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The digital transformation is no joke

June 4, 2020, 2:02 PM UTC

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I’m in the pattern recognition game. Here are three topics that keep coming up in my virtual travels.

  • Communicating is everything. It’s a cliché that the key to good leadership in time of crisis can be summed up in three words: communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s true that good leaders are telling their subordinates the good, the bad, and the ugly right now. They’re giving honest assessments of where things stand, even if one of their assessments is: I don’t know. But they’re also showing empathy. They acknowledge that while they don’t necessarily have the answers to society’s ills or a clear understanding of what their organizations can do about them, they can listen, react, and adapt. This extends beyond leaders, of course. We all need to communicate as well as possible right now, even if it is merely to check in with someone who might appreciate the call (or the Zoom or the text or the email).
  • Talk to your peers. Repeatedly in recent days I’ve heard tales of top executives carving out time for regular meet-ups, typically over Zoom, with counterparts at other companies. This might be with competitors, maybe in small bunches, perhaps one-on-one. Call it group therapy or a virtual replication of the best aspects of a no-agenda happy hour. But chit-chatting and comparing notes with peers who aren’t colleagues is a great way to level set, to commiserate, to share best practices. I’ve informally done this in past weeks with some non-Fortune journalists I respect. The chats left me feeling more confident and less alone. I have a shelter-in-place advantage over many of my co-workers: I’ve been working 3,000 miles from HQ for 21 years now. I’m used to reaching out because the “water cooler” isn’t always available. What feels natural to me might be learned behavior for others.
  • Digital transformation is no joke. To the extent I pooh-poohed this buzzphrase before, it wasn’t because I didn’t believe in it, so much as that I distrust the odor of hype. The aroma has nearly vanished. Every business in the world is learning right now the importance of digital operations, from communicating to selling to business processes. In fact, another truism, that the pandemic is accelerating shifts that eventually would have happened anyway, has become obvious. The ramifications of digital transformation are massive and terrifying. Every worker, every leader, and every organization will be affected by it, and many will be left behind.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


Disappearing from a screen near you. Snapchat is the latest social media platform to tussle with President Trump's more troubling posts. The company said Trump’s account will no longer appear on Snapchat’s Discover tab, where news sites, celebrities, and politicians are showcased. Trump’s account will, however, remain publicly accessible on the service.

Handwashing on the hour. In one of those stories that you know will have further developments, the organizers of the giant CES show say they plan to hold the conference in person in Las Vegas next January. The show will include new health protection measures such as sanitation stations and socially distanced audience seating. The news drew pushback from many reporters and analysts who usually attend. "There's a reason there's already a flu named after CES. Should probably cancel this one," tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee noted on Twitter.

In what business is there not humbug? This is one of those 'you have got to be kidding' stories. Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling served his 14-year prison term for securities fraud, insider trading, etc. and got out last year. Now he's pitching investors on a startup called Veld that will create an online marketplace for oil and gas well ownership stakes.

Ground control to Major Tom. Personal electric aircraft startup Kitty Hawk is pivoting, or should we say making a barrel roll, away from its original plan to sell an easy-to-pilot one-seater flying car. Unable to find a market for the drone-like flyer, the company will now focus on a different project called Heaviside that looks and operates more like a traditional airplane. Speaking of abandoned projects, Dyson offered Autocar a peek at its canceled electric car project. The prototype looks very cool, that's for sure.

Do what you wanna do. So-called incognito mode in most browsers has always provided only limited privacy protection. Now a couple of Google users are suing the company in federal court, saying the privacy promises of incognito mode are a lie and seeking billions of dollars in damages. Google says it has always disclosed that the mode doesn't block all data collection methods.


The tumultuous events of 2020 have reminded many of the difficult history of 1968. Though not exactly parallel—COVID-19 is not the Vietnam war—we do have the juxtaposition of protests and violence in the streets against a pioneering space travel mission. Marina Koren writes in The Atlantic that the recent SpaceX launch will do about as much for unifying the country as the Apollo missions of the 60s: not much.

The SpaceX launch drew several million viewers. But as with many significant moments in America’s space program, it was a temporary spike. The launch soon gave way to more pressing headlines, and to experience America that day felt like witnessing two different universes. “I’m here in Cocoa Beach, Florida, looking at the juxtaposition of doing the most technologically advanced thing, sending people to space, but a man dies in police custody,” Leland Melvin, an African American NASA astronaut, said in an Instagram video last week from the Cape Canaveral area. Melvin, who flew aboard the space shuttle, had provided commentary on NASA’s official channel for the launch. “America, let’s get our crap together.”


Why Zoom is leaving its free videoconferencing with weaker encryption By Robert Hackett

4 ways companies can thrive in the COVID-19 economy, according to philanthropy strategists By Jen Butte-Dahl and Denielle Sachs

5 companies to keep an eye on following the world’s largest cancer conference By Sy Mukherjee

How to reopen your business so it’s safe for both employees and customers By Rachel King

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. There is a 50% discount for our loyal readers if you use this link to sign up. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


For several years, the Boston tech community has sought to become more inclusive through an initiative called Hack.Diversity that offers mentors and seeks internships for Black and Latinx people. Co-founder Jody Rose, currently president of the New England Venture Capital Association, has put a renewed focus on the program and attracted many donations this week with posts about her young children trying to understand George Floyd's death. The Boston Globe has a moving write up of Rose's experience.

Aaron Pressman