“Companies need to examine themselves”

Digital technology and the internet are radically changing human behaviour. Many companies reckon they are prepared and that they are now digitalized. But lecturer Ashkan Fardost says they have all misunderstood. Not until the internet is placed in a historical and cultural context will it be possible to understand how digitalization will influence a given industry, profession and future.

In what ways have we misunderstood digitalization?
“My point is that most people talk about digitization, where the focus is only on the technical component, while digitalization also takes into consideration how digital technology and the internet are changing behaviour and creating new expectations.”

How is digitalization influencing our behaviour?
“The internet consists of three billion people in a single room where everyone, at least in theory, can communicate on equal terms. This changes the cultural foundation that has served as social glue for several thousand years. Among other things, it is undermining national ideals and instead, people are searching for the meaning of life through their digital ‘tribes’ online. In this global, digital tribe society, you can join however many tribes you want, regardless of geographic location.”

What does that mean for companies?
“When the big ideal is no longer monopolized by the state, an ideal vacuum will be created where companies can conquer new cultural territory. The common denominator for start-ups and successful companies is that they have clear ideals that form the foundation of everything they do. Take Tesla for example. Their ideal, which is monitored and rigidly followed by their visionary leader Elon Musk, is to free humanity from dependence on fossil fuels. So they make electric cars and solar panels, which are two ways to achieve that ideal. Companies simply have to start examining themselves and rediscovering their purpose.”

What changes can people make?
“As I said, you start by examining yourself: ‘What do we stand for? Is there any deeper meaning to our existence than just making money?’ Everything you do must be pursuant to your ideal. It’s not enough to have a cool vision and a cool slogan. Otherwise, you can forget ever being able to attract major young talent, both as employees and as customers. After you successfully attract this talent, the workplace and its vision should be a platform through which the talent can have an outlet for their creativity and proficiencies in line with the company’s goals. But let them shape parts of the company, instead of having a shape into which they have to fit. I guarantee that young, major talent will leave in no time if there’s nothing bigger than a job title, a fancy desk and a pay-check.”

Three necessary corporate changes

1. “Examine your entire company and get down to the core of the matter: what is your purpose other than making money?”

2. “How can this purpose be manifested in the real world in ways other than the products you happen to be producing right now?”

3. “How can you redo your communication so that everything to do with your company clearly demonstrates your ideals?”