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Unhappy is the land
that needs a digital hero

“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.” Or was it a “guru”? Peter Hinssen is neither one. In his Life of Galileo, Bertold Brecht offers a bitter portrait of the clash between research and dogmatism. Also Peter Hinssen, international researcher, teacher and preacher of a digital future, serially repeats his own Galilean “Eppur si muove” (“Yet it moves”). Peter, himself, is serial: serial entrepreneur, serial advisor, serial lecturer in the most prestigious business schools, such as LBS, MIT Sloan and the Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine. He has founded Nexxworks, a community of self-declared “agitators”, “igniters”, “disruptors”. A gentle prophet, in this interview he goes straight to the point: the future is urgent, just let the sun of innovation shine in the shadows of backwardness.

The first argument is about acknowledging the digital reality, what he calls The New Normal. Against the many cardinals Barberini and Bellarmin, who are still sitting on many corporate boards, and keep on pretending that the status quo of the Holy Analog Order holds, Hinssen points  out that digital is here to stay. But why, for Millennials, digital is normal, while it isn’t evidently normal in public administrations, institutions, and corporations? “For our children, there are two additional layers at the bottom of the pyramid of human needs. Below physiological urgencies, there are battery charge and wi-fi access. Just watching the daily lives of teenagers, managers and politicians should be able to realize that digital is ubiquitous. 

"Not a nice-to-have option. Rather, a bare necessity.” 
The New Normal applies to many industries. “I’ve been talking about all-things-digital for 15 years, and most board members would found me amusing. Now they take it seriously. Consider media, banking and insurance: executives are feeling the pressure they’ve been avoiding for years. Some are still in full denial: I gave a speech at the 125th anniversary of an international notary association, a happy monopoly on writing of official contracts. The ghost of block-chain technology for distributed certification wasn’t yet felt as a threat. I am afraid it will not take long before digital disruption hits that cozy world of 19th century liturgies. Banks and insurances are exposed to the same threat. The fintech revolution is lowering transaction costs and switching costs, thus shifting bargaining power to final users. The future developments of smart contracts, where automatic software algorithms replace arbitrary human agreements, could change the very foundations of their businesses”.

Hinssen talks about the necessary changes in corporate culture, but also in public institutions, in order to survive in the Apocalypse Soon of digital innovation. “The next big trends will be artificial intelligence, smart contracts and block-chains, Internet of things and virtual reality. In Europe, public officials are not getting this shift, and still focus on the  migration of old bureaucratic processes into a digital format. Instead, look at Singapore. I’m amazed by how they execute their innovation strategy, implementing the concept of smart nation by attracting the brightest people from Asia and the rest of the world.”

Hinssen’s final point is: the Network Always Wins. “This century is the network century. Only global networks achieve the necessary scale, scope and speed. Newsweek wrote a story: why the world hates Silicon Valley? The comparison is with the Roman Empire, that exported its infrastructures: roads, carriages, water supplies, drain pipes. For centuries, Romans have dominated the world with their technology. The Digital Empires of today know how to leverage network effects, they are able to scale in the consumer space because most markets have become data-driven networks. But the secret is not only in technology and engineering: look at the open organizational structure of Google and Facebook, they wanted to avoid bureaucracy and hierarchy. Alas, the function of Human Resources is the most outdated and conservative of all corporate processes. The world of HR will have to change old processes and rituals. Like it happened to marketing, also HR must become data-driven and leverage on the power
of networks.”

Back to hearts and minds of people, then. Like in Galileo’s odyssey, the ultimate post of resistance to the digital change is, quite paradoxically, the control of education. “Government, academy, big corporations and start-ups must converge on tackling the huge challenge of a failing educational system. It’s a shame. We see how education is becoming the slowest part of society, while it should be the fastest! When the young go to school, they feel like going back to the 19th century.” 

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