Today, being digital is cool. Companies have chief digital officers, employers look for a "digital mind-set," people wonder if others have sufficient "digital IQs" and there is a "digital premium" being paid for "digitally endowed" talent.
So what should you do if you're among the significant majority that does not qualify as "digitally special" in what increasingly has become a digital age? How do you ensure a thriving career?
Here is some advice regardless of the industry in which you work or how junior or senior you are in your ecosystem. The first set of advice gets you digitally savvy so you can survive, while the second set should get you a digital mind-set that will allow you to thrive.
Getting digitally savvy to survive
The only way to understand the impact of digital change is to embrace swirling bits. Make sure you A) have a mobile phone that allows you to search the web and use mapping software such as Google Maps; B) own a DVR; C) spend an hour a week with social-communication media (such as Facebook and MySpace) or personal-expression media (such as blogs or Flickr); and D) watch or listen to music and videos online for an hour a week using music services such as Pandora and video services such as Joost and Veoh or the broadband sites of your favorite networks. Follow the very same passions you have in the analog world into the digital world -- a hobby, a celebrity, a business activity or a shopping fetish.
If you go to conferences -- or can make a case to your employer to send you to a conference -- make sure that, in addition to visiting the digital-oriented parts of whatever conference you attend, you go to a digital-focused conference, whether it be AdTech, Web 2.0 or another of this ilk. You will be both educated and disturbed not only by people, companies and ideas that you have not heard of before but also by the zealotry and dogma that so often is over the top. If you are fortunate, see if your company, client or agency can arrange for a field trip to one of the Yahoos, Microsofts, Facebooks or smaller start-ups of the world. Seeing people in their natural habitats and understanding the culture and politics face to face is enlightening.
But using and being comfortable with digital culture and technology, while necessary, is not sufficient to thrive. To truly thrive, you need to change your approach, perspective, behavior and mind-set.
Getting to a digital mind-set to thrive
Delegate and be transparent
Digital technology does a couple of things. It speeds things up. It enables the lesser informed and the disenfranchised. In such an environment, a "command-and-control" approach to management or "managing by fear" tends to backfire. People blog and Twitter and share your bad manners and habits so you become a laughingstock, or by the time you make a decision, the opportunity is gone. Delegating downward while holding people accountable for outcomes, as well as being authentic and a person of your word, is critical for success in this new world.
Start with a clean-sheet-of-paper approach
Why is it that successful initiatives rarely come from incumbents even when the fighter brands that succeed are often filled with employees who worked at the incumbent? It's because of legacy mind-sets and systems. As a manager, take your team and create the company that could clean your clock. Now ask why you are not actually activating what this "straw-man competitor" would do. As an individual, define what you would do if you were a new employee or had a chance to start again to be more marketable. Once you have your why, put your plans into practice. What you decide to do today -- not what your company, your boss or your competitors decide to do -- will determine how successful you will be tomorrow.
Think outcome, not input
The digital world has more data. That does not mean it is more measurable, because often the data are just noise. Before you launch any program or project, you should ask yourself: "What is the outcome I am hoping to achieve?" Then make sure you capture the data that enable you to measure progress against the outcome. Keeping the outcome and the data you collect in mind often will determine how you build the marketing program.
Increasingly what you do and how your team works will need to be like a software release. You will start with an alpha, then move to a beta and then a 1.0 release of your idea and program. Things are changing quickly, and there is an opportunity to get input from users and consumers. Learn and grow by making mistakes faster while keeping them small. By calling things prototypes and betas and managing expectations, you face minimal backlash while you learn from mistakes.
Lastly, do not forget the basic rules of business and careers that carried you to success in the first place. The basics never change, whether analog or digital.
Rashid Tobaccowala is CEO of Denuo and chief innovation officer of Publicis Groupe Media. Previously he was president of SMG Next, a futures practice in the media industry. He has more than 25 years of marketing and strategy experience.