Author: rala

Workshop Impact: Digital Leadership and Communication. A case study of the digital “kindness factor”

This article presents a few practical examples of how to be “kind” in digital communication practices as a leader, and the impact it has on employees.

Workshop participants talking

A few months have passed by since our first workshop: ”Digital Leadership and Communication”. In this article, we will take a closer look at the impact of the workshop and the evolution of  participants’ stances on communicative leadership specifically – the kindness factor.

These workshops are impactful and tailor-made to suit the needs of these leaders involved, but what makes  the “I4L – Innovation for Leadership” project truly special is that it engages with participants beyond the workshops, ensuring adoption of research-supported methodologies in work practices long after workshops have concluded.

Embracing a New Digital Reality, Together

There are many benefits to joining the I4L Community. More than sustained involvement after workshop completion, we provide opportunities to build relationships not only with researchers and students at the forefront of Digital Transformation studies but also with other leaderships across a multitude of industrie, all looking to respond to the fast-pace of digitalization impacting the labor force.

We need to focus on the digital part of reality, because the world is becoming bigger. If Denmark is going to be in front of that, we need to become much better at the digital, than we are today.

Participant in our first workshop: Digital Leadership and Communication

I4L exists to connect academia with the frameworkshops and methods practitioners are yet not exposed to in their work life, while simultaneously allowing for practitioners to reciprocate, informing academia of the realities these new developments present. This exchange enables a mixed approach to digital leadership and is vital and unique to the project.

Among some of the feedback we have received after the workshop, was that the tools provided and the reflection space, has helped leaders to not only receive information, but also enabled them to take actions.

But these insights and knowledge exchanges are not available only to workshop participants. Leaders can also request membership to our I4L Community and join the conversation there.

Follow-up Interviews: Workshop Impacts in Practice

One of the leaders stated that after the workshop he became more conscious about how he uses digital communication tools.

When I’m not using (Digital Communication Tools) for a meeting, I’m using them to engage. Knowing the person in the other end, instead of just having the meeting and getting stuff done.

You need to engage (digitally) the same way you engage with someone in a (face-to-face) interaction.

-A leader on the impact of change engagement practices after our first workshop

Another leader presented the tool she was provided with in a series of meetings with her team and the teams she is interacting with on a regular basis: “And I think now because there hasn’t been so much focus on it in our team, or in our whole department (…) There was a lot to discuss and it was a lot to improve on.”

The Kindness Factor

During the workshop, leaders discussed several action points that they would like to work on, and some reported their progress. For example, one of the leaders mentioned they will work on the “kindness factor”. After two months, we interviewed the leader to learn more about it:

Q: One of the things you wanted to work on was something you called the “kindness factor”, and you also explained that due to your technical background you had a tendency to give too many technical details, and that you’d like to work on that. I wanted to hear how did that go?

A: Well, let’s put it this way, it’s very hard to do that, but I think I moved away from the very deep technical interaction into a more strategic approach in the work that I do. You can’t go to the CEO and tell him about the technical details. He will just look at you and go blank… And looking at it from an internal perspective I moved from having too much saying in to what the developers do and how. I still come up with suggestions, but it’s more the why we are doing stuff, like what are the issues we are solving, not how we solve it. I leave it up to them. So, improving on it, I’m not perfect, but getting there.

Q: That’s great! Do you have any examples that come to your mind, when you mention the kindness factors, and the way you communicate digitally?

A: Definitely! I usually write a text, and then I delete it, and then I say “Hi, how are you, how does it go?”, and then I paste it in again. So, I do that every day, and I’ve done that since the workshop, and it has actually worked out quite well.

Q: Tell me more about it! So how is it working quite well? Do you get different responses from people?

A: I don’t know! I get a different interaction, but I think the response is the same. I’ve been refraining from doing so, because it can seem impersonal to me: you don’t ask because you want to know, you’re asking because that is the code of conduct, right? I don’t like that. I want to ask because I want to know. So, yes, sometimes I get a different response, because I do it with people I didn’t used to, and who are not accustomed to that type of interaction, but I think that the way I worked with people has changed, because of this. I at least feel I can get more done, and have a certain amount of slack that you can work with, and it grows, the more personal interaction you have with people.

Q: This is fantastic. So, do you feel that the performance has kind of increased, because you have a higher level of connection with people?

A: Well, I’m not saying that performance has changed, because it’s the same people. They have their skill-set and that is not going to change because of me being kind to them. But you can have another level of leverage by being kind, and you can ask people to do more, because they will automatically want to do more and contribute more, when you are kind.

This article shows an insight into how digital communication practices that convey care and kindness, and are attuned to the person we are communicating to, has a positive impact on the interaction.

Are you interested in applying to participate in our next workshop on Transformational Leadership and Disruptive Innovation, then learn more and apply here.

To stay updated on our research insights and news about our next workshops, remember to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter @i4l_dk.

Report on our first workshop – “Digital Leadership and Communication”

Reflections on our first workshop – “Digital Leadership and Communication”

For blogpost

On 8.9. 12 handpicked leaders from Danish companies met at IT University of Copenhagen to learn about the chances and challenges of digital communication for leaders.

