Why is it important to adapt to the digital economy?
The digital economy has disrupted the post-industrial economy corporate path. Software is now eating the world. It has upended that old economy’s assumption that if you are smart, you will get a good job in a company, and then be able to work your way up (slowly) to wealth, power and prestige. Technology and the internet has leveled off differences in people’s backgrounds and educational upbringings, and brought the creation of wealth, power and prestige back to the basics: how much value you create for others.
When I first joined the fashion e-commerce startup Zalora, I was astounded by the bustling, innovative digital economy outside the world of finance. I realized that technology is at the forefront to the future, and I was going to have to learn to adapt to the digital economy. Going to college in the years of the biggest financial industry boom in history (2004-2008), and being in New York City, the home of “Wall Street”, made it easy to pursue a career in the financial industry blindly. But I was glad I made the decision to leave finance, and equally, that I had gotten the wheels rolling to adapt to the digital economy.
You are not too late to the internet age. Here are 3 things you could do to stay ahead, and better adapt to the digital economy:
1. Learn how to code.
Coding is the essential, universal language of the future. Someday, it should become as foundational to learn the language of coding and computer science, as it is to learn English, Chinese, math and science in pre-university education. You may not need to be good at it or like it, but you certainly need to understand it.
Kids are now making apps at 12 years old. Most people who don’t know how to code think of coding as irrelevant and are happy to delegate it to the computer geeks. But since my friend Michelle set up First Code Academy in Hong Kong to teach teenagers how to code in after-school programs, and after I read Paul Graham’s thoughts on the importance of knowing how to code in the Computer Age, I started thinking of coding as the language of the future, and one of the most important ways to adapt to the digital economy. You don’t have to be an expert coder if you don’t aspire to be, but learning the basics really helps you keep up with the innovation that’s going on out there. Also, I don’t know if you realize this, but as technology becomes more widespread and replaces jobs in the industrial economy, there are new, diverse jobs being created that will require various levels and types of programming knowledge.
2. Build an online profile.
A basic way to adapt to the digital economy is to BE part of the digital economy. I started this website to help others get to know me. But the easiest and most basic way to start is from social media, which many of you already use! Start an account on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and YouTube, and start to use them actively. There’s no way you can prevent Google from indexing anything that relates to you online, so you are better off learning how to manage and market your own online profile. As you start to be plugged into the social media world, you will adapt to the digital economy simply by being part of the community. I’ve always known how to use Facebook and LinkedIn. But I got much more active and knowledgeable on Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube after I started my website. In particular, I have taken to Twitter like a storm recently.
These days, there is so much valuable content and newsflow that’s syndicated through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Building an online profile isn’t just about managing your online identity, it’s also a new adaptation for content curation, reading and learning in the digital economy.
3. Get entrepreneurial. Find ways to create value for others.
If you want to adapt to the digital economy, you’ve got to get your entrepreneurial juices flowing again. One thing that the internet has done is to make it much more possible for people to put out their own work, and start and market businesses, even if there are big and wealthy incumbents out there. #Disrupt! James Altucher, the well-known blogger and serial entrepreneur who wrote Choose Yourself!, had an interesting thought that human beings were born pioneers and the digital economy has ushered in a new era in which we will return to our entrepreneurial nature. But it doesn’t have to be starting a business, which may not be for everyone. It could be starting a blog and writing valuable content, making video tutorials online, or simply capitalizing on existing assets by leveraging collaborative consumption platforms, like leasing your apartments out on Airbnb when you are not around. Whatever you do, keep trying to create value for others, and you will find you have started to adapt to the digital economy.
Do you have any other ideas of how to adapt to the digital economy? If you do, leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!