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Since the early 2000s, hundreds of c-level executives commune to Liechtenstein’s Entrepreneurs’ Day. And for a similar period has digitization been its main theme as well. Scores of presenters have explained the internet, networks, the web, social media. The current wave speaks of blockchains, IoT, cryptocurrencies and similar modern buzzwords.
In similar conferences, whatever aspect of digitalization gets the spotlight, fear is the driving force. Fear of lost jobs, lost customers, innovative competitors, lost opportunities, slowness. The discourse is all about risk and, sometimes, chances. And the solutions proposed are similar as well: be courageous, embrace the new, think like a start up, be young minded as your workers. We expect anyone about to speak of digitalization to come up with the next technological scary ghost, just to tell us to have the naivety and creativity of a child’s mind to send it away.
It was refreshing to see the Entrepreneurs Day have someone tell a different story for a change. Dr. Stephan Sigrist, Swiss founder of think-tank W.I.R.E. intoned to the assembled executives how well established companies could not afford to blindly follow these guidelines any longer. All that fear mongering and nervousness about Industry 4.0 and similar digitalization derivatives does not motivate employees, working instead as a numbing message. More important than making people embrace the new, is to believably show them as part of this new that is to come, that they will not be left behind.
Dr. Sigrist points out to our natural gut feelings when confronted with the desperate messages behind digitalization. He challenges the public to face it with a sober, positive view of change, to accept that it is also ok to say no or even wait on some innovations, to try to understand what one is doing. There is a time and place for experimental desperados, but that there is also place for wise, positive observers who keep the big picture in mind, this message of understanding one’s business and customers before understanding technology is also growing. The main message: for the daily-bread industries, technology should not be sought for its own sake, but instead for what value it really, concretely creates. Lasting value.
Like Dr. Sigfrist, the other presenters shared the understanding that digitalization is now an ubiquitous issue. It has reached its teens, it is not a childish hype, but it is also not a mature concept. We still do not know where it is going and how we can do it right, but we have already learned a lot. Bringing the learning to the business front is the challenge.
As a last note, something to think about, an opportunity lost to many, including this conference (but not limited to it), is how digitalization and technology still misses 50% of the worlds community. It is still a man’s club, from men to fellow men. One can’t but wonder if it is so tough to find women in technology. I doubt it.