How should I as a leader tackle the paradoxes of digitization?


Recently I read and can recommend the management book ”Digitaliseringens paradokser” by Søren Schultz Hansen og Jan Horsager (The Paradoxes of Digitization – so far only available in Danish). It is an easy read with a broad spread of twelve case studies on digital transformations – both well-known and less known cases within manufacturing and service, the private and public sector, small and large businesses. Based on these, the authors have defined five paradoxes and their impact on three main areas and summarize it all in ten good advice, which they have named the “Manifesto of Paradoxes”.

The paradoxical is related to the apparent contradictions between the analogue world and the digital world, which however "analogue" leaders from time to time ignore or deliberately ignore because it is beyond the comfort zone.

You probably won’t agree with it all, and some of it may even be dangerous to apply in the wrong place or at the wrong time – but it helps turning everything upside down and reflect on your own challenges of digitization. You may at least agree on one thing – that we all, sooner og later are faced with the paradoxes of digitization, and if not, it may unfortunately be too late.


The 5 Paradoxes

1) The Planning Paradox

That plans and goals are outdated and unrealistic even before the ink is dry. As such, nothing new as we have spoken about VUCA leadership for quite some time, agility and the need for always have contingency plans at hand. What's new here is that it's not recommended to set goals, or at least not to control them. Perhaps a result of rhetoric's power, but personally, I prefer to work goal-based, not necessarily at the level of actions, but on the overall result goals, whether financial or non-financial, for the benefit of shareholders and other stakeholders.

2) The Product Paradox

That if the product has had time to get "done" then it's "wrong". I cannot disagree with a mindset about speed and agility, but here, too, a rather sharp and perhaps little to generalizing rhetoric on products are no longer about quality but only about time-to-market and quantity. For example, I wouldn’t like to buy a beta version of my first driverless car.

3) The Specialization Paradox

That no matter how much we specialize, it is not enough, and we do not know what skills we need and therefore may not necessarily own them ourselves. In contrast to the specialized digital competencies, one can focus on relational and meta competencies, which together give the ability to know what one should know, and thus find someone to learn from - for example in your network outside the company.

4) The Loyalty Paradox

That you cannot create employee loyalty by basic retention measures - especially not millennials. The recommendations suggest that you should develop and invest in their employees so that they become attractive to other businesses, and then invest in the "boomerang effect". Personally, I've always thought that employees are only "on loan", but "seconding" is even better as they may develop new industry skills that they bring "back home".

5) The Sense Paradox

That the worst thing to do is to use common sense. Here a rhetorical game as well, because common sense can only be sound and sensible if it is based on the current context, whether analogue or digital. My common sense, which also holds water in the digital world, is to take your own medicine and always focus on how to make life better, easier and cheaper for your customers - basically to offer more for less.

The 3 Main Impact Areas

1)     New competencies and new employees

2)     The innovative organization

3)     New strategies, plans and products

It's not an easy task to have your perfectly right team and plan at all times. Therefore, networking and co-creation outside of your organization in open-to-closed networks is a competitive advantage - a sharp counterpoint to the classic Michael Porter approach, which you can even call analogue.

The Manifesto of Paradoxes

§ 1 Shift from management by objectives to GPS

§ 2 Focus on speed, frequency and quantity

§ 3 Create prerequisites for the unfinished

§ 4 Shift from zero-tolerance to trial & error

§ 5 Be careful with distinct frameworks and innovation culture

§ 6 Decide strategy for the innovative organization

§ 7 Be familiar with the competencies of the future

§ 8 Create meaning and motivation through instant gratification and "The 4 C:s": Clear, Close-sighted, Concrete and Contextual

§ 9 Do not attempt to retain your employees

§ 10 The worst thing you can do is use your common sense


As said 10 good advice. However, as with all new medicines, it is recommended that you read the user's instructions thoroughly before use, otherwise you may go wrong and cause unintended side effects. In other words, it's a good idea to read the book yourself.


Enjoy your reading

Mads Middelboe

Executive Advisor & CEO

Leadmore ®


The book, Digitaliseringens paradokser, Jurist og Økonomforbundets Forlag, 2017


Søren Schultz Hansen, self-employed business researcher and external lecturer at Copenhagen Business School

Jan Horsager, Research Director IDC Nordic


Additional information