“THE FUTURE IS FEMALE.“
An interview with Dietmar Dahmen about digital transformation. Where is the journey going, and what has happened so far.
Dietmar, having met you, and having had the pleasure of attending one of your talks, one quickly realises that you may have arrived far in the future already. What major changes does the future have in store for us?
I think that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics in particular will lead to major changes. Functional tasks and processes that are measurable and quantifiable will be taken over by machines. Man will shift to other tasks. Hotels are a good example. There are doormen at the entrance, but a robot actually opens the door. We cannot see it, but it performs the task “open door”. The human standing there receives a digital upgrade, so to speak. Of course, they could say: “The robot took my job.” But then again, they might think: “Cool, the robot has an eye on the door, so I can take better care of our guests.” The value of the steward at the door increases. The function (“open door”) turns into emotion (care for guests). And emotion is significantly more valuable than function! The value of a mechanical watch is not set by its better function – digital watches keep better time. The value lies within the emotion, i.e. the human factor behind the mechanism. I have also called this the female quality. The more male, technical tasks will be performed by machines in the future. Human beings will be doing human things. This is why I have said: the future is female.
What do you think about the grand announcement that 50-60% of jobs will be lost to machines in the future? What shifts will this effect in society? Every technological revolution so far has upended society. We often think that only one aspect will change. But really, our entire society gets rebuilt. Industrialisation caused a “mass” philosophy: mass production, mass media, bulk discounts, and supermarkets. Digitisation is leading to individualisation: individual products, individual working hours, home office, and home delivery. The great thing about it is that the profit margins in mass production are extremely low nowadays. So the value-added of individualisation and service is considerably higher! It is a fact that machines take functional tasks off human hands. Humans then invest more time in the things that are further up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: loving and belonging, self-actualisation. This is on top of his hierarchy. And it is human, caring, and female.
So is it up to us to decide whether we want to be upgraded or downgraded in the future?
Decisions are always individual decisions. Whether I experience a machine as an enemy or as a helper. The important thing is to realise that whenever something new comes, something old goes away. The GP who gets the biopsy results from the lab could say “I can’t do anything myself anymore,” or he can say: “Great, now I can finally take care of my patient!” Digital upgrades are waiting everywhere – therefore, let’s get rid of the old as quickly as possible and spend our energy on the new! Liking the new is easy – giving up the old is the real challenge!
As far as society as a whole goes, we may find a parallel development here – those who feel like they are losing out …
Of course, the digital transformation also requires a social transformation in order to maintain or improve the quality of life of society. In the case of the unconditional basic income, for example, forced work turns into the option to work. In the long run, we are not going to have to work anymore, but we will want to work. Those who don’t want to work, won’t work. Those who do want to work will do so because they enjoy the work! Because we will do things we get excited about. This would be a massive shift. Many people feel coerced into working. Many hate Monday and love Friday. If machines take over more and more unsatisfying work from us, the paradigm of work will shift: “I have a job” turns into “I have a vocation”. Work turns into fulfilment. The office becomes a marketplace of ideas, a hub of implementation, and a platform of exchange!
If we can all work in a virtual office environment in the future, what purpose will a real office serve?
If you want to create new and revolutionary things as a company, you have to bring those people together who have the courage to develop new ideas. Sentiments like courage, ambition, etc. are subconscious and prosper best in analogue exchange with your counterpart. Sparks fly… creativity and ideas are contagious… For this to happen, you need a location, ideally an office that supports agile structures – and a few team players who live for the task at hand and have the courage to look at it from an unconventional angle. It takes EXCHANGE to ignite the initial SPARK.
What sort of tasks will leaders be assuming in such agile structures?
In Los Angeles, there is a chain of car repair shops that uses an algorithm to set up its work schedule. The employees enter information on when they want to work where and on what. The algorithm matches this input with the tasks at the various locations. This way, the employees are happier at work, their performance is better, and customers are more satisfied. The management position of head mechanic has been done away with there. They don’t need management positions that simply delegate anymore. In future, the task of managers will be to help employees excel in their field, to strengthen the team spirit, and to encourage them.
Will cooperation internally with employees and externally with customers also change?
Yes, I think so. After all, the line between customer and employee is dissolving. Customers influence my product. In B2B, you often find employees of the service provider working with and at the customer’s. Everyone works on a level playing field, with the fantastic result that everything moves faster, is much more up-to-date and we can really make things happen. If a customer prefers strawberries and pepper in his drink instead of plain strawberries, they can tell me, and I will adjust the mix. This is simple, because a machine manages the process digitally. I do not need a new machine, I just need a new code. If I build a new plant, and my supplier has a better technical solution, they will just send me the new digital plans. I won’t need a new invitation to tender, I just need an updated plan. I always say: “If everything is flowing, there are no rigid limits!”
At your talk at the Corporate Culture Jam, you said: “Create culture envy as a competitive advantage in the future.” What exactly do you mean by that?
I believe that employees can only test and exceed their own limits if they are ardently interested in something, if they are really keen to put their hands on it, if they can implement their own ideas and visions, and if they can move things! This means that companies have to create an environment, a culture where exactly that is possible! If the culture is rigid, it will attract people who are looking for safety. If the culture is “wow!”, it will attract people who want to wow the world. And this “wow! – how cool” is the culture envy I am talking about. This is the atmosphere you want to create as a company so the best employees come to you – otherwise, someone else will hire them.
Dietmar Dahmen: Futurologist, author, lateral thinker, visionary Dietmar Dahmen started his career as a strategic planner and worked for 20 years in marketing in Hamburg, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, and Vienna. Today, Dietmar is an expert for future, transformation, and disruptive marketing at the European Association of Communication Agencies. He is founder of the BAMM! Institute for Transformation and is also Chief Innovation Officer for ecx.io – an IBM Company.
If you want to learn more, have a look at “TRANSFORMATION. BAMM!“ The book by Dietmar Dahmen is available from Murmann Publishers, Hamburg.