What is “Smart” in Our New Digital World?by@erikpmvermeulen
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3,351 reads

What is “Smart” in Our New Digital World?

by Erik P.M. VermeulenDecember 24th, 2017
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At least, this was my conclusion after several meetings last week. And, this view was confirmed by several other people I met and discussed this issue with.
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How the Way We Live, Work and Learn Will Change in 2018

We aren’t “smart” enough about our new digital world.

At least, this was my conclusion after several meetings last week. And, this view was confirmed by several other people I met and discussed this issue with.

But this claim needs a little explanation.

A “Smarter World”

“Smart” is one of the buzz words of the digital age.

Most of us have “smart” phones or other “smart” devices, and — in less than one generation — these devices have become absolutely central to how we live and work. Recently, there is more and more discussion about “smart” cities, “smart” contracts, “smart” grids, etc.

“Smart”, in this context, refers to connected, data-driven, tech that is sensor-based, and increasingly autonomous (making greater use of artificial intelligence).

Everyone seems to understand and agree that the new world that we are creating will be “smarter” in this sense.

And yet, many of us aren’t really aware of the character and consequences (both good and bad) of this new and “smarter” world. There is a lot of “smart talk”, but the realities of this new world are ignored by many people.

In itself, this may not be an issue, but I am concerned about the fact that policymakers, executives and educators aren’t adapting quickly enough to the new realities of a digital age.

Our “leaders” haven’t altered their mind-set or behavior and still conform to a “standard-procedure” society.

And this could lead to serious issues. Why?

Well, it leads to the creation of two “parallel worlds”.

Parallel Worlds

The “old world” was characterized by hierarchical structures, standardized procedures, and a focus on short-term benefits. Business, government and other organizations operated according to this type of “culture”.

For instance, organizations are often “Managed by Objectives”, a concept invented by management consultant Peter Drucker. They use the so-called S.M.A.R.T. acronym (and this is ironic) to set their future strategies and goals.

A SMART goal is characterized by being Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant and Time-bound. Also, the Japanese top-down “Hoshin Kanri” process to communicate, implement and execute these SMART goals is still popular in our digital age.

But such “top-down” approaches don’t work well in a “smarter” digital world. For a start, these approaches assume that senior management is able to keep pace with fast-changing technological developments. But, we all know that it is usually difficult for them to do so.

What we usually see is that these management approaches lead to disengagement by the next generation. We already observe this with the low turnout in political elections, and the difficulties facing “old world” businesses in attracting and retaining the best talent.

The “next generation” requires a purpose and a vision.

They are attracted by a flatter, “best-idea-wins-culture”. Experimentation and “out-of-the-box” thinking prevails in the new world.

They believe that “everyone is now an entrepreneur” in that they are in “the business of themselves”. Personal identity is actively and independently constructed by an individual over the course of a lifetime of working, rather than being passively derived from a relationship with an employer or career.

The problem is that it appears very difficult for governments, businesses and other organizations to break free from the old world hierarchical structures and thinking. Change does not come easily. They struggle to adapt to the demands of a new digital culture.

The result is a “disconnect” between the “old” and “new” worlds.

This becomes very clear in “old world” discussions about the “new world”. “New world” trends and developments, such as social media and publishing platforms, are just not taken seriously. They don’t “fit” with “old world” expectations and experience, and are routinely dismissed.

And, although I introduce this in terms of generational conflict, it is much more than that. It really is a conflict between two cultures or worlds. The old analogue world versus a new (and uncertain) digital world.

Solving the Disconnect

The above might sound overly-pessimistic. But, I believe there are reasons for cautious optimism.

It is always difficult to make predictions, but the following changes are expected in 2018. All of them point towards a future in which the disconnect between the two worlds is overcome.

Smart Working

Smart technologies will continue to have a significant impact on organizations, forcing “leaders” to change their mind-set and behaviour.

It will be more and more accepted that in order to be agile, lean and innovative, organizations need to become “flatter”, purpose-driven and network-based.

Smart technologies will lead to the emergence of more platforms and more “power” being given to consumers. The consumers of 2018 — and we see this trend already today — demand constant innovation and even disruption in functionality, leading to even faster innovation cycles.

Smart technologies (artificial intelligence, blockchain, data analytics, etc.) will start to become an “integrated feature” of organizations.

Smart Living

The Internet of Things will become more and more a reality.

For instance, 2018 is predicted to be a landmark year for autonomous cars, as regulators increasingly start to permit hands-off driving on the motorway.

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When sensors and data analytics are on the brink of becoming an integrated part of our lives, machines will be smarter. What is more important is that these machines will start playing a dominant position in our decision-making.

Also, regulatory models will be automated. Law firms are already experimenting with blockchain and smart contracts (a set of computer-coded rules that a computer will execute later when and if needed) outside the realm of crypto-currencies.

Smart Learning

Courses will be more and more offered online. The focus will be on the knowledge and understanding of smart technologies.

But there is more. The expectations of the next generation are clear. The digital generation belong to a culture that has no memory of a pre-Internet age. They have become immersed in a culture of smart technologies and all its relatively “effortless” possibilities.

Creative thinking, teamwork and multidisciplinary learning will become important components of education.

Key Takeaway

There is a lot of talk about “smart technologies”. Everyone seems to agree that these technologies will determine our future.

Yet, the current technological revolution doesn’t have much impact on the way we organize ourselves and manage organizations. Traditional, conservative and “top-down” management processes still prevail.

Many people don’t seem to realize that something extraordinary is happening in the world. This is dangerous and leads to a disconnect between the new and the old world.

There is something extraordinary happening in the world_Most of us haven’t quite realized there is something extraordinary

Yet, it is expected that the disconnect will diminish in 2018.

This is the good news. Only, if we adapt the way we live, work and learn, will we be able to make “smarter” decisions about the opportunities and challenges related to the current technological (digital) revolution.

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