How do I keep a digital mindset as a non-digital native?

I was born in 1960. In my youth, telephones still had a cord. I wrote my master’s thesis on a typewriter. As these examples clearly show, I’m a dinosaur and a non-digital native. But I know that it is always important to stay tuned to the newest developments. How can I possibly do a professional job as a member of a supervisory board if I don’t know about the latest technological trends? After all, they could challenge the business model of the company I represent or offer strategic opportunities to grow further.

What is important for a non-executive director who isn’t a digital native?

To do my job, I have to be able to identify the technologies and trends that may have an influence on the sector of the companies I work for. Some technologies matter to a different degree in logistics than they do in automotive or service. I need to be a challenger and a consultant to the operating directors – so I have to keep a close eye on developments.

For example, one topic that is very important just now concerns ethics and regulations for data privacy. Do we have to treat personal data differently now then we did in the “old” world? Do we really need a digital ethic? A digital strategy? New values? As a non-digital native, I think we can go a long way with our old values and ethics! But I will continue to educate myself on the topic and tell you what I find out and if my opinion changes here.

How to stay digitally fit

To be a competent member of a supervisory board, I have to keep a digital mindset. But how do you stay on top of your digital game when you’re a non-digital native?

Well, firstly and most importantly, staying digitally fit is all about curiosity. Be it a new cooking recipe, a new interpretation of Shakespeare or developments in technology, I am curious. This quality helps a lot. I find it fascinating to figure out how things work.

My second piece of advice is: Talk to the right people. I talk to experts about topics like blockchain, digital health and autonomous driving. This year, I visited the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, to get inspired by the great ideas people presented there. And I will go to NOAH to meet with Start Up’s to lean about new possibilities and innovations. Of course, I still don’t exactly know how technologies like blockchain work. But I know enough to judge where they may be of interest to established business models – or a potential threat to them.

To further develop my digital mindset, I started my own Twitter account as well as this blog.

What’s digital, anyway?

The real challenge starts when you dig deeper. What are we even talking about when we say ‘digital’? Digital or Digitisation has become a buzzword, often used, often claimed and seldom defined. To really tackle the topic, we must be more specific. Is it Big Data or Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things or Robotics, Data Science or Data Analytics, Blockchain or Cyber Security which is meant when you use the term ‘digital’? The spread is huge and has totally different implications.

It is a little bit like the picture of the blindfolded scientists describing an elephant, but the other way around.

In the story of the elephant, the scientists describe totally different things represented by one huge animal. The one touching the leg describes the elephant as a column, the one with the tail talks about a snake, the one with the ear feels a leave.

We are now putting totally different things like IoT and AI in one single word and therefore cannot be clear in our interpretations or learnings.

I will try to take that animal apart and find out if – at the end – it is still a puzzle which fits together in one big picture. You are invited to follow the non-digital native on this journey.

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