After an introduction of the I4L project, the team members, as well as the participants, the workshop was kicked off by an inspirational keynote on “Leading Creativity in the Digital Workplace”, by Mette Kim Bohnstedt  as announced in a previous blog post. With many hands-on examples Mette illustrated how are our jobs changing, how we are bombarded with information, and how creativity occupies an important role in the new digital society.

An important aspect of the workshop, that was also pointed out by the participants, was the interactive nature of the sessions, as well as the balance between information and reflection.

In this context, amonst other things, the participants applied a framework that was developed for the workshop that allowed the leaders to critically reflect on how they communicate, adapt, listen, understand, and empathize when their communication is mediated by technology. Some of the action points mentioned, were: “working on my kindness factor when I communicate digitally”, “focus on building an atmosphere for creative thinking”, “be more inclusive towards digital workers and have more frequent communication, despite the time zone difference”.

Some of the things the participants reported to have learned from the workshop, were: “types of motivation – how I can become a better remote leader.”; “a really useful framework for continuing my work within digital transformation”, “a wealth of cases and inspiration from other participants”.

We are looking forward to working further with the participating companies of the workshop.

feedback tree


Key note speaker announcement for our first workshop “Digital Leadership and Communication” – Mette Kim Bohnstedt

We are super excited to announce Mette Kim Bohnstedt as our Key-note speaker for our first workshop!

Mette Kim Bohnstedt is Senior Consultant and Program Director at the Copenhagen Institute of Neuro Creativity; Founding Learning Architect for a school in Rajkot, India; and Senior Trainer for Escalino, where she focuses on social entrepreneurship within innovation.

In the last year, among many exciting projects, Mette has been part of designing and managing a 13-day program: Creative Capacities and Digital Leadership (CCDL) for Public Service Top Leaders from Estonia, Finland, the UK and the Netherlands, program commissioned by the Top Civil Service Excellence Centre of the Government of Estonia.

Mette has three master degrees, from top universities, such as Harvard, Bentley and CBS, all with a focus on technology, innovation, and education.

With an interest in improv comedy and so many years’ experience as an educator within innovation, we can only look forward to hosting Mette as a Key-note speaker in our first, out of three workshops: “Digital Leadership and Communication”.

We wish Mette a warm welcome!

Come and meet us at the “Konference om nye Ledelsesprincipper” on the 29th of August

There is still time for you to sign up for the “Konference om nye Ledelsesprincipper” taking place on the 29th of August, where you can meet the I4L team and hear more about the project.

We are excited to meet you, tell you more about the project, and answer your questions.

Also, we still have few seats available for our upcoming workshop – but we recommend you to apply as soon as possible.

Filmography, Pygmalion, Trust, and Stereotyping in virtual teams

This article explains the impact of stereotyping and expectations we have of our employees, as well as how engaging personas can be used as a framework to increase productivity in virtual teams.

stereotyping in virtual teams

Why do we stereotype? And how does stereotyping affect trust and performance in (virtual) teams?

A stereotype is a “fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people”. (Cardwell, 1996). Stereotypes help us simplify our social world and it enables us to respond rapidly to situations, but a disadvantage according to McLeod (2015) is that it makes us not see the differences between individuals.

Our brains cannot deal with missing information – we will add what we are missing, from what we already know. And if what we already know is negative about a certain group of people, and we attach that to a recently met colleague, the trust will suffer as “you can never give a second first impression” is valid for virtual environments as well. (Jarvenpaa and Leidner, 1998). Moreover, if what we already know about a group of people is not true about that particular person, productivity might suffer, as we will not be able to recognize the potential, and consequently motivate the team member to reach it.

Macrae and Bodenhausen (2001) discuss that at our encounter with a stranger, we tend to see the person as a stereotype, and not as a person that has a “unique constellation of characteristics”, and we tend to add the person to an already known category. Nielsen (2004) argues that the more material is presented to us, the less we need to draw on our previous experiences and encounters.

The effects of the stereotyping in (virtual) teams is two-folded. On the one hand, our expectations derived from our stereotyping end up becoming “self-fulfilling prophecies” explained via the well-known Pygmalion effect (Livingston, 2003). On the other hand, it can have an impact on our team members’ trust amongst each other. However, both factors have an impact on the team’s productivity.

Pygmalion effect and stereotyping

The Pygmalion effect has been widely researched by behavioral scientists, especially in school settings, and it is explained by Livingston, who coined the term Pygmalion, as: “The lucky child who strikes a teacher as bright also picks up on that expectation and will rise to fulfill it. This finding has been confirmed so many times, and in such varied settings, that it’s no longer even debated.” (2003)

The Pygmalion effect is valid in organizational settings as well: an experiment from 1961 on teams in organizational setting, explained in detail in this article in Harvard Business Review, concluded that the productivity of the team that was expected to perform well improved dramatically, while the productivity of the team who was considered as not having a chance to meet the quota, decreased dramatically. (Livingston, 2003)

The beliefs we have of others (either true or expected due to our stereotyping), will influence our communication with them. Livingston (2003) describes how managers are more effective in communicating their low expectations than they are at communicating their high expectations, even though we might believe differently. Passive behavior, indifference, and low frequency of communication could all be perceived as signs of the low expectations we have as leaders from our employees.

The risk we are running is having low expectations of certain groups of people due to stereotyping, and them lowering their performance to meet our expectations.

