After a collaborative study between Deloitte Digital and MIT Sloan Management Review, Anh Phillips (Digital Transformation Research lead at Deloitte’s Center for Integrated Research) and Garth Andrus (global leader of Digital DNA) took their insights and turned them into The Technology Fallacy, published last week. The book is a guide for surviving digital disruptions—but that doesn’t mean it’s a book about technology.
GA: The existing assumption is that to digitally transform a company, you need to adopt the latest technologies. While this is partly correct, it doesn’t tell the whole story—what has to change isn’t only your technology, but also how you organize, operate, and behave as an organization. Digital Transformation is just as much about people and organizational change as it is about the specific technologies being used.
AP: We’ve been doing research over the past five years with MIT Sloan Management Review to understand how companies are transforming in this digital age. What we quickly found was that it wasn’t the technology people were struggling with—the real challenge was how to change people’s mindsets, the company culture, and the way people think and do things. It’s a much more fundamental shift than simply adopting technology. The book builds off of this research, creating a bigger picture perspective.
GA: And it wasn’t only our research that informed this idea. Our practical experience in consulting revealed that many clients aren’t as worried about the technology as they are about making it work for their people and organization and of course, their customers. In the book, we explore what drives organizational success in a digital world.
AP: We didn’t start with that hypothesis at all—it’s something we found along the way.
GA: In fact, if I were to say there was a hypothesis we started with, it would be that we saw general trends of differences and insights by maturity level: early, developing, and maturing. What surprised us was how consistently those maturity levels revealed the same challenges and opportunities of becoming digital—the less mature, the more challenges; the more mature, the greater the opportunities for the organization. We hypothesized this would be the case, but were surprised by how highly consistent the data was not only by maturity level, but across countries, cultures, and industries.
AP: That’s right. And then, during the course of our research, we realized that strategy and organization were so much more important than the technology, and that’s when we realized that this fallacy existed and it needed to be disproved.
GA: With Digital DNA at the core to help identify needed digital traits and characteristics, the book delves deeper into what it takes to create a digital enterprise. Areas such as reimagining work, co-working with automation, leveraging an open talent workforce, the connected experience through physical and virtual workplaces, leadership in a digital world, digital HR, and networks of teams.
AP: It really reinforces the concept that you need to think about the DNA of your organization. By the time you get to the end of the book—and the last chapter is specifically on Digital DNA—you realize that wow, all of these things that this book is talking about are things that are embedded in our organization, things that are about the way we organize, operate, and behave. Unless you make these fundamental changes in your DNA, you can’t make real progress in your digital journey.
AP: Yes, but our definition of leadership includes middle management and others who aren’t traditionally defined as leadership members. In the digital age, you have to think of leadership differently—where you find it in your organization (i.e., at all levels), and what digital leadership looks like.
AP: There are many traits that we’ve always associated with good leaders, like commitment, focus, discernment, courage, initiative, passion, teachability, servanthood, and vision. In the digital age, all of those core traits still apply, but some of them come to the forefront, like having the teachability to understand digital trends.
GA: Leadership in a digital environment also includes unique skills like proactive sensing of business trends with technology, and how to guide the business in response to those trends, the need for continuous digital literacy, being change-oriented in a fluid environment, and being highly pragmatic and adaptable. For example, traditional leaders often lead hierarchical relationships, with traditional goal setting and reporting. In a digital environment, the pace of change is moving at an accelerated rate. Hierarchy is less important as leaders find themselves leading networks of teams, proactively equipping those teams with what they need, and removing barriers and obstacles. They are forward-looking, democratizing information, expanding decision-making, and being decisive.
GA: It’s not just leaders who can drive change! Leaders are everywhere when you foster a digital culture, which in turn fosters transformation. Every employee plays a key role in decision-making as they work in teams and on networks of teams. They may be a regular employee, part of a contracted company, a gig employee, or beyond. Continuous learning on their own is a key skill needed, as is openness to new ideas, thinking about the next steps, and being proactive. And of course, not being afraid to try and fail as long as you recognize the failure and fail forward with learnings from that failure built into the next iteration.
AP: The main principle that we found—that humans, not tech, are the ones who shape things—can be applied anywhere. No matter what changes about our environment, humans are the ones who learn how to adapt and lead the charge. Technology may be getting smarter (much, much smarter) and more available, but it’s the human touch that really changes the world.