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Book Review: Building Digital Culture

Book Review: Building Digital Culture

“This should be a very sobering thought for anyone in business. The company that you toil and work so hard to make succeed is statistically unlikely to exist in a decade.” (p. 5)

Building Digital Culture: A Practical Guide to Successful Digital Transformation by Daniel Rowles (@DanielRowles) and Thomas Brown (@ThinkStuff) (Kogan Page, 2017) is the reason I review books. While I was reading this book, I was interrupting everyone I know to share ideas and quotes. If you are looking for an engaging, readable text that moves at the same speed as the digital world it describes, buy this book.

The book has four main parts: 1. Why you need a digital culture, 2. Plotting your digital journey, 3. The digital culture framework, and 4. Keeping up with change. If you’re new to the idea of digital, I suggest instead focusing on the authors’ discussions of culture. Know your organization’s existing culture and focus on cultural norms, i.e. unwritten expectations of conduct. Here is the transition to digital: what habits and behaviors have been changed by technology to the point where the rules are still unwritten? Now you are in digital culture territory.

We all have different relationships with technology. “Tech innate” was a new phrase for me; it refers to people (I’ll resist the urge to say ‘kids’) who have had mobile devices and the internet since birth. But don’t place too much emphasis on the devices themselves. As the authors point out, it is really the “utility” of the devices that is changing how we live and work. Technology has become personal and people have become far more interconnected.

In a fast-evolving world, the future belongs to those with “broad skillsets”. This is not because they are able to do the work of more people, but because they have knowledge beyond one function and have had to learn different disciplines. They will help the organization bridge from one iteration to another. Their desire to be effective, natural curiosity, and personal drive to learn will serve them well. These people can have more of an impact on organizational culture if they represent a significant percentage of headcount.

REQUIRED READING - Case study on p. 28: Digital Transformation in Action by Eva Appelbaum, Partner, Digital Talent @ Work (formerly Head of Digital Marketing Transformation, BBC). This case study provides clear services-oriented evidence that it is utility not devices that holds the majority of value in a digital culture. The consultants in this case study don’t ‘do for’ their clients, they instead incubate capability. The consultants are not necessary in the long run to generate the desired results, and therefore the client both earns and deserves the credit for the improvements that are made.

Finally, senior leadership can not have a monopoly on decision making. If organizations are to benefit from real time data and insight, context is needed. A full embrace of digital culture requires both trust and empowerment. Individuals have to be allowed to combine their understanding of circumstances and available data to make responsive decisions. With this distribution of decision making comes the need for higher risk tolerance and an acceptance of productive failure. As long as the learnings from failure are codified so they can be prevented in the future, the failure was worthwhile.

I opened this review with a recommendation to buy the book. I close it with two other suggestions. 1. Follow everyone in the book on Twitter – most of them have their account handles listed, which makes it very easy. 2. If you have the good fortune to meet one or both of the authors, take them to dinner and engage them in open-ended conversation. If they are half as good-natured as they come through in the book, you’ll have a fascinating evening. 

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