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The ancient Greeks developed a philosophical concept called gnosis, which referred to a secret knowledge that allowed its possessors to achieve enlightenment. This secret knowledge was possessed only by a select few, who occupied a privileged position above those who did not possess it.
Many organizations regard digital transformation in a similar way. They believe the path to successful digital business transformation requires secret knowledge, either naturally instilled in the millennial generation from birth or possessed only by a select few who have worked at Silicon Valley technology firms. Companies that do not possess aspects of this digital gnosis will be locked out of an abundant digital future.
Most of our research on digital business over the past few years, however, tells a very different story. Successful digital transformation does not require any sort of secret or rarefied knowledge. Rather, the biggest barrier is the will and determination to make it happen.
It’s no secret that digital disruption is happening.
In our 2016 Digital Business report, 87% of respondents believed that their industry was likely to be disrupted by digital trends, but only 44% of respondents said that their organization was doing enough to prepare for that disruption. This huge discrepancy between knowledge and action suggests that a key barrier to digital transformation isn’t lack of knowledge that the company needs to act, but simply an unwillingness to do so.
This perspective is also supported in other ways by our data: Many survey respondents indicated that the organization itself was the biggest barrier to digital transformation. Respondents believed that their organizations were too slow and risk-averse to effectively respond to digital trends. It’s not that organizations can’t transform digitally, it’s that they won’t.
Leading successful digital business efforts does not require secret knowledge.
We also asked respondents which management characteristics were most important for leading digital business initiatives. Among the responses that came up most frequently were transformative strategic vision, a forward-looking perspective, and a change-oriented mindset. Technological skills showed up only as a distant fourth, with less than 20% of respondents classifying technical skills as being important for effective digital leadership. Thus, leaders do not need specialized coding knowledge or knowledge of how to run sophisticated analytics packages to be an effective digital leader. Instead, they must learn to apply their existing leadership skills to a new, more fluid digital environment.