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Good School Simone Ashoff - © Julia Grudda

Seven tips for enhancing digital skills

Hamburg's Good School preparing executives for digitalisation - Simone Ashoff, principal, advises on digital strategy

Hamburg News: What are the biggest challenges facing companies at present?

Simone Ashoff: We are experiencing two main challenges. The mindset in important places is still the main challenge. Most German economic policy-makers are still ignoring their digital “homework” and are hampering digital transformation as a result. Digitally-minded executives face difficulties at the top of the company. The second challenge is the “operating system” in German companies. Their guiding principles, methods, products and most of the crew etc. all stem from the industrialisation era. And the “operating system” has been built to resist crises and change. This is the stumbling block to the company’s digital future. It is comforting to note that these two challenges are being overcome. Meanwhile, a few digital champions have emerged in the German mid-sized sector and they certainly live up to international comparison.

Seven tips for digital competence

Frau vor Computer-Bildschirmen

1. The more you like something, the easier it is to learn. So it’s best to fall in love with the internet or something on it. The surf tool stumbleupon.com is a good way of getting to know and definitely liking the internet. If you manage a company or team, help your staff to love the internet: give them tools that raise their productivity and make daily business more relaxed.

2. Hands off traditional further education catalogues. The traditional concept of further education teaches you how to improve existing skills and knowledge. Digital thinking and handling are radically new and different and the existing skills and knowledge must be criticised and reinvented. Traditional further education will not help at all. Drastic measures are called for – without being exhausting, but will make you passionate and more open-minded.

3. It is unfortunately a fallacy to believe that digital competence is free of charge or can be achieved efficiently. Building up digital skills costs time and money – from investing in external expertise, new staff and training the existing workforce, purchasing and using new technology and IT right up to continual operation, carrying out experiments, failed experiments, innovative and learning projects. However, the benefits are good: companies that take risks and invest in new things are now successful pioneers on the internet.

4. Digitalisation requires soft skills such as inquisitiveness, openness and willingness to change. Such skills cannot be learnt formally, but can be enhanced in an informal way, for instance, by creating a workspace that encourages you and your staff to deal with new, other things. Set up a playroom where all the new gadgets can be tried out – from hoverboard to augmented-reality game. Good opportunities such as Randomised Coffee Breaks (Google that!) for dealing with the “other” can be built into the working day with your colleagues.

5. Keeping digitally talented employees is harder than hiring them. Set up structures and processes that let those digital minds think and act independently of existing “operating systems”. But urge them to understand the existing organisation. Build bridgeheads between like-minded people i.e. between the new and old organisation.

6. Every one and a half years, knowledge of IT, the internet and technology doubles. That means that you and your organisation will always be digitally incompetent. Vast amounts of knowledge ensue there and become outdated. Knowledge has to be constantly verified and reacquired. That can be achieved easily in a network of many different players and skills that become enmeshed with each other. This network can also be untied and made anew. So, put aside your silo, confidentiality and demarcating thinking. Make friends and co-operate with others – even rival companies who may have one or two more skills than you.

7. Be yourself and be a good role model for others. Walk the talk!

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