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Show Me the Way

December 1, 2020 by Twan van de Kerkhof

Annet Aris is a professor at business school Insead and a supervisory board member at several companies. In this book she combines her theoritical knowledge and professional experience of the digitization of companies, providing thoughtful insights that are grounded in practice. The book was published in 2019 but her roadmap for the digital world is all the more relevant now that digitization is accelerating as a consequence of the corona crisis.

Aris distinguishes between digital disruption in which the traditional business model disappears, and digital transformation in which the business model stays more or less the same but the company is organized differently. Disruption is more likely if there is a lot of waste in an industry, if companies make money by lack of transparency or if clients have to adjust to producers. Disruption and transformation have to be tackled simultaneously but require different approaches. Disruption requires acknowledging tipping points and overcoming fear of cannibalization; like a coyote in a trap you have to be prepared to gnaw off your own paw. Boards need the courage to invest in and experiment with digital platforms and skills for several years, accepting decreasing profits and dividends and cannibalizing on products that have generated profits for many years.

Digitization requires a change in the strategy process, Aris writes. Don’t think about the destination but about how to find your way during the journey. You know the direction but you don’t know when and how things will change. Don’t forecast but develop a portfolio of strategic initiatives that allow you to react flexibily when a tipping point occurs.

Organizing differently will include more rational and analytical decision making, working agile, and allowing explicit space for playfulness. Every board member will need to have a digital mindset, that cannot be outsourced to a chief digital officer; if that person must carry the digitization of an organization on his or her own it will never happen.

Boards cannot lean on their experience anymore in this changing world. On the contrary, experience can stand in the way of recognizing a radical digital disruption in time. Traits of experienced (non-)executives that are still valid in a digital era in Aris’ view are curiosity, entrepreneurial spirit and eagerness to learn.

Aris raises many other topics in her book, including the diminishing meaning of a brand, the importance of an ecosystem surrounding a technology, the power of big tech, technological opportunities for Europe, and data privacy. Being a digital novice this book has helped me to recognize and understand many developments in the digitization of business.

Annet Aris. Wegwijzer in het digitale doolhof. Business Contact, 2019