Trust and stereotyping

As discussed in a previous blog post, an important step in building trust is calculated trust, and a step in building calculated trust is the social introduction. Trust in virtual teams (and any types of teams) is important as from it derives the team’s motivation, which impacts team’s performance. (Zacarro and Bader, 2002)

Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1998) have discovered that a commonality amongst teams that start with low trust levels, is the lack of social introduction. We could conclude from here, that a poor or absent introduction of the team members could lead to stereotyping and low levels of trust.

Virtual teams and stereotyping

Stereotyping is true for teams that work together, but my hypothesis is that it is even more poignant in virtual teams. As layers of virtuality are added, we have less information about the persons we are interacting with: for example, we are not able to see their facial expressions or body language, which is crucial in interpreting sarcasm, humor, or irony. Research shows that: “In the absence of individuating cues about others, we build stereotypical impressions based on limited information.” (Lea and Spears 1992).

This made me wonder which “unique constellation of characteristics” do digital leaders need to encourage virtual team members to disclose about themselves in order to decrease the level of stereotyping and hence, increase the level of trust in virtual teams? Parallel, which information do leaders need to know about their employees in order to increase their expectations of their employees?

Engaging Persona

In I4L we have the honor to have Lene Nielsen as one of our team members – Lene has researched personas for over 15 years. When I told Lene what is my preoccupation in regards to stereotypes, she introduced me to the concepts of “rounded character” from filmography, and the concept of engaging personas.

In her Ph.D. (Nielsen, 2004), Lene has developed a model for engaging personas, based on various rounded character descriptions. The engaging personas model, inspired from rounded characters in filmography, was developed with the purpose of helping companies and designers understand their target audience better. The mechanism behind is to avoid “schematas”, which is the tendency to fill in the missing information with pre-learned models of the world – in other words, stereotyping.

I propose engaging personas as a model for digital leaders to introduce themselves and team members to each other.

According to Nielsen (2004), the characteristics of engaging personas, are:

  1. Body: “bodily expression and a posture, a gender and an age” (p. 155).
  2. Psyche: “the present state of mind, persistent self-perception, character traits, temper, abilities and attitudes” (p.155);
  3. Background: “present knowledge, job and family relations, and persistent beliefs, education, and internalized values and norms” (p.156);
  4. Emotions: “emotions, intentions, and attitudes including ambitions and frustrations, wishes and dreams” (p. 156);
  5. Cacophony: “character traits in opposition as well as peculiarities” (p.156).

The “engaging persona” characteristics can be used by leaders as a framework for the type of questions they could ask employees to present themselves, but also as a guidance for leaders on how to introduce themselves to the team and act as a role model, which is a critical behaviour for effective team leadership, according to Wade, Mention, and Jolly (1996).

The above framework can be used in the first (virtual) team meeting, or for introducing a new team member – be it a virtual conference call, audio or video, or a message that is written on the enterprise social media or online community wall.

The “Body” characteristic can be compensated for in a virtual setting with a profile picture and a requirement for every new team member to have a profile picture – paralleled, if possible, with a video or audio conference, where team members can be introduced to multiple physical dimensions of each other: seeing, hearing, reading facial expressions, vocal inflections, verbal cues, gestures and body language. These communication dynamics are one of the challenges that virtual teams face, according to Kayworth and Leidner (2015), and in many instances, our profile pictures are the only physical dimension we can convey about ourselves in virtual settings.

“Psyche” can be conveyed through discussing someone’s relation to the technology used in a project for example, or their beliefs and use of technology. For example, I could say about myself that I do use social media, although I have privacy concerns and have a deep belief that social media can be a waste of time and cause dependencies. This shows contradiction and the lack of settlement in my view of social media, as well as openness and skepticism simultaneously towards it.

The “Background” dimension is important for leaders to emphasize on when introducing new team members to each other, pointing out special abilities, courses, experiences or success that team members have achieved previously, and therefore setting the stage for having high expectations of them and of each other. As seen previously, our expectations of each other and of our employees have a direct influence on the team’s productivity. As Livingston (2003) formulates it: “How can you get the best out of our employees? Expect the best.”

Kayworth and Leidner (2015) point out that one’s background might be distorted by the high levels of anonymity that virtual settings allow for, as we can change our username or not fill in information about our job title, location or even choose to set ourselves as “invisible” to the team if we wish to. It is important for digital leaders to set the stage of how employees should fill in the information required in their online profiles used for collaboration, as well as establish standards for collaboration.

“Emotions” can be conveyed by expressing what we feel in relation to the task, project, colleagues or by how we talk about the same. If I say: “I am really excited to start working on the project” – I will convey a high energy and enthusiasm. Similarly, if I say: “Let’s hope we manage to pull the deadline”, I might unwillingly convey skepticism towards my team’s capability to meet deadlines, as well as apathy.

“Cacophony” is described in a guideline for writers by Rukov (2003) as 1+1+1, where 1+1 refer to two oppositional character traits, while the last 1 is a peculiarity. For example, I could say about myself that I consider the cake that we bring to our workplace as a replacement of the social cigarette of the past decade, but I will still accept an invitation to eat cake with my colleagues – this would represent the two oppositional character traits. A peculiarity is that I own 25 plants and counting.

