Roving NEF reporter Malcolm Smitherman, a Miami University junior computer engineering major with a minor in physics and a member of the Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute talked to Louise Morman a former senior management executive in the energy sector, a systems analyst and expert in leadership and transformational learning, who leads the Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute, an intensive three-year transformational leadership development program for engineering and computing students. Here’s their conversation.
Q. How do you describe digital transformation?
Digital transformation is strategically changing all areas of your business, how you operate and deliver value to your customers, with the help of digital technology. That change requires an accompanying culture change.
There is no question that major changes will occur when our current college students are in the height of their careers. I cannot predict exactly what the developments will be in artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, 3D printing, cloud computing, and other digital innovations, but I am sure that we will see dramatic impacts. I believe there will be end-to-end transformation in how organizations do business in most industries.
The work world will change in ways we haven’t seen in the past and well beyond hourly workers. All kinds of occupations will see change including engineers, accountants, coders, surgeons, etc. Computers are very effective at handling logical and process-oriented activities. The work of knowledge workers and college graduates will be replaced so people will have to constantly reinvent themselves and deal with a never-ending change journey throughout their careers.
However, when we started, I didn’t really think of the work of engineers being replaced by non-humans. Now I realize that resiliency is essential for survival in their future work world.
Q. Today there exist many advanced digital technologies that have yet to be utilized in the work space. If using them were to mean greater efficiency for a business, why do you think businesses haven’t taken advantage of them?
Digital transformation is a hot topic and it is definitely on the minds of CEOs who are planning for a successful future. But many initiatives stall. Technology is the easy part. How people deal with change is a bigger stumbling block. Digitizing scattered elements of the business is not that effective. To thrive in the digital era, a systems thinking approach is needed and that means rethinking the overall business, with a customer-driven emphasis. Culture change is hard.
Q. Considering your high-level business executive experience and your last seven years in higher education working with future engineers and computer scientists, what do you think are the major mindset gaps? What leadership areas need more emphasis in undergraduate education to prepare for the digital era?
After absorbing thoughts from dozens of books, papers and reports on the topic of digital transformation, I came up with the following list:
Internal Courage/Strength – Being your best evolved self
- Self awareness
- Open mindedness and inclusion
- Humility – keeps us in touch with all we don’t know
- Embodying our humanity
- Overcoming fear of conflict and risk
Embracing Change – Adaptability
- Comfort in uncertainty and unstructured environments
- Navigating through complexity, chaos and confusion
- Resiliency – especially when the change isn’t our idea
- Growth mindset
- Curiosity and reinventing ourselves
- Learning from failure
Strategic Thinker – Holistic
- Big Picture
- Systems thinking
- Customer obsessed
- Forward thinker
- Creative Thinker
- Transformative vision
- Ideas based on intuition and insights as well as data and history
- Openness to new ideas and possibilities
- Collaborative problem solving
- Emotional Intelligence
Q. How will your research into digital transformation change what you do in the Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute?
Working with people while they are in college to help them become comfortable with ambiguity and change was something we considered important when we created the program over seven years ago. Our goal was to help our technical students become more successful throughout their careers and lives. We emphasized self-awareness, people leadership and strategic thinking. However, when we started, I didn’t really think of the work of engineers being replaced by non-humans. Now I realize that resiliency is essential for survival in their future work world.
Also, we need to do more work in “unlearning.” Today’s students have been conditioned since kindergarten to have clear expectations of what is expected of them. Unfortunately, the future does not have a syllabus with exactly how many points you need to get an A. Giving our students practice in the messiness of the real world will help prepare them to navigate the future.