Are we the next step in evolution? 30- to 50-year-olds grew up in a world without smartphones, but they have adapted to them. After all, the world’s entire urban and professional population is beholden to such devices, which outsource our brains to the cloud.
This relationship is symbiotic. People spend 85% of their time a few feet away from a screen. Smartphones are extensions of our bodies, evidence of the digital transformation we’re currently living through.
It’s pointless to resist. Want to go somewhere? Use the Uber app and watch as your Uber driver asks Waze for directions. Are you lost in a new city or country? Pull up Google Maps. Want to know where to eat in Manhattan? Consult Yelp. It’s hard to get lost in today’s digital world. There’s an app and website for every need: for communication, for music, for film discussion…
The digital transformation has even altered how our brains perceive and process information, how we think, how we act, and how we feel. This implies new social spheres and new relationships. And in this context, organizations must develop new skills to survive.
We’re rebuilding ourselves at a rapid pace. We demand immediate resolutions to every problem and trust technology more than people when mining for answers. This has given rise to what we might call homo digitalis, the next rung on the evolutionary ladder after homo sapiens and homo videns.
What’s the difference between homo sapiens and homo digitalis? Let’s look at Maradona’s famous Hand of God goal during the 1986 World Cup. Had VAR been in use back then, Maradona’s illegal handball against England probably wouldn’t have gone unnoticed and Argentina wouldn’t have won the tournament. Homo sapiens, however, is biased against the VAR, because such technology allows no space for cunning and cleverness, which are essential parts of the game. But homo digitalis would not doubt the validity of the technology and of the objective evidence it brings to the table. This philosophical difference can be applied to any situation. If you go to a store in a shopping mall and you want to find out if a product is in stock, you’re more likely to check online before you ask an employee.
That said, there are two areas that remain resistant to the advances of homo digitalis. One is education: we still believe the classroom is where knowledge is passed on, while home is for homework and practice. Yet maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Maybe the classroom should be a space for the sharing and exchange of ideas, for socialization, creation, and innovation.
The second area in question is the business world and its organizations. We still operate with structures and processes from the industrial and analogue eras. These are very deeply ingrained, preventing organizations from innovating and holding them back in their competition against digital startups. Today, a legacy company with seven decades of market experience, with an intricate organizational chart, with divisions and subdivisions, with expensive machinery and infrastructure, with a complex system of employee benefits and bonuses, such a company can be seriously threatened by four friends working from a garage.
These legacy companies were diagrammed and founded by homo sapiens, who believed their advantage came in the form of proprietary knowledge. Their enterprise cultures have no place in the digital era. Their views are too self-centered and leave the client aside. And that won’t do: the client is an all-powerful force in today’s economy.
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Agility, flexibility, creativity, and client-centricity define modern-day organizational culture. Successful organizations must generate new experiences. They must differentiate themselves through their services and the quality of what they offer. Their business models must be geared towards constant innovation. And they must learn and understand data, automate learnings and insights, and predict market behaviors.
The question, then, is whether organizations designed by homo sapiens can be transformed. And the answer to that is a resounding yes.
Homo digitalis has reconfigured our thinking. It has brought upon a fusion between technology and our cognitive biology. We are now quicker, more precise, but also more human. Because technology gives us more time to be ourselves.
Yet we have to be prepared to make the jump. We have to understand and incorporate change. Everything nowadays is as good and as useful as it is exciting. Organizations face the same challenges people do. The world is full of possibilities if you know how to take advantage of them.
By Alberto Bethke, partner and CEO of Olivia