The following is a conversation between Amit Mukherjee, author of Leading in the Digital World: How to Foster Creativity, Collaboration, and Inclusivity, and Denver Frederick, the host of The Business of Giving.


Amit Mukherjee, Author of Leading in the Digital World

Denver: Digital technology is changing every aspect of our lives from the way we communicate, eat, shop, learn, date, play, and more. But what about leadership? How is that being transformed? No one has studied this topic in-depth, not until now, and it is presented in a wonderful new book called Leading in the Digital World: How to Foster Creativity, Collaboration, and Inclusivity. And it’s a pleasure to have with us its author, Amit Mukherjee

Hi, Amit, and welcome to The Business of Giving! 

Amit: Thank you for inviting me, Denver. Appreciate it. 

Denver: So, let me pick up on that opening. Why is there a relative lack of information on how digital technology is changing the fundamentals of effective leadership? 

Amit: I’m biased about this. Here’s my bias. It is: People who study leadership look at technology as only a tool. It’s not worthy of their attention. And people who study technology see leadership as a necessary evil, which will get their technology implemented. So the two sides do not connect with each other, and no one looks at how the two sides interplay with each other. 

I can’t prove this to you, but this is just lived experience. And I came to this because I started on the technology side and drifted into the leadership side by actually working and leading technology projects, which then had strategic implications, which then had leadership implications. And so I come at it from a point of view, which is not aligned to either of those two sides. But that’s the best I can tell you about why people haven’t looked at this before. 

Denver: And also, I would think maybe that leaders, at least until recently, have been older and have not been comfortable with technology and therefore needed to keep it in its place so they would be able to still assume what they perceived to be their leadership role. 

Amit: You’re absolutely right. Let’s just, for this exercise, let’s just talk about business leaders. Think about a 20th-century business leader that you respect.

The relationship between what it takes to be a leader has changed with the onset of digital technologies, and people who can’t make the change are having a difficult time with it.

Denver: Well, I’ll tell you a guy I worked for. I worked at the Statue of Liberty/ Ellis Island Foundation, and my boss was Lee Iacocca. 

Amit: So, take Lee Iacocca. He did amazing things, but he didn’t create anything. He built a business. He didn’t create anything with his hands. Now, think of any 21st century similarly iconic leader. Now–

Denver: Steve Jobs.

Amit: — almost every one of them has created something with his or her hands. There is this fundamental change. The relationship between what it takes to be a leader has changed with the onset of digital technologies, and people who can’t make the change are having a difficult time with it. Yes. 

Denver: I found it very useful, Amit, when you looked at the digital age and you put it in the context of the other epochs of the 20th century. And you cited two of them. And why don’t you just explain them to our audience, and then we’ll see how this digital age fits into that. 

Amit: So perhaps the best way to explain is two questions, two statements. One is: you walk into any organization, and one of the rallying cries these days is:  “Break down the silos.” You hear it in every organization. So where do these silos come from that we want to break down? 

Well, we created the silos. We created the silos at a point in time and history when they were absolutely necessary. And you’ve got to go all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century. And now, you are creating scientific management and you were trying to optimize human behavior, and you were creating production lines and so on and so forth. And what you did was you made your world narrower and narrower and narrower. You kept people working on specific things that they were good at. We called it “tailorism,” and built companies around it. 

So today, you’re saying:  “Break down the silos.” Well, for 80 years, they powered the entire word. Particularly America’s growth to power was powered by those darn silos. 

Denver: Because that’s the way work was done back then. 

Amit: That’s the way the work was done because the technology that was being used required work to be done in that fashion. 

Denver: Makes sense.

Amit: In the ’80s, we came to this world where suddenly the Japanese companies, small little companies in those days, Datsun– now called Nissan and Toyota and Honda. They were tiny, who-are-these-guys sorts of companies, and they come into the US, and they tear apart the US industries. And by the way, if I were to ask you the question: When was the last time we had unemployment levels and corporate bankruptcy levels on par with the levels we experienced in 2008, 2009? Most people would say the 1930s. It was actually the mid-’80s. 

