Andrew Keen on How to Fix the Future


So this is a conference about unorganizations. How many of you are working in an organization..? [Everybody raises their hand] So you are all part of an organization. I would assume that you are depressed or devastated of what you have heard today. You are all in organizations, as particular in a classical industrial sense: top-down, hierarchical, relatively bureaucratic, and you have been told that those organizations doesn’t have a future. You have been told that the future is the unorganization. I have never really understood what this unorganization is and I don’t believe in it.

Some of the speakers have presented this unorganized world as a digital world. And the feeling comes to us that the unorganized future is something coming from Silicon Valley. We are expecting, as to quote the last speaker: “A new world with new rules.” And at the same time we are told that this future is already happening in Silicon Valley. And all we must do is to copy this. They are the ones that figured it out. We are lagging behind. We should watch what they are doing. But I think that is a mistake. I’m critical.

I think we have a delusional understanding of what is going on. The digital revolution has always been presented as this thing that would bring democracy and it would blow up the old industry world. It’s still in some ways presented as that. But I think that is a mistake; what we have seen so far is actually more of the same. It’s more of the structures and phenomena of what happened in the industrialization. We even have more extreme monopolies now: Amazon, Facebook, Google. If you look at the five largest digital companies, their stock market value each is more than 2000 billion dollars. Each is valued more as the annual GDP of Singapore.

It was assumed that all this technology would result in more people having more power. But if you have a good look, for example at Wikipedia, you actually see a phenomenon in which a tiny group of users will dominate the platform. You can see it in commentaries, in Twitter with a few people with million followers. You also see it in leadership, the reality of these dominant internet companies is that they are incredible hierarchical and top-down. Look at Apple and Amazon. Steve Jobs was an authoritarian leader. He unleashed creativity, but only in an intimidating, bullying kind of way. And Jeff Bezos is not much different.

It’s important to demolish these illusions. This idea of the unorganization and Silicon Valley, it’s becoming an ideology. It’s politically correct to say: we believe in the flat organization, we don’t believe in bosses. Saying you believe in bosses is almost the same as saying you think men are superior to women or white people are superior to black people. It has become an offensive notion. I think it’s really important not to be deluded by the promise, ideological correctness. We want to believe that you can be rich and good at the same time. But the reality is you can usually have only one or the other.

For you in traditional organizations, wanting to come in this new age, it’s also very important not to fall into the traps. Not to make the same mistakes as Silicon Valley. Every industry is now being radically transformed. We need to bear in mind the enormous impact of technology. The precious vase is smashed into many, many pieces.

More than anything else, the potential lies in the H2H economy, human to human. Everyone talks about problems and solutions. But if only we could become more human. We do need to fall back on this conversation about humanity. Partly because we all feel it instinctively. We are looking over our shoulder at intelligent algorithms, at virtual assistants, at the AI revolution.

The great revolution is still to come, the big thing to come is AI. Smart machines that are able to replicate menial tasks as serving food, doing accounting, researching law cases, to even managing other people. The great challenge and opportunity for organizations is not only the unorganization. It is to really create human-centric organizations. We didn’t have them in the past. The economy and society was a factory like world. Whether it was in the factory itself, on the assembly line, or in the education system or in organizations. Technology is doing away with that. Whether it is Blockchain, or AI. What we are going to be faced with is a world where we need to figure out what we can do that technology can’t do. Rediscovering empathy, meaning. The problem all too often is that we try or encourage to turn ourselves into machines.

Perhaps it’s in Europe itself, with a more historical sense about what it means to be human, where this challenge could be addressed best. It’s not an unorganization, not doing away with hierarchy. Because some people will do more well with this than others. The Steve Job’s will get it before anyone else. The unorganization doesn’t work because it doesn’t recognize that some people are more intelligent than others.

There are great opportunities for the future. The future could be the new Renaissance. The new humanist century. But it won’t come easily. It’s not going to come without costs and bloodshed. It’s not a cosmetic change, it’s a fundamental change. We are talking about technology that will replicate most of our cognitive skills. Hopefully there will still be a place for us with our unique human skills. We are not going to live in a world where everybody is going to work for themselves. Most people can’t and won’t. There will be a need for organizations in the future and it will be a human centered one.

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Sander Duivestein


Sander Duivestein (1971) is a highly acclaimed and top-rated trendwatcher, an influential author, an acclaimed keynote speaker, a digital business entrepreneur, and a strategic advisor on disruptive innovations. His main focus is the impact of new technologies on people, businesses and society.

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