At one time, capable executives could reasonably expect to build and maintain a healthy career without having particularly strong expertise in technology. (Unless, of course, they wanted to be successful CTOs or CIOs!) Not anymore. The advent and explosive growth of the digital age has transformed the game, probably forever.
I was going to use the decline of the buggy whip industry as an illustration here, but online research showed me that this analogy is a bit off base. For example, one article indicated that companies that survived the emergence of the automotive industry most successfully were those able to adapt their technology for use with automobiles. Presumably, their executives saw a path that would position their companies for survival—and took it.
Digitally Propelled Changes
This situation offers a potentially useful example for today’s executives and those aiming for that role in the future. As a recent BlueSteps white paper pointed out, old executive roles are merging and new ones are appearing. Not long ago, who knew we would be seeing a growing demand for Chief Digital Officers or Chief Data Officers?
As also noted in the white paper, business strategy is evolving to focus more extensively on digital innovation and digital transformation initiatives. Even if you’re not a technology executive per se, you really can’t afford to ignore this trend.
If you believe you can safely ignore the increasingly prevalent business emphasis on digital and everything related to it, you are probably deluding yourself. That self-delusion is likely to carry a high cost in terms of your long-term career prospects.
How Digital Do You Need to Be?
You probably don’t need to rush out and obtain a new degree in digital technology or a related field in order to prepare yourself to deal with the “new world” that digital advances are creating. You do need to make sure you can lead and execute the strategic moves required for your organization to stay on top of those advances and also position yourself as a top-notch, digital-savvy executive.
Recently I read an article titled “Digital Transformation: Are CEOs ready for the Challenge?” (Didier Bonnet, I learned, not surprisingly, that you can’t magically turn yourself into a leader whose company masters the challenge of completing a successful digital transformation. You need vision to see the possibilities, but you also need a sound grasp of what digital can and can’t do for the company and the obstacles you will face in making the transition happen.
Finally, you must have the ability to influence the process and the outcome by motivating and guiding key stakeholders throughout your organization. It might start from the top, but if it doesn’t find support between there and the bottom, digital transformation could be the biggest fiasco you’ve ever had the misfortune to lead!
The Cost of Moving Forward…or Not
As an executive, you know that everything has a cost. There’s a cost to doing something and a cost to not doing it. Often, the cost would be money spent one way versus another, but it isn’t always directly about money. In the case of digital innovation and transformation, the cost could actually be the demise of the company you head. In more extreme cases, it can be the disappearance of an entire industry.
A near-classic case is the decline the print media industry has suffered over the past several years. Executives in some of those organizations are probably now looking for positions in a different industry, if they haven’t already made that leap. Newspapers and other print media either dragged their feet too long or just didn’t see the juggernaut that was heading toward them.
I hope your industry is in better shape than that and either has adopted or is developing an enlightened approach to digitally “retooling” itself—opening up genuine possibilities for a strong future. If so, maybe you’ve been at the forefront of that innovative activity as a farsighted executive. Perhaps you’ve already identified an opportunity to lead your company in the most effective direction from here on out.
If that’s the case, you’ve made a great start on an amazing future. If it’s not, what are you waiting for?


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