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Industry 4.0 – How Innovation Is Transforming Our Work

Gunter Dueck is one of the most inspiring people you could hope to meet. As the keynote speaker at the tts Forum 2016 in Heidelberg the gifted speaker and internet thought leader demonstrated, in his own customary blunt, ironic and sobering fashion, the impact that the hype around Industry 4.0 will have on the world of work.

Who really understands what 4.0 is? Nobody, according to Gunter Dueck, and he should know. As a mathematician, philosopher and for many years Chief Technologist at IBM he knows what makes organizations tick and how technology develops. Communication 2.0 with Facebook and Twitter is still going strong, 3.0 simply disappeared and 4.0 was until recently just a slogan – though with the cloud, it has become reality, in Dueck’s opinion.

Despite all of the skepticism around its security, cloud technology has prevailed and is leading to a radical change in the world of work. The early indications of this appeared some time ago. “In 2008 you could buy up the entire global market for cloud applications, with the exception of Amazon, for $100 million,” according to Dueck. “But leading firms waited on expensive studies and then, five years later, paid billions for a tiny part of the market.”

New ideas arrive – some of them relatively fast

“Companies laugh and then go under,” is Dueck’s assessment. For “laughing” read “sneering”. The banks once sneered at internet banking, Kodak at digital cameras, Encyclopedia Britannica at Wikipedia. Where are they today? Technological innovations first undergo a long period in which we laugh at their technical deficiencies, then, as if overnight, they arrive. The initial idea of a videophone was impractical for a variety of reasons but today it has transformed into an iPad with Skype. People say negative things about electric cars – today – but they are coming. “The ideas that weirdos have today will all appear in a decade or so. It just takes a while, and in the meantime we can poke fun at them,” Dueck said in his entertaining way, “but sooner or later, they arrive. And some arrive rather faster than expected.”

Even the cloud has become relatively ordinary over the course of just six or seven years. Against Gartner’s classic Hype Cycle, according to which new technologies first raise inflated expectations, leading to disillusionment, before being realistically re-evaluated and productively implemented, Dueck contrasts his own Hybrid Arrogance Cycle. Success makes traditional companies arrogant, so they stick to the “old” ways and resist new ideas – and in consequence, sooner or later lose touch. Yet technologies can only be redesigned based on the ideas of creative people. Then they can win markets as new products. Hence Dueck’s appeal for “wild thinking” as opposed to conventional ideas management.

Radical industrialization

Dueck predicts that Industry 4.0 will bring with it a radical reconstruction of the world of work. Robots and computers will handle routine tasks and a “Robotbook” could potentially enable machines to communicate with one another and exchange information, rather like people do via Facebook.

The remaining challenge for cloud computing and big data is simply to make the data interoperable. Inputting data, operating machines, exchanging parts and so on will be taken care of in the cloud, since pure technical knowledge is no longer needed in the Internet of Things. What’s left to the human domain is simply the new, the difficult, the innovative or creative. The human’s task is to manage constantly changing processes and solve problems.

For this to happen, the ability to view problems from multiple perspectives is the primary requirement, alongside enthusiasm and the ability to communicate effectively. For instance, the simple bank clerk will be replaced by internet banking. In future, what will remain is the demand for professional financial advisors.

The ideas that weirdos have today will all appear in a decade or so. It just takes a while, and in the meantime we can poke fun at them, but sooner or later, they arrive.


Prof. Gunther Dueck

A healthy mix of cats and dogs

In the information economy of the near future the trend will move towards the “T-shaped personality”. The deep theoretical knowledge of a mathematician, for example, must be combined with the broad knowledge of a management scientist, in order to move an organization forward. The former math professor draws a parallel with cats and dogs. These animals communicate with one another badly. Almost as badly, in fact, as engineers, with their creative ideas, communicate with business administrators, with their tables and financials.

“One has ideas, and the other asks to see the figures. So there is a clear disconnect.” Pack-oriented, dogs are keen to perform better and run after every stick. Their motto is “give me a job”. Cats, by contrast, see themselves as misunderstood individuals, highly creative loners and free spirits. We continue to be organized along hierarchical lines but for Dueck it is quite obvious that we need to make more room for these creative cats. We should not drown them in processes and documentation.