1000 MPH – Removing Age & Speed Limits In Digital Leadership

Digital Leadership Principles

“I’ve heard the phrase: Uniqueness and creativity are great, but to earn money settle for ‘good enough’… If our ancestors had settled for good enough and only aimed at a fast, high-volume trade, what would our world look like today? ”

~ Maria Lehtman

The term disruptive technology in today’s headlines is often confused with digital evolution. Real market disruption comes from adaptation and reaching the tipping point in customer behavior and purchasing patterns.

The critical question is: what is the disruptions in leadership – is it born due to digital technology, or are we using the technology as an excuse to keep up a pattern that no longer applies in a modern business society?

Is there a due date in digital learning?

“It is vital to remember that information – in the sense of raw data – is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.”

~ Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke’s past predictions about adaptive and supporting future of technology are today’s reality. However, he was always more in understanding how communication and the ethical consequences of innovation would evolve. Today’s development in smart houses, cars, healthcare, 3-D printing, etc. represents digital transformation’s potential to improve and personalize living and working conditions.

Digital enablement should improve how we engage with each other and create more opportunities for different types of requirements, extending our knowledge across all the centuries and cultures in the human ecosystem.

In the 80’s when hardly anyone had a portable computer, my mother was one of the first ones to work on genealogy reports with a heavy-duty Hewlett-Packard laptop. Now, at the age 75, she has critical issues with her eyesight due to cataract. A few years ago she had to give up looking at screens, including the TV, PC, and tablets.

Even so, she has never stopped learning through ‘old school’ printed media such as books, newspapers, and magazines. I print out all my blog posts for her to read. She has not been in business life for 25 years, and yet she loves to understand e.g., how mobility is bringing job opportunities for women in the emerging markets. Her intuition about living in change brings great insight to the topics.

A long-term approach should not be confused with an infinitely patient one.”

~ Larry Fink

What is the reason why my mother and many of her peers cannot apply digital technology?

Funding. One way for our government healthcare to find extra savings is to postpone eye surgery for seniors until the issues are severe enough for them to manage day-to-day activity at home. Similar cost-savings initiatives are proposed every year. We still have work for the shovel until the digital society understands how to bridge health and services. Quoting BCG Perspectives: “Governments should walk in user’s shoes.”

Are aging adults slower in learning how to apply digital skills?

Yes, naturally our physiological capabilities change as we grow older. Compare yourself with a Pokémon-hunting 6-year-old child, and it is easy to see how. I consider this a consumer product development yet to be addressed. It is even more critical to find ways for digital enablement now that the retiring age keeps getting pushed further and further away.

Are aging people less adaptive to digital living? A big no.

According to 2016 Social Media update by Pew Research center 65% of all Americans use Facebook, and from the age group 65+ years the adoption rate was 62 percent. That sounds quite solid considering the highest rate is 88% for the age group of 18-29 years.

There is also another interesting aspect to consider:

Jakob Nielsen identified in one of his studies is that 95% of seniors are “methodical” in their behaviors. This is a significant finding in a world where average views per video are moving to a concentration span measured in seconds instead of minutes. If the service works for the seniors, it works

To understand the challenges of digital transformation we need to look much deeper than statistics. The differences between digital generations stem from communication and the world-view.

What are critical skills in digital leadership?

Why is the approach with an aging population so critical? The trend we see today is that once a technology has matured enough to produce the tipping point effect, a disruption takes place.

The Future of Jobs published by World Economic Forum (WEF) outlines that the prior industrial revolutions had decades to prepare for training for new skills and job requirements.

The digital age and the Fourth Industrial Revolution waits for no one. Job market expects to find young, digitally and educationally advanced talents to cover for several of the senior, long-term careerist, i.e., Digital Immigrants in almost any given job.

However, looking at the report, and for what I can see in the customer engagement field, cross-functional skills form a significant part of the soft skills required to succeed in the coming decade.

If we dismiss the people who founded the previous business-social culture and held the teams together during the past decades – will that make our transition easier?

According to the survey Complex-Problem Solving Skills form ca. 36% of the core skills demanded in different industry sectors between 2015 and 2020.

Some of the core competencies in complex-problem solving are e.g.

