Ade McCormack
Ade McCormack
Digital Readiness Institute

Ade McCormack is a former technologist who today advises leaders on transformational matters. Most recently, he has established the Centre for Leadership and Disruption Readiness to help organisations and societies adapt to an unknowable future.( .

He has written for both CIO magazine and the Financial Times as a columnist focusing on digital age leadership. His experience extends to around four decades and forty countries, across many sectors. 

Ade has written a number of books, including Biz 4.0: An anthropological blueprint for business in the digital age. He has also lectured at MIT Sloan School of Management on digital leadership and is an associate at the Møller Institute, University of Cambridge.

By Ade McCormack, Digital Strategist

This article is by Featured Blogger Ade McCormack from his Digital Life blog. Republished with the author’s permission.

Given that the very notion of work is morphing, as we wave goodbye to the industrial age, you might be forgiven for thinking that such a guide would be something of an anachronism. It can also be thought of as a survival guide, because they are one and the same in the digital age.Firstly, a question, if you happen to have a pet, how long would it last if you were to leave it to fend for itself in the savanna? We are likely talking hours and minutes, unless you have managed to sidestep pet ownership laws, and be in possession of a ‘pre-domesticated’ animal.

Second question, how long would you last? Your initial irritation at having no mobile signal, along with there being no sign of a decent coffee outlet nearby, would quickly be surpassed by the realisation that you have no idea what to do next. The deep roaring sound you associate with a zoo right behind you will no doubt add to your distress.

We are entering the age of uncertainty. Long gone is the time when paternalistic employers would protect us from the cold winds of commercial reality. Back then, they were able to protect both the strong and the weak because the market was sufficiently buoyant to support such inefficiency.

Well those days are over. We are back on the commercial equivalent of the savanna. It’s survival of the most adaptable, and if you aren’t part of the tribe, you are prey-in-waiting. My point is that mankind has spent most of its kind on the planet as a hunter gatherer, operating in a tribe ‘on an eat what you kill/pick’ basis. This requires a very particular set of skills (See Liam Neeson, Taken, 2008), if you are to survive in this commercial environment.

So let’s look at these skills:

Mobility – You need to follow the market. And follow it on a daily basis. No more turning up to the same factory every day and standing / sitting in the same place. This is both a sectoral and career requirement, as well as geographical. Your ability to adapt to a changing market, and jump sector, or migrate towards an unplanned career path is a key skill. Don’t wake up one day to find that not only have the goalposts moved, but the whole game too.

Sociability – Industrial society has given some of us the impression that we don’t need others. Such individualism gives us a sense that we are in control of our own destiny. Not so. We are highly social animals. We operate most effectively when we work as a team. If you struggle to get on with others, get it fixed. If it appears that you are a self-centred ‘taker’, then you will find yourself isolated. And isolated isn’t good place to be on the savanna.

Work-life integration – It’s no longer about the hours you work. The focus in the digital age is productivity. Think outcomes and results. Factory owners buy your time. Digital consumers and employers buy your deliverables. By ready to work when and where required. Goodbye Nine to Five.

Creativity – This is (currently) a key differentiator when the interview waiting room is filled with a mix of humans, robots and virtual assistants. We are naturally creative. That’s why we are no longer living in caves. The industrial era suppressed this aspect of our capability. We need to shake off our ingrained tendency to be compliant and follow the operations manual, and put our cognitive capacity to work.

Autonomy – The beauty of the industrial era, for some, was that we never had to take any real responsibility. Again, we followed the factory operations manual, and took instructions from our bosses. ‘Learned helplessness’ made life easier. It might also be referred to as sleep-working. We need to learn how to assess risks against potential value, decide, and then take action. Fail fast and smartly. Smart leaders will encourage us to make our own decisions, and learn from our mistakes. Those who are unable to think for themselves might be perceived as hoarding their own cognitive capacity. Such selfish behaviour could find you tribe-free.

Productivity – This has already been mentioned. No matter how hard you have worked, it’s a bad day at the office, if you return back to the cave with no food. The pack needs people who can deliver. Thus you need to develop the personal management skills needed to ensure you ship in line with the expectations of your employer(s) / client(s).

These six skills were key to our pre-industrial ancestors. They are key to us, again, in the post-industrial age. This will be a shock for many. Employers, and even governments, have a responsibility to wake people up to this new reality, rather than dumping them in the wild when their current employer’s business model stalls. That way they have at least a fighting chance of survival.

Don’t wait for that to happen. I encourage you to get in shape for the digital savanna today.

Originally published on Digital Life