How Digital Do You Really Need to Be? With Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School

The Leading Edge

Feb 23 2022 • 34 mins

Julian Birkinshaw is a Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School. He has been on the faculty for 23 years, where he is also the Academic Director of the Insitute of Entrepreneurship and Private Capital. Birkinshaw is a Fellow of the British Academy, the Academy of Social Sciences, and the Academy of International Business.

Birkinshaw is a recognized expert in innovation, entrepreneurship, and renewal in large corporations. He has written 15 books, including Fast/Forward and Becoming a Better Boss. He’s also published over 90 articles in journals such as the Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, and the Strategic Management Journal.

In this episode:

As the demand for digital intensifies, companies are feeling pressure to quickly digitize every facet of their strategy. This begs the question: is the “transform or die” mentality the key to success? When it comes to digital transformation, how do you separate strategic need from hype and salesmanship? Professor Julian Birkinshaw, an expert in innovation, strategy, and entrepreneurship, is looking beyond the headlines and using data to drive insight and answer the question: “How digital do you really need to be?”

Although digital disruption is a phenomenon that everyone is talking about, Birkinshaw says that much of the change is concentrated in the technology, media, telecom, and retail industries. Analyzing data from Fortune 500 companies between the mid-90s, when the Internet first started to become a business phenomenon, and present day, Birkinshaw found that only 17 out of 500 companies are less than 25 years old. The other 483 have been in existence since 1995 — or much earlier. What exactly does that mean for your company in the era of digital?

Although the transformative mindset is top-of-mind with a focus on digital revolutionaries such as Amazon, Google, and Apple, there aren’t as many fully digital companies as you’d think. Your company doesn’t have to completely transform itself in the digital world, but you should learn to adapt to the demand.

Birkinshaw suggests that incumbents take a look at their industry and decide which strategy is best to adapt — whether that’s waiting out the disruption, fighting back, consolidating, or reinventing yourself. Above all, Birkinshaw advises the following: “We must not lose sight of our identity and our core [values], and we should not allow ourselves to be taken away from what it is that’s always made us successful.” Birkinshaw talks about this and more as he joins Thomas A. Stewart on The Leading Edge — a place where new ideas emerge and are sharpened, and where leaders look to find the edge that brings success for themselves, their teams, and their enterprises.

In this episode of The Leading Edge, Thomas A. Stewart is joined by Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School, to talk about the truths of digitization. Birkinshaw breaks down the hype around digital disruption, shares stories of success and failure within digital transformation initiatives, and discusses the strategies established brands can use to become more agile in this fast-changing world.