Why the digital symbolic politics of the old economy will fail

Agile teams, fail-forward, rapid prototyping – driven by the supposed secrets of success of Silicon Valley, the local industry is also beginning to transform itself. Innovation hubs and digital labs sprout like crocuses in spring, there is hardly a corporation that does not adorn itself with digital speedboats.

The Old Economy is willing to learn, sometimes even humble in the face of shame, to have completely overslept the race for the platform economics. This willingness to learn is honorable – and yet most corporations forget the essentials in a blind renewal zeal. Proudly traditional companies quickly become blunt copyists seeking salvation in the supposedly holy grail of start-up methodology.

That can not just go wrong – that must and will go wrong.

One method does not make a summer

One thing is clear: in the face of the still leaden structures in the corporate world, every purge, even the smallest progressive impulse, can only be a step in the right direction.

In this respect, it is to be welcomed that the mega topic of digitalization is now being considered in the vast majority of companies – according to their strengths and competence. And yet the transformation in many industries is mindless, even actionist. One reason for this: After decades of restraining Germany’s global market leadership and the value proposition of engineering made in Germany, suddenly the opposite of traditional self-certainty is rampant.


The winner’s arrogance is replaced by diffuse fear – fear that yesterday’s competitive advantages in the world of tomorrow will become meaningless. But fear is rarely a good companion, but often leads them to less thoughtful decisions. The interchangeable hubs and labs that have sprung up in the hip co-working spaces of the capital are a witness and reflection of this fear-driven renewal zeal.

They all adorn themselves with the same method-bullshit bingo of Silicon Valley and proclaim so an environment that should be in no way inferior to a start-up. Main thing Agile. Main MVP. The main thing is Get Shit Done. But – to stay in the speech picture – which shit actually?

We work agile – but why?

This is where the problem lies: a method is a means to an end, never an end in itself. However, digitization Made in Germany often lacks a clear objective, precisely a purpose. When the method becomes the target, the cat bites its tail.

Many companies simply lack a short pause for what they want to be in the future, and the daring, in this process not to shy away from radical answers. Instead of first getting to grips with what role your own
Businesses in a changing market and power architecture can and want to take on, is colorfully losdigitalisiert.

CEOs wear sneakers, in one of the Berlin co-working spaces, one floor is hurriedly rented for the group’s own lab – digital symbolic politics. Rather than critically reflecting on what has actually fostered the success of the GAFA economy, and what is adaptable (and not) to the advancement of one’s business, many companies simply can not think of copying some common methods in the hope that that will be enough somehow.

Also interesting: hierarchies are good – as long as the boss becomes a service provider

At present, it seems that the start-up methodology that is invoked everywhere is the fig leaf, which hides a corporate world that is still fundamentally different from the core. Instead of dealing radically with their own role in a fundamentally changed market environment, money is flowing diligently into colorful start-up scenes.

Scenes behind which lies the wasteland of a still neck-stiff organization. This is only possible because the pressure of suffering in many sectors is still relatively low – an aspect that will change in the medium term, however, and then bring all those who still see digitalisation as a nice-to-have, into existential hardships.

How will we make money in the future?

In their aspirations for the future, many corporations are forgetting a simple basis for entrepreneurship: as much as digitization will change markets, the core demand for a company remains the same: making profits. So if you are serious about digitization, you have to subordinate all your efforts to this question: How will we make money in the future?

All the hubs and labs are therefore not an end in themselves, but only useful if their work is ultimately worth the money. Not surprisingly, Capital found in its study on the performance of Innovation Labs that groundbreaking business models there are so far in short supply.

Therefore, one may call upon the old economy to finally free oneself from digital symbolism and blind method-activism, one may call upon her to stop and think for a moment, one may call her in the best sense of Kant’s dictum: Have the courage of your own To use reason. Have the courage to find radical answers. Have the courage to completely question the existing. Have the courage not to hide behind digital fig leaves.

Also interesting: companies benefit from new perspectives

About the author: Panos Meyer is managing director of the digital agency Cellular in Hamburg. Previously, he worked for Twitter, among others, and founded the social travel app Flying.

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