Digital Transformation and Psychology

The article brings us back to the time of industrialization in London. The change in the way of living and working made gin consumption rose suddenly to a level where a set of laws has been made to help control gin use. Industrialization and the relocation of the population force people to change their way of living, which builds stress and uncertainty. Heavy use of gin is only a solution people found for themselves to avoid mentally break down and to cope with this new environment. The history of gin crazy reminds me that we are also in a time when extensive changes have been brought by digital transformation.

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Digital transformation, comparing with industrialization, has many similarities. In which they both created new jobs and eliminated a bunch of other jobs. They all significantly impact people’s way of living and solve many problems while creating many further questions for society. During industrialization, people’s productivity has surged, but they have to face the fact that no one is now building it’s own thing. The assembly line has replaced most of the handcrafted business. People are forced to live close to each other and work closely with each other. Now let’s take a look at the time when the internet was first popularized; people start to build connections online, work on their computers and purchase stuff online. Information transfer and business transactions are at an all-time high speed, saving a lot of effort and making everything more comfortable to get. However, it also decreases people’s attention span and fills our brain with extra information that we don’t need. Individuals need to figure out a way to stay focused and ignore the background noise brought by information explosion to increase productivity. Sorting out information to know what to learn and learning it in an environment that quickly updates is the big challenge that individuals and businesses face.

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Gin crazy and my 12-hour screen use reminded me that digital transformation is more about psychology than technology. The hard part is to help everyone accept the change and to cope with the fast-transforming world. From the psychology perspective, digital adoption needs more than environmental adaptations and stress from the life and death question. If you do not adopt, you will lose a competitive advantage. Below are some critical factors to help achieve successful digital adoption.

  • People need something to believe in
  • Behavior change needs regular reinforcement and evaluation
  • Adults have a complex learning cycle
  • Role models are as important for adults as children

Successful digital adoption is more important for companies than the tool itself. Tech companies tend to perform so well on digital transformation and improvement because they only hire people who have already been educated and are the early adopters for technological advancement. Any tool can be easy to use if you have willing to learn it. However, it is continuously learning and dealing with the pain of continually changing and updating our previous knowledge that kept people from digital adoption. David Kolb developed his four-phase adult-learning cycle in the 1980s. He showed that adults don’t learn effectively by merely listening to instructions. They absorb information by using it and integrating it with their existing knowledge.

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As we can see here, learning something need more than motivation. It is a whole system that we should apply to our new knowledge. To observe and think about it, practice it while trying to understand the knowledge, and finally practice it again and again until there is no longer the need to remember the book knowledge and feel like you own it. In learning new technology and tools, this process needs to speed up to catch up with the update of technologies. Such behavior change requires the right environment and willing and role models or mentors to make it happen successfully and less painful. For businesses looking to achieve a successful digital transformation, they will need to create such an environment with positive reinforcement to bring everyone on board.

Lastly, I’ll explore more about psychology and digital transformation in my next blog if you do like this one. Leave a comment if there is any related area you suggest me to write about!

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15 comments

  1. abigailholler1 · ·

    Hi Chuyong – a very timely topic after last week’s class discussion on the knowing-doing gap! A couple months back I read an article on the elements of a successful digital transformation which included not only a significant shift in mindset, but more specifically tuning one’s mind with the flexibility learn, un-learn, and re-learn. The mindset required for a successful digital transformation is constantly iterative and everchanging, and as noted in The Technology Fallacy, what got you here today will not lead to success tomorrow. The biggest takeaway I had was the importance of UN-learning the tasks of yesterday, in order to make space and opportunity for evolution today. Further exploring the psychology between the point of un-learning and re-learning, would be really interesting, it’s a ‘limbo’ I find quite uncomfortable!

    1. Chuyong Liu · ·

      Thank you, Abigail! I found the tern un-learning very interesting and inspiring. I have never think about learning this way. I want to dig deeper into the process of un-learning and re-learning from a cognitive science point of view!

  2. therealerindee · ·

    Love this take and the comparison to gin crazy. I agree with Abigail that it would be interesting to dive more into the learning and un-learning limbo as I feel we are met with that quite often in terms of new tech and how to implement it in our lives. I also think it would be interesting to dive into how digital adoption has shifted human behavior as a whole. I always find it fascinating that I am constantly grabbing my phone and scrolling, but when I didn’t have an iPhone I had the ability to simply sit or stand in line. It’s crazy how quickly our behavior changes when a new technology is introduced.

  3. conoreiremba · ·

    Chuyong this is a really insightful post! I both agree with and can relate to your comment about the pain of having to continuously update our knowledge systems. In reading for another class this week, I saw a quote about how “knowledge and ignorance grow together”, which made the argument that we need to get comfortable learning how to learn so to speak. I know the book for this class mentions the idea of a company’s absorptive capacity in adapting to a digital world, but I think we can all improve our own personal capacity with the framework you have outlined above.

    And so, for that reason, I love the argument you make that we should look at new information with a view to how we can integrate it with our existing knowledge. I know personally, I am someone that definitely needs to block out the noise caused by an information explosion. Often when I’m reading one article online, I’ll follow a link to the next article, and then the next one, and all of a sudden, I am lost in a storm of new info and forgetting what the original article was about.

    Thank you for sharing, it’s a great post about learning to adapt to a digital world, and like our classmates have said above, that could mean having to unlearn some of our ways of the past.

