One of the key differences between digital and physical is that digital is more adaptable and networked. Thus, digital changes at a more rapid speed, breaking old connections and creating new ones.
Our lives are less solid today. Everything moves at a faster pace because digital things — by their very nature — are fluid and fast-moving. It was not until the 16th century that people circumnavigated the world, but a tweet can do that and more in minutes.
Most organizations are designed for the physical world. They build rigid hierarchies and they think physically. They dream of built to last when they should be building to allow rapid change. They think in tribes: the organization, the customer, the division, department. It’s about us when it should be about network.
The network is diffuse and it lives based on the connections it creates. The more connections the more potential there exists. The primitive is the unit of one.
With all this openness and connectivity comes increasing complexity. Those that are open are open to attack. Thus, there is a need for rapid adaptability; to close down and restrict at certain points and times. But those who close down for too long or who restrict too much will wither as the larger network thrives. It’s a never-ending balancing act.
In the digital network, nothing is ever done, nothing is ever finished. Digital is never a finished project. The physical world is about projects and endpoints but the digital world is about rapid evolution and constant learning. In digital there are no "right" answers. There are general guides of best practice but if you want to optimize — and you always should be optimizing — you need to get it out there in the network and see what happens.
The physical world is obsessed with physical things. It used to be about how much land you had, then it became how many cows and children, then it became how many soldiers, then how many workers, how much turnover, how much sales, how much stuff.
The more you think you "own" the network the more likely — over the long term — you are to destroy it and lose value. Digital network value is based on use, not ownership. The more use you get out of it — and the more use others get out of it — the more value you create.
Thus, in digital we focus on outcomes not inputs. It’s irrelevant how many lines of code or text you write or own. Who cares if you own servers or pipes or all that physical stuff? In fact, physical often drags you down, makes you less adaptable and nimble.
Are people using what you have made? That’s the digital question. And if it’s not fast and easy to use they won’t use it. Easy oils the network. Simple travels faster and reaches more. It’s the complexity thing. When faced with a growing multitude of choices only the simple survive.
When we say "digital" we mean flexible, adaptive and open to continuous change. Young or old, this is how we know a digital native.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994. His latest book is titled The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online.
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