They See Lemons, You See Lemonade - The Digital World is Sweet

Steve Cadigan

July 28, 2017

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Chances are that your company or industry is going through some form of digital transformation. We hear about it, we read about it, yet most of the rhetoric focuses on the gloom and doom as opposed to an optimistic forecast of a bright digital future filled with new opportunities and prospects. Much of what is published about the digital future today forecasts how AI and robots are going to replace thousands of jobs or that technology is going to so radically change work, we are left to wonder if there is a place for us in this future. I believe we need to do a much better job portraying the massive upside opportunity of this growing digital future and moreover we need to showcase a world that is far more human than this seemingly cold, impersonal robotic portrayal we hear so much about.

If we step back for a moment, it’s hard to deny that we are in the midst of a digital revolution and have been for some time. How we work, communicate, connect and live is being impacted in profound ways. In the realm of work, you would be hard pressed to find a sector of the economy today not being swept up in a profound digital transformation. Everyone knows the big areas affected - such as manufacturing, industries from healthcare and banking all the way to retail have experienced seismic shifts in how their industries operate, and what it takes to stay on top. Further, we are watching companies change industries the way Spotify did to music, Netflix has done to movies and TV, and Airbnb is doing to the travel and hospitality industry.

Digital transformation means a lot of different things to a lot of different businesses but at its essence it's fairly straightforward. Digital transformation is the adoption and implementation of cutting edge digital concepts and technology that can rapidly transform and improve how work is performed in an organization.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, most of the time we hear about digital transformation in very dismal and ominous terms that forecast things like robots, AI and technology causing massive job reductions for people. Very little has been written about the amazing new opportunities, new jobs and new careers being created through digital transformation. While digital transformation has, and will eliminate the need for some jobs, I believe it will continue to open more doors than it closes.

One doesn’t have to look far to see the many benefits digital transformation has had: while the brick and mortar world of retail is going through a downturn, the amount of opportunities available to online retailers is tenfold what it was even a decade ago. Small retailers in the middle of the country with a unique product or store are no longer limited by their location or hours; the ease with which anyone can sell a good or service to a global audience 24 hours a day, seven days a week is unheard-of. Furthermore, there are new roles and jobs being created in the retail industry every day: an increased digital audience, as well as increased sales, leads to the need for a new type of retail employee. Whether it be an online sales associate, a web developer, a UX designer, or a social media marketer, the retail industry has created a new realm of exciting career opportunities previously unavailable.

Another great example of the massive opportunity upside with digital transformation is the travel industry. Twenty years ago, the only way you could book an airline ticket was by calling a travel agent or an airline directly. As online booking took off a whole new wave of companies were created along the way like TripAdvisor, Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak, Priceline and Airbnb as the digital world opened a whole new world of opportunities.

While we should acknowledge that the travel agents displaced by these new travel companies are not always the ones who take up roles at these new digital disruptors, it’s important to recognize that the travel industry is a much more diverse, exciting sector, with a ton more jobs than before digital transformation. In fact, the travel industry continues to break earnings records year after year: Global travel spending reached a record-breaking $1.2 trillion in 2015, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down going forward. The pie has grown bigger, and getting a piece is easier than ever: the advent of sites like Airbnb and the plethora of booking sites and monetized travel blogs, has made access to a previously exclusive industry much easier. This is a great story of how digital transformation has created massive new opportunities that did not exist before.

While the breakneck pace and sweeping disruption of new digital technology might appear, and to a degree is, unprecedented, the new age of digital transformation has much in common with technological advancements of past eras. So, while the individual technologies and uses are drastically different, what allows a business to succeed and thrive in a world in constant technological upheaval hasn’t changed much since the creation of the Ford Model T. Today, both organizations and professionals have a similar responsibility to continue to evolve in order to be competitive and thrive in an ever-changing world. This will only continue and it's incumbent on both parties to find ways to improve in order to survive. Digital transformation should be welcomed and not avoided.

With this reality in mind, dealing with digital transformation, regardless of what industry you're operating in, becomes a lot more manageable. A good friend of mine once said “If you want to learn how to cook you have to start cooking.” I see digital transformation the same way. Nobody really knows exactly how their job will change or their industry will shift, but change is inevitable which is why we need to start adapting and trying new tools and technology aimed at making us better and more successful in whatever we do. Digital transformation is an evolving reality but it’s a reality that will continue and if we can accept and welcome it, we can recognize there is great upside in opportunity - we are more likely to start cooking and figure it out as we go.

Let’s face it, digital transformation is not a fad or trend that we can stop or ignore, nor should we want it to. New disruptive digital technology can be intimidating but provides those who leverage it effectively the opportunity to create more competitive, effective and successful businesses, regardless of industry. The first step is to understand and embrace this new reality. Welcoming change can be challenging, but then again, anything worthwhile is.

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