“Make a Google” will not work in the long run

The Zukunftsinstitut knows what the future of work is. Franz Kühmayer, futurologist and author of the Leadership Report 2019, is dedicated to the middle class and explains why you do not have to blindly follow the Silicon Valley hype in order to be successful.

LEAD: Mr. Kühmayer, you researched Silicon Valley for the Leadership Report 2019. Are the thought leaders in the Bay Area so much more innovative than here?

Kühmayer: The German-speaking middle class certainly does not have to hide from the supposedly praised country. On the contrary. Here you can find enough of one of the most important ingredients of leadership: heart blood.

LEAD: So, stay away from the Silicon Valley hype?

Kühmayer: German companies are well advised not to emulate a distorted image of the Silicon Valley dream world viewed through pink glasses. The worry of being suspended from the digital express often blinds to the downsides of the uptrodden bubble on the US West Coast. I hope that the countless sightseeing tours of the Bay Area’s flagship companies also lead to serious learning, reflection and interpretation, rather than just looking for templates that can be copied.


LEAD: Kickers in Snoezelenraum and Hoody in the meeting alone are probably no guarantee of success …

Kühmayer: Exactly. It’s just not enough to swap a double-breasted suit and a tie for a polo shirt and sneakers and to quickly make a go on Google. To learn from others is smart. However, if you are looking for long-term success, beware of the lure of speeding up a development process by copying so-called best practices. Those who do it anyway risk losing their own identity.

LEAD: How will this identity change over the next ten years?

Kühmayer: In a globalized world, there are always influences from other cultures. It has always been like that and will stay that way. The only positive that can be gained from the current “My country first” policy (US and Brexit) is a deeper examination of one’s own culture and identity. From this, one can derive the hope that Europe will reflect on its very own values: to carry an enlightened and carefully considered picture of the future in itself.

LEAD: Why should Europe do that?

Kühmayer: Because the essential task of leadership can not be to copy the procedures of others, but to create a framework in which value-adding work gradually emerges from the cooperation of independently thinking and acting people. We need more innovation and less imitation in Germany.

LEAD: You say true tech giants are conservative sole decision makers. Nevertheless, they understand leadership as a service. How does it fit together?

Kühmayer: It has something to do with one’s own self-image. Leadership is no longer command-and-control, but increasingly a service. There are two concepts in the word: serve and perform. German managers are much more trimmed to afford than they are accustomed to serving. If it is more about coaching, supporting and empowering employees, showing and contributing their own responsibility, then the “serving” aspect will become more important.

LEAD: Becomehierarchies still continue to flatten in the future?

Kühmayer: Yes, because hierarchy basically loses more and more importance. Leadership comes less often from the top of the company – even if the board is so smart, he must still recognize that he is losing the interpretation of the VUCA world. VUCA is an acronym that stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity: in the VUCA world, the future is about thinking ahead and using contemporary solutions to strengthen company togetherness.) Logical consequence: Giving responsibility , Leadership then happens from the middle of the organization and has to do with people following ideas. No sounding titles are needed on the business card and no executive office.

LEAD: The top-trained, young, white man has always ruled Silicon Valley. Will that change again?

Kühmayer: Although everyone is talking about diversity, in truth there is little to see. Only for the traditional IT giants like IBM is the middle age over 35, on Facebook, LinkedIn, Tesla, Google one is not older than 30th None of the high-tech companies reached even close to a gender parity: For almost all Companies in the industry are three quarters of the employed men. But that is crumbling, luckily. Anyone who thinks #metoo and other movements can pass the hi-tech industry without a trace has lost touch with reality.

LEAD: Life in the Valley is a life in a bubble that may burst soon?

Kühmayer: There will certainly continue to be hot spots where technologically advanced work is being done on the future. The whole ecosystem, such as the top universities, the venture capital market, etc., is also contributing to this, but there will not be this one holy land any more, but many of these hot spots will be spread all over the globe: China, India, Singapore , and probably also Germany. So not a single bubble, but a structure of many bubbles, which are related to each other – a foam, so to speak.

LEAD: In the Leadership Report 2019, you talk about the increasing fragmentation of society. How do you justify these?

Kühmayer: On a political level, we are experiencing that shared achievements are being acknowledged less and less frequently. The US is emerging from global agreements, cohesion in Europe is diminishing, and even within states, the distance between individual interests is growing. Here native population, there foreign immigrants; here motorists, there cyclists; here steak lovers, there vegans. The target-group analytical and sinus-environment-shaped clusters dissolve in favor of ultra-individualistic molecules. This divergence is amplified at the level of work by “new work”, in which the individualization of working models progresses.

LEAD: So could the future of work consist almost exclusively of strongly individualized protagonists?

Kühmayer: This development has a lot of positives. Individualization is a high good, we all want to be the needle and not the haystack. However, it would be deceptive not to see the downsides in the light of the undeniable advantages of a more individualized world of work: companies are not just random communities, but social systems. Therefore, to avoid the risk of desolidarization, more efforts are needed, at the political level, but also and more often on the part of businesses.

LEAD: KI drives the digital revolution. How far will she be in ten years?

Kühmayer: The revolution is first time announced, in fact, it is currently still rather on the back burner. We are experiencing the origins of AI and will make so much progress over the next ten years that we can seriously talk about a revolution: because then we will need a new understanding of work, the social system, taxation, and indeed society as a whole. Politicians and industry are well advised to use these next ten years not only to advance technology, but also to prepare for the consequences. For every revolution has eaten its children.

Franz Kühmayer-Zukunftsinsitut
(Image: Zukunftsinstitut)

LEAD: A University of Oxford research team has predicted that 47 percent of jobs could be covered by AI within the next 20 years. Is this realistic?

Kühmayer: If only half of it occurs, that would be enough to shake our current social system. However, it will not be that fast, we will experience a bipolar job situation in the next ten years: on the one hand, a series of low-skilled or routine jobs will quickly disappear through automation; on the other, the demand for highly-qualified people will continue to grow climb. In sum, this may even be neutral or positive for the job market, only it will lead to a massive shift and thus also to social tensions. After all, whether education and training measures will keep pace is more than questionable.

LEAD: And after that? In which sectors will there be a job boom?

Kühmayer: There will be an increase in three segments: on the one hand, technological and natural science professions, which naturally benefit from this development. Then there are jobs that help people and organizations to master change, ie business consultants, change specialists but also coaches, psychologists, teachers. And thirdly, those occupations that can not be taken over by machines become more valuable: social, creative activities.

LEAD: Will the middle class still exist in about ten to fifteen years or will large corporations have swallowed it?

Kühmayer: I’m not worried. On the contrary, digitization is an enormous democratization factor of the means of production: what was needed a few years ago, data centers and hosts of IT specialists, and therefore only corporations was accessible, is now only a credit card payment removed. Therefore, if the middle class does it smart, it will be able to benefit enormously from the development!

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