The idea behind the division of labor – i.e. that separation of tasks allows participants to specialize, leading to improvements in efficiency and competence – is central to how many of us view leading organizations and managing teams in knowledge intensive business contexts. The logic goes that we should surround ourselves with smart people with unique and complementary expertise, and share work among our great colleagues. Furthermore, we’re constantly reminded by business journals and conference speakers that we’re silly to think that we hold a monopoly on great ideas and that the key to continued success is allowing for plenty of external input.

There is certainly a good bit of truth in all this, but we must also be aware of some serious limitations associated with this outsourcing of expertise. These limitations have become only more pertinent as groundbreaking technologies continue to transform our organizations and businesses. As someone with an admittedly limited background in technology, this is something I’ve personally struggled with. However, I’m also quite confident in thinking that I’m not alone with this problem.

Technologies continue to evolve at such breakneck pace with new applications and entirely new fields emerging so frequently that it takes spending all the time I sit on airplanes just to keep up to date on the newest terminology and latest billion-dollar startups. As for how the technologies work and the benefits of one over another, the temptation is to rely on experts around me. Working at a university, I’m naturally spoiled for choice with experts to go pester with my uneducated questions, but I’m sure many of you also have that trusted tech-guy or digi-gal to help you make sense of our digital world.

Similarly, many management teams and even boards of companies have a single expert on digitalization who is tasked with covering everything from understating existing computer systems and technologies being used in the organizations to keeping track of potential technologies about to transform the organization’s environment. This is, of course, is not a sustainable model – either on an organizational or personal level.

Emergent technologies are undoubtedly the most significant drivers of the changes we’ll see in businesses and societies in the coming years. While we can and should rely on experts for in-depth knowledge on many topics, any responsible leader must have a working understanding of technology and its application – starting with understanding the underlying logics and operating systems running the technology. Without grasping the basics, it’s not possible to build a holistic view on the potential of technology. For many of us more accustomed to looking at things on higher levels of abstraction, this means going back to learning practical things by actually doing them. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see, for example, top leaders teaching themselves to write code – not because they want to become coders, but rather to use this to develop their fundamental understanding of technology. The question you must ask yourself is; how will you make sure you have the skills and competences required to succeed in the coming years?

– Dr. Mikko Laukkanen

This blog post is featured as part of Amcham x Aalto EE C-Suite Circle, an invite-only series created to tackle big topics in a meaningful, relaxed and relatable way.

C-Suite Circle event series features three engaging breakfast sessions, each with its own relevant theme, carefully selected Aalto University Executive Education moderator, industry expert speakers and 12 business leader peers in attendance. Please click here to view more information!