Beyond Digital: A book review by Bob Morris

Beyond Digital: How Great Leaders Transform Their Organizations and Shape the

Paul Leinwand and Mahadeva Matt Mani
Harvard Business Review Press (January 2022)

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” William Gibson

Whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need leaders at all levels and in all areas who — in Paul Leinwand and Mahadeva Matt Mani’s words — realize that “being in ‘the game’ is not enough, and just trying to do what others do will increasingly lead to irrelevancy. The future is all about substantive differentiation and creating measurable and meaningful value” for everyone involved.

When its then chairman and CEO, Herb Kelleher, was asked to explain why Southwest Airlines was more profitable and had greater cap value than all of its ten competitors COMBINED, he replied, “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers then take great care of our shareholders.”

In Future Shock (1970), Alvin Toffler includes this prediction: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

In Chapter 1, “Shape Your Future, Leinwand and Mani examine Twelve Beyond Digital Companies (Pages 6-9) that were identified during a three-year research study, listed in alpha order: Adobe, Citigroup, Cleveland Clinic, Hitachi, Honeywell, Inditex, Komatsu, Eli Lilly, Microsoft, Philips, STC Pay, and Titan. However different they may be in most respects, “every one of these companies had to reimagine its industries and business models,” then complete whatever transformations were necessary in order “to compete in a new way in the beyond digital environment and decided to get out in front of change and shape their own future.”

Leinwand and Mani also examine “seven elements at the source of successfully transforming to compete in a beyond digital world that we believe can provide a powerful road trip for how you can achieve enduring success.” Here are the seven leadership imperatives:

1. Reimagine your company’s 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 your leadership team.
6. Reinvent the social contract with your people.
7. Disrupt your own leadership approach.

Each imperative is discussed in the first chapter (Pages 18-21) and then there are cross-references throughout the narrative.

These are other passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Leinwand and Mani’s coverage:

o The Speed Trap (Pages 4-5)
o Twelve Beyond Digital Companies (6-9)
o Overcoming the Disincentives for Making Bold Decisions (45-48)
o Determining your company’s future place in the world: Three Steps (50-56)
o The Nature of Modern Business Ecosystems (69-71)

o Cleveland Clinic (84-89 and 177-180)
o The Data and Technology Imperative (97-101)
o Four Steps to Building a System of Privileged Insights (103-106)
o Transcending the Traditional Functional Model (126-129)
o Figure 5-1; From the traditional organization to the capabilities-based organization (132)

o Is Your Leadership Team [begin italics] Leading [end italics]? (158-159)
o The Importance of the New Model of People Engagement in the Beyond Digital World (181-184)
o The Six Leadership Paradoxes (207-208)
o The Importance of the Six Paradoxes of Leadership — and Leaders’ Biggest Gaps (222-223)
o Table 6-1: Exemplary development measures along the six paradoxes (225)

Leinwand and Mani also include a list of common strategic archetypes for creating value — “we call these puretones.” (See Table A-1, Puretone Ways to Play, Pages 240-243).

When checking out the list of the Twelve Beyond Digital Companies (Pages 6-9), it would be a serious (if not fatal) mistake to assume that the abundance of information, insights, and counsel Leinwand and Mani provide is only relevant to Fortune 50, 100, or even 500 companies. In fact, almost all of the material (probably with only minor modification) can be invaluable to leaders of small-to-medium size companies. (Keep in mind that every Fortune 50 company was once a startup.)  I mention all this to create a context, a frame of reference, for two concluding portions of this brief commentary. First, Paul Leinwand and Mahadeva Matt Mani’s provision of several “key lessons”  for their reader to keep in mind when taking the next steps:

o Partner with your board pf directors [or advisors] on determining the imperatives
o Engage key stakeholders
o Prioritize around customers
o Focus on capabilities and outcomes, not digital initiatives
o Invest in your people from the start
o Separate the old from the new

Now consider Jack Welch’s response when GE’s then chairman and CEO was asked the reasons for his high regard for small companies:

“For one, they communicate better. Without the din and prattle of bureaucracy, people listen as well as talk; and since there are fewer of them they generally know and understand each other. Second, small companies move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in the marketplace. Third, in small companies, with fewer layers and less camouflage, the leaders show up very clearly on the screen. Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone. And, finally, smaller companies waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and politics and paper drills. They have fewer people; therefore they can only do the important things. Their people are free to direct their energy and attention toward the marketplace rather than fighting bureaucracy.”

Organizations will take different approaches to the Beyond Digital Era. The nature and extent of transformation will vary, obviously, as will the results. Those who read — and then hopefully re-read — this book will be much better prepared to lead efforts to transform their organization and shape its future. As I began to read it, I was again reminded of an incident on the campus of Princeton University when a colleague of Albert Einstein chided him playfully because he always asked the same questions on his final examination. “Guilty as charged.” Why? Pause. “Each year the answers are different.”


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