You can’t avoid the digital dimension of your business, even if you wanted to!

Rita McGrath
7 min readMay 6, 2022

Asking what your digital strategy is today is a lot like asking what your electricity strategy was at the turn of the last century. Seems absurd. Yet both questions reflect how a shift in an underlying technology fundamentally changes what is possible.

Electrification of factories and plants took a long time. I mean, a really long time. Usable electric light bulbs were invented in the 1870’s. Thomas Edison build electricity generating plants in New York City and London in 1881. Yet, by 1900, less than 5% of mechanical drive power was supplied by electric motors. Instead, the last-generation technology, steam power, stubbornly remained the go-to technology for manufacturers. The norm for factories at the time was that they were powered by a central source — a massive steam engine or a river, for instance. That meant that every operation within the complex was designed around the logic of a central driveshaft, with ingenious devices connected to it by pulleys, ropes and ties.

Once small electric motors were introduced, it became possible for every station in a factory to operate on its own power, when and as needed. But to…

--

--

Rita McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor. Thinkers50 top 10 & #1 in strategy. Bestselling author of The End of Competitive Advantage & Seeing Around Corners.