Top positive review
Book Review - The Digital Tsunami by Abhijit Bhaduri
4 October 2016
British historian Arnold Toynbee, in his book 'A Study of History', postulated that all of history could be written in a simple formula – challenge and response. A challenge was posed by the environment (say enemy forces or weather) and then people – individually and institutionally, came up with a response. When this response was positive and constructive, the civilization would grow. While Toynbee used this formula to explain the rise and fall of great human civilizations of the past, it can be equally applied to organizations and individuals and the challenges they face today.
Abhijit Bhaduri writes about one such challenge: ‘the digital tsunami’, referring to the unprecedented forces unleashed by digital technology. He suggests that the journey from analog to digital is not a change but a transformation, since multiple variables are changing quickly, dramatically and simultaneously. This transformation is discontinuous from the past, yet we are still operating with the old maps. We are relying on practices that were created for the analog world and that no longer work.
So, where are the maps for the digital world? Abhijit says that the new rule is that there are no rules. The only navigation tool is a compass. Instead of giving us a ‘5-step-survival-guide-for-digital’, he talks about mindsets, behaviors, structures and culture for the digital world. Abhijit urges us to go beyond the specific stories of Uber and Airbnb (fascinating as they may be) and understand what these successes tell us about the future. There is no one formula (context is key) but Abhijit reads the tea leaves to deduce some broad predictions and principles:
• For businesses: Abhijit says that digital is less about new technology and more about a new way of thinking. Digital organizations are borderless, fast, data-driven, customer-obsessed and talent-centric. They engage with customers, co-create with customers and use both their technology and culture to design a customer experience.
• For HR: With freelancers, temporary workers and robots joining the workforce, the future of work looks nothing like what we have seen so far. HR processes (such as recruitment) will continue to move to digital platforms and organizations will need to rethink learning (micro and informal), feedback (real-time and multi-source) and incentives (flexible and personalized).
• For individuals: Digital disruption will impact not just organizations but also individuals. Jobs will get automated, skills will become outdated and the only thing that will truly matter will be the ability to learn and develop niche skills.
The book is a breezy read – Abhijit writes simply and clearly, and shares stories from around the world -- from the FAANG in Silicon Valley to start-ups in Africa to innovation hubs in China and India. The breadth of examples is truly impressive – from 3D printing to synthetic biology – reflecting the diverse interests Abhijit has. The specific examples and trends in the book may get obsolete, but if we understand the underlying principles, we will be better prepared for whatever the future holds.
In addition to the broad trends and principles, Abhijit also provides useful tactical suggestions to readers (how can managers lead virtual teams, how can individuals learn by themselves etc.). The book is peppered with Sketchnotes drawn by Abhijit, which provide wonderful visual summaries of his ideas. I also found the list of tools, resources and suggestions in the appendix valuable; there are many ideas here which can be applied right away.
The Digital Tsunami is both a threat and an opportunity. The passionate self-learners will swim fast and the passive know-it-alls will sink slowly. If you want to get on the right side of history, read this book about the future and start building new habits.You have been warned!