Intro Essay Wolf Lotter 2800X1400

Essay Wolf Lotter

Until now, the concept of culture has always referred to something uniform and explicit. With the arrival of this new culture, that is no longer valid. In fact, it doesn’t ask us for an "either-or", it requires an "as-well-as".


"A culture for the digital age"

Please excuse us, we would like to ask you a brief question: what is the status quo of the digital transformation? Let us perform a simple test: let us close our eyes for ten seconds and let our imagination go wild. Most people will probably see robots, computers, user interfaces, tablets, smartphones, antennae, and cable clutter. You know, all that stuff to do with technology.

You might even have enough time for a little future scare: will artificial intelligence come to replace us, we humans being the naturally intelligent? These and other images wouldn’t be surprising. They have always been a part of change.

A person, however, who thinks about everything that is about to come and how it will fit together with the current state of affairs in a rational and calm manner, will probably pull the plug on such fears pretty quickly. Pessimism gives bad advice. And, in fact, we aren’t really talking about ”stuff to do with technology and the internet”. We are talking about us, about human beings and our relationships, about what we can do for each other. In other words, we are talking about our culture.

Of course digital transformation is a part of technical evolution. It is, however, not a revolution – it doesn’t break with the entire status quo. The history of civilisation has always been about automation, about the simplification of routine processes. Imagine the first tools and methods: their obvious objective was to improve things in life. Often that also means making life easier. Improvement serves the purpose of disburdening humans from monotonous, hard, annoying, repetitive work – or even liberating them from it 250 years ago, with the dawn of industrialisation came machines which were used in factories and on farms, leading to plenty of prosperity and free time, releasing energy and potential for the creation of even better, more precise and more indi­vidual solutions. In today’s digital transformation, it is exactly the same.

People who don’t understand it think automation only serves automation, mean­ing that robots take over the work humans have been doing. This, however, would make no sense, as it would only lead to the automation of processes that already exist. But that is not what it is about. No, it is about progress, about improvement.

Hard work and discipline were an important part of the early industrial society. Competence, punctuality and accuracy were necessary character traits. In today’s knowledge society, created by digital transformation, creativity and empathy are sought after. Businesses need to know what the customer wants. Thus, individu­ality and empathy are not only the foundation of today’s digitally­-driven ”industry 4.0”, but of every service and all knowledge­-based work. But does that mean that all former virtues are redundant, that a new culture just wipes out the old one?

No, it doesn’t. To use the words of German philosopher Odo von Marquard: ”The future needs a heritage." Transferring this to the concept of digital transfor­mation means that one should not think in an either­-or way – either as a start­up, or as an efficient organisation with harmonised processes – but synthetically combine both aspects. We need to simultaneously get a grip on the spirit of a new beginning and individuality, and on the spirit of manageable routine.

Until now, the concept of culture has always referred to something uniform and explicit. With the arrival of this new culture, that is no longer valid. In fact, it doesn’t ask us for an "either­-or", it requires an "as­-well-­as". Transformation means open innovation. The success of a business is based on diversity and dis­tinction, or, in other words: successful digital transformation opens up the doors and floors of a company. Digital transformation wants to know the client, the human being, and their needs. Diversity as such does not, however, mean ”any­thing is possible”. Not at all. Openness to a large number of issues also requires contours and clear boundaries. In this new digital world, reliability and recognition will become even more valuable than in the old culture.

Therefore, all the knowledge that has accumulated in the past decades isn’t a burden – certainly not. In fact, it acts as the foundation for this new era. A culture of diversity for this digital age is a culture which encourages the seeking out of new opportunities. This virtue is the basis of all entrepreneurship: wanting to know what is possible, and wanting to know how to solve problems. Thus, the core of the culture of digital transformation is identical to that of former entrepreneurship, of the ”analogue world”: being curious about and interested in people. It is about transparency and contours, carrying us through whatever change may bring. 

35 Wolf Lotter
The core of the culture of digital transformation is identical to that of former entrepreneurship, of the ”analogue world”: being curious about and interested in people. Wolf Lotter Business journalist and book author. Photo: Wolfgang Schmidt

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