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Beyond Digital – A Book Review

Written by: Linda Watkins, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Starting in 2021, business commentators and consulting firms began telling us that the way forward for organizations was going to be digital – basically the digitizing of everything.

Much like the old adage that yachts and pleasure boats are holes in the water into which one pours money, many businesses have seen their past efforts to digitalize drain money, time and resources without accomplishing their goals.

I was therefore delighted to find a 2022 book by Paul Leinwand and Mahadeva Matt Mani, published by Harvard Review Press, entitled Beyond Digital: How Great Leaders Transform Their Organizations and Shape the Future. It takes the reader far beyond digital for the future and explains how digitizing (making current processes digital) does not accomplish what is needed to survive and thrive. Organizations need to get beyond that activity and create organizations that use their digitalization process in the service of their desired outcome and strategy.

“In the roughly 30 years since the first commercial internet browser was created, ‘being digital’ has become the mantra for business survival. Digital efforts have been proliferating as companies work to catch up with technological innovation – and COVID-19 massively accelerated the pace.

Yet despite having put so much energy and investment into digitizing, most companies have not gained a competitive edge… No matter how many digital initiatives you implement, you can’t expect to build real, long-term competitive advantage by being the same as your competitors or doing what you have always done – even if you are now doing it a bit faster and more efficiently than before.”

Leinwald and Mani spent two years researching this subject, focusing on 12 companies, some of which found the way to success while others failed to get beyond digital. They identified what they call seven leadership imperatives for going beyond digital and shaping the future.

These imperatives are:

  1. Reimagine your place in the world.

  2. Embrace and create value via ecosystems

  3. Build a system of privileged insights with your customers

  4. Make your organization outcome-oriented

  5. Invert the focus of the leadership team

  6. Reinvent the social contract with your people

  7. Disrupt your own leadership approach

The authors are not against being digital, but suggest doing it in service to a differentiated company that carefully plans to add digital in ways that enhance and empower strategy and organizational capabilities. In their words, successful companies “get their differentiated capabilities right and then the flow of digital-powered products, services, solutions, and experiences naturally follow.”

Reimagining your place in the world is the first step in the differentiation process the authors see as necessary. This process is far more ambitious than just focusing on products or businesses. It requires looking at the broader world and determining where your company can add value due to your strong and inherent capabilities. The authors use Philips organization as an example. Originally a company that focused on audio and video, consumer electronics and medical equipment, it harnessed its strong capabilities to reimagine itself as a health-tech company, and became far more successful.

Embracing and creating value via ecosystems requires realizing that in this increasingly complex world, we can’t do it alone. We need to embrace partnerships and networks of companies to work together to solve some problems.

Build a system of privileged insights with your customers by partnering with your customers and their unique insights.

Make your organization out-come oriented by focusing on results instead of tactics and processes.

The last three imperatives deal specifically with leadership of people. Leaders will need different skills and capabilities than in the past. Invert the focus on your leadership team! Start by seriously looking at your leadership team. Do you have the right roles? Do you have the right people? Are you working together effectively? And reinvent the social contract with your people by having employees involved in and owning the changes and participating in the rewards. Disrupting your own leadership approach requires developing a flexibility to master paradoxical skills – to be tech-savvy and deeply human, pushing for innovation while being grounded in the company’s identity, global-minded and deeply rooted in local communities.

The authors of Beyond Digital have a prescription for the future that is far-reaching and not easy to achieve. Their research has shown that it is possible. Some companies and leaders are already demonstrating how to become both more human and strategically digital.

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Linda Watkins, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Linda Watkins PhD is an executive and leadership coach with decades of experience helping leaders achieve personal and professional growth, including in new, creative and future-oriented areas. She helps clients embody their leadership and become authentic, grounded and future-ready. Many find her work transformational. Linda's passion for helping leaders thrive by developing new skills and capabilities has only grown as the world has become more complex. She and her company, Leadership for Today, are strong advocates for women and have been designing events that empower women for over 30 years.



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