rrrene* About

What "digital leadership"​ has to do with pencils

In a famous essay 60 years ago, Leonard Read wrote that no one knows how to make a pencil anymore.

“That’s impossible!”

What he was trying to say was that no single human being was capable of making the product “pencil” out of cedar wood, lacquer, graphite, rubber, wax, glue and ferrule on his own anymore - no single human being had the skills or the overview to manufacture this product without preliminary work or outside supplies.

60 years later, the underlying topic is as up-to-date as ever:

In a workday characterized by a flood of information and the division of labor, there is a need more than ever for having an overview and the ability to distinguish between the important and the unimportant.

This reveals a deeper conflict: while we perceive smaller and smaller pieces of the puzzle in a faster and faster fashion, at the same time we have to make better and better decisions in a shorter time due to the division of labor.

I’m not even talking about major strategic decisions here, but about our everyday work.

Information is more fragmented, specific and fast-moving. Conversations are increasingly taking place asynchronously, be it at different locations or in different time zones or even just different times of the day.

Division of labor is the norm rather than the exception in industry and society.

Here is a controversial theory:

It’s not at all about managing the thousand pieces of the jigsaw puzzle more and more efficiently using the newest project management flavors & techniques. It’s about understanding the pieces of the puzzle.

That’s why it’s so important to always have a mental image of what’s at stake, an image of what you’re doing.

It may not seem so at first glance, but we learn this way together every day.

We learn through new insights. We learn through restrictions. We learn from possibilities and chances in dialogue with each other.

There are new approaches for executives on how to live “digital leadership” as a learning organization.

We learn how to continually perform in times of rapid change and physical distance. We get to know the new project. We get to know the existing software.

We learn about the actors and their roles, their strengths and - in open settings - also their weaknesses.

We learn to help each other and to master a shared task.

Of course, we don’t perceive this act of “learning” as an educational one, like in school.

Let’s close with the following thought: Even if it doesn’t always feel like it, we learn - as individuals, as a team, as leaders and as a company, every day.