Gerald Kane

Visiting Scholar at Harvard Business School; Author of book “The Technology Fallacy”

"I believe that every company, with the right mindset, can make the changes necessary to compete in a digital world and every leader can learn or adapt the necessary skills to lead their organization into a digital future."

Interview of Ana Bokhua
27th of January 2020

Prof. Kane is the author of “The Technology Fallacy: How People are the Real Key to Digital Transformation,” published by MIT Press in April 2019. For this book, he surveyed over 20,000 executives worldwide and interviewed over 100 executive and thought leaders to determine the key factors associated with digitally mature companies. He concludes that an organization’s response to digital disruption should focus on people and processes and not necessarily on technology.

Kane is the faculty lead of the Tech Trek program at Boston College, preparing and leading students on visits to technology companies of all sizes – from startup to blue chip – in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Boston, and New York. Insights gained from these visits provides valuable insight into the present and future of the impact of digital technologies on businesses in various industries.

we.CONECT: In the book “The Technology Fallacy”, you write about differences between “doing digital” and “being digital”. Would you elaborate on it more? What are the key differences between these two?

Gerald Kane: “Doing digital” is about engaging in distinct technological implementations or digital initiatives. “Being digital” is about rethinking your fundamental business model or job requirements as a result of a changing technological landscape.  “Being digital” may actually not involve implementing new technologies at all, but developing new strategies, talent models, organizational cultures and structures that enable your organization to respond better to changes in the competitive landscape wrought by digital technologies.

we.CONECT: You address the topic on how people are the real key to digital transformation at Intra.NET Reloaded Boston. How would you define the topic yourself – “The question is relevant for us because…”?

Gerald Kane: Almost everyone knows that their company and industry are at risk of disruption as a result of changes in technologies – roughly 87% of respondents said that their industry would be disrupted to a moderate to great degree as a result of digital trends. The problem is what should organizations, leaders, and employees do about it?  The temptation is to believe that because the risks are caused by digital technologies, that the solution will also involve technologies.  In fact, we argue in the book that the people and organizational aspects of digital transformation are far more challenging and where most companies should begin.  This question is relevant for the 87% who see their industries and careers changing as a result of digital disruption – in short, almost everyone.

we.CONECT: What are the biggest difficulties in this regard? What do you see as particularly problematic?

Gerald Kane: The biggest problem is mindset.  Many employees, leaders, and companies believe that they are just not capable of changing fast enough in response to digital trends, or that these changes are the domain of technology companies.  I believe that every company, with the right mindset, can make the changes necessary to compete in a digital world and every leader can learn or adapt the necessary skills to lead their organization into a digital future. It may be not quick.  It may not be easy, but it is achievable for most companies and executives.  The problem is getting these people to believe it and invest sufficient time, energy, and resources to making the necessary changes to adapt to this digital future.

we.CONECT: Looking to the future, what topics and trends do you see regarding digital transformation in the next 12 months – what is the expected development?

Gerald Kane: Respondents to our survey said that the biggest difference with respect to digital vs. traditional business is the pace of change. The real problem, however, is the differing rates of change between technologies, individuals, organizations, and public policy.  Digital technologies change faster than individuals can adopt them, individuals adapt to the technological changes faster than organizations can, and organizations assimilate faster than public policy and regulation can.  What most companies are trying to do with respect to digital transformation is to narrow the gap between the organizational adaptation and the rate of change of digital technology and individual’s adoption of it. These differing rates of change are only going to continue becoming more problematic over the next 12 months without intentional effort to address the trends at the organizational level.

we.CONECT: What expectations do you have regarding the Intra.NET Reloaded Boston? Which outcomes and benefits do you expect to gain from the exchange with participating companies?

Gerald Kane: My students ask me the same thing when I take them on our annual trip to digital companies in New York and San Francisco as a part of the “Tech Trek” program I lead at Boston College. My answer is always that I am most excited about the unexpected connection with someone who really appreciates the research or shares a new story that illustrates the principles in the book in novel ways.  I’ve been presenting this material for well over a year to very diverse audiences around the world, and virtually every one of those speaking engagements has yielded a productive conversation, engagement, or story that helps continue to bring the insights of The Technology Fallacy to new environments.  I am looking forward to these unexpected engagements that I’m sure will result from my participation in Intra.NET Reloaded Boston.

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