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The three semi-official languages of the digital world

by Mark P. McDonald  |  December 6, 2019  |  Comments Off on The three semi-official languages of the digital world

Last night I was asked to give a talk to a group of graduating MBA students.  I was looking for a topic to share that would be engaging and leave a takeaway that they could remember.   I hit on the idea of the different languages the graduates will need to master in their careers.

Language is a good analogy for the level of understanding and ability to execute increasingly essential for success.   A language defines how you see things, the terms you use to describe things, the grammar of the relationships between ideas etc.  Language is how you communicate, the basis for collaboration and building understanding.  Each specialization has its own language, for example mathematics is a language, so is music, chemistry, etc.

Leaders in a digital world need to become multi-lingual. Not just in response to the global nature of business but including the context digital business drivers.  If the United Nations has six official languages, Canada has two, then what are the official languages of the digital world?  I recommended three to the MBA students show in the figure below.

Here is why I see these as key languages for the digital future.

Customer/Social Language – is a language you learn by listening before speaking.  It is the language of needs, wants, verbatims, the voices, experiences, human ability, etc.

Digital business begins and ends with the customer, people and society.  It can be called design language, or marketing, etc. I believe it is a more powerful language.  It is one that seeks a world defined in terms of the human perspectives.  It must  beyond the idea that customers want everything and are willing to pay for nothing. It should be the language of people, social justice art, expression and equality.  At one level customer language is the lexicon of demand.  At another it is the language of humanity in a digital society.

Information Language – the tongue of insights, algorithms, automation and software.  It is the foundation for the technology and software discussions.

Digital technology demands seeing the world of information creation, flows, application and protection.  Information language seeks representations of activities and interactions that can be codified, structured and automated.  Information language includes sub-languages like process, quality and organizational speak.  Many of the elements in those languages have been incorporated into an information way of seeing, thinking and acting.

Financial Language – this is the older of the three.  At its core it is the language of business using financial constructs to describe and evaluate things.

Digital business is still business.  We need to speak about revenue, cost, price.  We also need to understand capital, the nature of scale, average cost, average revenue and the like.  Financial language is like Latin.  Financial terms and grammar influence how we see, speak and act related to customers and information.  Financial, like it or not, is a language of returns, priorities and investments.

Why multiple languages in a digital world?

The world we are evolving with is ever changing, gaining complexity and requiring better answers to the challenges we all face.  There is no one language that can span the range of the digital world from the innate human nature of digital technologies, to the relentless drive for automation and efficiency, to the way we account for resources and measure their returns.

Each language presents a unique perspective on the collection of challenges we face as a society, as individuals and as leaders.  People who ‘speak’ customer, information and finance can converse with anyone, be the translation point between multiple experts and lead toward common action.  Those characteristics, I believe and told the MBA students, can only increase in value in the future.

Please share your thoughts and comments.




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Category: design-thinking  digital-edge  digital-society  human-ability  leadership  technology  

Mark McDonald
VP Analyst
12 years at Gartner
33 years IT Industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program. Read Full Bio

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