Whether you’re a newly minted MBA or an experienced leader, you’re always honing your skills and navigating change. And technology is one discipline in which you really can’t afford to stagnate. With digital transformation so central to strategy for most companies, all executives — especially CEOs — must embrace a learning mind-set. Gone are the days you can delegate the job of keeping up with technology to the IT staff.
Chief information officers (CIOs), of course, should regularly brief the management team and the board on new developments, demoing exciting new technology, bringing in external speakers and vendors, and using other tactics that promote tech learning and engagement. But keeping up on technology trends is also the responsibility of every executive. And while that can be daunting given the vast tech landscape and seemingly limitless avenues for learning, it’s also incredibly exciting.
So, if your job title doesn’t include the words information, technology, or digital, how do you stay current? And how do you ensure your organization isn’t falling behind? Consulting digitally literate kids, grandkids, or Millennial staff for help, as many chief executives tell us they do, won’t cut it. Here are three easy ways to begin boosting your digital acumen:
1. Get hands-on with new technology. Firsthand experience is a great way to better understand how your organization can apply technology to improve processes, better engage with customers, or create new lines of business. Personal exploration with emerging technologies not only adds to your knowledge base, it also puts you in the shoes of customers and employees. This forces you to think about the human experience, which is often ignored as companies think primarily about the strategic or technological implications of their digital projects.
So go ahead: Play Pokémon Go with your kids. Download an AI assistant app. Take a VR walk-through of your kitchen remodeling project at the home improvement store. Or tinker with Internet of Things devices for your home like smart locks or automation hubs. What you learn in the process may surprise you.
2. Become a maker or a mentor. Take the hands-on approach one step further by mimicking makers, those intrepid do-it-yourselfers who play, experiment, and build tech-based projects. Attend a local Maker Faire, design a stapler, jar handle, or other household gadget on a 3D printer at your local library, join a makerspace in your community, and get inspired.
With digital transformation so central to strategy, all executives — especially CEOs — must embrace a learning mind-set.
Even if you’re not inclined to roll up your sleeves in the workshop, you can still get involved — and get smarter in the process. I recently had the opportunity to serve as a mentor for my son’s high school robotics team. Now, in my role as PwC’s chief technologist, I am immersed in technology innovation on a daily basis and need only pop into our Emerging Technology Lab or visit one of our Experience Center digital hubs to see the art of the possible. Yet even I learned a lot from the experience of guiding a group of smart and enthusiastic teens as they envisioned, prototyped, tested, and competed with their robots. In particular, I came away with insight into effective innovation practices that all enterprises would do well to emulate.
3. Get schooled online. Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have grown in popularity. Learning platforms like Coursera, edX, and Udacity allow people to sample courses from leading universities. Indeed, the art of continuous learning itself may be the most sought-after skill for tomorrow’s workforce as well as the key to solving tomorrow’s problems. Explore the catalog of courses on any of these platforms to find the fields of study you’d like an introduction to, including design thinking, machine learning, and cybersecurity. In fact, at PwC we’re so bullish about the concept, we’ve recently rolled out a data analytics specialization on Coursera that’s available to everyone, not just our own people.
Can’t commit to a MOOC? Become a regular downloader of tech-focused podcasts, such as those produced by 99% Invisible, A16Z, and Freakonomics Radio. And don’t discount the many TED talks, blogs, and newsletters that highlight tech developments, deals, and industry happenings. The trick is to take a disciplined approach, devoting as little as 15 minutes a day to as much as several hours a week.
What about your company’s Digital IQ?
Now that you’ve charted your own personal digital learning path, take a look at what your organization is doing. Has it been successful in raising its collective Digital IQ?
At PwC, we’ve been studying how companies turn technology investments into competitive advantage for nearly a decade — well before digital was a regular part of the corporate lexicon. In February 2017, we’ll publish our 10th anniversary Digital IQ study, which will focus on digital’s evolving definition, its leadership challenges, and the growing role of emerging technology. In addition to our analysis of data from more than 2,000 companies around the world, we’ll also identify those practices most highly correlated with better performance.
What’s driving your company’s digital strategy? How are your leaders meeting its challenges? Which technologies are you betting on? How much have things changed over the last decade? Please click here to share your insights and reserve a free copy of the report as well as a one-year digital subscription to strategy+business magazine.