In summary, stereotyping can lead to low levels of trust in virtual teams, as well as set the stage for expectations lower than our employees could raise up to, which will impact a team’s productivity levels. A way to combat stereotyping is making sure to introduce ourselves and our team member’s to each other in a way that doesn’t leave space for stereotyping. A way to do so, is borrowing the framework of building rounded characters from filmography, which can help us build engaging personas around ourselves and virtual team members and use collaborative software to its full potential to create our online profile. 



  1. Cardwell, M. (1996). Dictionary of Psychology. Chicago IL: Fitzroy Dearborn.
  2. McLeod, S. A. (2015). Stereotypes. Retrieved from
  3. Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Leidner, D. E. (1999). Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams. Organization Science,10(6), 791-815. doi:10.1287/orsc.10.6.791
  4. Lea, M., & Spears, R. (1992). Paralanguage and social perception in computer-mediated communication. Journal of Organizational Computing, 2, 321-342.
  5. Timothy R. Kayworth, Dorothy E. Leidner (2002) Leadership Effectiveness in Global Virtual Teams, Journal of Management Information Systems, 18:3, 7-40, DOI: 10.1080/07421222.2002.11045697
  6. Livingston, S. (January, 2003). Pygmalion in Management. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved July 4, 2017, from
  7. Macrae, C. N. and Bodenhausen, G. V. (2001), Social cognition: Categorical person perception. British Journal of Psychology, 92: 239–255. doi:10.1348/000712601162059
  8. Nielsen, L. (2004). Engaging Personas and Narrative Scenarios(Doctoral dissertation, Copenhagen Business School).
  9. Rukov, M. (2003). “Persona workshop”. L. Nielsen. Copenhagen.
  10. Wade, D.; Mention, C.; and Jolly, J. Teams: Who Needs Them and Why? Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing, 1996
  11. Zaccaro, S. J., & Bader, P. (2003). E-Leadership and the Challenges of Leading E-Teams:. Organizational Dynamics, 31(4), 377-387. doi:10.1016/s0090-2616(02)00129-8

Trust, transactions, and dance in virtual teams.

This article is for digital leaders that want to understand how to build trust in virtual teams.

Trust, transactions, and dance


Research shows that trust is a very important factor in virtual teams’ motivation.  It can be defined as “the beliefs and expectations that members have of each other, that each member will live up to agreed-upon commitments, that each member is acting with good intentions on behalf of the group, and that each will work hard on behalf of the group.” (Zacarro and Bader, 2002)

Early research on trust and virtual teams suggested that trust is difficult to obtain in virtual teams due to that “trust needs touch” and face to face interactions. (Handy, 1995)

Berne (2015), the father of Transactional Analysis – discusses that the fundamental unit of social action is a “stroke” – which denotes an act of recognizing another’s presence.

If Anna says “Hello” and Claus replies with a “Hi!” they have exchanged two strokes. If Anna asks a question – hence one stroke – and Claus does not answer she will be puzzled. How many times will you say “Hello!” to someone who doesn’t respond?  And how likely is it, in such a case, that you will not trust a person who did not repay a stroke when they later want to build a relation to you?  You may rather want an explanation for their earlier behavior. Or, in Transactional Analysis vocabulary: you want your strokes back and possibly a few extra strokes to regain your trust.

It is important to note that exchanging strokes does not imply only verbal exchanges, it can also mean meeting expectations, keeping your word, smiling or waving back to someone, answering an email, liking someone’s update, giving feedback to employees coming forward with initiatives and ideas, compensate extra hours – anything through which you are “acknowledging someone’s presence”.

Relations, according to Berne, are built upon exchanges of strokes. In the context of psychological contracts “an individual’s belief about the terms and conditions of a reciprocal exchange agreement between the person and another party” (Robinson 1996). When we enter a work collaboration, we expect a set of conditions under which we will exchange our “strokes”, and our trust depends on whether our expectations are met or not.

Zacarro and Bader (2002) propose a three-stage framework for understanding and building trust in virtual teams:

  1. Calculated trust: when although we have no proof, we decide to trust the parties we collaborate with;
  2. Knowledge trust: emerges when team members have interacted for a while and know what to expect from one another;
  3. Identification trust: “emerges when team members come to agree on how the team as a whole should respond to challenges in their external environment through continued dialogue with each other.” The team is an entity they can identify with, and each can act as a representative of it when appropriate.

Digital leaders play a vital role in helping their (virtual) team’s trust move from calculated trust to the highest level of trust, which is identification based.

Now, I would like to step back from all the theory and invite you to dance. In order for us to dance, we would need a dancing floor, shoes, music, a dancing style, but what’s most important, we need a leader in our dance, otherwise, we would end up stepping on each other’s toes. I might be a good dancer, or I might be a bad one – at this point, you don’t know and, since you have accepted my invitation, your only chance is hoping for the best.

Similarly, when a new team is formed, the leader needs to define the roles that each team member will play, describe the tasks, introduce the team members to each other and to the technology they will be using, and assert the expectations. This newly formed space, which is explicitly introduced, is the basis for building calculated trust.

Next, I will explain the steps of the dance and the rules. I will guide and motivate you: if you make a correct step, I will encourage you to make more of those steps, and if you don’t, I will make sure to re-adapt my instructions to your understanding. At this stage, I will know which steps you are good at, and for which steps you need more practice, and I will also know how you react to success and failure – and so will the ones watching. This is knowledge-based trust, and as a digital leader, it is important to provide prompt feedback, establish standard operating procedures, make sure that the tasks are clear to each individual, and react fast (and in calm and positive manner) to when things don’t go in the desired direction.

