For better or for worse, I have some understanding of the world of teenage girls. And I’m pretty confident that throughout all of human history the teenage community of the day has included “the popular girls”.  If you were a teenage girl you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Curiosity is a good sign

All their peers are drawn to them – like bees to honey. But conversation amongst the surrounding crowd often tells more of the story.  There’s an unspoken competition for who is closest to the popular girls and knows them best. This competition actually works against getting to know them better, because asking questions about them might disclose that you don’t actually know them as well as you’ve pretended!

This brings me to the subject of digital transformation. The “popular girls” of digital transformation have emerged, and they are attracting many followers. Their names will vary depending on where you are, but include AI, Agile, Cloud, Data, Ecosystem, API, Blockchain and the list goes on. Beware the followers who only pretend to know them. Instead, take the time to actually find out who they are and what they are all about.

Digital is now so critical to businesses that leaders know that it is disastrous to not at least appear informed about how the world is changing.  Just like the teenagers that surround the popular girls, leaders at all levels are trying very hard to make sure they appear knowledgeable, however they are frequently overwhelmed by both the pace of change and the sheer volume of information available. They are wary of asking questions in case they are seen as out of touch. So it’s tempting to at least throw the names around. But beware – it’s an illusion, and a dangerous one. Pretending that you know how the world is changing is equally as dangerous as believing that you are exempt from the changes.

Just as “a rising tide lifts all boats”, digital literacy education for all cuts through the pretence and lifts digital maturity

In ISACA’s 2017 Digital Transformation Barometer research, only half (53 percent) of surveyed business technology professionals believe their organisation’s leadership is digitally literate. The other 47 percent either don’t think their business leaders have a solid understanding of technology and its impacts, or are unsure. Digital literacy is not only an issue at the top of an organisation, but at all levels and in all types of organisations. Leaders are often scared to admit what they don’t know, so don’t take knowledge for granted even if you hear lots of the popular girls’ names being thrown around. Building the digital literacy of staff at every level of an organisation is an imperative.

As certainty disappears, adaptability becomes core

None of us know with certainty how the relentless march of digital will disrupt our industries.  Leading in a time of such uncertainty while maturing your organisation, requires learning as you go, experimenting with lots of things, getting ideas and input from all around you, and doing anything but standing still.

In a world of overwhelm, where should you focus?

Here are four questions to ask yourself to inform your focus areas for building digital capability:

  1. To what extent is your organisation keeping up with customer expectations?
  2. How well informed are your leaders on the extent to which digital is shaping and disrupting the competitive environment in which you are operating?
  3. What unchallenged assumptions exist in your organisation? The pandemic upended many assumptions about customer preferences and provided willing organisations a springboard for their transformation. What else have you assumed?
  4. Whatever digital direction your organisation is considering, how clearly can you articulate the customer value that will be delivered by the change?

The popular girls of the digital world will probably all have a role to play in the future disruption, but until you learn more than their names you won’t know if they should join your team, or if they do, what position they should play and ultimately what value they bring to your team and your customers. We are living at such an exciting time in history, make sure you don’t miss the journey. And just like at school, you will find that when you get to know them, the popular girls are so much more than you first thought – some of them are destined to be pillars of their future communities, and some of them will never reach their potential.

ISACA Digital Transformation Barometer research

Image credit: iordani/

This article was originally published on LinkedIn January 22, 2017.