Nobody can fully understand “technology” anymore or where it is taking us. Technology is beyond human comprehension and we are rapidly hurtling towards an uncertain — and possibly unknown — destination. When we take pause and consider the speed and scope of recent technological “progress,” some degree of anxiety is only natural.
But that doesn’t mean we should ignore tech or deny the impact that technology is having on all our lives. Instead, we must leverage the “wisdom of the crowd.” And this means embracing and participating in the tech-driven communities that will (inevitably and for better or worse) define our collective future.
And, here, I don’t mean that everybody should become an early-adopter of the newest tech products or services. Instead, we all need to become active participants in diverse tech communities to ensure that technology helps us solve our most significant environmental and societal problems, as well as avoiding unethical or dangerous choices.
It is only by actively engaging with technology that we can survive the uncertain fate that technology bestows on us all.
This is the only reasonable and responsible response to a world where technology is advancing at an exponential rate.
And this advice applies to everyone. Business (both young and old), government, the media, universities, as well as you and me.
Take business as an example.
The “disruption” caused by technology is one of the biggest threats facing companies today. Examples of companies giving profit warnings abound. The reason for this is often straightforward: many companies simply aren’t prepared for the new demands of the digital transformation.
And even if a company understands the technologies, they are often surprised by its new and disruptive applications. Or, they don’t foresee the changing demands of the market/consumers. Or, they don’t take new market entrants seriously. Of course, these new competitors are often too small to cause immediate concern, but when they are not taken seriously, and scale quickly, it can soon become too late to respond. And the effect of such slow reactions can be catastrophic as newcomers rapidly overtake incumbents.
Also, digital technologies facilitate the most successful tech companies in expanding their activities to other sectors.
A few days ago, it was announced that Airbnb wants to get into the housing business and here I don’t mean renting out accommodation, but designing houses and, by extension, become a major player in the field of urban planning.
Another example is the tech giants’ (Amazon, Alphabet, and Apple) shift to the health care market. Constant pivoting into adjacent — or even different — sectors of the economy has become a necessity to build a brand and community, and to remain competitive.
Not paying attention to technological change, shifting market demands and new competitors will quickly make companies “dinosaurs” and usher in their demise.
So, what can and should companies do in response to this new operating environment?
For a start, they need to adjust their mindset. In particular, they need to understand the implications of the digital transformation for existing business models.
Most obviously, firms should not view themselves as “companies” anymore. By “company”, I mean a closed, hierarchical, and centralized organization that structures itself around a bureaucratic division of functions and formalized procedures.
Instead, all companies need to adopt a radically different self-understanding and organizational form that is flatter, more inclusive and diverse, and in which a meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders is at the centre of all operations.
It is this type of organization that I refer to as a “community.” A group of people sharing interests and working together in a flatter and collegiate way towards a common purpose.
Tech-driven, tech-facilitated and tech-sustained communities can help us build the future via community-based learning, community-based problem-solving, community-based decision-making.
The only way to build these communities of the future — in this case a business — is to embrace technology, particularly digital technologies.
This is because digital technologies render obsolete the cumbersome and time-consuming procedures and processes that dominated “companies” for decades, even centuries. Moreover, these new communities disrupt hierarchies. We don’t need “middlemen” and intermediaries anymore to operate smoothly and guarantee reliability. New technologies increasingly provide the basis of, or replace the need for, trust.
Consider the following examples:
In short, digital technologies make it possible to create transparent, flat, and trustworthy communities that are very different from the previously dominant “companies.” These new communities are driven and sustained by technology and are necessary to learn, experiment and co-create (and, by doing so, remain relevant) in a fast-changing world.
Of course, the promise of such open and dynamic business communities often gets lost or forgotten, particularly as a business grows. We can all think of examples of promising young businesses that get “corporatized” as they expand. But, such companies will not survive in the long term if they abandon the values and principles that brought them initial success.
“Going digital” is not only crucial to businesses and other organizations. It also applies at a personal level. You (and I) must all become more engaged participants in creating the tech communities of the future.
One reason is that to live and work in a digital society, tech is just a crucial component of all aspects of life.
I read an article about Sweden last week describing how they quickly turn into a real digital society. They are already experimenting with the implantation of microchips to enable “high five payments.” They work on the implementation of e-krona, a digital currency that may eventually replace Sweden’s traditional currency.
Don’t get me wrong. There have always been communities. But these were organized locally, and were “exclusive” and closed. Now, we see that more and more communities are organized digitally and on a global scale, based on technology (blogs, vlogs, etc.) that don’t rely on hierarchies and intermediaries, and operate so much more smoothly and faster.
And there is more. I believe in the power of communities to “get things right.” Or, at least, to get things done in a more transparent and democratic way than the traditional hierarchical alternatives.
Of course, I see the downsides of technology that many people refer to (the addiction to screen time, the wrong use or misuse of social media, the fake news discussion). But ignoring tech is not an option. We must study and understand it. We must build our “tech literacy.” We must embrace technology to become part of the discussion now.
We are at a crossroads and there is no turning back. Tech cannot be stopped. We need technology to augment our intelligence, to become part of the discussions and decision-making (recognizing that more and more decisions are being made on the basis of social media). Governments and regulators will become the platforms and communities of the future. To have any kind of impact, everybody must participate in the entrepreneurial and dynamic tech communities of tomorrow.
And, sure, it is ironic. Only by embracing and (quickly) adopting tech will we be able to survive the technological revolution.
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