When you are ready to take over and you know the steps well and you are confident, you can lead the dance and we can sign up for a dancing competition. At this stage, digital leaders have established a high trust team, where members can take the lead and responsibility for various tasks. It is important to maintain a spirit of common purpose and encourage team members to extend their exchanges to more socially-oriented and personalized exchanges.

Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1998) support the dance metaphor, as it can be seen in the figure below, emerged from their analysis on which behaviours facilitate and maintain trust in virtual teams, and which behaviours represent barriers, based on 12 virtual teams:


According to them, timely response is also important, as well as predictable communication, calm response to crises and positive leadership. Unpredictable communication, concerns about technical uncertainties, negative leadership and lack of enthusiasm have all been proved to represent barriers in building trust.

I’ve chosen the metaphor of a dance because it depicts best how the exchange of strokes should happen between a leader and team members: consistently and timely. In a dance, you can’t ignore a wrong step – it will affect the dance, while one good step after another will lead to a smooth dance. Similarly, if you react negatively to a wrong step, you will affect the mood of the dancer and chances are, they won’t want to dance with us again. It’s a good way to think of how to interact with our employees: timely, consistent, and positive, like in a dance.

Thank you for the dance!

In I4L, we don’t dance, but we disseminate research for practitioners and because we want to make research as memorable and entertaining as possible, sometimes we story tell. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter @i4l_dk.




  1. Berne, E. (2015). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: a systematic individual and social psychiatry. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing.
  2. Handy, C. (1995). Trust and the virtual organization. Harvard Business Review, 73(3), 40–50.
  3. Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Leidner, D. E. (1999). Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams. Organization Science,10(6), 791-815. doi:10.1287/orsc.10.6.791
  4. Robinson, S. L. (1996). Trust and Breach of the Psychological Contract. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41(4), 574. doi:10.2307/2393868
  5. Zaccaro, S. J., & Bader, P. (2003). E-Leadership and the Challenges of Leading E-Teams:. Organizational Dynamics, 31(4), 377-387. doi:10.1016/s0090-2616(02)00129-8



Call for participation: Digital Leadership & Communication

Are you a leader and do you want to make your business sustainable in the digital age? If yes, you can become part of the Innovation for Leadership (I4L) project at the IT University of Copenhagen (ITU). Participation is free for participants, as it is sponsored by The Danish Industry Foundation.

 As part of the I4L project, we invite Danish leaders to participate in one of the three workshops. In addition to the three workshops, researchers will be in continuous dialogue with workshop participants via an online community. The dialogue and the three workshops will form the basis of a closing conference and a final report.

  • Digital Leadership & Communication (8th of September, 2017)
  • Transformative Leadership & Disruptive Innovation (March, 2018)
  • Data-Driven Leadership & Analytics (September, 2018)

I4L’s first workshop

The first workshop “Digital Leadership and Communication” will take place at ITU on September 8, 2017.  Participants will be presented with tools and methods to enhance communication and management in a time, where interactions are increasingly shaped by technology.

Through inspirational presentations from experts, idea generation and group work, the first workshop will touch upon a variety of topics:

  • How to write as a digital leader?
  • How to stay in the know as a digital leader?
  • How to evaluate your personal knowledge infrastructure?
  • How to foster digital trust?
  • How to build a virtual team?
  • How to cope with technostress?
  • How to adapt to new power structures and hierarchies?

I4L participants are leaders who want to learn and implement new digital methods in their businesses. Applicants will be selected based on their motivation and the possibilities for carrying out their ideas subsequently. You can apply online here.







How Big Data changes our fairy tales – Storytelling guide for digital leaders

Some leaders use fairy tales to frame their communication if they want to engage and entertain their employees.  This article is a folkloric gathering of fairy tales, enriched by Big Data.

Once upon a time, in a far far land, a poor peasant was in the tooth doctor hut – the blame was on the tobacco in snake oil which gave him a rotten stump. Helped by a mouth speculum, the tooth doctor pulled the stump to prevent decay from spreading to the other teeth. The scream of agony could be heard all the way to the neighbor village, where yet another peasant found himself in a similar situation. With every soul added in heaven, the tooth doctors were learning how to be better doctors, until retirement, when new inexperienced doctors will take their place and gain their knowledge from trials on more poor souls.

Fortunately, today, Big Data changes the way we share and utilize knowledge. Hospitals and medical research centers share their data with all the “villages” and doctors, in order to learn from their experience and nobody needs to die in the name of science.

Witches House - TripadvisorData changes our fairy tales – Think of how Hansel and Gretel could’ve checked Trip Advisor and the bad recommendations would’ve kept them away from the witches’ candy hut.”

These are the stories that Søren Pind – the Minister of Higher Education and Science in Denmark opened his presentation with, at the “Join the Data-Driven R(e)volution – Unlocking the Business Potential of Big Data” conference. Needless to say, the audience was engaged and amused.

His body language, voice, breathing, and pace contributed to the quality of his presentation and storytelling, but an advantage that digital leaders have is that they can focus only on the words they write.

