Why we all need Digital Bravery to face the future
Jonathan Briggs, Co-founder and troublemaker
An ever-changing digital landscape
When we started Hyper Island in 1996, we asked ourselves what our students would need the most to become a valuable asset to their chosen industry. At the time, digital was called multimedia, and while other multimedia schools were teaching Photoshop and CD-ROM production, we decided to teach leadership, business, technology and creativity. These high-level problem-solving skills held true while the technology changed and helped our students stay resilient and useful.
This year, we celebrated our 25th anniversary and have been reviewing every part of our plans to keep our courses, our students, and ourselves relevant. We want to stay “Real-World Ready”, and we can assure you, it’s an interesting conversation.
So, what’s changing? Let’s start with technology. Today, it goes without saying that almost every company you can think of will have a website, a mobile app if it wants one, a home in a variety of social media channels, and almost certainly will do business via e-commerce. Data has been recognized as important with analytics, customer insights, and competitor analysis also being commonplace. For many, this has led to the conclusion that digital transformation is over and the time has come to move on to something else.
While some companies are declaring “job done” others are scrambling to hire Data Scientists, AI experts, App Developers, Network Administrators, Systems Engineers, DevOps teams and other specialists. Of course, these roles are vital, but to maximize the value of these new hires, leaders will need to bring them together to solve the challenges and opportunities within their businesses. This will require them, as leaders, to appreciate the connections between these roles, and it demands what we at Hyper Island are calling “Digital Bravery”.
Digital technology is not something that can simply be passed on to the IT Team or a Digital Transformation Director, and forgotten—its impacts on the business and the decision-making process are way too important. Leaders need to appreciate the scope and possibilities of a wide and ever-changing range of technologies. In other words, they need to get their hands dirty by diving in themselves.
Dont's for digital leaders of the future
- Stop being so certain! We’re living in a complex world where problems are big; oftentimes far bigger than what we think we can handle on our own. So, please be humble and listen to those around you to get a varied sense of what’s happening from different specialist perspectives.
- Stop using the language of change and not changing. For example, a sprint is not something you just slap onto a project in order to rush it; a strategy is only as strong as what’s done throughout it; teamwork is only effective if there’s mutual purpose and alignment and so on.
- Stop being wasteful! We’re entering 2022 and it’s never been easier to share, borrow, copy, and get inspiration from what already exists. Before any project, ask yourself: “Who has already done this with excellence?” Now go and test that idea first before reinventing the wheel.
- Stop imagining change will happen overnight. For those of us working with learning, we can assure you that it’s a lifelong journey. Always keep that in mi
How to demonstrate Digital Bravery
Leaders (and future leaders, such as our students) need to be able to do four things in order to capture the true sense of Digital Bravery:
Sense the world
Sensing the world means being able to spot trends, listen to customers, handle real-time data, and test out emerging technologies. Every leader should be the first in their team to consider what it means when, for example, Facebook rebrands, Apple invents, IKEA experiments, or a start up announces something new. They won’t do this alone, but will need to surround themselves with a team of curious minds that ask difficult questions. They need to make time for conversations that enquire about possibilities; “what if?”, “how might we?”, and “what happens when we connect this together with this”?
Spotting connections requires thinking in systems rather than silos. Leaders need a set of tools to visualize big pictures, models, supply chains, and networks. Teams will need to be diverse and include people from different backgrounds to tap into different perspectives. True diversity means asking how ideas might play out in alternative environments, geographies, and cultures.
Invent the future
The third Digital Bravery skill is perhaps the hardest for many leaders to accept; they have to experiment and make things themselves. It’s not enough to have heard of blockchain, the metaverse, or Digital Twins. It’s not even enough to read about them regularly in supplements of the Financial Times. They must roll up their sleeves and build something. Only through actually experiencing each technology or combinations of technologies will they be able to see the possibilities, the challenges, and the opportunities for their business. Through making things, the leaders and their teams will be able to invent the future or at least prepare themselves for possible futures that lay ahead.
Part of inventing the future is to take a longer-term view than we often do in business. Think on at least two different time horizons: now/soon and later. Often, we’ll dismiss a technology early in its evolution because it is clunky, slow, or hard to use. Leaders need to see beyond the immediate limitations towards what the technology reveals might happen and connect that with the business. Extend the ‘making’ to ‘testing out’ new business models, ways of working and new ways of engaging your customers and staff.
Building a culture of experimentation and making will create powerful team conversations and often provide powerful outcomes. Don’t let hierarchies or job titles affect the exploration. Make time to discuss these outcomes and capture learnings to share with the rest of the business.
Remain ready to change
The final skill is knowing when to take action; the moment before an idea is ready to become mainstream. This may mean abandoning tried and tested ways of doing business and embracing uncertainty and risk. But embracing risk and designing a better future creates resilience, and this will be needed, post-COVID, by every organization and individual.
Alongside these skills, a shift of mindset is also required. As a leader, it’s important to understand that the future is not a zero-sum project, and that collaboration with both catalysts and competitors will help you to stay in the long game. In other words, we share similar agendas and together,we can all chip in to realize our collective potential. But don’t wait for others to understand this. Get going with your curiosity and boldness—and be awake!
Digital Bravery is an exciting agenda for the next 25 years. It’s not set in stone and will evolve itself as we experiment and learn. We are committed, as we have been since 1996, to help individuals and companies cope with change and prepare for better futures. We too will be brave!
If you want to hear more about Metaverses and digital bravery, check out this video with Jonathan and Hyper Island’s CEO Helena Ekman.