What was happening? They came in and they brought in with them quality management, and they brought in things they called quality circles. American companies were not set up to do those things, and they started struggling, company after company, if the company went bankrupt… The big four auto companies became the big three only because the government saved the third one of the four, but chose not to save the fourth one.

And it was in that period in the late-’80s, just like that, we suddenly started talking about teams– the book, The Discipline of Teams, in the early ’90s. And there was this profound change because you can’t have quality; tools of technology, you can’t use them unless you have teams; and you can’t do that if you don’t change over from an authoritarian leader, I-am-the-boss-so-I-know-what-to-do to: Well-team-you-go-and-figure-this-out.

…technologies change the nature of work. When the nature of work changes, organizational structures change. When the organizational structures change, then the demands of leadership must change.

Denver: You said that very well as a boss, I got to tell you.

So would this be the period of In Search of Excellence and Built to Last and all those types of books that came out? 

Amit: Those books started coming out. So In Search of Excellence was a little earlier. 

Denver: Yes, ’82 maybe.

Amit: While In Search of Excellence became famous, the related book, which did not become as famous but which was taught in business schools, was The Art of Japanese Management. And both of those books came out of the same sorts of research that had been done. 

So one looked at the Japanese companies, and the other one looked at the American companies. The book about the American companies, of course, became more popular. But it was in that period that you started talking about, “Hey, there is a different way of organizing groups of people.” Whether they are nonprofits, whether they are profits, that doesn’t matter. There are different ways of organizing and leading.

So that the summary line that I state is: Technologies change the nature of work. When the nature of work changes, organizational structures change. When the organizational structures change, then the demands of leadership must change. And that’s the piece that people haven’t written about, that they haven’t–

Denver: That they haven’t focused on. You’ll see an article now and again, but no one has examined it like you have. So here we are in this digital epoch, and one of the phrases we hear during it is “digital disruption.”  It has become so ubiquitous that I think it has almost lost its meaning. So what is digital disruption?  And maybe, what isn’t it? 

Amit: So, we’ve got to this point where we are using this term so widely that even the person who created the term basically said, “We are misusing and abusing the term.” And the person who created the term was Clayton Christensen. 

Denver: A wonderful guy, passed away a year or two ago. 

Amit: He passed away last year. He was at the Harvard Business School, and he was doing his doctoral thesis. And what he was writing about was the fact that we knew something that has stood the test of time. We have always known that disruption happens. So you can go back to Joseph Schumpeter who, in the 19th century, said “creative destruction.” And so, a new technology comes in, and it doesn’t perform as well as existing technologies, but it appeals to the needs of a small market, and then suddenly takes off, and the old technology falls apart. So that’s supposed to be disruption. 

So when Clayton came up with this term, the digital era was just taking off, and everybody started using the word “disruption” to describe that. The problem with using that term in that fashion is when you call everything disruption, then nothing is disruption.

Denver: Exactly!

Amit: Second thing is any technology which is initially disruptive ultimately has to become sustaining. The technology continues to grow and become better, and now you’re calling those technologies sustaining. So there’s understanding among people who think about this, but it hasn’t gone out to the broader audience effectively yet, that if you call everything disruptive, then good things don’t happen.

So a small little change, which extends, improves the life in medicine for somebody, is not disruptive. Should we ignore it? So that’s one part of the problem. That’s a real problem, which is why I actually tell executives and my students that they should stop using the term disruption. They should go back to the old-fashioned term “innovation,” and say “digital innovation.”

Denver: Sustaining innovation, or whatever. And you know what’s a perfect case of digital disruption in everybody’s mind? It would be something like Uber. But that would not be the case. Explain why. 

