Technologies are evolving and we have to follow them
Brian Solis, Digital Analyst at Altimeter Group and Futurist for "Capital"
Brian Solis is a lecturer, author and futurist who publishes annual reports on the impact of technology on the business. Currently, he is a digital analyst at Altimeter Group, which was acquired by the global consultancy agency Prophet in 2015. His followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn exceed 400,000 people. He is a winner of dozens of awards. His books are the guideline in the marketing industry. Solis was one of the leading speakers at this annual DigitalK conference in Sofia in May 2018.
You were introduced you as a futurist on the stage and that is happening for years. Do you feel that you live in the future?
- I feel as if I am a messenger between the past, the present and the future. While studying the future, I spend more time trying to take people out of the past in order to be useful in the present time. I know this sounds strange, but so many things from the past - how we measure success, how we define it at all - were created at a time that is no longer there. We have a lot of work to do to get everyone into the present so we can all be on the stage of the future later on.
In your lecture you mentioned "Digital Darwinism". What exactly stays behind this definition?
- Digital Darwinism is based on Darwinism - the natural selection, the survival of the most adaptive ones. I call it like that because technology has such a great effect on humanity that we, as humans, are changing ourselves. Technology evolves - we have smartphones, added reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence. With this new technology, we must evolve too. Digital Darwinism is the idea that when technology and society are changing, we must also change. As a company or as a brand - it does not matter. We are either up-to-date with evolution or we lose the Darwinism game. In a nutshell, you have to fight for your weight today.
Do you think we are evolving with the pace of technology?
- No, we're not even close. Most organizations believe that the answer is more technological, so if we invest in cloud services, artificial intelligence and all those new platforms, we will be up-to-date. But I think technology should have a specific meaning - why do we move to cloud services, to blockchain, to anything? We have to answer the simple questions: what is important to us as clients, what is important to us as employees, how we communicate with each other, how to use technology in order to be relevant, how to empower people. Here's the start point each organization should consider: how to use technology to make people more powerful and more creative.
If I can summarize, we focus more on the technologies themselves than on the people technology is created for …
- Exactly. Not just how people will use technology, but how it will change their perceptions.
In your lecture, you said that we need to be innovative, but while trying to innovate, we actually iterate and instead of inventing new technologies, we're improving the old ones. You gave another example - for people who are pushing each other in the street because they watch their phones. The companies that created these technologies were innovative, so should we think any innovation is good?
- This is a philosophical question. No, not every technology is good because we, as human beings, have no guidance or mentor to teach us how to use technology ethically. I think there are secrets in the technologies we're just unraveling. For example, there is a reason your phone is so addictive, or Facebook and Snapchat make you spend so much time in them. They are created using techniques that are also used in gambling. We need to better understand our connection to technology and we need to find out what they are for. If we do not, the effect is the opposite: technology is taking on our time, making us less effective, less focused, less patient and more demanding. We want everything to happen faster, we feel less, we are losing empathy. I think there is a public response and a response at an individual level. We need to make a conscious decision on how we use technology, because we are not doing it consciously at the moment.
The iteration is the improvement of old technology. Should we first make iteration, then get to innovation?
- Both are needed. I often say that the path to destruction of old models passes through both innovation and iteration. You have to improve the old one. Even ironically, at one point, the process of innovation will become an iteration, because what is new should also be improved. The iteration is to make old things better, while innovation is to do new things that create value. Demolition of models comes when the new turns the old into a useless one. The balance is between innovation and iteration. The problem for me is that too many people think they are doing innovation when they actually make iteration.
Do you think there is a gap between entrepreneurs and corporations on the one hand and ordinary people and even politicians on the other - people who do not deal with technology on a daily basis?
- Ten years ago I wrote an academic paper how to manipulate people online and how to use everything they share on the Internet to change the way they think. Then, I wrote that someone in the near future would turn the Internet either into a weapon or anything special that would make us closer to society. It was interesting to see it as a weapon. The irony is that no one cares. Everyone has raised a fuss about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, but still everyone is questioning what personality they are in the web and sharing more than they probably need. People continue to take pictures of their children and publish them online. The vanity of the social network is more rewarding than the risks it brings. Let us assume that you are manipulated, believe in conspiracy theories, or read fake news - even when you prove that all of this is factually wrong, you will not change your mind. That's the danger. We are going in the wrong direction and the fault will grow bigger. Breakthroughs will not close, and even going in the right direction, the tremendous resistance will stay, because people do not want to be wrong, they do not want to go in the wrong direction. We need a new global order, and unfortunately things will get worse before heading for the better. It is the future of politics, it is the future of education. Teachers, parents, leaders must take the initiative to close this hole. At first we have to assume that there is a fault. To assume there is a problem. Let's get to the specific problem before we think about the solution. But nobody talks about it.
If we talk philosophically, can we reach a universal solution?
- Politicians do not understand technology nowadays. The problem here is that they want to protect the world they know, to stop the progress, and that leads to bad ideas spreading. We have a generation that does not want to say goodbye to our beliefs, with the things they think they have created. The real solution is in our hands. We have to vote for the right people, to start a revolution that will bring people who understand the future into governance. Otherwise, we will simply repeat the mistakes from the past. And we already know what has happene then.
Another point in your lecture was that progress comes from those who break the rules. Should we then all violate the rules?
- Even the mere mention of the violation of rules makes some people feel uncomfortable. It sounds bad because we have learned that breaking the rules is bad, as we have learned that failure is bad. Yes, we have to break the rules, but for the sake of it, not simply to be assholes. Break the rules to help someone change something to find a new path. Everything comes down to intentions. What is your goal? The goal is not just the violation of the rules but the breakdown of obstacles that stop you from creating something big. It's a question of perspective. It makes society go further; it produces progress and makes innovation possible.
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