Once again, the idea of this interview developed online. Inspired by a blog post and discussions about Digital Fluency in June 2021, I got in touch with Simone Lis via LinkedIn. She lives and works in Los Angeles and is also known as a Community Builder. With Digital Fluency, she is working on a topic that is crucial for the success of the Digital Transformation. For me, Digital Fluency as well as digital skills are indispensable prerequisites for future leadership success, especially for executives.
With that in mind, I was happy when Simone got back to me, because I think that she can give my readers an insight into a new way of training digital skills. With her community approach she is taking a rather unusual but very promising path. I am very happy that I can welcome Simone as an interview guest on the Leipzig HRM blog.Peter: Thank you very much for letting me ask you a few questions about your perspective and your activities in the field of training digital skills. In an interview with Shirley Sheffer, I used the term Digital Fluency for the first time in this context and interpreted it in the sense of digital skills. As I understand, you interpret Digital Fluency as a way of thinking. Could you please explain what you mean by that?
Simone: I've always been fascinated by the power of new technologies. Over 10 years ago, this fascination became even stronger when I arrived in San Francisco with a suitcase and an idea. Suddenly, I was surrounded by so many great innovators, like the founders of Airbnb, who are reinventing our future. If you are surrounded every day by people who want to actively shape our world for the better, then you also want to understand and use technologies better. You begin to see the big challenges of this world and try to find creative solutions to these problems. I call this Digital Fluency - a mindset everybody can develop from the comfort of their own home without even traveling to Silicon Valley anymore.
Peter: You are taking a new path in teaching Digital Fluency. How do you bring Digital Fluency and community building together? What is the MatchlabN Approach?
Simone: In recent years, I have observed that the speed of development and introduction of new technologies have increased enormously and that many other startup hotspots have sprung up all over the world in addition to Silicon Valley. In order to really understand the direction in which our world is developing, in terms of technology, we would actually have to travel continuously around the world. This of course is not possible for reasons of cost, time and sustainability. In addition, I also think a lot about diversity, inclusion and equity in the workplace. At the time, I asked myself whether the digital mindset could really be promoted in the company if only the top management had access to my leadership programs in Silicon Valley. At the end of 2019, the idea of a community-driven concept developed: it brings virtually members from different hierarchical levels and companies together in a network and connects them with innovators from all over the world. The goal is to transform each individual into an Innovation Agent. Collective intelligence creates practice-relevant content that is updated daily and can keep up with the rapid pace of technology. When the pandemic proved to all of us overnight that remote work is possible, the perfect time had come to launch MatchlabN.
Peter: This approach is also intended to achieve the culture of equality in the workplace. How can I imagine this?
Simone: The interesting fact about Digital Fluency is that it doesn't depend on age or a business title. An intern may well have a higher level than his or her boss. In addition, these Innovation Agents can be found in all departments. Managers and HR must, therefore, find new apporaches to look for these often hidden talents in the company and then promote them. Since Digital Fluency is a new way of thinking that, in addition to digital literacy skills, also combines unique, human skills such as creativity, critical thinking and emotional intelligence, I see great success, especially with women, after a short time. The newly acquired digital competence not only helps to continuously develop new ideas for one's own workplace, but also increases productivity and the development of a global network. For women, this leads to more self-confidence, visibility and appreciation in the company and often to a promotion.
Peter: You're also part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. How are things there in regards to Digital Fluency? Do all managers there have digital competence skills or, in other words, are they all digitally fluent?
Simone: Most people in Silicon Valley are extremely technology-savvy and have very strong digital skills, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone there is digitally fluent. Digital Fluency is more than just being digitally competent. A coder in Silicon Valley, for example, may have a very high level of digital competence in the field of artificial intelligence, but when it comes to using the technology, this person may lack the creativity, empathy or the right contacts to make the product successful. In the community we use the term “connecting the dots”, these are people who not only see the dots around them, but also outside of their field of vision. They can then connect them to something new, which does not exist yet.