The advantages of using storytelling

Stories are part of one’s upbringing, regardless of their interest in technology – or particularly Big Data in this case – thus, by using stories, leaders can create a bridge in communication and rapport with everyone. In this context, research has shown that a more authentic communication (openly sharing feelings and opinions) might make leaders feel more vulnerable, but that it is the vulnerability that makes employees feel more connected (Richter and Wagner 2014).

Using stories also makes it easier for people to remember a difficult concept, if that concept is drawn as a parallel to something already known.


Here are some more ready-made stories that you can adapt or be inspired by, based on industry and message, to assemble an engaging text. In a previous blog post, I have provided you with tools on how to assemble multiple types of text – in this blog post, we focus on Story Line and Anecdotes.

The stories below have an educative purpose as well, and that is to provide an overview of industries and businesses that were revolutionized by Big Data, all wrapped up in fairy tales.

E-commerce and market intelligence

Do you remember how The Snow White opened the door to the evil Step Mother and bought the poisonous apple that was recommended to her? Today, a product recommender system could’ve also predicted that she likes apples, based on her previous purchases, and the reviews would’ve kept her away from the poisonous recommendation of the evil Step Mother. (Chen et al., 2012, Adomavicius and Tuzhilin, 2005).

Package DeliveryLittle Red Ridding Hood - UPS delivery system

The Little Red Riding Hood could’ve used UPS’ advanced package delivery system to deliver food to grandma. UPS is only one of the package delivery companies revolutionized by the use of Big Data. They are very well known for their use of statistics to anticipate the movement of the package, identify sources of problems (such as the Bad Wolf) and optimize delivery times. (Davenport, 2006).

Security and Public Safety

The 40 thieves from “Alibaba and the 40 Thieves” would’ve been discovered earlier with Big Data. Today, agencies appointed to secure public safety and security are able to gather and combine data from multiple sources, such as criminal records, cyber security threats, and multi-lingual intelligence. Crime and terrorism can be fought by applying models such as criminal network analysis, criminal association rule mining and clustering or cyber-attack analysis. (Chen et al., 2012)

Science and Technology

Once upon a time, Jack was surprised by the magic bean that grew into a Beanstalk all the way to the clouds – but with precision farming, we could’ve measured the right amount of magic spices and we would now all have magic beans that could grow to the clouds.

There are many scientific areas that benefit from the usage of Big Data and tracking of sensors and instruments, such as astrophysics, oceanography, genomics, environment research. To support the transparency and sharing of research, organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) mandate that the investigation projects need to provide data management plans. As an example, in biology, NSF founded iPlant, which enables biologists to track plant biology, learn, share and take decisions. (Chen et al., 2012). Would we all live on our Beanstalks today?

Image recognition and Deep Learning

I would imagine that the vane and mean stepsisters from Cinderella, would’ve posted a lot of selfies on Facebook, and there is also a high probability that Cinderella would’ve been captured in the pictures, sweeping the chimney in the background. With face recognition and deep learning, the Prince would’ve been able to find her faster. Today, the advancement in deep learning allow computers to recognize patterns and identify the objects or faces in unlabelled images. (Singh, 2017)

People matching algorithmsBeauty and the Beast - People matching algorithms

Do you ever wonder whom would’ve Belle chosen, if she was presented with more than two potential romantic partners: Gaston or The Beast? Big Data algorithms make it possible for us to find “The One” online through functions and algorithms that learn our preferences and prompt us with potential matches. Our romance is backed up by statistical discrimination and adverse selection.

The Frog Prince could’ve really needed a dating algorithm as well, then he wouldn’t have ended up with a princess that throws him against a wall – and maybe he could’ve met Belle instead.

Human Capital

Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather were appointed to take care of the Sleeping Beauty and make sure that Aurora never pricks her finger in the spinning wheel – but unfortunately, the fairies got distracted and Aurora did prick her finger. With the use of Big Data, her parents could’ve chosen the best employees for this particular task (from the many working for them in the kingdom) at the right compensation level, through expert use of statistics and modeling. (Davenport, 2012)


Although the rest of the fairy tales can be upgraded by the use of Big Data, I must say that Aladdin and the magic carpet is a bit ahead of us because it escaped the long debate on whether self-driving cars need a wheel or not, and it can freely navigate in the environment. Self-driving cars (and the magic carpet) depend on Big Data – “it’s really all about processing Big data, and the road is just another data set to be mined”.  (Vanderbilt, 2012) 

Construction building

The three little pigs would’ve had a better chance at predicting the risk of the Bad Wolf blowing their little house, with construction process risk analysis. Construction industry highly benefits from the use of Big Data, from analyzing team structure, budget, and schedule, to processing larger sets of data, such as drone footage. (McKinsey, 2017)

In I4L we focus on disseminating academic research through practical ideas and tools for digital leaders.

*I would like to thank my very good friend, Msc. Cand. In Digital Innovation and Management, Sonja Zell, and my good colleague, Assistant Professor of Information Systems, Raffaele Ciriello, for contributing with fairy tales ideas.



