Analog Thinking in a Digital World

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Markets are changing at an accelerated rate and enterprises are struggling to keep abreast of the changes. Having fallen prey to inertia, once powerful corporations have lost their market relevance, while small, agile and sometimes brash startups have advanced to the status of global players. In short, enterprises on many markets and in many industries have suddenly found themselves in a VUCA world, i.e. a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

In the literature on resilience, the opposite of the VUCA world has been referred to as the SSEE world, i.e. the stable, secure, easy and explicit world. This world is found, for instance, in areas of mechanics, design and telecommunications – all relatively stable markets. But how should enterprises behave in their respective VUCA and SSEE so as to remain optimally productive, competitive and economically secure?

Different behavioral forms and solutions apply to the two different worlds. In the SSEE world, digital thinking tends to make more sense. In physics, systems in which signals can take on one of two different values (one or zero, right or wrong, etc.) are referred to as digital systems. Digital thinking in this case means orienting oneself in accordance with numbers, data, facts, clear answers and simple decisions.

The problem here, however, is that the SSEE world requires a state of complete absorption or tense, uninterrupted vigilance, i.e. a state that is everything other than dynamic. And that’s why the process is so susceptible to breaking down as soon as the solutions become less clear.

In the VUCA world, analog thinking is promising. It enables an acceptance of ambiguity and incompleteness. No special efforts are made to perceive the world as a whole. Instead, when we’re confronted by complex systems, we perceive only that which we need to manage the task at hand. There is much testing, abandoning and refining. When working together with my clients, analog thinking also always requires a high degree of feedback, participation and interaction with the environment. Sometimes, it is my job to encourage my clients to embrace analog thinking so as to better navigate their way through the VUCA world.

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