The impact of the digital revolution is being felt across all industries. The advent of computerisation, online communications, algorithms and workflow software has certainly made its mark.

Leadership education tends to assume that all leaders are at the top of some pyramid structure with organisations that require vision, direction setting and motivation to achieve targets and goals. Digital technologies are fundamentally shifting this reality. Leaders are now one node in a vast cloud of connected relationships — information and knowledge flows in all directions.  What are the new principles of leadership that are required to shift these vast connected networks, and yet still influence targets in outcomes in this ocean of self-organisation?

In our new book, based on our research, and experience as consultants and lecturers on open innovation, we explore twelve principles for leaders in the digital era:

Figure 1. The 12 principles of the activated organisation

Decision-making and executing

1. The spine: organise decision-making and knowledge-making

As organisations become ever more networked, they become like a labyrinth of connections, pathways and knowledge. A digital spine is the sequencing of activities and documenting of knowledge and decision-making over time that supports and guides the work of a team or large group of people.

2. Build together: collaborate and create alignment across virtual teams

People buy into what they build. Quality, scale and unimaginable speed can be achieved when people are involved in building the outcome together. Digital technologies provide opportunities for global groups to construct outcomes more effectively as well as a common language of the tools required to create together.

3. The organisation of one: design work around people’s lives

“Digital” is re-wiring the way we work and has brought a shift in the social contract between employers and employees. We can design work around peoples’ lives. Leading organisations will differentiate by providing personalised contracts for everyone.

4. Add-app-ability: apply an app mindset to organisations

There is a radical shift in the way work is governed. Digital now enables us to programme and adapt our organisations in a dynamic and modular manner. When we are able to programme the world around us, organisations operate less like highly tuned, classical orchestras and more like jazz bands: free flowing and inventive – ready to improvise and adapt. An app mindset, “add-app-ability,” allows teams to build and test ideas and practices, using a “fail fast, fail better” approach.

Engaging and motivating

5. Theatres of work: create and use an ecosystem of connected environments

Throughout history, humans have designed powerful physical places to bring people together for work, learning and play. A single physical environment or even a network of multiple offices around the world is insufficient for digital working. Inspiring theatres of work facilitate a seamless experience between online and the physical, wherever people are.

6. Build beautiful things: build trust through delivering excellence at every step

An organisation is always a work in progress: a continually iterating set of people, products, services, knowledge and technology. Paying attention to quality at every step in the process of making new things is important. We believe that quality is a mindset that is fundamental to successful leadership. For digital humans, often working from different locations, this additional effort is necessary to build trust across geographies.

7. Playing games: use gamification as a major lever for engagement

Games bring us together, help us learn and make life fun. In the digital realm, games give organisations and their people a powerful method for teaching, informing, engaging and inspiring. Gamification can be applied to almost all aspects of leading.

8. The power of small things: lead in the digital world

Digital leaders need to use the power of small things to enable an organisation to self-transform. Personalised experiences, games, incentives, competitions and awards that recognise particular types of behaviour or action motivate people to engage. Different types of nudges can be used to animate online communities. Small things make the big difference.

Learning and getting to the next level

9. Targets and the mirror: use feedback for navigating

Within digital organisations, an immense amount of feedback is available. For leaders, the mapping of the landscape of data is vital to navigate the ever-changing world. Feedback informs how well we are performing externally and internally. Digital tools such as real- time information dashboards and knowledge maps lead to better decision-making and outcomes.

10. Always learning: deliver transformational learning at scale

The digital world is capable of providing everyone with access to high-quality knowledge – if we know where to look. Digital humans are always learning. Successful digital organisations provide continual transformational learning at a massive scale using digital tools.

11. Meaningful alternatives: define and share a future that people want to step into

People will only step into a new reality if they believe it is possible and that it is sufficiently better than their current situation. Digital leaders use digital to bring the vision to life in incredible ways and at the same time reach huge audiences. Powerful living scenarios promote a shift from one state to another.

12. Turn it on: create a movement and activate the power within it

Digital organisations create movements that grow organically. Digital leaders use the power of their tribe to shift the organisation from the inside and create the spark for sustainable change. Stories are a great tool to build movements. They sit at the heart of the history of our species, motivate our decisions and how we engage with our digital tribes.

In summary

By paying attention to these twelve principles simultaneously, digital leaders are able to motivate and influence their tribe. For those who adapt to these challenges, the opportunities for finding new competitive forms are immense.



Garrick Jones is a co-founder and partner at the Ludic Group, which applies his research into cloud-based transformation consulting, digital learning programmes and engagement. Garrick is interested in how very large systems are able to transform through learning.



Paul Ashcroft is a co-founder and partner at the Ludic Group LLP. He specialises in applying principles of design thinking to digital transformation, people engagement and capability building. He has previously worked for Capgemini, Ernst & Young and Bankers Trust.