Amit: So this was one of Christensen’s own examples, that Uber is not a digital disruption. Why? Because Uber did not cost less. Uber did not appeal only to a niche market that was being ignored, and Uber did not have to improve anything to become accepted for mass use. Those three ideas — that it has to appeal to a niche market; it is supposed to be cheaper; and it becomes acceptable only when it is widely used — are not true for Uber. They are not true for most fintech, so for fintech. And that’s why look at Fintech. Do you know one single bank in the world which has dropped out of the top 100 banks in the world because some small company invented fintech? No. 

Denver: If they have, it hasn’t been because of that. 

Amit: Yes. If they had dropped out, they have dropped out because China has risen to the top, and a whole lot of Chinese banks– 

Denver: A whole bunch of other reasons. You’re exactly right. 

Amit: But it’s not because of technology because all the banks are absorbing fintech technology just like that. So that makes them sustaining technologies, not disruptive technologies. And if we don’t understand this distinction, what we end up doing is we make bad decisions as leaders. We can’t let good innovations not happen simply because we say “that’s not disruptive.” 

Denver: Yes. Well, I think you make this point throughout the book and that is the importance of language, and language really sets us off in one direction or another. 

Well, also, what you do is you take a look at seven principles that govern how digital technologies are restructuring work and organizational structures. And I’m going to ask you about a couple, if I can. First, why don’t we start with:  Digital technologies create needs that aren’t predictable and/or add disproportionately greater value. How does that happen?

Amit: So, let me explain that with an example rather than trying to– 

Denver: That’d be great.

Amit: So think of the time when cars replaced horse buggies. So, major, major invention. You could even use the word disruption. It wasn’t, but loosely, you could call it a disruption to everything that was happening in society.

Now, once you bring in the car, it is completely predictable what else needs to change. You need smoother roads, not cobblestone roads. If you’re going to go out of town, you don’t need stables along the way, where you can change horses. You need gas stations and so on and so forth. All those derivative innovations are completely predictable.

Now, look at an iPhone. When the iPhone was created, well, Apple did something — this company, which tends to keep everything within itself if it can as a closed “ecosystem” if possible — does something amazing. It says, “By the way, you guys can go and create the uses to which you can put this device that we have created.”

Denver: Look what they did.

Amit: And they created an app store. They create the app store. So they don’t say, “We will create every possible use that can be taken on with this device, which are like the two companies which tried to do that and failed — Blackberry and Nokia. They thought they knew everything that their devices could possibly be used for. So what did Apple do? With the digital technology, you are now creating value out of unpredictable names, which actually makes the device far more valuable than it otherwise would have been. 

Denver: They went with the wisdom of crowds. They opened it up and let all the best ideas rise to the top. They got a cut!

Amit: So they closed the store. They kept control of the store, but they opened it up to innovating around their device and their system. 

Denver: Another one, and I think this one you gave its own chapter to, is: Digital technologies interact with and affect an organization’s external environment. Now, what’s the impact of that?

Amit: So, the received wisdom when you teach management is: The inside of an organization must always adapt to the outside. And I think what has happened with digital technology is the inside has gotten connected to the outside. 

So here’s what I mean. So we all know, and with very, very good reasons, if you look back to the 2008 crisis, why did it happen? You will hear about evil bankers. You will hear about corrupt politicians. You will hear about a whole bunch of reasons like that. All of those may be true. But go back to the 1980s to 2000, and you had an investment bank fail on Wall Street. You had the deregulation of the Savings & Loans industries. You had the collapse of the Bank of New England. You had 33% of Savings & Loans going under. And none of those became a worldwide crisis. So what’s the difference? This has been going on forever and ever, so what was the difference? 

The difference was by the time you got to 2008, you were not doing finance with spreadsheets and calculators. You were doing them on high-powered computers, and funds could be transferred instantly across the world. Many of your listeners probably remember using travelers checks, and many of the young people would say, “What the heck is a traveler’s check?” A business which existed for more than a hundred years went off just like that because people, when they were traveling, no longer needed travelers checks. They could just stick their card into an ATM machine anywhere in the world, and they could bring out cash.

