How digital transformation changes the perception of value
Published on: Nov 6, 2020

What is value? What does it mean that something is valuable? In most cases, the answer is something subjective – your perception of value is probably in many ways different from mine. But one thing is sure; digital transformation changes the perception of value in profound ways.

My claim is that in many walks of life, where we take value for granted, things have already started to look differently. And we better take these trends into consideration when we develop businesses.

Alright, perception of value is changing, so what?

In other words, why should you care about that? If we agree that value is subjective anyway, then why all the fuss about how digital transformation changes things?

Some practical examples of changes in value

The erosion of the value of “the expert”

Everywhere around us, the expert, the person who used to have a monopoly on how to do things, experience their reach eroding. Previously, if you wanted to establish a testament, you would look up your local solicitor, who would draft the document for you. Today, this is an online service where you are guided through a questionnaire making sure everything is in order. At the check-out, you can decide how you want the document delivered to you. All handled through a user-friendly website, which offers you some add-on services should you require that. 

With the internet as the catalyst, many such services performed by experts, are now turning into DYI (Do it Yourself) experiences, which we can manage when and where convenient to us. And many of these experts operate in regulated fields like medical doctors, solicitors, chartered accountants and some types of engineers. The regulated area was the bullet-proof guaranty for the inherent value of these experts. They were the only ones who could perform these services, and whether we liked it or not, their service was therefore valuable and necessary to us. Digital transformation has already started to change that.

The traditional office lost its value

Another example is the physical location where we perform our job. For all of us working in an office environment, the value used to be connected with the usual perks of the job:

  • The desk at the window
  • The bigger or more spacious office
  • The office located closer to “the action” – usually meaning the management
  • A desk in the headquarter instead of some smaller local office far away. 

Again, with the internet as the catalyst, many of these former perks no longer carry the same value. Survey after survey confirm that even post Covid-19, the preference for many is to work from home if possible, at least some of the time. The desk at the window is now your own choice – you are free to move the desk around as much as you like. Suddenly, the perception of value has changed. Instead of access to a more spacious office, maybe you prefer to have access to best-in-class video conferencing gear. 

And closer to home – the lost days of the filing cabinet

A few days ago my wife and I decluttered our office. You know this process, where you have an in-depth and severe look at the stuff you haven’t touched for five years. In the process, we realised that the three metal filing cabinets had no value anymore. They have been in place since we established our business more than 14 years ago. They stored all kinds of legal documents: Statements from the bank, statements from the tax authority and copies of annual reports. All of these in paper format, something that is now a blast from the past. All of the information mentioned above is today handled digitally without any paper copies. 

Hence, time to declutter and get rid of the metal filing cabinets. They lost their value as our go-to-place for all the important stuff in our business. 

These examples and many more like them demonstrate how the perception of value is shifting. Digital transformation is pushing and changing our collective perception of what is valuable. Let me stress again that the perception of value is subjective, which means that not everybody will agree that things are changing, but enough will. This is maybe even more challenging because we are then in some “transition period”, where many still value some older understanding of what is valuable. In contrast, others have already shifted their mindset to different thinking. 

We have to change our mindset

It is easy to talk about all of these changes, but harder to act on the changes. One of my favourite quotes from strategic marketing comes from the marketing guru Jack Trout:

Perception is reality; don’t get confused by facts. 

Jack Trout

I take this to mean that it is easy to have a rational and well-informed discussion about how “digital transformation is changing everything”, but at the end of the day many people still do as they use to. We are all slaves of habits, and we jump to the easy conclusion when time is short. Hence, taking the time to think, and think hard, about what does this mean for me, for our organisation, is difficult. 

Maybe we should learn to ask more like a child

“Why this – why that” – we have to ask more questions and assume fewer answers. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take some form of aspirin to quiet down our “cleverness” – all our preconceptions of how things are typically done? Unfortunately, at least to my knowledge, such a wonder drug is not yet available. Therefore, our best option is to question things more often. 

Why is this thing/process done this way, could it be done differently? Assuming I could start all over, from absolutely nothing, but using all the technology available today, how would I solve this problem instead?

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