Today I was invited to speak to students at the University of Leeds during Leeds Digital Festival. The purpose was to share some learning, experiences and challenges of working in digital and to offer some tips. So, I shared five things that I wish I’d known more about when starting out in the hope that it might help others. I share them again here with the same aim…
1. Don’t assume people know what digital is…
The ace Janet Hughes from Doteveryone recently published an excellent article called ‘Helping Leaders Understand Digital’. In it is this quote from their user research: ‘The challenge for me is knowing what it is…’
This quote illustrates a key point of working in digital — that understanding what digital really is and why it matters is crucial.
I touched on this point in the Charity Social Media Toolkit, saying “‘digital’ is not so much about technology as it is about a networked mindset…” This networked mindset means a more open way of working, network thinking, and a whole host of other things aside from the technology.
This point matters because without understanding how digital changes everything, we can easily fall into traps. Traps of silo digital working. Traps of digitising what already exists, rather than opening our minds to the possibilities that digital affords and re-imaging what could exist…
2. Be social and build your network
There’s a saying that ‘your network is your net worth’. It’s also the title of a book by the famous entrepreneur Porter Gale. This relates back to lesson number one because in a networked world we need network thinking.
Writer and social age explorer Julian Stodd published a book called the ‘Social Leadership Handbook’. It is about the skills and mindset that is needed by leaders in the social age. These days, organisations of all stripes are realising the value of the networks and connections that employees can tap into and share at work.
In the digital social age, success is linked to social capital, to communities, and to sharing what you know. So, use digital to enhance the physical. For example, digital can help you to develop side projects outside of work. Side projects can enable you to develop new skills and connect to new networks. I have several side projects and jamming is one that I discovered via social media.
A jam for anyone who has never heard of one before is like a music jam — where people create things together that they could not create alone. But in this context, it is about innovation and collaboration around problem-solving. Jams are organised using digital tools like Trello, Basecamp and Google docs — tools that can help anyone connect, collaborate and work in the open.
3. Keep learning, working out loud
The world of learning is being disrupted by digital. There are online courses (MOOCs). There are learning communities developing all over the world. There’s social media. There’s online streaming of debates, discussions and conferences that you may not otherwise be able to access. Digital changes the game all the time. There will be new tools. New techniques. New trends. It is important to keep learning.
The awesome John Stepper wrote an influential book called ‘Working Out Loud’ about learning and how sharing your work in the open makes it better. It’s about building skills and collaborating. It’s about building capacity in organisations. Dion Hinchcliffe is a Chief Strategy Officer and has said that working out loud is perhaps the most fundamental digital workplace skill.
An example of working out loud is blogging and free publishing tools like Medium allow anyone to write and connect their ideas with those of others.
4. Start with needs, not digital
Digital is a tool, an enabler, and it can do lots of things. But, it’s important to recognise that it’s people that drive digital and digital change, not technology.
This means you should not start with digital solutions as a given when approaching problems. It means you should always put people first, start with their needs, and get physical to explore the bigger picture beyond digital.
If you are creating a digital thing, an app, a website, it is good to approach it as if it were a service. Think of the whole experience that people have before and after they use that thing. Use the tools and techniques of service design and design thinking. Research what people need, talk to them, watch them, spend time with them to understand how they interact with digital things.
If you do not put people first and start with their needs, you can easily make the wrong thing and waste a lot of time and money.
5. Digital change is about people
Some people talk of digital change and some talk about ‘digital transformation’, but this term can lead to confusion.
The term ‘digital transformation’ is defined by Wikipedia as “the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society.”
The keyword for me here is human. At the heart of digital change is organisational and culture change — and this stuff is hard. Indeed, in my experience, digital is often the easy bit — it’s people who are more challenging.
Thinking beyond technology to what digital is about, an open, collaborative networked mindset, is key to unlocking its potential.
When change is hard, keep going and always use data and research when proposing changes.
Change can take time so be patient. Basecamps are there for good reason when you are climbing Mount Everest 😉
Here’s a link to the slides