system into six parts: purpose, process, people, product, and platform. Purpose is a clear mission and a business model that looks for new ways to deliver on that purpose. Process is defined by a willingness to take risks and make mistakes; to be continually testing, gathering feedback, and refining your service, product, and pricing. It’s about bringing on more makers than managers, the people who actually create your product. Because with faster iteration and faster response from the market, companies require less management and more feedback, which means hiring people who can execute. It also means releasing products into the marketplace as quickly as possible, with a fundamental shift towards ‘smart’ objects that learn and get better over time. The final piece, platform, is allowing people to build on your product. When an organization does this, it creates a community of people who build the future of your business as you wait and watch.
Organizations that are running what Dignan refers to as a digital operating system understand these network effects and have successfully figured out the interconnectivity between device, platform, product, customer, community, and the company itself.
So what’s next? “In the next ten years, I think we will see programming become a core element of our education, from primary school onward,” says Rarey. “Once more people are able to automate the more routine elements of their work without the help of a dedicated software developer, companies will be able to distill their operations and dedicate more of a person’s time to addressing detailed, consumer-driven needs without having to bring on additional expensive support.”
Alongside our best predictions for what the future may hold for designers and technologists, there are hopefully some simple certainties. “As much as technology has changed, some things never will,” muses Althouse. “Be collaborative, nail the concept, sweat all the details, and see it through to the end. I think the tools are better, but the fundamentals of innovation haven’t changed a whole lot. I think those things will always apply.”
Got you hooked? here’s more:
Forbes Five Keys to a Digital Mindset
True digital leadership requires an entirely new mind-set
The Most Important Design Jobs of the Future
Designers predict 18 new design jobs
Digital Technology and Social Impact
Study based on interviews with senior leaders and digital experts