In keeping with the previous year, the forum’s aim was to present and discuss different perspectives on the development of the Internet as well as life and the world of business in a global digital domain. The event, hosted by Prof. Joachim Niemeier, Honorary Professor at the University of Stuttgart, featured talks given by four world-class experts on the subject, Prof. Richard Scase, Dr. Curtis R. Carlson, Jaron Lanier and Tim O’Reilly.
In his talk “Global Re-Mix and the New Corporate Playlist”, Prof. Richard Scase, Professor of Organisational Change at the University of Kent and a highly influential business strategist from Britain, addressed the issue of globalisation in the 21st century, the driving forces behind it and its consequences. According to Scase, it not Europe, at this moment in time, that is controlling and profiting from globalisation, but countries such as India, China and the USA in particular. The only way to counteract this trend is for European businesses to be more open towards and to adopt new business models, strategies and structures. However, it is small businesses that are really capable of doing justice to the demands of a global economy. This is because these are the ones more readily prepared to take risks, are more flexible in their approaches and more entrepreneurial. They are more efficient in dealing with the increasingly shorter periods available for achieving performance requirements and are capable of coming up with efficient knowledge management solutions. According to Scase, another important factor determining the success of globally operating companies are their employees, who must be capable of recognising which of the countless new innovations developed every day will be useful to the company in the long run and be able to integrate them into the business accordingly.
Dr. Curtis R. Carlson, CEO of SRI International, honed in on innovation as the only way to ensure economic success in his talk “Innovation – The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want”. According to Carlson, there are no limits to innovative ideas and creativity. Economic growth these days is rapid and new developments are creating endless new opportunities. Companies must be able to innovate in order to enable them to recognise and harness these opportunities and to profit from them. Just as Scase, Carlson also emphasised the importance of small and medium sized companies, although primarily with regard to their ability to innovate. But, how exactly does a company drive innovations? According to Carlson, this is achieved by being willing to take risks and by creating environments that enable employees to be creative. Carlson strongly recommends the well-proven five disciplines of innovation, which has now been used by SRI International with great success for many years. According to these disciplines, only innovations that relate to customer value stand any chance of success. While “Innovation Champions” are given the opportunity to implement new ideas within a team setting, costs and competitors must be monitored consistently. Innovation is not something that can be separated from general business operations, i.e. is not a stand-alone operation, but rather something that should be integrated into company operations, e.g. by becoming part of quality management.
The eagerly anticipated talk “The New Definition of Personhood”, given by Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and artist, focussed on the world of technology and its associated dangers. To Lanier, any kind of “primacy” of groups and teams in the Web 2.0-age, more often than not, is a myth. The success stories of Web 2.0 companies such as Wikipedia or Google are currently threatened by a dangerous monopolisation of knowledge. This trend is based on widely held but highly erroneous beliefs. An example of this, according to Lanier, is the – rather flawed – general belief that Wikipedia articles reflect knowledge arrived at by a process of mutual agreement and discussion, as well as the general belief that any Wikipedia articles listed among the first 30 Google search results are actually providing the “correct” search results to any given query. Lanier strongly warned against the negative effects inherent in collecting knowledge in this way. He argues that individuals are often simply better at providing knowledge than a collective, with the only drawback being that these individuals will usually not be readily available to discuss that knowledge. This is why both are needed: Collective intelligence and elite, i.e. individual intelligence. This in turn means a company must create a working environment that is suitable both for highly creative individuals as well as co-operative teams. Lanier furthermore warned against a fanatical and totalitarian belief in the power of technology – in particular if this is used to suppress the voices of individuals and their creativity.
Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, coined the term “Web 2.0.” in 2004 on the occasion of a conference in order to describe the type of internet services whose contents can be influenced and determined by users. O’Reilly’s talk “What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software”, focussed on the main characteristics of Web 2.0 applications. To O’Reilly, they are, primarily, Internet platforms on which data is being aggregated. They are based on Open Source software and are specifically designed to be user-friendly. Some of the principles cited as exemplary of this approach included “Web as a platform”, “Software as a service”, “Harnessing collective intelligence” and “Data is the next Intel inside”. O’Reilly made it clear that software is increasingly becoming a “process” and less of what we conceive of as a “product”. While, in the past, software would predominantly reflect the beliefs held by their developers, it now increasingly focuses on user preferences: “It is not that technology is making us smarter, we are making smarter technology”. Thanks to current technology, Web 2.0 service users are able to network and collaborate with each other and create systems that are constantly being improved and further developed as more people participate in them. For the first time, Web 2.0 business models are enabling customers and users to become active and integral parts of a solution that is in constant development.
During his final speech given at the end of the event, Prof. Joachim Niemeier strongly recommended the use of the Web 2.0 approaches in business. However, to many companies, these approaches more often than not represent unfamiliar and uncharted territory. These companies are the ones that find themselves in situations that can be likened to the way companies used to use the Internet in 1996. However, there will be quite a few decision-makers who will be rather critical of associated structural and process-related changes and, in particular, of those related to company culture. The changes to companies, such as outlined by Scase and Carlson, can only be realised by using Web 2.0 approaches. The only way to stay competitive now is to get out there, rapidly gain experience and to develop the use-potential inherent in the different areas of application, because even though, “we may not yet have seen much of this future and do not have any great understanding of it, it has already started.”
Videos of the talks can be viewed on the Dresdener Future Forum website at dresdner-zukunftsforum.de/.