Well, what have you done? You’ve linked all the different parts of the world into a network. Now, you’ve created a system where a crisis from one part of the world can go right across the world in blinding speed, and it can affect everybody. So that’s what that principle talks about, that you have connected the outside of the word to the inside of the world. 

And by the way, Denver, we’re doing it again. And we are expanding it and we’ll continue to expand it. We talk about the internet of things. What are we doing with the internet of things? We’re connecting the insides of our houses to the network. And soon enough, there will be at least one crisis where that will create problems for us. This is not bad. It is reality. 

Denver: It’s reality. Yes, you’ve just got to adjust. 

Amit: We just need to adapt to the reality that this is what digital technologies do, and we need to deal with it. 

Denver: I remember that same point being made by I think General Stanley McChrystal, who was basically saying that there was some anti-Muslim activity in Florida or something by some group or whatever, and it absolutely changed what he was doing in the theatre in Iraq because it went across. And he then realized… or the Army realized  that you had to empower everyone because there wasn’t going to be time to go to Command and find out what to do because it happened instantaneously. It happened with a tweet, and the entire theatre changed.

So it is a great point. It’s absolutely everywhere. So it does change how you have to structure your organization and lead your organization. 

Amit: You have to change how you structure your organization. You have to change how you lead your organization. And it’s amazing to me that the most hierarchical organizations that human beings create– the armed forces, the best trained armed forces in the world actually realize that, and are fundamentally changing how they train people to lead; but civilian organizations are not doing that. 

Denver: Absolutely. I think in the armed forces, they know the intent of the general, and that’s all they need to know, so they can know in a moment what they should be doing. And they also recognize that if they check in, they’ll be dead. It will be over.

Amit: Yes. Exactly.

Denver: Somebody said that probably that independence is most pronounced in the Navy more than any other, because the Navy was going to be at sea for a long period of time, and they did not have the communication technologies back then. So therefore, there had to be that sense of knowing what to do without being able to be directed. 

Well, at the heart of this book, and the real foundation are these 700 interviews you did with leaders across the world. And unlike a lot of interviews with leaders– which are generally men from the English-speaking world– you really look to get that kind of even, equitable distribution throughout. What were some of your major takeaways from those interviews? 

Amit: So let me make a small, little correction to that. I interviewed a whole bunch of people face-to-face, again, around the world, and the 700 was a survey. 

Denver: Survey. Right. Yes.

Amit: But nevertheless, the survey was, as you described, it was of executives around the world. And I picked them to be in rough proportion to the number of companies in the list of 2000 largest companies of the world that came from that part of the world.

 So what were some of the major lessons from that exercise? Let me start with the one that I believe is most important, and that lesson is power is moving down in organizations. Pretty much all over the world, except in China, the number of years of experience that you needed to get to make consequential decisions is dropping sharply in the digital age. Now, we can easily say why that is happening. What we don’t necessarily focus on is the implication of that, the major implications of that. 

You and I had seasoning time. We had time to grow into positions of leadership. We made mistakes, and those mistakes did not go across the world. It affected only a small group of people. Now, that seasoning time is going away because people who are much lower in the organization are making decisions that cross organizational boundaries, that cross geographical boundaries around the world. And we are not training people for leadership from a much younger age, from far lower levels of experience, and we absolutely need to start doing that. 

…because of digital technologies, we are moving from a world in which thinking is more important than doing.

Denver: So, essentially, we’ve gone from a time or at the time when I started, which was: Push all the information up to the leader for him, in most cases, him to make a decision. And what you’re saying now is: pushed decision-making down. 

Amit: Right. The other thing that you are seeing is that because of digital technologies, we are moving from a world in which thinking is more important than doing. Whatever we do, we hand over to machines. We are increasingly handing over to machines.

Denver: The blue work, red work. Yes. 

Amit: And so as a result of that, what is happening is around the world, leaders are not prepared for that. So think of the implications of what that does — the moment work becomes thought-driven, not muscle-powered. The one single advantage that men, on average, had around the world over women, on average around the world, was muscle power.

Denver: It’s gone. 

