There are no revolutions - only leaps in evolution
He is a visionary man with hair that curls as new ideas rise in his mind. His lively brown eyes begin to shine after each question, just as if he were answering them for the first time. Thimon de Jong has a rational and pragmatic view of the effects of digitalization in business and private life. He rejects some of the most conventional views of the disruptive technologies.
“The discussion regarding digitalization and automation started in a distorted way a couple of years ago, as at that time, a report from the Oxford Martin School focused on the upcoming loss of jobs. However, development does not occur that way.”
Disruptive technologies – a media myth
Thimon de Jong opposes the idea that “The Old World” and “The New World” should be perceived separately.
“That view is generated by the media,” he protests while shaking his head. “Everything changes in a flow in a constantly changing society. There will be no big job losses as a consequence of digitalization. Work tasks shift and change.”
The popular expression “disruptive technologies” does not impress de Jong.
“What people today call disruptive technology due to the rapid digital development I would rather regard as a leap in an ongoing evolution. Before Google came AltaVista and other search engines. Google did not arise from nothing, but is a result of constant progress.”
The overwhelming feeling of a total change is often dependent on how the decision-makers in companies approach the new digital technology.
“When the top management gets the new possibilities presented to them, they often want to try them all at the same time. For them, it means that a new business model will be delivered the next day. But that is the wrong attitude. The key is to pick the right opportunities for what suits the company best. You should allow yourself to experiment, and at the same time keep informed. Have an open mind and be prepared to change your decisions!”
Social people and smooth technology
Our social capabilities will become increasingly important. Already today, smart algorithms are registering your personal profile and preferences. While you are waiting during a call to a customer center, smart algorithms have, in a second, created your personal profile based on your digital footprint online. That information will allow you to be connected to a customer service person with a matching temperament to yours.
Thimon de Jong does not believe that tomorrow’s equipment will get in our way, with rooms full of cables, screens, sounds or levers. Rather, the trend will go in the opposite direction, through invisible technology.
“Technology will be like a professional butler that barely let us know he is in the room,” he laughs. “The butler will support us effectively and provide service without us noticing it.”
Will everybody accept this supervision? Or will groups of people stay away from the internet and lack a digital profile?
“That is possible,” Thimon de Jong responds diplomatically. “A small number of people will hide, but do not forget that things are getting better and easier with the help of the internet. Companies function better with the internet. It is a fair trade to be involved in. We are talking about a so-called intention-behavior gap. The majority of people say in research that privacy is important to them (intention), but they do not act upon this (behavior).”
He underlines the fact that industries increasingly create consensus and forums to discuss in. Exchanging knowledge between professionals was one of the original ideas with the internet. The exchange of knowledge has intensified and broadened, for instance with the use of LinkedIn groups, and big companies are no longer able to act autonomously. Even their experts want to work in teams. Car manufacturers open patents and code to software, for more people to participate and contribute to development.
Who is there to trust?
Thimon de Jong imagines a more personal society based on trust.
“Who is there to trust?” he asks rhetorically. The answer is the one closest to you. In the new connected society, trust is shifting away from the big formal structures and moving slowly but steadily towards the local and flexible ones. When I am interested in learning something about cucumber plants, I will most likely use the internet. But, I will not find the best information from the big grocery firms online. I would rather walk across the street and ask the local greengrocer.
So, we will thus be more direct and accurate in our communication. Business life will not only be about selling and negotiation, but also learning things together.
It might sound as if we are walking back to the Garden of Eden, where sensors and smart algorithms keep track of elevators, transportation, food sales and other things that occupy our time. In addition, our personalities have been smoothly analyzed so that we spend our time together with people we are able to exchange information with and really communicate with.
So, how far can it go? There are ongoing experiments, such as keeping a comedy channel on television free of charge, but instead charging every time a sensor registers laughter.
As Thimon de Jong says: “There are no revolutions; if there were we would complain. Change occurs progressively and sometimes in leaps. The new sneaks up on us gradually and at a certain point in time we are able to suddenly find even the most unusual business models meaningful. What was yesterday’s joke becomes tomorrow’s reality.”
Published in OpusCapita Journal 2/2016. Read the whole magazine here.