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Digital’s Most Fundamental Disruption: Relationships


In our Studio team discussions regarding the essence of digital disruption and transformation it struck us that the most fundamental and profound aspect might be in regards to relationships.

Certainly, relationships are at the essence of all economic and social activity, and relationships have been tremendously disrupted in the past as agrarian society moved to industrial and industrial to “post-industrial”.

However, the range and nature of relationships disrupted (or created anew) in the digital age are telling of the specific sort of new, intractable changes we are now struggling to understand and address in business and society.

The most significant of these digitally-driven changes include:

  • Human to machine: The nature of the interactive experience between humans to non-human actors, such as mobile apps, personal assistants, and virtual reality, as well as to underlying capabilities, such as video content, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Human to human: Human relationships, from those that were directed in companies to be inward-focused and “silo-based” to those that are now actively driven to connect across the enterprise and outside in a wide variety of contexts
  • Business to customer: The role of customers, where the approach to product and service design has changed from a “needs” orientation to a heightened focus on the customer’s “journey” and on new ideas of solution design and value creation
  • Business to business ecosystem: The emergence of the business ecosystem concept, enabling businesses to source all manner of non-critical capability from external providers (e.g., managed services)
  • Employer to employee: The shattering of the traditional employer-employee contract, replaced by many new work arrangements, from temps and contractors to gig workers
  • Employee to manager: The role and responsibilities of employees and managers, to where employees are now expected to take on responsibility for their own careers and development, with the manager (and peers) serving as mentors and sources of feedback
  • Individual to knowledge: The individual’s approach to knowledge broadly, where vigilance for understanding changing business and social direction make the imperative of continuous intellectual self-reinvention perhaps the most important new social norm of this century.

Collectively, these new forms of relationships, along with the pervasive presence of digital technology internally and externally, create a fundamentally new work environment that in turn challenges many, if not most, tenets of traditional organization and work design and dynamics.

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