  4. Chuyong- It’s crazy to think that we are indeed living in history now as the changes digital transformation will bring will impact so many of us similar to industry resolution! With most companies becoming more digital in some shape or form, coupled with Covid bringing so many of us to work remotely, there are undeniable physiological effects on our brain. In addition to the topics mentioned above, I’d be interested in learning more about the psychological impact in the ways our brain process new information in-person vs. remotely and if there any studies showing the advantages and disadvantages of working remotely in long term. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Scott Siegler · ·

    This is an awesome reflection on cycles of change throughout history. I think it is really insightful to look for parallels between the industrial revolution, the introduction of the internet, and the digital transformation we are experiencing today. I definitely agree that human psychology is going to take center stage as the world becomes more and more digitized, and I really like the analysis you’ve provided for what will be required in order to be successful on a psychological level. I read a really good book about how important focus is becoming in a workspace that is increasingly being filled with digital clutter; it’s called Deep Work by Cal Newport and I really enjoyed it.

    1. Chuyong Liu · ·

      Thank you for recommending the book Scott! I’ll need to read it. I personally feel the need for more focus and sometimes use methods like turn off my phone completely or use the tomato time method to help me focus. it becomes harder to feel immersed in working or studying.

  6. ritellryan · ·

    The chart with the cycle is fantastic, it is really how I approach learning something at work. I love being shown how people do certain things and why. Then I like to sit and think about it myself and ask if there is a better way to do it while actually going through and doing it. I am definitely a learn by doing person. While I never thought about it in a sense of how I adopt new technologies, it makes perfect sense. I also think the parallel to the Industrial Revolution makes sense given we are in the “4th Industrial Revolution.” While obviously a whole host of different technologies, the end result on us as a society is still the same. You would think we would realize that change is constantly happening, yet we never seen comfortable with that idea; I would think it has something to do with your idea that the learning cycle is complex and we subconciously don’t want to continually go through that or that we find a lack of accomplishment in doing so because by the time we master something, it has already been replaced.

  7. sayoyamusa · ·

    Very insightful post, Chuyong! I love your saying DX is more about psychology and elaborating your thoughts based on your education!
    The adaptation phase of Prof. Kane’s model is critical for my company because the gap between individuals and businesses is huge, and I want to narrow the gap. Your clear four points and adult-learning cycle would be super helpful for me to persuade my senior managers (who are not early adopters…) in the near future. I appreciate it!
    For your future posts, how about developing your arguments towards “adaptation” and “assimilation” phases? Now that you touched individual “adoption” phase in this post, you could elaborate how digital technology would affect businesses and societies as a whole. I’d love to learn about the psychological impacts for the organizational level. But anyways, I look forward to your future posts about tech * psychology topics!

    1. Chuyong Liu · ·

      Thank you, Sayo for the great suggestion! adaptation and assimilation is definitely something I plan to dig into. I feel like if we can do the digital transformation from both bottom-up and top-down, which is helping each individual achieve a great environment and learning mindset for digital technology and with the organization have enough top-down strategy and resources support, digital transformation could happen faster and easier.

  8. lisahersh · ·

    Excellent post, Chuyong! Very insightful and reminds me of many of my own fears entering this course – all based on psychology rather than the technology itself. The desire to develop a growth mindset and be open to learning (and potentially using) new tech is really what motivated me to take this class! I also enjoy how you relate the personal experience to those of the greater organization. Companies are truly a representation of the people who work there. By changing the individual mindsets of employees, you can change the collective consciousness of the business, which is a really powerful way to view the cultural impact each individual has.

    1. Chuyong Liu · ·

      I feel you. Whenever I saw the word “digital” I have this little fear reminding me that I might learn something that requires a lot of changes in the way I do things. I feel that is sometimes the biggest barrier that stops me to progress.

  9. Excellent way of articulating how adults require different methods of learning and how people can be more receptive towards changing and working with new and difficult tools. A lot of time it’s a matter of overcoming how fear, uncertainty, and doubt come into play. Fear of this is so new, I’m uncomfortable, adds a bruise to your confidence, and puts you in a place of challenge and sometimes stress. Uncertainty, Will this or won’t this affect my role? What’s next? If I can’t figure this out, I will be way behind. On the opposite end of the spectrum is doubt, “I doubt this will work” or “Why are we doing this”, “Is this necessary?” those feelings are in abundance when new tech or workflow is introduced and when you have employees who might have mastered a particular process or tech can all of a sudden feel overwhelmed or not be comfortable with learning something new for the first time again.

  10. shaneriley88 · ·

    Chuyong this is great! Examples like this are very palatable way for understanding and presenting the DX process. As one our presenters stated this week “it’s a pace not a place”. Your example and points really elucidate how DX isn’t linear or acute. It is ongoing and focused on impacts and people more so than the tech behind it.

  11. courtneymba · ·

    I saw “psychology” in your title and was immediately drawn to your article. This is fantastic as others have mentioned. And such an important and relative perspective on the “why we do what we do” that psychology brings to the DX discussion. Please do continue your blogging on psychology of transformation. This may be taking one step back, but I remember the early adopter, laggard etc from undergrad. I would selfishly love to see you dive into that a little more, not from a consumer perspective, but more of that corporate perspective on getting employees to buy in!

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