  1. Adomavicius, G., and Tuzhilin, A. 2005. “Toward the Next Generation of Recommender Systems: A Survey of the State-of-the-Art and Possible Extensions,” IEEE Transactions on Knowledge and Data Engineering (17:6), pp. 734-749.
  2. Chen, H., Chiang, R., & Storey, V. (2012). Business intelligence and analytics: from big data to a big impact. MIS Quarterly, 36(4), 1165–1188.
  3. Davenport, T. (2006). Competing on analytics. Harvard Business Review
  4. Reinventing Construction: A route to higher productivity(Rep.). (2017). McKinsey & Company.
  5. Richter, A., & Wagner, D. (2014). Leadership 2.0: Engaging and Supporting Leaders in the Transition Towards a Networked Organisation. Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences,7
  6. Singh, A. (2017). Deep Learning will radically change the ways we interact with technology. Harvard Business Review.
  7. Vanderbilt, T., (2012). Let the robot drive: the autonomous car of the future is here. Wired.

Literary technologies for Leadership

Literary technologies for Leadership

This article explains how leaders can use literary technologies, such as summarizing, persuading and storytelling, to lead through writing.

A quick google search on leadership behaviour reveals many products, services and advice tailored to leaders, on how to act and talk in order to inspire and influence. But what can leaders do when their communication is mediated by technology such as Skype, emails or Enterprise Social Networks?

New media technologies allow for modelling, in other words, we can use technology to emulate behaviours we would have in real life. One of them is authoring, described as “the act of generating content and putting it online for a broad audience”. (Richter and Wagner, 2014).  Computer-mediated communication allows leaders to reach more people, thus broadening their influence and turn the traditional one-way communication, in engaging and online conversations. It is also important to note that employees prefer authentic texts authored by their leaders, as opposed to texts that were edited or written by someone else in the name of the leader (Richter and Wagner, 2014).

There are multiple literary techniques that leaders can use to assemble a text. As Jack Hart, former writing coach at the Oregonian says, a fundamental question to ask in the process of writing, is: “Just what sort of narrative are we talking about here, and what tools will I need to build it?” (Hart, 2012). Depending on the purpose of the communication/text, leaders can use different types of literary techniques to ensemble unique and authentic texts, to inform, motivate or engage:

Persuading techniques – can be used for motivating, persuading and motivating people, for example when assembling a text about disclosing a new direction for the company, a major change – when it is important to bring the employees on board with the message:

  • Consultancy discourse – employing a future state (desired or feared) to gain/justify/convince that what we do in the present is exactly what we should be doing. Example: “Because of the new economy, every organization risks irrelevance unless it can keep its technology, people and business processes synchronized with a moving target strategy” (Bloomfield & Vurdubakis, 1994).
  • Dynamic words will create a sense of urgency, such as rapidly, dynamic, accelerating, explosive, boom, movement, action, progress. 
  • Glossy expressions and clichés can be used to put some aspects in the light and other concepts (for which no glossiness will be used) in the shadow. Example: “first-of-its-kind”, “state-of-the-art”, “breakthrough”, “one-of-a-kind”.
  • Multiplicity – bringing in multiple views (research, influencers, journals) can convince your reader of the validity of your sayings. “Research shows that a success factor for digital leadership is transparency. We must therefor be transparent in our work
  • Including the reader: “as our level of acquaintance with the reader rises, so our ability to write something highly personalized – and persuasive – increases” (Camp, 2007).
  • Being personal – Camp (2007) thinks it is more persuasive to be personal: this can be achieved by using pronouns in the 1st person (I, my, mine), sharing your emotions, feelings, views, or opinions.

Summarizing techniques – these techniques can be used when assembling short updates about the company, projects, and/or changes within the organization, meeting minutes and other texts where brevity is important.

  • Titled paragraphs: giving titles to paragraphs signals the importance of its contents (Bloomfield & Vurdubakis, 1994).
  • Bullet points – “important points are often described as bullet points – presumably emphasising the notion of going straight to the heart of the matter” (Bloomfield & Vurdubakis, 1994).
  • Re-read and remove words: A sentence should not contain unnecessary words and a paragraph should not contain unnecessary sentences. Interrogate every word in a sentence for its meaning and utility to your reader.
  • Replace vague words with powerful, specific words. For example, replace adjectives with numbers: “Our company has a lot of experience in….” with “Our company has 50 years’ experience in…”.
  • Combine sentences: Re-read and pay attention to whether some sentences are unnecessary and the information they convey can be incorporated in another sentence.

Storytelling techniques – can be used for engaging, amusing, and/or conveying difficult concepts and ideas – when it is important that employees remember. “Storytelling has such wide application because, at its root, it serves universal human needs. Story makes sense out of a confusing universe by showing us how one action leads to another” (Hart, 2011).

  • Storyline: Explosion, Rising Action, Crisis, Resolution, Denouncement (also known as storyline) are the building blocks of any story.
  • Metaphors and figures of speech appeal to the reader’s imagination and are an essential part of Storytelling. Examples: “Our company is like an oak tree – No matter the storm, it will keep standing “.
  • Anecdotes are short stories that can be used to capture your audience, or to draw a parallel to a more difficult concept.
  • Hyperboles are exaggerated claims that can be used to emphasise arguments. Example: “Our CEO read a million papers about innovation and concluded that…”.
  • Juxta positioning of time: using past, present and future alternatively – Example: “Our journey started in 2010, today we are challenged by many technologies, and by 2020 we want to be the best in our industry.

The realm of literary techniques that can be used for leadership communication is vast. They are even more important when it comes to digital communication for leadership. In I4L we are working on methods and tools to apply them in practice.



