Munich – We have a Problem!

By Alexander Klier Feb 17, 2016
Munich – We have a Problem!

With the opening event "Digitization and Future of Work" on Monday, February 15, 2016, the "Munich Center for Internet Research", short MCIR, officially started its work at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.

Photo: Alexander Klier. Use under the terms of the Creative Commons - Attribution and Share Alike (BY-SA) possible.

Translation of the Original Article by Alexander Klier 

A problem? After the opening event of the "Munich Center for Internet Research", short MCIR, you could almost say many. At least that was my first impression after the opening statements of the invited experts. Yet, at its core, the debate was about the digital transformation and its impact on the labor market. At least from the invitation (here). And following the indication the presenter, Dr. Alexandra Borchardt from the Süddeutsche Zeitung. I was pleased to be allowed to attend. Initially talked and discussed:

  • Christiane Benner, Sociologist and Second Chairman IG Metall
  • Felix Haas, Founder, investor, creator of Bits & Pretzels
  • Prof. Dr. Dieter Rombach, Professor of Software Engineering I FB computer science, University of Kaiserslautern, Director I Fraunhofer IESE, Kaiserslautern
  • Thomas Sattelberger, Publicist, political advisor of former top managers, Co-publisher "The democratic enterprise"

Nice that the recording of the live stream or the Viewing of the recording of the event (here), the discussion via Twitter (#mcirmuenchen & #mcirtalks or here) or on Facebook @mcirmuenchen) or Chat (here) have worked. In any case, this already promises to be sustainable in the sense of a reflexive event management, because that way the interested reader can "look it up" again and evaluate. I will keep to a brief content assessment and evaluation of the event. That is not so easy, due to the bandwidth of the topic and diversity of the points raised. It especially interests me, what that says about our core theme of a social collaboration - or could mean for our aim of a networked organization.


Change phobias, gray areas and unchastity

Picture: Tweet from Thorsten Riedl at #mcirtalks

After a welcome for the audience by Prof. Dr. Alexander Pretschner, spokesperson for the MCIR boards, the individual guests followed on the podium. They each had about 10 minutes time, to make a statement. Then there were one or two questions of the presenter to the issues raised. All followed this laudably - at least more or less. In a relatively short time bundles of topics were presented, which offered both an incentive for discussion, and also addressed the various dimensions of the digital transformation.

  • Christiane Benner demanded that industry 4.0 should not produce any losers, which in her eyes concerns the topic Crowd Working and general cooperation on digital platforms. At the same time, she stressed that at least the IG Metall would accept the invitation to dialogue, which had been expressly stated, because the various problems may only together be solved.
  • Thomas Sattelberger opened his considerations with not quite as convincing theses in my eyes. He attested "the" Germans that they would suffer from technology and change phobias, claiming that many innovations would start in the gray areas and sometimes dirty. For example, there would be no logistics drone without military drone. What did want to express with that? Ultimately, I do not believe that such a connection can be established readily. But probably it was more intended to wake people up.
  • Dieter Rombach in turn told about two different worlds, the engineering world in Germany and the digital world in the United States. His statement that the digitization with would take place - with or without us - with ICE speed was well received by the audience. He hopes that a fusion of these two worlds would create a significant contribution for the digital transformation..
  • Felix Haas finally was invited as a founder and investor in the digital sector. He told something to the speed and frequency of digital innovation. This would actually cause him concern. He complained that there would be almost no decision maker that would have a clue about it, let alone the put forth the necessary speed to answer the pressing issues on the socioeconomic level. What questions that might be and who would decide remained unclear to me even after his remarks. 

After about an hour had passed, it then (and I think that is actually surprisingly fast) went over to collect questions from the floor and from the online channels and to discuss them. Now it got really interesting. Now we heard things like “Technology is never the solution, but there is no solution without technology” (Dieter Rombach); "Man must be thought of from the outset" (Christiane Benner); or even “The concept of work has to be discussed on again” (Thomas Sattelberger). 

What was the problem again?

 Picture: Tweet by Christoph Nieberding at #mcirtalks

As diverse the introductory aspects were, as different were now many of the questions. The very first question from the floor for example was about how you can protect the power supply against possible attacks. Oh, interesting, I thought. But does this question approach the subject? The questions from the Live Chat were delivered by a "lawyer of the online audience," which was marked as such only in the online chat, however. He classified the varied questions into three categories, which were:

  • Concerns about the consequences of the digital transformation
  • Questions how such an adaptation could succeed and
  • Euphoric statements on the necessity of transformation.

