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Who are Your Digital Influencers? Five Key Voices of Our Digital Age

I was participating in online interviews this week for a research project, waxing lyrical about the challenges of digital transformation, when the interviewer stopped me in my tracks with a very simple question:

How are you staying informed and keeping up to date on digital transformation themes?

It was a great question for which I was not very well prepared. I mumbled a few ideas, named a couple of websites, and waited for the conversation to move on. However, it is a question that deserves a more thoughtful answer.

Having a chance to absorb more influences from a wider set of people has undoubtedly been one of the many silver linings of the heavy pandemic cloud we’re all living under. By being freed from any barriers regarding physical proximity, in any day it is just as likely that those participating in my meetings are 5 miles or 5,000 miles away from me. Similarly, with so much time reading and researching online, the sources I turn to are coming from a wide set of disciplines and their authors are certainly more diverse. But with so many to choose from, which voices do you listen to?

We’re all strongly affected by the people and materials with which we interact. Whether it is in our work life or beyond, the opinions we form and the choices we make will significantly reflect what we see and hear around us. Social conditioning can be said to bring our actions in line with the norms and conventions of the society in which we live. But it is the deeper, more intimate relationships we form that reinforce how we think and behave. We are defined by the people we choose to spend time with, and the ideas we absorb and adopt along the way.

With so much being written and said on digital transformation topics, it difficult to know where to focus. However, there are a few key voices and sources of inspiration to which I regularly turn to build my understanding of what is going on. While I could give long lists of journals, conferences, and books that I use in my work, I’ll avoid that for now. Rather, I will focus on several digital technology, digital economy, and digital society commentators offering opinions and observations that help me to stay informed about current activities and challenge me to think differently about what it all means.

Ben Evans. From his technology analyst background, Ben has created a hugely successful newsletter on what matters in tech this week with over 160k subscribers. Together with his essays and yearly digital technology summary, these provide an on-going window into the technology engine room powering the digital economy. He brings lots of data and backs his views with masses of statistics and graphs. I value his work for keeping me informed of the trends and directions in digital technology, and for challenging me to base my opinions on credible data.

Ben Thompson. The Stratechery newsletter and website is a wonderful source of information on tech companies and the business models they pursue. His free weekly summaries provide a very good overview of the latest technology-driven business activities. He is particularly strong in reviewing the strategies of the big tech platform companies and social media directions. He has a broad focus and offers particular insight into the technology directions and business innovations in Asia that are so important today. I follow his writing to gain a broader view of technology impact in business and to increase my field of vision on digital transformation.

Scott Galloway. As a professor in marketing at NYU, Scott’s No Mercy/No Malice writings take a broader perspective on the digital economy aimed at exploring the impact of technology on business and society. His quirky, forthright style brings some light to the business decisions and strategies in key digital markets. As a business school professor, he also places emphasis on the role of higher education and the digital transformation of the education business itself. I enjoy his work because it challenges me to ask deeper questions about what is happening, who is being affected, why this matters, and what I can do to make a difference. I also love his writing style and wit.

Nicholas Carr. Although he writes less frequently than other commentators, the essays of Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, are always challenging and engaging. He addresses the societal implications of digital transformation in a world that is shifting to adapt to the implications of an always-connected, digitally-monitored world. He is particularly fascinated by the human implications of digital technologies on our working lives, on our social interactions, and on our brains. I turn to his writing to keep bringing myself back from the technical myopia of much of the discussion on digital transformation and toward the human implications this has for us all.

Dave Birch. By taking a narrower focus, Dave places a spotlight on digital transformation in finance and banking. He writes extensively on digital identity, digital currencies, and transformation of digital finance in his frequent opinion pieces for Forbes and additional essays that form the basis for his books. For business and society to be sustainable it requires us to be able to transact and interact in meaningful ways. The attraction of his work is the ease with which he ties together the technology, business, and societal viewpoints. Dave demystifies this often-complex world. I ensure that I follow his work to stay on top of this core topic for digital transformation, and to be entertained by his perceptive personal viewpoint and wonderful anecdotes.

These are five voices I find compelling in my journey to deepen my understand of digital transformation. What are yours?

Source: AWB Digital Economy Dispatch #31

Alan Brown

Alan W. Brown is Professor in Digital Economy at the University of Exeter Business School where he co-leads the Initiative in Digital Economy at Exeter (INDEX). Alan’s research is focused on agile approaches to business transformation, and the relationship between technology innovation and business innovation in today’s rapidly-evolving digital economy. After receiving a PhD in Computational Science at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Alan spent almost 2 decades in the USA in commercial high-tech companies leading R&D teams, building leading-edge solutions, and driving innovation in software product delivery. He then spent 5 years in Madrid leading enterprise strategy as European CTO for IBM’s Software group. Most recently Alan co-founded the Surrey Centre for the Digital Economy (CoDE) at the University of Surrey where he led research initiatives in 4 EPSRC-funded research projects.

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