What is a digital mindset? 6 dimensions that define a digital mindset

What lies behind the buzzword "digital mindset"

For some years now, the term “digital mindset” has been an integral part of articles in social media networks and business literature. But what is actually behind it and why is digital mindset important at all?

“It’s no longer enough to get up to speed with the latest technology. The way of working and thinking also needs to change. Digitalization offers new rules of the game and opportunities. Those who understand the new environment will win the race.”

This was recently said by Nick Jue, CEO of ING Germany, in an interview. With this statement from the field, he underscores what has been emphasized in many articles for some time now: For the digital transformation, a pure focus on new technology and the learning of new technological skills (so-called hard skills) is no longer sufficient, but it is primarily the mindset, the so-called digital mindset that matters.

Since the term “mindset” does not have an exact translation into German, the term is often used and interpreted very differently. From there the following explanation can serve as a guard rail to better understand the term “Mindset”:

A mindset refers to personality traits that can be changed in the long term, and thus lies between attitude and unchangeable personality traits. Mindset is not a stance on a specific topic (e.g., digitalization), as attitudes can change very quickly. For example, one can have a positive attitude toward coffee in the morning (desire for a coffee to start the day) and have a negative attitude toward coffee at midnight (rejection because one still wants to sleep). Thus, attitudes toward coffee changed only because of a single change in environmental conditions (in this case, the change in time of day). Mindset, however, does not change so quickly. At the same time, Mindset is not a personality trait that is unchangeable. This is because Mindset can be developed and changed in the long term, but only through sustained and continuous development/learning. Thus, Mindset is figuratively speaking in the sandwich position between attitude and unchangeable personality traits and can be approximately translated as “mentality”.

Does everyone have to program now? What “Digital” Has to Do with Mindset

In the current discussion about digital transformation, people very often talk not just about mindset, but about “digital mindset” or “digital mindset. Does this mean that everyone has to be able to program in order to be successful in the transformation? Definitely no. If we use the approximate translation “mindset” again and link it with “digital,” the term “digital mindset” emerges. This is not about digital skills, such as programming languages or software knowledge, but rather about the characteristics of the personality in dimensions that are critical for success in the digital transformation. These dimensions are therefore personality traits that of course existed before digitization, but are now relevant in a different form. These personality traits or behavioral dispositions are not directly observable and structure how we think, feel and act in the social and instrumental contexts of digital transformation. However, these personality traits (the digital mindset) are not the only influence on behavior in the digital transformation, but are influenced by environmental conditions (e.g., organizational framework conditions) and are in part consciously moderated (e.g., through learning experiences). It can thus be stated that digital mindset summarizes personality traits that are relevant for digital transformation and can be changed in the long term.

Digital Mindset – Scientific Definition

The following definition approaches the concept of digital mindset scientifically:

“A digital mindset can be defined as personality traits or behavioral dispositions that are not directly observable and significantly structure and channel thinking, feeling and acting in the social and instrumental contexts of digital transformation. The expression of personality dispositions does not produce an absolute, but probable readiness to behave, which can be moderated by external environmental factors, such as framework conditions, or new learning experiences.

With a view to the requirements of digital transformation, six personality dispositions critical to success can be identified that describe a digital mindset, particularly in a work-related context:

  • Openness and agility
  • Proactivity
  • Creativity and design motivation
  • Customer centricity
  • Critical faculties
  • Open-mindedness in dealing with failure“

(Bredendiek/Knorr, Mai 2020, dci.digital)

The six dimensions of the digital mindset

In a large-scale scientific study that has been running in the DACH region since November 2017, a total of six dimensions of the digital mindset were identified. These dimensions are all bipolar, i.e., there is a pole and an opposite pole in each dimension (e.g., openness and agility vs. persistence). This is because personality traits are far too complex and extensive to make a distinction between present (in this example, “agile”) and absent (in this example, “not agile”). Because there are not only black and white in our personality, but countless shades of gray. Through the respective opposite pole, many shades of gray become possible, which thus depict the personality more accurately.

Below are the six dimensions of the digital mindset with a brief explanation:

  • Openness and agility vs. persistence: This digital mindset dimension describes how people behave when confronted with new or unfamiliar digital development opportunities.
  • Proactivity and entrepreneurial action orientation vs. reactivity and situation orientation: This digital mindset dimension describes the extent to which people are motivated to proactively drive the enterprise forward with a view to the overall context of the organization.
  • Creativity and design motivation vs. process loyalty: This digital mindset dimension describes the extent to which people are able to create and initiate meaningful innovations.
  • Customer-centeredness vs. task- and organization-centeredness: This digital mindset dimension describes the extent to which the customer’s perspective is integrated in finding a new solution.
  • Criticism vs. harmony orientation: This digital mindset dimension describes the extent to which people can take a critical look at their own actions and those of others in order to initiate constructive optimization.
  • Dealing openly with failure vs. avoiding failure: This digital mindset dimension describes the extent to which people are prepared to deal openly with failure.

There is no one right digital mindset, but there are different manifestations of the digital mindset, all of which have strengths and values and which are needed to different degrees in different organizations and roles.

Economic potentials of the digital mindset

Digital mindset is not just a “nice to have” in the digital transformation, but the foundation for a sustainably successful digital transformation. In a meta-study in the summer of 2020, the economic and entrepreneurial potential of the individual dimensions of the digital mindset were examined and the results were clear:

For example, the Digital Mindset dimension Proactivity & Entrepreneurial Action Orientation has €6.8 billion in value creation potential for German SMEs in 8 years. In addition, this dimension alone has the potential to increase corporate success by up to 12.5%.

However, factors such as job satisfaction are also positively influenced by the digital mindset dimensions. Research has shown that the mindset dimensions Creativity & Design Motivation and Dealing Openly with Failure can increase job satisfaction by 20%.

These figures clearly show that digital mindset is an economically important influencing factor for a successful digital transformation. Nick Jue’s statement from the practice of digital transformation is thus also scientifically supported and proven.

Mit dem Fokus auf dem digitalen Mindset begleitet Julian Knorr Unternehmen im Rahmen zukunftsgerichteter Organisations- und Personalentwicklung und innovativer Recruiting Lösungen. Mit dem Digital Competence Indicator (DCI) entwickelte er mit seinem Unternehmen hierfür ein wichtiges Tool, um das digitale Mindset der Mitarbeiter messbar zu machen. Er ist Gründer & Vorstand der ONESTOPTRANSFORMATION AG und Gründer & Geschäftsführer der Agile Kitchen GmbH. Zudem ist er Keynote Speaker und Business School Dozent.

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