Anastasia Dedyukhina is a book author and Founder of Consciously Digital, an organization dedicated to helping businesses understand and control their relationship with both new technologies and their own personal devices. She will be leading the session, ‘Digital Leadership, Misunderstood‘ at the Manufacturing Leadership Forum EU this week – you can learn more about our upcoming leadership forums here.
My last corporate role was as an account director for one of the largest tech brands in the world. A lot of what we did with this client was releasing their new products, launching them to new audiences, and convincing people to actually use more technology.
Having said that, I myself was terrible at managing my OWN technology – as were my team. We were all equally obsessed with our devices – I slept with my phone, I checked my phone whilst I ate, every lunch break was almost silent as we continued to check emails. When I realised what was happening, I decided to take a break from using smartphones – I downgraded to an old style nokia with no internet, apps or anything else.
I gave up my smartphone about 2 years ago, and have noticed some serious changes. I have more headspace, I feel more creative, more focused. This is where Consciously Digital came from, seeking to help people and businesses have a healthier relationship with technology.
A healthy relationship doesn’t just mean ‘getting rid of tech’. Technology of course has its own benefits, but we advocate against the use of technology for the sake of it, so to speak.
We have passed the period of time where technology like smartphones and tablets are just shiny new toys – now comes the time to understand the impact of these new devices and forms of communication, and assess both the benefits and downsides of constant interconnectedness. What I practise personally and in my business is perfecting this balance.
How are our personal relationships with our devices affecting your company?
There are different results and issues that arrive from consumer tech, and tech solutions used by businesses on a larger scale, but the personal and business impact of these technologies often tie together.
How do you communicate with your team? There are so many different communication tools now, but the largest culprit would most likely be emails. The digital tools that are supposed to be helping us are actually eating up our productivity – for example, consider how many interruptions to your own workday are caused by email notifications or ‘urgent’ requests from senior colleagues. These interruptions could happen anyway via phone or emergency meetings – however, our attitude to sending off an email, and our need to constantly check for and react to them, is very different.
We are simply drowning in information
There are so many information threads and channels to receive it for a business professional nowadays that we are simply drowning in information. As humans, we don’t multitask well, and this process of constantly switching between other tasks and emails can eat up to 40% of our work time. Human beings can only remember a limited number of things at a time – every time you switch between priorities or tasks, you lose a little bit of the work you were focusing on before.
The Creativity Paradox: Stifling our own capacity to innovate
A big problem as well lies in the optimistic arguments for the role of AI and new technology in the workplace. We try to put forward the vision that robots, artificial intelligence etc. will only ‘take over’ mundane, low-skill jobs, leaving the creative work like new ideas, design, new strategy to be done by people.
The problem here is that innovation does not just happen by itself. Innovation requires knowledge, and for it to be closely internalised. When we ‘outsource knowledge’ through technology – i.e. running a quick google search to get to a shortcut, or looking up a ‘how-to’, we don’t absorb the knowledge ourselves. We’re not creating a foundation of knowledge, so we can’t build on it.
Your mind also requires space, to be creative. Your brain cannot be creative when it is on high alert, and it’s a rare thing nowadays to have a calm mind, especially in the business world. When was the last time you just sat down quietly and relaxed for a couple of hours? We are cutting ourselves out of an important human component, and not allowing ourselves time for that neurological process to start that can cultivate creativity.
People over Tech for Digital Leadership
One of the key mistakes teams make in bringing on new technology or undergoing a digital transformation is that they lead with the product they want, or the tech they think is important. Many businesses do not take the time to understand what their team’s capabilities already are (or are not) and research tools that best compliment this.
It’s exciting when you see new technology – you hear about everything that this technology can do, and then set about reorganizing your team to make the most of the product, and this is often where the ‘Digital Leadership’ starts.
However, this is a risky approach – you don’t know what kind of human errors will take place when you realise your employee needs a massive amount of training, or when the team do not embrace the tech as valuable.
With all this talk of Artificial Intelligence, Analytics, Robotic Process Automation, etc. this may seem like a very primitive example of ‘tech’, but something I believe is still poignant as an example: email.
Email is a typical example of how we implemented the tool, and then started thinking about how people will use it. We’re immersed in our emails, we don’t follow up sometimes, senior leaders probably don’t see their own emails – but we are not able to remove them at this stage. They were originally used to send information when there was no other way. If you spoke to the inventor of the email 30 years ago, I can guarantee that they would not have been aiming to use it this way.
As something that has been created to save time, make information sharing more efficient, etc. we spend so much time reading them. I’m sure we’ve all woken up to an inbox full of messages that are not remotely relevant to us! Again, this is not a sign that emails are inherently evil, just that many of us do not use them in the most efficient or beneficial way. This lack of understanding the product, how to use it, what the best way to maximise on it is, this is what happens in businesses all the time, on a smaller scale than email – but also with more expensive consequences.
Effective ‘Digital Leadership’ should begin long before the tech is purchased. Leaders should understand what their team is capable of, their challenges, and look for specific tools that can address this. What can you do to scale up what you are doing already? Is there a smoother way to manage information that suits your business needs? Don’t let the technology lead the way, remain thoughtful about what you are using and why.
It’s just not plausible for many of us to throw our phones away, or go ‘off the radar’ while we are still in our jobs, but what we can do is try to understand why we use products a certain way. Try turning off your email for one day on the weekend – even a half day. Allow your team a chance to breathe, to focus on their biggest project for a while, and you’ll see productivity skyrocket.
Most importantly: Lead with people before technology – allow Digital Transformation to enhance your business, not overpower it. Stay conscious.