Amit: And that goes away. It profoundly changes the playing field, and it’s no surprise that along with the rise of digital technologies, you have seen women come into a place of work in profound numbers, and we’re not prepared for that. We are not prepared around the world. The research shows that we are not prepared for that. 

What do you need in order to do that? You have to be far more inclusive. You have to be far more creative. You have to be far more collaborative. And these are the gaps that are showing up in leadership that we’d better turn around and fix as quickly as possible. 

Denver: Let me ask you about each of them. How can a leader develop the skills that are needed for inclusion? 

Amit: I think the first thing that I tell people is there is no list of five things that you need to do. 

Denver: That’s right. 

Amit: Those things don’t work, and they don’t work because there is actually research which shows that countries which benefit from inclusion are the countries which are open to inclusion, and if you’re not open to inclusion, you’re not going to benefit from inclusion.

Denver: It’s a mindset.

Amit: It is a mindset thing. It is a mindset thing, so you have to understand that so far, in the non-digital world, most of the time, you are leading people who look like you, who ate like you, who talk like you, who live within the same political systems, and so on and so forth. And now, we are in a world where the most important people for you are people who are completely different from you. Completely different from you. So you’re working on a project, you’re working with a project, with somebody who is halfway across the world. 

And if you cannot change your mindset to say that person has a right to be who he is, who she is, then you’re going to have a problem with inclusion. Once you get past that problem, you can talk about where you agree and where you disagree, but you can’t fundamentally say that that person’s behavior or identity doesn’t matter, and then say “I want to be a leader of people from all parts of the world.”

Denver: Well, that’s what happened at IBM, right? They started there, and then they went to the fact that it really does matter. 

Amit: It does matter, and IBM is one of those companies. And by the way, this is not theoretical stuff. As I write in the book, there are lots of leading-edge organizations which have come to this understanding on their own. They don’t think of it as a theory, but they’re coming to this understanding. And IBM came to this understanding because 60% of its workforce is now outside the United States, and how we lead in the US doesn’t work there. And so they have had to make some changes. And so people are making these changes to solve their own problems, but they all recognize it. 

So inclusivity…if you want a global workforce, if you want to work with people around the world, if you’re not inclusive, it’s not going to happen. If the mindset isn’t inclusive, it’s not going to happen.

Denver: And it gets us back to this whole issue of language again because we have a language of leadership, but the language of leadership in this country may not be the language of leadership in other parts of the world. 

Amit: So Thank you for reminding me of that. That’s a wonderful example. In the book, I give this example of the word “decisive.” In the US, it is common to find the word “decisive” in any standard of leadership in organizations. 

Denver: No question. 

Amit: However, you go to Southeast Asia. And if you look for “decisive,” quintessentially decisive leaders there, you’re not going to find them. You’re going to find leaders who will look at you and say, “Well, let me think about that.” That doesn’t mean they are not effective, but they’re not quintessentially American-style decisive. 

Similarly, I referred to this word in the book but don’t expand on it as I do about decisive — “dutiful.” The converse reaction is in the US, in some ways of thinking about leadership. If you are dutiful, you are paying attention to your bosses and not to your subordinates. Well, if you make that a standard of leadership, then you know what you’re doing… you’re excluding a few billion people in the world for whom not to be dutiful is inherently dishonorable. So, yes.

Denver: Let me ask you this, Amit, in this digital epoch, is it more important for a leader to have breadth of knowledge or depth of knowledge? 

Amit: Hands down… so if I were having a surgery being done on me, I would want the surgeon to have incredible depth of knowledge.

Denver: With you on that. 

Amit: So let me just start out by saying that because what I’m going to say, breadth for a leader is more important, but that does not mean that I’m discounting expertise. As a CXO I interviewed said very wonderfully and he said, “You know, Amit, today’s leaders need to have the ability to navigate the in-between spaces that experts avoid.”

Denver: That’s very well said. 