  1. Bloomfield, B., & Vurdubakis, T., (1994). Re-presenting Technology: IT Consultancy Reports as Textual Reality Constructions. Sociology 28(2): 455-477.
  2. Camp, Lindsay (2007). Can I Change Your Mind? The Craft and Art of Persuasive Writing. AC Black, London.
  3. Hart, Jack. (2012). Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction. University of Chicago Press, Chicago; London.
  4. Richter, A., & Wagner, D. (2014). Leadership 2.0: Engaging and Supporting Leaders in the Transition Towards a Networked Organisation. Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences,7.




Leadership and Big Data

This article provides examples of senior managers advocating for analytics in their companies.

As Kotter (1996) points out, leadership is a fundamental factor for any change initiative, such as transforming an organization into a data-driven organization. 

The question of how can leaders transform and propel a data-driven culture can be answered in many ways. During my research on this topic, I found several indicative examples in specialized literature.

An example that sparked a lot of attention is Gary Loveman, CEO of Harrah. Gary often asks the questions: “Do we think it is true? Alternatively, do we know?”. (Davenport, 2006). The questions suggest that decisions at Harrah are not taken based on hypotheses or gut feeling, but rather at the interplay between what we think and what we know, based on data.

Ruben Sigala, the Chief Analytics Officer at Caesars, a company operating under Harrah, presents the transformation undertaken by Harrah to becoming a data-driven company in an interview with MIT Sloan Management Review.

Ruben describes Gary, the CEO, as pivotal in transforming Harrah. With a background in economics, Gary has instilled an analytical culture across the enterprise by being consistent about the importance of leveraging analytics. His focus on analytics helped the company successfully identify itself with a data-driven company and transform itself into one. Although the transformational journey was challenging, some of the important elements that led to the success and fame of Harrah and the leadership of Gary, are:

  • The centralization of the analytics functions – the centralization of functions was supported by an internal restructuration – from many stand-alone entities to one integrated enterprise;
  • During the transformation, transparency and communication about the undergoing changes and the impact it had on the different stakeholders, as well as ensuring that everyone is on board was vital;
  • Analytics units have been built for each area, such as revenue management, finance, marketing, labour, as well as an advanced analytics unit;
  • New employees have been provided with specialized training, based on the unit they are joining;
  • Many employees, although not specialized or working with analytics, have done rotation in analytical functions;
  • Before starting new analytics projects, the company does small live experiments on how marketing affects customer behaviour. There are also larger scale experiments internally, focused on improving operations and processes;
  • Although not detailed in media and literature, Ruben names partnerships focused on advancing analytical capabilities as a key element of their success;
  • Tackling ambiguity in relation to data in an open way – expressing inconclusiveness and constraints of data when there is the case, but making sure to bring the analytics’ perspective on any question they need to answer.

Other examples of CEO’s advocating for analytics found in literature, are Barry Beracha, Patrick Byrne and Jeff Bezos.

CEO Barry Beracha from the Sara Lee Bakery Group had a sign on his table to summarize his organizational philosophy: “In God we trust. All others bring data.” In this way, he would reinforce the message visually to anyone visiting his office. Beracha was known by employees as a “data dog” because he would ask for data to support any hypothesis, exhibiting a behaviour aligned to his philosophy. (Davenport, 2006).

Patrick Byrne, CEO of described his company as being an analytics company (Watson, 2014). Although is an internet retailer company, the CEO attached the image of his company to that of an analytics company, where although they are selling goods, their success and profit comes from the extensive usage of data.   

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon is very well known for saying: “We never throw away data.” (Davenport and Kim, 2013). This shows that Jeff is supporting and encouraging data collection practices. Although data collection might seem like a small activity, its success depends on the appropriate Big Data IT Infrastructure, data cleansing strategies, and collection processes.

McAfee and Brynjolfsson (2012) advise senior managers that wish to lead a Big Data business transformation to start with the following two techniques. The first technique is to make a habit out of asking what does the data say and question the reliability of the data, which will motivate employees to do the same. The second technique is to allow themselves to be overruled by the data, as it can be motivational for employees and for shifting the organizational culture to see that senior management trusts data more than their intuition. 

The questions asked by the CEOs named above and their behaviours might seem small, but their impact extends towards internal processes for collecting and analyzing data, as well as towards an analytical mind-set that is imposed as a way of taking decisions for their company and employees.

In I4L we are researching tools and methods for leaders to instill a data-driven mind-set as well as an understanding of the capabilities that support a data-driven company.



  1. Davenport, T. (2006). Competing on analytics. Harvard Business Review
  2. Davenport, T., and Kim, J., (2013) Keeping Up with the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding and Using Analytics. Harvard Business School Press, Boston.
  3. Kotter, J.P. Leading Change. Harvard Business School Press, 1996.
  4. McAfee, A., & Brynjolfsson, E. (2012). Big data – the management revolution. Harvard Business Review, 60-69.
  5. Merchand, D. A., & Peppard, J. (2013, January – February). Why IT Fumbles Analytics. Harvard Business Review.
  6. Sigala, R. (2013, July 30). A Process of Continuous Innovation: Centralizing Analytics at Caesars [Interview by R. Boucher Ferguson]. MIT Sloan Management Review. Retrieved June 2, 2017, from
  7. Watson, H. (2014). Tutorial: Big Data Analytics: Concepts, Technologies, and Applications. Communications of AIS, 34, 1247–1268.