‘Today, I believe that we are on the cusp of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, powered by billions of connected devices, 3D printers and super-smart robots, to name a few. This revolution will not only change entire societies and economies, it stands to transform the very essence of human nature. So are we ready for it?’
These are the words of Klaus Schwab, put to a panel at the WEF annual meeting this year to begin the discussion on ‘The Transformation of Tomorrow’. With the panel comprising of the CEO of Microsoft, the COO of Facebook and the President of Rwanda amongst others, it was arguably my favourite from this year’s conference.
There have been three major shifts in human productivity over the past three centuries. The latest revolution comes to us courtesy of cyberspace. Whether this brings fear or hope there really is no doubt that it is an incredibly exciting time for industry and to be alive!
As Sheryl Sandburg (COO Facebook) explains, new technology has always brought fear and opportunity and the question revolves around that trade off. One aspect of the Fourth Revolution, connectedness, is particularly contentious. Are we more connected or less? A table of girls instagraming on their phones for 15 minutes, describing a ‘girls night out’ that isn’t actually happening is all too familiar and conjures fear of a ‘ghost world’ for Anand Mahindra, amongst others. However, if we look at the democratization of the world thanks to global connectedness, we get a different story. For example, the study that found that you were twice as likely to welcome refugees into your country, If you had seen the picture of the Syrian refugee child on the beach (circulated by Facebook). The fourth industrial revolution certainly conjures fears of job destruction and the breaking down of human interaction but it also brings new levels of global connectivity and job creation on a larger scale. Sandburg believes there is a triumph of hope over fear. Whether we like it or not, this is a very important moment.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft also addresses this important question. Connectivity can create a digital dividend or a digital divide (the haves and the have nots of connectedness). There is no doubt that this revolution will bring economic surplus but the question is of how evenly will it be spread. Data and cloud technology creates public good but there is a human responsibility to distribute that good. I particularly like the Star Wars analogy Anand Mahindra uses to describe the power and responsibility that the fourth revolution’s technology advancements bring. He describes it as the force, that can be used or misused. If we use this force for good, we are digital Jedis and if we use it for bad then we are digital Siths.
When I think about these big ideas relating to our working lives, I think about the majority of companies trying to harness the opportunities and advancements that this revolution will bring. It occurs to me that digital transformation must be so much more than a process driven change. It is not a set of digital deliverables revolving around lines of cost or specific tasks simply to keep up. Those companies who are successful with this transformation and therefore survive and thrive in the future of the fourth revolution are those who comprehend the more fundamental change. A change in attitudes and values, values of trust and empathy at the center. It is not just about providing new technology, that is our side of the bargain and we work every day to provide innovation to fuel this transformation but it has to be met by a fundamentally new digital thought process. We need flexible IT teams, leadership that are not only willing but encouraging speed and adoption of new things as well as cultures of trust. As speed is the new currency of business, the successful will embrace change and fast, they will get to the cloud as fast as possible BUT (As Benioff says) they will be there with the right values.