Amit: It was so beautifully said. Experts have narrow fields of knowledge. You ask questions outside that field, a good expert will say, “I don’t know.” A bad expert will say, “Of course I know,” when he or she doesn’t know it. It is the leader’s job to fill in those spaces, to figure out how those different fields of expertise fit together. And in order to do that, the leader has to have more breadth than depth. 

That said, there is one very important qualification. And that important qualification is the leader has to be able to learn very quickly, must be focused on learning. As another CXO said to me, and he was talking about a specific person who was a man in his organization as an example, so he said, “He does not need to be an expert, but he needs to have read all the literature.” And so that you can actually say, “Aha! I understand what you are saying, Ms. Expert. I understand what you’re saying, Mr. Expert. But what the two of you are missing is this little piece, and it’s my job to weave those things together.” So breadth is more important in that sense than depth. 

Denver: Yes, and it would seem that if you have the breadth, you can ask the questions. If you have the depth, you can provide the answers. So if you’re a leader, you don’t get one unit. You’ve got to look at the whole playing field and know enough to ask the right questions.

Amit: Right. And that goes back to something that I really… that Peter Drucker said many, many years ago, which I think is one of his ideas that has truly stood the test of time. And he had said words to the effect of, “Good managers know the answers. Great managers know the questions.” And that’s precisely that the leader has to be able to ask the questions that fall between narrow pillars of expertise. 

Denver: So with all that being said, Amit, are our talent identification and performance evaluation systems keeping pace with the kind of leader we need today? Or,  are they stuck in times gone by?

Amit: So our talent systems are profoundly out of date. They are profoundly out of date. One of the things they do, for example, is they focus on productivity. They implicitly focus on doing more with less, and we reward people who do more with less.  We don’t reward people who are creative. Our systems for finding people who are creative, who are constantly asking questions and getting the stuff done are pretty poor. Pretty poor. We label them as troublemakers because, “Let’s go and do this.” And the person says, “Why?” “That guy always gets… “Stop with the ‘Why’!; just get to it.”

What have you done? You’ve just stopped someone who is asking a question, which may cause you to think about a problem differently, and our performance measurement systems are not very good at doing that. So there is this move, in the US particularly, of abandoning traditional performance management systems… a fairly extensive move. However, what the companies, which have abandoned those systems, haven’t really figured out is what to replace it with. 

And in the book, I give ideas about how you should think about that problem rather than actually pose a solution. It is hard to pose a solution that’ll work for every single organization. But again, if you understand what the problem is, you can look at your own performance evaluation systems and say, “OK. These are the types of people that we need that we are not finding.” Just go back to the issue of a leader navigating the in-between spaces. Does your performance evaluation system allow you to do that? If it doesn’t, well, all you’re producing are people who have expertise in narrow fields. 

Denver: And it’s easier to measure very often, and people feel more comfortable with it, so they go for the productivity. Creativity is a little bit more difficult, probably because we haven’t done it. But it does seem that productivity is really good for today and next month, but creativity is good for the life of the business going ahead, you know what I mean? 

Amit: Absolutely.

Denver: So you teach… if a young person comes to you, and they do all the time, and they’re either just entering the workforce or about to, what advice do you give them?

Amit: The advice that I give them is: attach yourself to projects which have unclear objectives– 

Denver: Ambiguity.

Amit: –and you don’t know how you’re going to be rewarded, where it’s not really clear what you need to do, and you are going to learn far more working on projects like that, where you have to figure it out than you will within a very, very structured environment. Once we get into this mindset of all through our education, it’s so structured that our minds have to be released from those confinements. And that’s the biggest advice that I give young people. Look for opportunities where you are in diffuse spaces. 

Denver, let me give you a very quick example. As you know, I’m a Harvard alum. So I was at a Harvard alum event when I was living in Singapore, and there were these professors from Harvard who were giving this talk, and all the research that they were doing was interdisciplinary, and these were in the hard sciences. And they went on for an hour talking about how most of the important research that is happening in the world today is interdisciplinary. So I was always a trouble causer, so I got a chance to ask the question—

Go and find a messy problem. Work on a messy problem. You will learn more from it. And how do you learn in that situation? When you run into a problem, go find an expert; talk to an expert. 

