Digital Fitness – Which mindsets and competencies lead to success in a digital world?

I am currently preparing a module that I will be conducting at the BVS St. Gallen for the first time this spring. The focus of this module is on the „digital corporate culture“, where „digital competencies“ and „digital mindsets“ will be an important part as well.

The „Digital“ in Culture, Competence or Mindset

Now I am still respective even more convinced that it is semantically wrong to speak of „digital“ cultures, competences or mindsets. At least as long as cultures, competences or mindsets remain in or between people and cannot be digitized like songs, books or letters.

So when we talk about „digital“ cultures, competences or mindsets, we usually mean the reference to the digitalised working world. Christoph Meier has written a very well-founded blog article on this subject. There, he also presents some competency models for the digital world.

However, I do not want to introduce different competency models in my course. That would not only be far too abstract, but also largely redundant. Not to mention that I seriously question the use of universal competency models in a VUCA world.

“Digital” competences on the normative level are gaining in importance

I would therefore like to orientate my course on what I have experienced and implemented in practice. Here, too, we have of course not been able to avoid making digital competences understandable as a term. I still find the distinction in three levels, which I have already introduced in other contributions, very useful:

  • At the operative level, we understand „digital competencies“ as the (pure) skills to handle function-specific tools and products.
  • At the strategic level, we see „digital competences“ as those skills and abilities that are necessary to achieve the (organisational) strategy in a digitised working world.
  • At the normative level, we see „digital competences“ as those „mindsets“ and „key competences“ that promise greater success than others in a digitised working world.

There is, of course, a great need for discussion at the normative level, since it is difficult (impossible?) to predict which „generic“ competencies and mindsets are now more relevant for success than others. The many different competency models that have been developed so far might give a hint. Another source of reference or inspiration can be found in „modern“ recipes for success such as agility, lean startup, design thinking etc.. And then, of course, the organizational culture, the industry or even society plays a certain role, which mindsets and competencies will make people and organizations successful in the future.

A personal selection of „important“ competencies and mindsets for the digital world

Against this background, I have committed myself to four mindsets and four competencies for my course, which I consider relevant in order to be successful in the future. The choice is of course not free from arbitrariness, since it is based on a subjective assessment of literature, discussions with and observations of practice. In addition, such selections can never be conclusive. But that should not be a problem in this case, because the selection, which I would like to present and explain briefly below, should not be universally valid or comprehensive. On the contrary. Even if I provide an illustration below that seems to suggest another competency model. This is not the purpose of this selection. With this selection of mindsets and competencies, I just want to summarize and record all the readings, discussions and observations of the practice for me. At the most, I present one compass, which I consider to be reasonably well-functioning, in order to think further. However, it is not a universally valid model that can now be used as learning objective for all functions and job clusters.


Digital Fitness – a compass for the digital world


The „digital“ mindsets and competencies at a glance

customer orientation

instead of focus on efficiency

Anyone who understands the graphic of the “Taylorwanne” knows that efficiency is no longer sufficient for the survival of an organization. In a VUCA world, customer needs change quickly and rather unexpectedly. Product lifecycles are becoming shorter and new services need to create customer experiences. Of course, we still have to work efficiently, but it is becoming much more difficult to work effectively. So not only to do something right, but also to do the right thing. This requires a high level of customer orientation, since it is the customers who (usually) finance the survival of the organization.



instead of safeguarding success

The examples of Nokia, Kodak or Blockbuster are legendary. Kodak in particular is an illustrative example of how securing success can lead to disaster. Kodak was the first company to invent the digital camera in 1975, but it did not launch it in order not to cannibalize itself. About 30 years later, Kodak’s business model was cannibalized, but by the competition. Today, this process of cannibalization seems to be even faster if you think of Facebook vs. MySpace, Apple vs. Nokia or Netflix vs. Blockbuster.

Making optimal use of successful products remains important, because it can be used to finance new business models. But the disruptive new must be recognized and implemented early enough.



instead of perfection

It took about 30 years to make the digital camera a success. On the smartphone, it took about five years. Disruption comes faster, which is why we need to react more quickly. However, many companies still live the Swiss virtue of perfection. Something won’t be launched until it is perfect. As we are increasingly living in a network economy that promotes winner takes all markets, this virtue is more of a obstacle. In addition, the standard for perfection is constantly changing due to the high dynamics. So it’s better to enter the market faster and learn together with the customer where you can improve.



instead of control

Control was an instrument of scientific management that Taylor promoted. The people at the bottom act, the people on the top think. This has worked as long as the execution was carried out according to clear patterns and, above all, efficiency was the main issue. Today, machines are increasingly taking on such programmable tasks. Humans must therefore concentrate on complex tasks that cannot simply be carried out according to pattern X. This requires leeway for action and thought for all employees. This paradigm shift is still inconceivable to many executives, but it is precisely this trust that is the key to foster agility.


Learning and change competence We have to keep reinventing ourselves. And this in a probably more radical way than ever before. Because today’s job functions will no longer exist tomorrow (in this form). Organizations and organizational structures change at ever shorter intervals. As an individual, we must therefore develop a competence to not only be able to deal with these changes, but also to use them as an opportunity.


Problem-solving competence & creativity Working activities that follow pattern X are increasingly being outsourced to algorithms. People then take on tasks in which they still have to find a solution to the problem. To do this, he needs competence to identify such problems and develop a suitable answer. Since right and wrong are blurring, creativity is becoming more and more important.


Collaboration competence When you cut a cow in half, you don’t get two smaller cows. The same is true for complex problems. Systemic thinking is therefore increasingly needed to be able to solve such problems holistically. This systemic perspective is best solved by heterogeneous teams with “T-Shaped people. However, such multi-rational groups increase the requirements for on collaboration and communication skills even further


Digital Literacy Digital literacy includes, among other things, points from the operative level (see above). After all, digital tools are increasingly shaping our everyday working lives. We must be able to use them in a functional manner in order to increase our efficiency and effectiveness. Like math or writing, therefore, the use of digital devices becomes another cultural technique that we must acquire. In contrast to math and writing, however, the use of digital devices changes regularly.

Digital literacy also includes competent handling of data. I do not believe that we will all have to be able to program in the future. This will be left to the specialists. However, just as we are able to use the Office software (Word, PowerPoint etc.), we will probably have to be familiar with data processing and analysis in the future as well.



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