What will our lives be like in a world dominated by artificial intelligence and robots?
Should we develop an online presence, or should we ignore social media?
Our children love online gaming. They don’t want to play outdoors. Should we restrict their screen-time to protect them from the dangers of a digital world?
These are just some of the questions that I discussed with colleagues around the world last week.
I have been a technology “enthusiast” my whole life, but I cannot remember a time when everyone discussed digital technologies so frequently and intensely.
We can learn a lot from these conversations (and it definitely helps us become more productive now, and in the future).
For a start, all of this “digital talk” has a common theme:
How will new digital technologies affect us and, what should we do about it?
Work & Life at a “Digital Crossroads”
We have always had to deal with technological innovations. In our lifetimes, we have already had to cope with the arrival of personal computers, mobile phones, the Internet, and smartphones.
And yes, many of these innovations were disruptive. New technologies have always had an impact on our lives and work. The way we enjoy music, consume information and play games have all changed dramatically over the last two decades.
But during the discussions with my colleagues I learned that things are different this time. There is another dimension that wasn’t so obviously present before. We live at a “digital crossroads,” and we all need to make a choice between:
1 — “Business as Usual” . . .
Many of my colleagues believe that much of this digital talk is about some abstract “future.” They believe that many aspects of our world will be disrupted. They just deny that this will happen anytime soon.
2 — Or, Embrace the “Digital Lifestyle”
The “business as usual” attitude is complacent and wrong. I can’t predict where the on-going technological revolution is going to take us. No one can. But I do know we are going to end up in a very different place from where we are now.
In fact, many changes are already happening (even though many new technologies aren’t mainstream yet). In my discussions with colleagues, I use the following examples to persuade them that things are already changing.
We all struggle to grasp the impossibly high valuations of “21st-century” companies, such as Facebook, Tesla, Netflix, and Airbnb. Technology companies with relatively few assets and fewer employees are central to the “digital world.” Investors seem to have a love-hate relationship with these companies, making tech stocks (and the global economy) volatile.
Last week, I had a lengthy discussion with a colleague about Elon Musk’s tweet on “taking Tesla private.” He couldn’t see the logic of such a move. His view only changed when I explained that Elon Musk is more concerned with his and Tesla’s “legacy” than the quarterly growth demanded by investors.
There is already a disconnect between the “old world” values of Wall Street (satisfying the short-term interests of investors) and the “new world” values of visionary-founders (changing the world and creating long-term value).
However, no matter what you may think of Elon Musk or Tesla, it seems clear that the successful companies of the future will be more like Tesla than the traditional corporate giants that focus on quarterly performance and other financial metrics.
Tech-driven platform companies are already disrupting multiple industries, including retail, hotels, taxis, etc., and are aggressively moving into new sectors, such as financial and other professional services. Value and wealth are more and more created through technology-driven platforms, connections, and networks, instead of the management of workers or physical assets.
To survive, old world corporations now understand the need to re-invent themselves as new world platforms.
In the digital world, we can no longer rely on traditional forms of management, which were largely oriented around hierarchy and command and control. The hierarchical working relationship may have provided structure, stability and comfort (since the companies of the past tended to take care of their employees by offering them job security and lifetime employment). For the younger generation, however, this management model merely irritates.
My conversations with Millennial colleagues make me acutely aware of this. Most obviously, they are uncomfortable with the idea of thirty years working in one place and being constantly told what to do. Younger colleagues openly discuss their frustrations and aspirations.
In order to inspire them, a looser relationship between employees and a company becomes necessary. Such a model not only aims to build trust and loyalty between companies and employees but also creates incentives for employees to become more entrepreneurial.
To appeal to the most entrepreneurial “talent,” companies are increasingly adopting mission-driven and inclusive organizational practices in which a “best-idea-wins” culture replaces hierarchies.
It is not only in a work context that we live at a digital crossroads between the old and new worlds.
Take the world of entertainment.
Recently, I was talking with another colleague about eSports. For a long time, the mainstream media ignored eSports. It was viewed as a joke.
“How can anyone take computer games seriously? It’s a fantasy world and it’s terrible for your health. Treating these “games” as a sport is an insult to the “real” athletes that have to perform on a real field or court.”
But the mainstream media were wrong about this. It is now clear that eSports are very serious. It isn’t a subculture anymore.
Some even say that it has already surpassed traditional sports in terms of viewers, etc. The data is still inconclusive, but the prize pools show that eSports can no longer be ignored.
My impression is that people are attracted to eSports for several reasons:
- It has an online character that makes it an instantaneous, global event.
- It is code-based and a unique spectator experience can be offered (spectators can “walk” in the game without interfering). Augmented and virtual reality technology will only add to this experience of participation.
- It is a real team exercise in which trust, coordination, and communication play a pivotal role.
But, whatever their appeal, eSports represent a big part of the future of entertainment.
The Takeaway? Embrace the Digital Lifestyle!
There are many other examples that I could give:
- “Marketing Reinvented” (from traditional “billboard advertising” to a social media-based “crowd culture” branding).
- “Media Reinvented” (the speed, convenience and user-friendliness of new media platforms compared to traditional media companies).
- “Education Reinvented” (how to prepare the next generation for the “digital world”).
But no matter what example you use, there is one thing that stands out.
The rise of this new digital lifestyle cannot be stopped and will continue to have an enormous impact on every aspect of how we live, work and play.
And, what makes this emerging digital lifestyle so special?
It is not so much the technology (although, of course, technology plays an important role), but it is about “giving power, freedom, and responsibility back to the individual.” It’s about improving the personal experience in a community setting.
The individual is central again.
We are in the driver’s seat. This means that we have to be prepared. We must realize that the new world offers plentiful opportunities now. But, we also need to understand that we will see enormous changes in the medium-long-term. We are only just starting out on a much longer journey.
This brings me to one final note.
And this is the main conclusion of my discussions with colleagues last week.
We all have to learn and embrace a digital lifestyle in order to see the current opportunities, deal with the future challenges, and better prepare the next generation for the uncertain and exciting things to come.