The first concrete question asked was then: "How can I prepare my children to the digital transformation?" This was followed by another question from the audience who wanted to fathom why always the Germans somehow are the "idiots". In my view thus quite a far-reaching questions. I mean that rather ironic now. Not for nothing, the presenter stepped in again, organizing a reference back to the issue of the event and clarified the issue once again: "How do we work in the future?"

The clearest statements now were by Thomas Sattelberger, who stressed that highly repetitive jobs, i.e. jobs with a high proportion of routine, are almost completely replaced by robots. He opposed that this would require capacity-building and attention to the areas of "high-tech" and "high-touch" (personal services). Then it went to the next round, this time to the broad field of training, school and continuing education.

Considered in the wake I find it quite remarkable that there was so little discussion about this fundamental issue, namely, how we will work in the future, which was actually the topic of the event. Apart from basic conditions and changes in the necessary Competence education, there was no rudimentary quality discussion to the question of how the digital transformation may change the collaboration within and between companies. Although Christiane Benner initially triggered the topic in reference to a possible line of development – namely Crowd working. I suspect this has to do with the fact that the Tayloristic background is still so influential that no alternatives are (or can be) thought of. And of course, that a change towards a democratic company that Thomas Sattelberger had also briefly mentioned in his opening statement would mean such an organizational revolution that it currently remains with individual thinkers and examples. I see that as a missed opportunity. Incidentally, exactly from this point I liked the meeting of the Wing project "The digital working world of tomorrow needs people" last year, which I have reported on in two parts here and here, much better. It had much more targeted focus on the subject, partially with some of the same participants. However, it was also a daylong event with more time to develop the topic.


Collaboration instead of  Qualification

Picture: Tweet by Daniel Méndez at #mcirtalks

Back to debate that mainly focused on the future of education and training in the further course. Dieter Rombach and Thomas Sattelberger agreed that the future lies in interdisciplinary learning and polytechnic education, as former East Germany had for example, and that it would be an exciting idea. Christiane Benner justifiably mentioned that this would also work on a dual education system. Moreover, she noted that not only concrete factual content should be learned, but also that it must be about critical and reflexive capacity building. Contently the most interesting contribution to this, in my view came from  Felix Haas, who represented with his own example, namely the study of electrical engineering that an environment, that only dealt "with soldering irons and circuit boards", was not really helpful. For him there was a dynamic only through and with the exchange of students across other disciplines, such as medicine and psychology. Only this exchange has led to the first start-ups as a "breeding ground" and helped to develop ideas collaboratively. In my eyes, a fine example of what I call Social Serendipity, and will make a statement about it separately.

As I look this discussion in retrospect, I can now say that there has been - at least indirectly - much talk about social collaborations and future collaboration. Because they examples of how it will no longer work, come clearly from tayloristic operating organizations. Whether novice or the enrichment and expansion of specialist qualification to the Competencies communication skills and ability to reflect: here in background are employees who are less suited through a professional qualification and skills in the execution, but rather the fact that they actively pursue their interests, thereby conduct and control and through this can develop their talents. Felix Haas Very nicely brought it to the point when he stressed that it must be about the question: "What do I want as a human, where do I fit in?" Admittedly, for the moment usually still a utopian design, as far as the work in companies. Given what it means for vocational training if collaboration gets priority over a qualification, I've made more detailed thoughts here as part of my personal blog.




Desirable: not only elitist answers

Prof. Dr. Alexander Pretschner, Speaker of the MCIR Boards, welcomes the guests in the hall, and introduces the subject.

Picture: Alexander Klier. Use under the terms of the Creative Commons - Namensnennung und ShareAlike (BY-SA) possible.

The utopia of a future collaborative cooperation does not intend to conceal in any way that the unanswered question of whether in the future all people who want it, can also find a job, has remained quite as an open question. Whether an unconditional basic income might contribute to the solution was judged rather critically on the podium. But this is certainly one of the questions that the MIR - besides all the other problems - can tackle and deal with in the future. In this sense, I hope that the final appeal of Thomas Sattelberger has reached the audience. He wishes that the future work of the MCIR does not only include the “academic elite” in his research, but that it will become an agile institute, which can take up practical aspects quickly and that encourages and leads the dialogue with all concerned. Only then, I think there would be actual helpful answers from Munich to solve practical problems. We at BeaS would always be available for that.

In any case, the event has made curios to know more or about the further discussions. The hall was full and even online there was a good turnout. In my eyes, raising the interest in the issue as part of the opening event was therefore successful. Here I cannot judge why - at least in my perception - more than half of those present in the hall probably no longer are in active employment. This is certainly an indication that - in addition to organizing cooperation - the concept of work needs new defining. We at BeaS would happily participate in this, too.