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Boosting Digital Intelligence (DQ) in the Digital Age

Explore the crucial skill of DQ (Digital Intelligence) for more effective management. Commit to enhancing Digital Intelligence in your organization.

From EQ to DQ: The Demand for New Intelligence Never Ceases

I remember clearly reading Daniel Goleman’s book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ.”  It was 1995, I was president of an apparel firm with nearly 1,000 employees, and I frequently dealt with problems caused by managers with low EQ. I read the book in one sitting, then bought it for my management team and we read it together, book club style. Over the next ten years, EQ became an important part of the management lexicon; the subject of training programs, consulting contracts, TED talks, and annual performance reviews.

Not that we’ve solved the problem of low EQ yet (and I sincerely doubt it can be eradicated like polio through injections of training), but now there’s a new Q on the block. Digital Intelligence. And every business owner, manager, and professional needs to know what it is and how to increase it.

We’re not talking about being able to do a search on Google, work your smartphone, make friends on Facebook, or operate your new cloud-based business system. 

Digital Intelligence is defined by the World Economic Forum as “the sum of social, emotional, and cognitive abilities that enable individuals to face the challenges and adapt to the demands of life in the digital world.” That. That’s what we’re talking about.

There are people with many devices at their disposal (laptops and desktops, smart homes, smart watches, smart manufacturing floors) who have very low DQ, and others with only an outdated smartphone with extremely high DQ.  So DQ level does not equate to access to or use of digital devices.

There are people with advanced degrees with low DQ, and people with a G.E.D. with high DQ, so DQ level is not related to educational attainment.

The DQ Institute (yes, there is such an entity) divides DQ into three levels:

  • Digital Citizenship, which is the ability to use technology and digital media safely, responsibly, and effectively.
  • Digital Creativity, which is the ability to create new content and turn ideas into reality through the use of digital tools.
  • Digital Entrepreneurship, which is the use of digital media and technologies to solve global challenges and create new opportunities.

See the full breakdown of digital intelligence characteristics at

DQ can be trained and learned, and like EQ, corporations have taken up the challenge of increasing management and employee DQ levels. But like any new habit or skill, successful increase of DQ ability will ultimately depend on individual commitment.

Let’s start by looking at how low DQ presents itself in an organization:

  • A bookkeeper who rejects any suggestion to update the accounting software because she’s comfortable with the way the current system works - even though the current system is years out of date.
  • A sales manager who refuses to learn the CRM and won’t participate in training or reinforcing the use of it by her sales team.
  • An IT manager (yes, they can have low DQ too) who downplays every new technology.

But the biggest, most detrimental way that low DQ presents itself is when a company fails to remain competitive because it has fallen behind in its use of technology.

Sure, some of this can be explained away as  basic change resistance. But there are also other explanations. Living in a digital world requires us to constantly update learning, to be in a state of continuous innovation, to learn to balance the cynicism necessary to maintain security with the optimism necessary to foster creativity, and to cultivate stronger critical thinking skills in order to distinguish between good and bad information. 

Living in a digital world is exhausting.

I hear of people who headed into the wilderness for the pandemic and are now choosing not to come back out. That’s one way to deal with today’s digital demands. But for the rest of us, here are a few practices you can adopt to help you become a little more digitally intelligent every day.

Work that Learning Muscle

Just like those elusive abdominal muscles, the learning muscle must be constantly exercised or it loses its tone. Most digital avoidance is due to discomfort with learning, not lack of ability. Start a learning practice. Pick one thing you want to learn, and spend 15 minutes per day on it. No need for an increase schedule, because once you get in the habit of working on a new skill, your own interest will ensure you get immersed in it.

You don’t have to start with something hard like learning to write computer code or mastering a new language. Start small, with something you’ve always had an interest in, and focus on building confidence over competence.

Subscribe to a Technology Newsletter

 If you’ve ever approached a mountain, you know that from 100 miles away it just looks like a big blob in the sky. But the closer you get, the more details emerge, and eventually you’re traveling up the mountain itself.  The world of tech is like that too. Subscribe to a daily or weekly tech newsletter. The first issue or two you may feel slightly lost, but as time goes by and you get closer and closer to the subject, the details start to become clearer and more understandable.

Look for a newsletter that addresses a broad range of technology topics in an easy-to-read style. I’m particularly fond of Emerging Tech Brew (, because it surveys the entire world of tech and the writing is in plain English. Plus, it’s free.

Commit to Secure Behaviors

You know that using the same password for everything is like having no password at all (and your homegrown password “system” is probably not much better). In today’s hyper-hacked environment, the only secure password is a unique encrypted password for every site you access. The only way to do that is with a password management system. Whether you use Lastpass, Dashlane, 1Password, or another alternative, the time has come to embrace password management systems for yourself and for your employees. The slight discomfort of adapting to a password management system is nothing compared to a ransomware attack.

 Practice “Question First, Click Second”

Hackers and phishers (and click-bait writers) are masters at using psychological triggers to get you to click. Most people who click a bad link realize they have done so almost immediately. So the next time you see an unexpected email from a colleague saying, “Here’s that data you asked for,” stop and think first. Did you ask for something? Is this expected?

Would my bank really send me this text or email?  Would my Facebook friend really need to send me a new Facebook invite? If you pause long enough to question, you’ll not fall prey to any digital trojan horses.

You can extend Question First, Click Second to all your online behavior. Is this article from a reputable source? Does this data look realistic, and can I find a different data source that supports it? Is this person worth arguing with?

Like EQ, achieving DQ is not something one does overnight. But with practice and open-mindedness, you can transform yourself - and your organization! - into a more vibrant, creative, effective business. And that’s something worth practicing for.

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