By Andreas Weber, Head of Value
This article is the overture to a series of trend letters and trend studies produced by ValuePublishing together with the global expert platform @Muchcommunication. The topics revolve around the significance of the transformation of our thinking and behavior, the ways and means by which we live, communicate and do business. —The basis is the analysis and evaluation of around 100 validated, national and global sources of information that are continuously being assessed. More than 300 trade articles with background material, analyses, trend observances and assessments are currently available as resources in the compendium ValueTrendRadar.com.
The desire to be able to make Captain Kirk’s legendary phrase “Beam me up, Scotty” in Star Trek a reality has existed for several decades. It stirs up the fascination of transforming one’s own self to get from A to B in real-time and exchange reality with another on the fly. The self is dematerialized, diffused and constructed again — deconstruct, reconstruct!
The initial question is:
Where do we stand today — where are we headed?
We must not let ourselves be led astray by pure technology euphoria. Let us first take a look back to the future!
In medias res
For more than a generation, “digitalization” has had a fulminant impact (regardless of how one may interpret the term!); our living environment and real life go hand in hand with fulminant structural changes at ever shorter intervals accompanied by an enormous increase in pressure, thanks to globalization. The daily deluge of countless appeals incites downright panic as we are made aware of the fact that change caused by digital technology is unstoppable. No stone is left unturned. There is no getting around ‘digital transformation’ — on every corner there stands a self-appointed prophet, or even worse, a know-it-all, who points out the scenarios of why what we do, generally speaking, is no longer possible for future success.
A closer look often reveals smokescreens, eyewash, ignorance based on arrogance and consummate dilettantism. New terms are constantly being hawked with hype and their meaning distorted: The world becomes a “digital world”, trade becomes “digital commerce”; media becomes “digital media”, marketing becomes “digital marketing”, transformation becomes “digital transformation”. Everyone needs a “digital strategy”. Added to that are ultimate verbal creations such as “customer obsession”, “pure business” and more.
The consequences: Every day there is virtually something new under the sun. This leads to an exponentially growing confusion that creates more uncertainty than perspective, spurring the know-it-all prophet on to even more ‘good’ deeds… Phew! A vicious circle. For here — figuratively speaking — gasoline is being used to put out the fire.
How can you escape the confusion? Very easily – by thinking about it in peace and quiet and in reflective practice. Steve Jobs led the way when, after years in the diaspora, he introduced the Apple “Think Different” philosophy in the fall of 1997, with the transformation irreversibly changing not only the ailing Apple concern at the time, but also that of the world of IT, of computing, of music, of telecommunications, of movies, of books, of e-learning and so much more with regard to ‘digital lifestyle’. During the preview, Jobs told his closest colleagues succinctly that the key was the return to the “core values” that existed from the beginning and consequently carrying them on. Success proved him right. A manifest, a master plan oriented to the past is what is always first needed to define new guidelines for decades to come. [See: Apple Confidential – Steve Jobs on “Think Different” – Internal Meeting Sept. 23, 1997. ]
Transformation begins in the head!
If one continues this line of thought in the context of change, the logical implication is: Transformation begins in the head. And if the mission is successful, it ends there again. This sweeps away all those who lead one to believe that salvation lies in the inexhaustible innovative power of the latest technology. That is a fallacy. Salvation lies in thinking based on a sound human understanding that recognizes fundamental needs and anticipates the new! But beware: The famous phrase “Mens sana in corpore sano” (“a sound mind in a sound body”), should not be considered here, especially as it is no longer taken in the original sense meant by the Roman poet and satirist Juvenal, who used it to criticize hypocritical piety and dancing around the golden calf.
“If you want to go forward, you first have to go back to the roots!”
Recourse to Roman Antiquity is not out of place in our context. The Latin verb “transformare” means in essence “reform, reconfigure, alter”. That was the focus in ancient Rome; transformation was part of the genetic code of an empire to create not only expansion, but first and foremost culturally uniform value systems and keep them alive over the centuries — or even make them useful for us people of today.
“Reform, reconfigure, alter” was ultimately the impetus for constituting the United States of America of 1776. Europe as the “mother” of Enlightenment was not in the position then or even generations later to pursue its own awareness. Those who were interested in freedom, independence, human rights, progress and securing one’s livelihood had to emigrate. Transformation was thus inherent in the USA, shaping the creation and culture of a nation, of a free society as well as that of a dynamic economic area; this continues unabated today.
In American English usage, transformation was given an extended meaning: Going back to the early 15th century, it followed the late Middle English “change of shape”, to be augmented in modern times by synonyms such as conversion, metamorphosis, renewal, revolution, shift, changeover, flip-flop, switch, transfiguration, etc. This provoked a special type of transformation that consciously accepts collateral damage, as well as a return to “great minds” such as Johannes Gutenberg, who was chosen Man of the Millennium by the business elite in the USA in 2000. (See Theo Mortimer: The Man of the Millennium, Dublin Historical Record, 2003 https://www.jstor.org/stable/30101421?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Silicon Valley forward thinker Jeff Jarvis dedicated a book worth reading to him: Gutenberg — The Geek. Core message: “According to Jarvis, Johannes Gutenberg, the patron saint of entrepreneurs, would not only approve, but find himself right at home in Silicon Valley today.”
Recently, especially in China since the 1990s, it has been seen how a society and its culture of thousands of years is transforming at breakneck speed, independently of political liberalism. At the center are economic developments arising from growing expertise and broadening communication skills with unique scale and multiplier effects.
If one compares the transformation effects in the USA und China with those in Europe, a strong imbalance becomes apparent as reflected in stock prices and the design of business model concepts. (See: Netzökonom/Dr. Holger Schmidt: Plattform-Index KW 33: Tencent, Baidu und Weibo legen kräftig zu as well as: Digitale Plattformen – das zentrale Geschäftsmodell für Unternehmen).
Source: Dr. Holger Schmidt: Digitale Plattformen. slideshare presentation dated 20. April 2016.
This imbalance is recognized by business leaders in Germany (like in many other countries), but without any suitable counteracting concepts made visible. (See loc. cit.: Digitale Transformation: Deutschlands Top-Manager sehen großen Nachholbedarf).
The main reason for this, apart from a deficit of topical expertise, is the different interpretation of the word meanings. Digitalization is seen as a technical phenomenon and thus a concern for techies. Transformation is evaluated in terms of the pipeline business model and optimization of the existing order – with fatal consequences. There is complete disregard for the fact that in doing so, the term transformation is replaced by its antonym: Stagnation.
This article will be continued with examples of transformation concepts destined to succeed or to fail.