The pace of change today is unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lifetimes, and it’s only getting faster. Even relatively tech-savvy people can be overwhelmed sometimes. Many older, “seasoned,” executives often find their heads spinning while Millennials are seemingly born with the latest gadgets in their hands – or at least trained on them before they even go home from the hospital.
So how can older business leaders keep up with advances in technology?
A low-pressure way to start is by introducing technology in your personal life. Become more familiar with apps and gadgets on your own time so it’s easier in more formal, high-pressure business settings. Just as many of us learned to make the transition from typewriters to computers, faxes to emails, and from landlines to pagers to cell phones in our personal lives, we now need to accelerate our ability to learn in a faster, more agile way in the professional world. Believe it or not, kids (or even grandkids) can be great teachers for us! Smartphones are super computers in your pocket, and with thousands of new apps being added per day, the options are endless. Try video chats with family members around the world. Not only do you get to catch up with people in a more personal way, you get more comfortable with the technology. Use cloud storage for personal files. Not only does it free up valuable real estate on your devices, but using a very simple and user-friendly tool like Dropbox or Google Drive gets you more comfortable with the technology, which you can then implement and refine in the workplace.
In the work environment, encourage group sharing. Have employees give demos on different technology platforms. Provide opportunities and forums for sharing ideas, and then use these as a springboard for implantation. I’ve said many times that cross-functional teams are great for bringing diverse ideas and perspectives together to foster innovation. The same can be said of cross-generational teams. Bring older and younger employees together and you’d be amazed at how that rising tide lifts all the boats.
Countless companies have learning and development programs and courses in place to address topics like conflict resolution, interpersonal skills, and effective negotiation. Not many companies have learning programs in place on digital transformation. If something is offered internally, jump at the chance to take it. If a program doesn’t exist, pioneer one internally. Bring together employees and executives of different backgrounds, departments, functions, and age groups to craft a comprehensive curriculum for the company. In the process of designing this curriculum, you will be creating your own cross-functional team and leaning on many of the cultural foundations that great companies thrive on – collaboration, innovation, healthy discourse, and the chance to have a meaningful impact.
If not in-house, consider an outside “bootcamp” or crash-course on the topic. These immersive experiences force you to reconsider the role of technology in the workplace and can open your eyes to new and better approaches to old problems. While no one is expected to be an expert on everything, understanding how to best leverage technology to capitalize on opportunities at a breakneck pace is crucial. There are programs out there that can help you drive ROI in your organization through digital transformation. I help advise for the SMU Digital Accelerator, but there are many others around the country and the world to consider.
While the “hard skills” of learning new technology are certainly daunting, I find the hardest part of the equation is making sure you’re working on the “soft skills” and competencies required in the digital age. Be mindful of and continue to work on things like:
Learning Agility & Flexibility
Ability to learn new things at a faster pace and in new ways. Look for opportunities to get outside your comfort zone. Pick up your kids’ or grandkids’ video game and give it a shot.
The willingness & comfort to take risks that may backfire. Understand that failing fast and moving on is often better than getting it right but taking too long. The digital age does not wait for perfection. Facebook lives by the Mark Zuckerberg’s mantra of “Move Fast and Break Things” which has worked out well for them.
Also known as “not taking yourself too seriously” – sometimes you’re going to look like the “old person” in the room. Great leaders surround themselves with people smarter than themselves. Nowhere is this more necessary than with technology.
Communication & Collaboration
Both learning and implementing new technology will require a group effort. Many of us grew up in silos within organizations. Make a concerted effort to reach across functions and collaborate.