Denver: Oh, you were that guy? OK.

Amit: Well, I asked the question. I said, “So if all the research is interdisciplinary, do you think we need to change how we educate people in schools? So that, right from the start their education is interdisciplinary.” I kid you not, pin-drop silence, and then, “No!” Well, actually, there is at least one school of engineering,  a very well-taught school of engineering, which does just that, the Olin School in Massachusetts, where the education is interdisciplinary because that’s the world that we are creating. 

So same idea that I was giving, telling the young person: Go and find a messy problem. Work on a messy problem. You will learn more from it. And how do you learn in that situation? When you run into a problem, go find an expert; talk to an expert. 

Denver: Yes. You’re right. You know, just along those lines, I had a president of a foundation on recently. We were talking about what they fund and how to solve problems. They were talking about the interdisciplinary approach to solve problems in communities, and they insist upon that before giving them funding. And my question to him was, “Well, why is your foundation structured along these rigid lines?” And he said, “That’s a good point. We really do need to look at that.” So it’s very much the same thing:  We preach better than we do. 

Amit: Go back to where we started this talk. I gave you my biased opinion about why the leadership in the digital era has not been studied before because technologists talk to the technologists, and leadership experts talk to leadership experts. We do this all the time, and the world is changing around us in profound ways, and we are not responding to this. 

…what the pandemic has done is: It has actually reinforced the idea for a need for a change in how we structure organizations, how we look at work, and how we lead.

Denver: So interesting. Let me ask you one final question and that has to do with COVID because we’re talking about leading in this digital world. And what do you think this pandemic has done to that issue in terms of leadership? Is it changing it in even different ways? Or is it really just accelerating what might’ve happened anyway… or would have happened anyway? 

Amit: So I recently wrote an article which drew parallels between what happens in a pandemic and what happened in the financial crisis of 2008. How a pandemic spreads and how a shock spreads in a digitally network world are remarkably parallel. And so, to me, what the pandemic has done is: it has actually reinforced the idea for a need for a change in how we structure organizations, how we look at work, and how we lead. 

And if we don’t do that, then we are going to be in really bad trouble because this is not going to be the last pandemic that we will face in this world, and the next one will be different. And we will look at it and say, “What did we learn in 2020?” And yes, some of those lessons will be transferable, but many of those lessons will not be. And unless we learn to think about problems differently in a non-linear fashion, we will run into trouble. So–

Denver: And I would say in this particular case, we haven’t learned because if you and I, Amit, look at the reporting: Germany, Italy, the United States….every piece of reporting we get is country by country, and we certainly know this virus is totally unaware of those borders. 

Amit: The virus is unaware of the borders. Yesterday, the New York Times had an article about why the Pfizer vaccine is not going to be available to low-income countries in the near future. And I just… this is something that I’ve been saying to my students and I’d say, “Do you really think you’re going to wipe out this pandemic by vaccinating people only in the United States?” We have to think about problems differently in a networked world, in a globalized world, and we are not doing that. 

Denver: We don’t. I got to tell you, in the United States, we didn’t think it was going to get here when it was in Europe. And when it got to New York, the people in Texas didn’t think it was going to get to them until it got there. And that’s just… that’s frightening. 

Amit: That’s frightening. And that’s the battle that I was drawing between the pandemic and the shocks in our network. They go at blinding speed across the world. 

Denver: Yes. Absolutely. 

Amit: So you have to look at the overall problem as opposed to trying to solve a problem at one node. 

Denver: The book is titled Leading in the Digital World: How to Foster Creativity, Collaboration, and Inclusivity. If there has been a gap in the business literature, this book has really started to fill it extremely nicely. Thanks, Amit, for being here today. It was just a great pleasure to have you on the program. 

Amit: Thank you very much. I really appreciate you inviting me. And Good Luck, and I wish your listeners all the best.

Denver: Thank you.


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