A futurologist and trendspotter tells The Editor about Digital Darwinism and how to future-proof businesses.
Magnus Lindkvist is all about presence and it’s not simply because he is impossibly tall and hyper-animated. Invited to speak at a conference in Kuala Lumpur, the three-time Zurich-based Swedish author is an award-winning speaker whose “intellectual acupuncture” is like a jolt in the arm for a business – and that’s why he’s been highly-sought after to share his rockstar-like revelations at corporate conferences worldwide.
In the interview post-conference, the mental provocateur proclaims boldly, “the reason we should care about the future is because the future does not care about us.”
The world has entered what is termed ‘Digital Darwinism’ where technology evolves at a speed much faster than that with which companies and individuals can keep up – and more importantly – to which they can adapt.
“Technology needs to become boring to become reliable and productive,’ he says, echoing one of the unconventional statements he shared with the audience at the conference. If it’s complicated, it won’t be used, (or adapted) is what he’s saying, in simplistic terms.
He’s not looking for laughter, he qualifies: he’s looking for the sound of minds opening.
He has the solid foundation of business school in him (“I didn’t like it,” he says without a trace of irony and it sounds more amusing that it reads here.)
He started gathering data, trends and ideas circa 2003 after several spells in advertising, marketing and even psychoanalysis, so here is a man who can see an issue from several angles, no matter how incongruous they may seem at first.
He began speaking about these ideas, trends and data soon after and by 2005, had set up his own company.
“The future is not a destination, it’s a canvas,” he says. Some things are already there, like demography (“some things we can actually predict”) and
knowledge is gathered, he adds, “from people doing stupid things.”
His loose definition of people doing stupid things is people taking risks and doing experiments, trial and error, without which there would be no knowledge. “Before that, you don’t know. Nothing works until it works.”
He often sees that in the face of new things, we cling to the past. He calls it the pull of the past, and he sees it happening often in Europe, where, for example, a person might say, things could be done using an app, but the change-averse might say, ‘no, we can do that in a physical office’.
Or in the accounting profession, where previously-safe advantages, such as the knowledge of local laws and local language proficiencies, are being eroded by the harmonisation of compliance standards in the profession and the dominance of English, even if it is badly utilised. The point is, adaptation is a necessary step for survival.
It is this pull of the past that hinders adaptation, he says.
“We also assume that things that have existed for a long time are eternal,” opines Lindkvist. He cites newspapers as an example, where he claims who could have possibly predicted that trees would be cut down to a pulp using electricity whereby ink would be squirted onto this pulp and then distributed to metal boxes outside people’s homes as a means of disseminating information.
But don’t get caught up in the rapid pace of technology, he cautions, and reiterates of the importance of adaptation. “The ones who adapt, survive,” he simply states.
As expected of a futurologist, Lindkvist asks the key questions: do companies participate to compete or to create? Do they add on, or re-imagine?
“You can compete or create: not both.”
“Innovation happens when ideas have sex,” he says, so it is important for companies to work in an interdisciplinary fashion. Diversity is another key survival tool, looking at the likes of 3M and Google. “There is no such thing as sustainable future-proofing,” he says, almost paradoxically, “because when you plan, the plan becomes obsolete.”
And he has a term for the marriage between evolution and innovation: Darwin-novation. Failure precedes success, he shares, and having that data is an advantage.
“Before we see the benefits of the new, we (must) lose the benefits of the old,” he intones, referring to tangibility, tactility and such, such as safe employment. The key to digital Darwinism is to remember to adapt.
“You can take your time and refuse to be caught up in the rhetoric of fast-paced change, but DO adapt.”