Peter: You write that developing Digital Fluency is like learning a language. Could you explain this a little bit more in detail?
Simone: Many have recognized that Digital Fluency is important, but how can you train it? It's not a project with a goal that you can achieve at some point and then rest afterwards. It's a mindset that you have to train constantly. That's why I like the comparison with learning a language that Jennifer Sparrow, Deputy Chief Information Officer at Penn State University, made in an interview. In order to learn to read and write in a new language, you first have to know your vocabulary before you can put them together into sentences. Once you have reached this level, you can begin to creatively combine these words and combine them into something new, such as a poem or a flowing conversation. Similarly, this example can also be applied to Digital Fluency and technologies. First of all, one has to understand which emerging technologies are currently on the market, what characteristics they have and how they are used in practice. Once you have reached this level, we speak of “Digital Literacy”. People who are digitally fluent then go one step further. They begin to creatively combine these technologies to find unique solutions to their problems.
Peter: In your opinion, what are the biggest differences in developing digital skills between Germany and the USA?
Simone: Especially here in California, I notice that technological progress is perceived as something positive and that there is less of an attitude of rejection, especially among the 40 or older generation. Many ideas are simply tried out and constantly adapted. Even schools act like private companies and have transformed, for example, into digital hybrid formats within a few weeks during the pandemic. This positive approach, exemplified by both teachers and parents, helps children and teenagers to develop into "digital citizens" at an early age who want to leave an authentic and positive digital footprint on the Internet.
Peter: What about their social skills in this context?
Simone: During the pandemic, we quickly realized how important social skills are and how quickly they can be forgotten even when working remotely. Empathy, active listening, collaboration and communication are skills that, like Digital Fluency, require constant training. Here in California, it starts in kindergarten. As a subject, mindfulness is integrated into the learning schedule alongside creativity and problem-based work in teams. In this way, children are well prepared for the new job requirements of the future because social skills are becoming more and more important. These unique human skills make us irreplaceable compared to robots and machines.
Peter: A question about your personal development journey. How did you become a Digital Fluency pioneer?
Simone: For over a decade I have been working on the topic of how people can become more digital. Based on practical experience, I have developed innovative learning concepts for companies, associations and universities, such as the “Innovation Journey” in Silicon Valley. In recent years, the Digital Fluency mindset concept has also increasingly been added, as has the recognition that it must be understood more as a meta-competence. I see myself as a "pioneer" because I am constantly experimenting, learning new things and exchanging ideas with other like-minded people. Many people talk about "Digital Fluency" as the skill of the future, but few consider how to learn this way of thinking in practice or how to measure success. Together with the MatchlabN community, I am trying to get answers to these questions in order to make even more people ready for our digital future.
Peter: Hybrid solutions are currently experiencing a hype in my environment. Does this mean that the requirements for digital skills will change?
Simone: Hybrid solutions will certainly continue to be in demand in the future, because they combine the advantages of both worlds if they are set up correctly. While we used to call the IT department or hired agencies and consultants for digital projects, there is no time anymore in the future. It is expected that everyone will become an innovation agent in their own area. In addition to digital knowledge, communication, collaboration and emotional intelligence, skills will certainly increase in importance. The challenge will be how to manage not only a full-time job, but also how to ride on top of the technology wave.
Peter: Simone, thank you very much for this interview. and sending you warm greetings from across the pond.
My interview guest, Simone Lis, studied business administration with a focus on innovation and technology management at the University of Regensburg. The native Swabian, arrived in San Francisco over 10 years ago with a suitcase and an idea. Against the good advice of her family, she left her secure career in Germany behind and built a new life in California. Simone brings German CEOs to Silicon Valley in order to match them with innovative companies and start-ups. During the pandemic, she also developed the community-driven professional network MatchlabN, in which - beginning with a Masterclass - she trains Digital Literacy as well as unique human skills such as creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence - or as she calls it Digital Fluency. She is currently scaling up worldwide and her goal is to inspire more corporate women in particular to develop Digital Fluency in a targeted manner.