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Digital defiance - why people must stop saying I can't do that and learn how

 “It's time to get with the Program. Not knowing about IT could cost you the biggest opportunity of your working life.”

Language is powerful. The words we use influence our ability and our motivation and as a consequence our actions.  To quote Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Saying “I can't” all the time or “I don't know” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and there are few more dangerous areas to do this than IT and ‘digital’.

As individuals, the biggest leaps in your capability were as infants learning to walk and learning to talk. If you underestimate the amount of effort, character and support those learnings required then ask a stroke victim (or anyone who has suffered a severe brain injury). They will remind you just how hard it is to relearn what we take for granted.

IT, digital or whatever you want to call it isn't difficult. It’s not the domain of the ‘young uns’. There’s growing evidence that the story of the digital native (those born and living solely within the era of smart technology) is somewhat of a myth. Everyone learns, grows in confidence and skills, and becomes more natural – providing they focus and apply themselves.

No one expects you to know everything about IT (or everything about anything else for that matter). Yes, you need to learn (and to be a little selective about what you focus on) but stop saying you're stupid or ignorant about IT. It's not big or clever and it's not a legitimate excuse anymore. You may think you have bigger priorities but you're running out of excuses. Every time you say “I can’t” or “I’m stupid when it comes to IT”, your brain reinforces that and the power of neuroscience makes you that bit more stupid and incapable. Guess where that ends?

Getting someone to book your travel or manage your diary may be acceptable for an exec. Inability to fill in a form on a website or enter or retrieve information from a basic database isn't. Dismissing your IT infrastructure (or email server) as ‘the boxes in the corner’ is a concern. Not all systems are designed as well as they should be and for sure, many techs don't explain things well but this isn’t a world you can avoid. The dinosaurs died out because they didn’t adapt and there is a whole cohort of senior leaders heading the same way. Start with a purpose and learn. Take wise counsel. But stop burying your head in the sand and pretending it will all go away because it won’t. And let’s be honest, in most cases, you are not as stupid at IT as you are pretending so why keep pretending? Confidence? Disillusionment? Apathy?

CEOs and other leaders don't know, or need to know, the fine detail of what goes on under the bonnet of Internet security (or even their email servers). Yet they need to know the key risks and how they affect their organisation because it’s the CEO (or even Secretary of State) in the firing line when crises happens and because the consequences can be devastating. As more and more systems, organisations and government become ‘digital by default’, we need everyone to learn more than the location of the ‘off’ button and the phone number of the nearest geek and take responsibility. Gone is the world where we could afford to palm things off on others, for them to do all we couldn’t be bothered to learn and pretended didn’t matter.

Inability to read the bottom line of your accounts before you go bust will get you fired (from a job) or evicted (for not paying your rent or mortgage). Tragically, the inability to engage in the basics of IT is still worn as a badge of honour. If you call yourself a leader or a professional then stop talking yourself down and up your game. It’s your language letting you down as much as your tech skills. The latter will take time, the former you can fix today and get your team and colleagues to hold you accountable to.

For those who remain digitally defiant, the next ten years will look more and more unpleasant for you and you'll continue to do a disservice to the people you lead and everyone around you. It’s time to stop, look around and smell the coffee.

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