Christoph Keese beim Disrupt Yourself Camp der ZEIT-Stiftung © Yvonne Scheller

Disruption key to surviving digital transformation

Proactivism needed to retain control amid change

Experts are mulling two different future scenarios. According to option A, we will live in a quasi-mechanical paradise, where robots take over the work and people can spend their time elsewhere. Yet, how people finance themselves is an entirely different question. According to option B, digitalisation, automation and AI will take over certain tasks, but people will still be needed as new occupations and fields of activity emerge.

How not to become piece on chessboard

Christoph Keese, an expert on digitalisation, favours option B and believes that structural change is imminent. The adjustment will be painful. During the “Disrupt Yourself Camp” at the Museum der Arbeit, held by the ZEIT Foundation in mid April, the author of “Disrupt Yourself” pleaded for a proactive approach to change and urged people to become the subject rather than the object of development. “Personally, I feel uncomfortable being pushed back and forth like a chess piece.”

Innovations or disruption

Basically, digitalisation brings about two types of innovation namely sustainable innovation in which services and products are optimised but remain in the evolved state. Disruption is akin to an innovation with the potential to replace technologies, products or services across all industries. Cash registers in supermarkets exemplify both developments. Innovations are making them increasingly smart, but cashiers still operate or monitor most of them. The disruptive concept of Amazon Go, on the other hand, render cash registers and cashiers superfluous as sensors record all purchases automatically. Customers are billed via their Amazon accounts.

More meaning in everyday working life

Those working in retail e.g. as a cashier should perhaps pay closer attention to the “Disrupt Yourself!” creed. Cash handling activities could be taken over fully by robots, according to the online “job automat:“ which predicts the future of certain professions. Julia von Winterfeldt, of the Hamburg-based strategy and Purposeberatung Soulworx, has called for an all embracing rethink amid change processes. “Reinvention offers the chance to bring more or entirely new meaning to an everyday occupation. The basis of this reinvention is self-analysis, based on the question: ‘What really motivates me’?”

Driving or merely steering

As CEO of Axel Springer hy GmbH in Berlin, Keese assists companies with digital transformation. “We’re trying to identify a map of the future.” The hy GmbH team uses various forecasting tools as well as deductive thinking and disregards the past to find the right questions. Elon Musk, the U.S. founder and investor, asked himself what the car of the future should look like, said Keese, and asked “Do we want to drive or merely steer?” Enter electric autonomous driving. Companies should mull their position in this future, said Keese.

Fearlessness in Hamburg

Asked about the willingness of companies in Hamburg to disrupt, Keese, who lived and worked in the city for many years, replied: “Good. The people of Hamburg are unfazed. They always have been. They did not let themselves be intimidated by the Vikings, nor by the German Emperor and Klaus Störtebeker. Instead of living in fear, they captured them on the spot.” Given this fearlessness, digital change is unlikely to be a problem.

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