• Employee Development
  • Digital Workplace
  • December 21, 2017

The Most Valuable Lesson on Digitalization According to Dr. Ashkan Fardost

Digitalization and digital workplace - what they really mean for organizations? Before even diagnosing the future problems that stem from digitalization, one must understand the problem. Firstly, it's important to correct a common misconception; digitization is NOT the same as digitalization, according to Dr. Ashkan Fardost. He also states that digitalization requires us to focus on "behavior trends, rather than technology trends" and understand how "technology affects behavior and alters expectations."

Dr. Ashkan Fardost, a former trance music producer was a first-hand witness to disruptive innovation in the music industry onset by the internet. The internet as Fardost said in his TedX presentation, has created a "global digital tribal society," where anyone can connect with their niche tribe. Fardost found his niche tribe as a seventeen-year-old aspiring to be a trance music producer. Without the opportunity to afford a $30,000 music studio, Fardost found a tribe of other trance music enthusiasts and eventually came across people talking about the computer program, "Reason" which digitized the music studio and made music production affordable.

It wasn't long after, that Fardost, also known as DJ Mysterium and Envio, came across Napster. The internet completely flipped the music industry upside down, and Fardost has been studying and advising on how technology shapes industries, societies and human behavior ever since. He has a Ph.D. in Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Chemistry from Uppsala University but has since moved from academia to the Stockholm startup scene, where he advises and "invests in really weird ideas that other investors get nightmares from." He also is a collaborator at Hyper Island and is nominated for the 2017 Swedish Speaker of the Year award.

Every company today is experiencing digitalization to some degree and many companies are falling victim to the "technology trap," as Fardost says, where you slap ‘new technology onto something you are already doing and you call it innovation.'

In order for us to really understand what digitalization really means and how we can use it, we need to focus much less on technology and far more on behavior.

What can we expect in the future from digitalization and the digital workplace?

Fardost: "The extreme number of workers that are about to be potentially replaced, as well as the extreme level of increase in the demands on skills and intellect.

Historically, new machines meant that you needed fewer workers, but the new machines allowed you to expand your business, so you still had a new demand for workers to take care of the new machines. But this time, it will probably not be possible to send off employees to a 2-week course in Microsoft Excel. Because when you're dealing with technologies such as machine learning, they are simply way too complex for a non-specialist to master.

Also, they can be scaled much more effectively without the equivalent scale in maintenance manpower. And while some AI applications are designed to empower the human employee (such as Watson and its medical applications), many AI applications can potentially outright render the employee obsolete. Especially if you work involves cognitive routine or manually routine tasks.

In the long run, you will never be able to compete with software or a robot when it comes to routine tasks. So in the long-term, there will mainly only be room left for creative work. And I'm strongly convinced that computers can never become truly creative like us humans. Not because I believe that creativity is some sort of magic force.

But rather than creativity is the result of our fear of death, or rather, our ability to be conscious about the fact that we will die someday in the future. No other animal has this ability. They only live in the moment. But we have an advanced mind and intellect, allowing us to think about the future. And the future has an inevitable death in store for us. This gives us the incentive to desperately try to alter our destiny.

And that's what results in creativity, which results in culture, which results in history. So the notion that computers can all of a sudden become conscious AND creative, just because computing capacity increases exponentially according to Moore's Law, is a ridiculous notion. It's like saying "if the speed of cars would increase exponentially, they will eventually be able to teleport". Which is nonsense."

What should organizations do about digitalization, besides acknowledging the importance of human behavior trends?

Fardost: "Well, smart people who grow up today will realize that any work that involves following instructions, and is comfortably dependent on a micromanaging boss that gives you instructions all day long, is a dangerous path. Because you can never beat a computer at following instructions. Instead, smart people will aim for careers involving creative work, work that allows them to experiment and grow. In other words, work that involves innovation.

And innovation can't be solved with machine learning or any other form of AI, because such technologies rely on historical data. And innovation means experimenting and betting on the future. No historical data can solve that for you. It can assist you, but not solve it.

So my question to you is this: do you hire employees to give them instructions or do you hire employees to be creative and do the things that they are better than you at doing?"

What is the most valuable lesson on digitalization according to Dr. Ashkan Fardost?

"The most valuable lesson on digitalization in terms of AI and automation is this: we've been through this before. Let's not pretend this is something new and alien, because we've had machine takeovers in industries many times over. And it's always been the same: an increase in the value chain that has resulted in new demands in terms of skill and intellect in people. At the same time, new jobs have been created that weren't possible to anticipate beforehand."

Final Thoughts

Disruptive innovation is a threat to every company. Just as Uber and Lyft swiftly overtook the taxi industry, Spotify disrupted the music industry, Bitcoin challenged the banking industry, Amazon digitized the retail industry, and robots will disrupt the digital workplace.

The workplace transformation is already underway, and in order to pivot and adopt artificial intelligence into the workplace effectively, you can't fall into a technology trap. Solutions must be disruptive and focused on human behavior and expectations.

It is apparent that artificial intelligence will consume routine and mundane tasks, which means that employees working on such tasks will either need to do something else productive or be replaced by technology. A productive shift would be to harness creativity to spur innovation.