A glimpse of the future at DLD 2018

Last week I joined 1,000 other invited delegates at the pre-Davos innovation, design and technology conference DLD18 in Munich. With speakers and delegates including Steven Pinker, Hans Olbrist, Kara Swisher and the new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, it was an excellent opportunity to get a sense of the global corporate zeitgeist around digital, and where the conversation around major issues is heading.

I’ve rounded up my thoughts into concise summaries below, focusing on what digital leaders will find most interesting –

  • Digital transformation is still the imperative for all organisations. While buzzword-mongers may be entering the “death of” phase of digital transformation, in the real world this topic is top of the corporate agenda. Digital – whether its disruption of a specific sector like transport, or general new tech waves like blockchain or machine learning – is the context for major business challenges and opportunities everywhere.
  • Focus has shifted from tech to the humans using it. As champions of culture change as the key to successful digital transformation, we were delighted to hear speaker after speaker emphasising not just the need for more focus on people working with machines, rather than just being replaced or rendered more efficient by digital. Speakers like Professor Herminia Ibarra addressed the deep personal challenges that leaders and individuals are taking on in an age where disruption and uncertainty are the norm.
  • The backlash against big tech is gathering momentum. You can see it everywhere from political pressure on Facebook to the scandal around Strava’s release of “anonymised” user data. Long-time critical thinkers about tech – Andrew Keen and Evgeny Morozov – were sounding vindicated and urged action, while NYU professor Scott Galloway was explicitly calling for – and hoping the EU will lead – a break up of “the four” US giants, Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon. The dangers of big tech dominance is not limited to individuals fearful for their privacy, or industries being disrupted specifically by these companies – Morozov described how corporations of all sizes could find themselves compromised by Google or Amazon becoming effective machine learning monopolies that will dictate terms to corporations that will come to rely on the technology.
  • Blockchain is centre stage. Don’t conflate the blockchain with bitcoin – this technology is inciting a huge amount of innovation. There is a rush of tech and entrepreneurial talent into this area that was compared often to the app economy boom of the last decade. That will mean a lot of noise, mediocrity and flops – but also some new players and powerful applications emerging that we will need to be aware of and respond to.
  • The reality of AI and machine learning is becoming clearer. The hype around AI is still around, but the limitations and reality of what is possible is becoming a lot clearer. Speakers like Accenture CTO Paul Daugherty were able to get into practical detail about what was required to embrace the opportunities of the tech. Broad, generalised enthusing about AI was less in evidence than we’ve seen a tech conferences and media last year.

All of the videos from the conference are available on the DLD18 YouTube channel.

My top three recommendations of talks to watch are:

  • Scott Galloway, NYU professor and author of The Four on the break up of big tech. Provocative and challenging, with a range of intriguing predictions for digital in 2018. Video. Notes on my blog.
  • Herminia Ibarra, London Business School professor and author of the seminal Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader on how we can reinvent ourselves to be the digital leaders our organisations need us to be. Video. Notes on my blog.
  • Paul Daugherty from Accenture speaking about AI. A huge range of insights here and great to see a CTO emphasising the need to look at human potential in the digital revolution. Video. Notes on my blog.

I hope these brief notes are useful to you – if you’d like to discuss the detail or issues behind them in more depth please do get in touch.