  • Analytical and Lateral Thinking
  • Initiative
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Persistence
  • Team working
  • Communication, Persuasion, and Negotiation

Considering all of the above – is it possible to reach complex problem-solving skills by shifting the balance between mature and new employee ratios too early? Or should we consider building more flexible organizational models for the different generations to exchange expertise and knowledge?

My experience is that talented staff members are quite often willing to contribute to transitional programs, and quite a few even after or during a retiring process. A digital application or a tool cannot replace leadership skills built on extensive field experience. However, they are essential to the organizational strategy in enabling Digital Immigrants to mentor the following generations and evolve in a shared-leadership model.

How To Successfully Cruise 1000MPH In Digital Transformation?

Instead of 1000 miles per hour, we might refer to terabytes per second, but since that figure is steadily increasing, let’s settle for a high ground speed. Digital transformation is not about technology transformation – first and foremost, it is a cultural change.

The speed of digital adoption is not about technological capabilities, but adapting to human reaction time. Quoting one of my all-time favorite authors, Terry Pratchett: “This isn’t life in the fast lane, it’s life in the oncoming traffic.” (By the way, I am still expecting NASA to report one day that they found a perfect, disc-shaped planet hurling about in space. I hope they quote Terry when that happens…)

The discussion and comparison between Digital Immigrants, Digital Natives, and Millennials should be more focused on building a corporate culture that accommodates for individual adaptation and personalization. There are exceptions in every generation – one group will not behave unanimously in the same stereotyped way as commonly described.

The variance is already evident just by comparing one leadership generation to another, or technology and innovation development on a global level. Digital Natives are adopting technology at a different speed and way than similar generations in, e.g., Germany or the USA. Urban areas and smart cities will create a very different digital environment compared to less populated areas.

The speed of digital transformation is relative to the changes in every industry. The common nominator is: there is speed, and sometimes no limits!

“You can’t delegate digital transformation for your company…. You and your executives have to own it! Executives need to engage, embrace and adopt new ways of working with the latest and emerging technologies.”

~ Barry Ross, CEO, and Co-Founder, Ross & Ross International

It is critical to start implementing strategies that are practical and efficient in gathering intelligence, supporting learning and development, knowledge-sharing, collaboration and coping in a constant change environment.

Start by identifying Digital Transformers, Innovators, Disruptive Learners and Game-Changers. Include your business partners and customers in the ecosystem and incubation stage. Launch questionnaires that do not bring the answers you want, but the answers your business needs to serve customers better: inside and outside.

Ensure that your leadership team has Digital Eagles: talents representing different generations, genre, backgrounds and who execute with consistency and vision. Curiosity may have killed the cat – but business success relies on keeping curiosity and exploration alive!

“Companies have too many experts who block innovation. True innovation really comes from perpendicular thinking.”

~ Peter Diamandis, Founder, and Chairman of the X Prize Foundation


Cǀnet: Arthur C. Clarke accurately describes the 21st century…in 1976

Wikipedia: Cataract

Pew Research Center: Social Media Update 2016

NN/g Nielsen Normal Group: Seniors as Web Users

World Economic Forum: The Future of Jobs

World Economic Forum: The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond

Wikipedia: Terry Pratchett


Further Reading:

Smashing Magazine: Designing For The Elderly: Ways Older People Use Digital Technology Differently

Pew Research Center: Older Adults and Technology Use

BCG Perspectives: Digital Disrupt – Borge’s Map, Navigating a World of Digital Disruption


Maria Lehtman
Maria Lehtman
MARIA has over 20 years of Sales, Marketing, and Professional Services experience from the international telecommunications and travel industry. Her achievements include successful global Transition, Transformation, and Competency programs in management roles in the the global telecommunication field. She is currently working in International Sales & Marketing department with transversal employee and executive social media engagement development programs. Maria is passionate about digital empowerment and the opportunities it can provide for people around the world. She is a dedicated photographer and digital artist engaged in several creative projects at any given time. She is a compassionate leader, and her mission is to support people in self-transformation and in embracing new skills. Her trademark is her capability to share a smile even during the most challenging circumstances and keep a 'mindfulness'-attitude. Maria’s posts and thoughts represent her own view of the world. See Maria's current publication on Maria is a contributing author to the inspiring book Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change and Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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