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Digitale Transformation

"Uncertainty is more exciting"

Many companies would rather talk about digitization than just do it. Futurologist Micael Dahlen discusses why a safety culture should be left behind.

13 Jun. 2016 Helmut van Rinsum
According to Micael Dahlen, many companies are approaching digitization much too slowly. (Photo: Brian A Jackson /


Micael Dahlen, Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, is a world renowned futurologist. He has spoken at such prestigious companies as Apple, Google and Samsung. He talked with us about the consequences of digitization, and why companies would do better to leave behind their safety culture.

Digital Insights: Most companies are currently struggling with the digital transformation. What are the biggest mistakes they're making?

Micael Dahlen: First, that they see it as a struggle, and second, that they view the process as a digital transformation. It's like if said I wanted to transfer my life into the digital age. But it simply happens, whether they want it or not. So they shouldn't struggle, they should simply get going.

Digital Insights: What does that mean, exactly? What challenges do they have to address?

Dahlen: We could summarize it as "without borders". There are no clear boundaries any more between ontime and offtime, between work and recreation, between colleagues and customers. The more intensely companies try to control all that – for example, work times, rules, customer freedom – the harder this development will land on them.

Digital Insights: Marketers are mainly concerned today with what the next hot trend will be. Do they have to learn to live with this uncertainty?

Dahlen: Yes, they even have to love it. Where, please, is the fun in certainty? Uncertainty is more exciting. And it also favors better educated and harder working marketing managers, which can only be good for marketing.

Digital Insights: Someday will computers tell these managers what to do?

Dahlen: If computers could tell managers what to do, then they could go right ahead and do the whole job. But if managers work hard on themselves and continuously develop their skills, it's more likely they'll be telling the computers what to do. The only hard thing is deciding what to aim for.

Micael Dahlen: Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics (photo: Studio Emma Svensson)

Digital Insights: What trends will shape the marketing of the future? Will mobile become the focus of all activities?

Dahlen: Simply turn the question around: the desktop computer will definitely not be at the center. People are mobile, our whole lives are mobile, how can marketing not be mobile?

Digital Insights: Will social media be the next internet?

Dahlen: It already is. Without social media we would still be in the millennium hype, where everyone thought that the Internet was a huge thing and would completely transform our lives, which it did not. Things only changed with social media. Now the whole Internet is social. So the web hasn't replaced the television, it's replaced the telephone.

Digital Insights: You've been invited to speak at companies such as Apple, Google and Samsung. What topics are their managers most interested in?

Dahlen: The hottest topic is always the future. Everyone wants to know what it will look like and how to prepare for it. Especially if they invite me, because I've gained such a reputation as a futurism professor. But they also want to learn more about the infinite possibilities, and how to not be stressed by them and manage to do everything right, to some extent.

Digital Insights: You say in this regard that Spotify and Instagram are companies that are doing many things right. What are they doing differently?

Dahlen: Above all they make it simple. They don't waste their time with endless thinking and contriving long-term plans for a future that is bound to end up looking very different from what they assumed. They don't want to be perfect, because there is no such thing as perfection when conditions are constantly changing. The key is to do something as long as it makes sense. That gives you time to start new projects, identify new opportunities and head in new directions. This puts companies in a permanent beta-mode of trying out new things, learning from them and developing.

Digital Insights: You are considered the inventor of the Streamness theory. What does that mean, exactly?

Dahlen: It's about how our lives are increasingly digital, mobile and social: We're more closely connected to each other than ever before in human evolution. We're reaching a phase in which everyone can come into contact with everyone, and take part virtually in every event. This creates a whole new understanding of well-being and motivation. We can make the most unlikely and crazy things happen, all by ourselves. The Kickstarter platform is a wonderful example of this.

Digital Insights: Will we soon be in a postdigital era?

Dahlen: We're in the middle of it right now. The millennium was the era when everyone talked about digitization but no one was digital. Today digitization is nothing exceptional. No company has every claimed to be a telephone company, just because all the offices had phone lines. No company called itself a fax company, just because it sends its documents by fax. No company said it was a computer company, just because all its employees had computers. I could go on and on.