The Digital Mindset: A book review by Bob Morris

The Digital Mindset: What It Really Takes to Thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI
Paul Leonard & Tsedal Neeley
Harvard Business Review Press (May 2022)

A mindset for all seasons whenever human intelligence interacts with artificial intelligence

Here is a prediction from Alvin Toffler in 1970: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

That’s what it really takes to thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI.

I cannot recall a prior time when the global business world was more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than it is today. In their latest book, Paul Leonard & Tsedal Neeley explain how and why almost anyone can develop a digital mindset, one that will enable them to “see the world in new ways, and to ask new, big, important questions.”

The same mindset will enable workers to collaborate effectively when their human intelligence interacts with artificial intelligence.

Leonardi and Neeley: “A mindset is a set of approaches we use to make sense out of the world. How you approach something shapes the way you think about it, its importance to you, and how you act.”

More specifically, a digital mindset is the set of approaches we use to make sense of, and make use of, data and technology. “This set of attitudes and behaviors enable people and organizations to see new possibilities and charts path for the future. Big data, algorithms, AI, robotic teammates, internal social media, blockchain, experimentation, statistics, security, and rapid change are some of the major digital forces that are reshaping how we interact with our colleagues and creating new demands to restructure organizations to become more competitive.”

Leonardi and Neeley stress the importance of redefining fundamental ways of approaching and then becoming engaged in three key processes: Collaboration, Computation, and Change. “New, concrete skills are needed, of course, because they give us vocabulary, knowledge, and intuition to see the bigger picture — to ask the important questions. Developing a new mindset means that you build from your new skills to see the world in new ways and to change your behavior accordingly.”

This is precisely what Toffler had in mind more than 50 years ago.

The WHATs of business success have remained essentially the same since the oldest known markets in ancient Persia, from where they spread to the rest of the Middle East and Europe. Documentary sources suggest that zoning policies confined trading to particular parts of cities from around 3000 BCE, creating the conditions necessary for the emergence of a bazaar.

I am again reminded of an incident that occurred when a faculty colleague of Albert Einstein encountered him on the Princeton campus and gently chided him for asking the same questions on his final examinations every year. “Quite true. Guilty as charged. Each year, the answers are different.” The same is true of the HOWs of business success today.

Paul Leonard and Tsedal Neeley have made a uniquely valuable contribution to thought leadership:  HOW to respond effectively to unprecedented challenges posed by data, algorithms, and AI. Better yet, they suggest and explain HOW the digital mindset can formulate new and better approaches to collaboration, computation, and change. “Your digital mindset is something of a superpower. You can unlock opportunities you may never have imagined. This power is so much h more than knowing how to code and how to do data analytics. You will no longer be ashy about diving into conversations about technical topics, and you have a technical language that creates entirely new possibilities.

“Perhaps the most important thing about your digital mindset is that you don’t have to worry about finding your place in the digital future.”

This is a “must read” for every C-level executive (or equivalent) as well as for anyone else who aspires to become one.




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