An Interview with Pamela Hinds, Professor of Management Science and Engineering, Stanford University

An image of Pamela Hinds recording in a studio

Digital transformation is disrupting industries across the globe, as previously untouchable, established companies are being overtaken by smaller, nimble startups that can pivot quickly, innovate continuously, and smartly utilize the latest technology.

Stanford professor Pamela Hinds recognized this trend early on and created an extended program that provides working professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to lead and contribute to digital transformation. The Stanford Digital Transformation Certificate program, offered via Stanford Online, features self-paced, online courses that can be taken individually or as part of a sequence to earn a certificate.

This program provides a comprehensive framework for implementing digital transformation throughout an organization. We sat down (virtually) with Professor Pamela Hinds to learn more about why she launched the program and how digital transformation is shaping today’s businesses.

What made you interested in being the Academic Director of the program?

In a sense, we’re at the brink of a digital transformation not just for individual businesses, including public and private, but for entire industries. I love being the AD for this program because it is such an exciting time. There is so much to learn and so much to experiment with as we venture into unfamiliar waters. It is also a privilege to talk with leaders across the globe who are at various stages of this transformation and grappling with what it means for their units, companies, and industries. My hope is that through the Digital Transformation Program, we can help provide a more solid foundation so that organizations can make the necessary changes to not just survive, but to thrive, and that participants can better position themselves to make significant contributions well into the future.

Tell us about your research exploring how culture and skills impact managing transformation. What makes you excited about this topic?

At the heart of transformation is creativity – thinking about things differently – which necessitates understanding and integrating different perspectives. Left to our own devices, most of us would keep doing the same things that have worked in the past, but as we are drawn to let go of our preconceived notions of how things should work and invited look at problems and opportunities from different perspectives, we can begin to reenvision how our organizations might work and how we might serve our customers in new ways. I’m excited about exploring how to work most effectively across different cultural contexts and perspectives because I believe that it has tremendous potential to help us think in new ways and also the potential to bring the world together.

If you could pick one example of a great digital transformation that you’ve come across in your research, what would you select, and why?

Right now, I’m most intrigued by digital agriculture. In some ways, this is the last industry that people might think of, but it is precisely because it is unexpected that I’m drawn to it. Agriculture is an age-old industry and, in many ways, quite traditional, but advances in sensors, drones, robotics, data analytics, etc. have transformed agriculture in a way that is exciting and unforeseen. It is also imperative because we will need to feed so many more people over the next decades.

Who do you feel will benefit most from undertaking Stanford Online courses on Digital Transformation?

The Digital Transformation Program was specifically designed for mid- to upper-level leaders who are or aspire to be in a position of leading a digital transformation. This includes those on the technology side, like IT, but also across functions like marketing, finance, HR, product management, product development, and across industries such as retail, healthcare, and agriculture. Our goal in crafting this program was to speak to those who are not primarily in tech companies, but are facing disruption in their work, companies, and industries as a result of advances in technologies and changing business models.

What advice would you tell someone who’s considering taking this program?

We have crafted a program that covers some of the basics, such as how to prepare your organization for transformation, leadership in these new times, and also some technical courses that provide a foundation for understanding what to expect from these technologies. The program is meant to build capacity to understand the complex context and multiple aspects associated with a digital transformation. We recommend the Foundations of Digital Transformation as a first course, but after that, I recommend that you just jump in. Pick a course that is of most interest, most relevant for your current job, or one that you think will challenge you the most. Regardless of your profession or skill level, you can and will learn something from each course that is valuable and will walk away with new ideas to drive yourself and your company forward.