Change Is Difficult – Or So We Thought
Date: June 16th 2020
Author: Urška Jež
It is very difficult these days to avoid mentioning covid-19 and analysing life before, during and after the pandemic. And it should be! So here are some of my thoughts on this. Until very recently, all of us engaging in innovation, strategic counselling, coaching, and mentoring, had been spending countless hours helping businesses analyse, conceive and implement digital transformation systems. This, first and foremost, means working with people, empowering the staff to be open to innovation and take the opportunity to dare. Everyone who has ever truly embarked on this path will know that this is a long-term, strenuous process. Or, should we say, was. Suddenly we were forced to stay at home – and change our work culture.According to an Oxford study from 2016, 47% of jobs will disappear in the next 25 years, and there is a sense now that this will, in fact, happen a lot sooner. This is not a false impression. This is the new reality, and we must face it boldly. This is a time when it is the bold who will thrive, i.e. the innovative and those who know that an ecosystem based on partnerships is key to new business models and, subsequently, success.
Ecosystems, innovation, new work arrangements, and the virtual world
The sudden omnipresent dependence on digital tools has shown how inapt and ignorant we had been before lockdown. The technology we all learned to use overnight had been there, and in use. But by very few. Three months later, we are all experts on Zoom, MS Teams, Webex, Slack... This dependence has also shown that the Oxford study had been right, for we have daily been faced with questions as to how our jobs would change, and whether they are really necessary or would they become redundant in the digital era. On top of this is the timeless question: Will we be able to bring humanity and connectivity into the tools that we all (like to) use?
A unique example of a successful digital ecosystem that is currently thriving, is a result of the EU Commission’s initiative to host, at the height of the pandemic, #EUvsVirus, the world’s largest online hackathon. The idea itself stems from the need to solve some of the key challenges that covid-19 and lockdown have surfaced. More than 20,000 people from around the world submitted their solutions in areas including health and life, business continuity, social and political cohesion, remote working and education, digital finance, and other challenges. The participating teams received assistance from over 2,500 mentors and more than 400 volunteers. How was such an organisational undertaking even possible? All those involved joined the project because we believed in its mission and vision: to help society make a substantial step towards a better tomorrow, building on the premise that some solutions can indeed help save lives. This is yet another evidence that big changes are possible in a very short time if they are truly needed. Only time will tell if they are sustainable.
Where is an ecosystem in that, you might wonder. The hackathon led start-ups and volunteers to start an even bigger initiative: #EUvsVirus Matchathon. For a duration of one month, each of the 120 winning teams was teamed up with at least one corporate partner and at least one university or research lab. The purpose of this was to help the teams bring their projects to life, as is the aim of any emerging business model, activity and market launch – those involved must also see benefits for themselves. All of us participating in the project were driven by the desire to create a better society and a better world after covid-19. This is not a sustainable aim in itself. It is by bringing together interest group from various areas that one can build an economic ecosystem based on business synergies. In the case of #EUvsVirus Matchathon, a closed cycle was built: a start-up is given the assistance necessary to start their business, the corporate partner gains an innovative product that, using their network, they can help monetize and use it to enhance their sales and – very importantly – their promotion portfolio, while the university or research lab benefits from a new research area and a new corporate collaboration. Needless to say, it is still too early to talk about any far-reaching implications and the kind of future these projects will have. Nevertheless, it takes courage to start something new. And it takes trust and support for such initiatives to become sustainable and permanent. In this case, 120 projects/start-ups received commitment from 2235 (!) corporations and scholars to work with them.
The project was a clear signal for the EU Commission that national boundaries, boundaries in industry, and boundaries in our heads as the most persistent type can be crossed, and that various professional and business communities can be motivated to lead a voluntary initiative.
From a personal standpoint, let me also add that over six weeks, new genuine friendships were formed between people who had never met in person, contrary to what I would have thought possible before the covid-19 crisis. Now I have witnessed it.
Let’s talk about the environment in Slovenia – both physical and digital
The business landscape in Slovenia is only just getting started when it comes to co-operation, integration and building ecosystems. If the country’s start-up ecosystem has long been one of the most dynamic ones in the region, the academic and corporate/business communities have often acted merely as observers. Singular links are being forged, various business organisations do engage in promotion, there is a wide range of networking events. But when it comes to collaboration on common projects, there had been a lot of reluctance and narrow-mindedness before covid-19. Now the crisis has brought out in people a great deal of solidarity, demonstrating the power of co-operation. Many small interest communities have emerged, realising that it makes sense to divide responsibilities in order to reduce the impacts of lockdown.
A more robust, vigorous initiative to create a broader ecosystem has recently come from Iskratel, d.d., a company based in Kranj, Slovenia. Over the course of one week, their ‘!Nnovation Week’ will host a series of events serving to bring the community together, including a hackathon for high school students, a hackathon for university students and professionals, a panel discussion with education professionals, and a business panel. Rather than just a one-week programme, this is the start of a series of activities in which the company aims to work with schools, universities, and businesses in Slovenia to develop common solutions for foreign markets. This is an excellent example of building an open business ecosystem; a great example of how a company is looking outwards, seeking solutions beyond its own business system. This makes it an interesting employer for new talent, an essential driver of progress in today’s age.
Time for reflection – and courage
Everything takes time. Now that the epidemic in Slovenia has ended, we cannot afford simply burying ourselves in outstanding tasks; we need to take time to reflect on our work processes. The time just after lockdown is a good opportunity to really identify the immediate positive impacts (work from home, employee satisfaction, environmental impacts, etc.). Each company should use them as quantifiable thresholds when adopting their business and transformation strategies. Some companies have started partial remote work trials as a way to increase efficiency and job satisfaction. Emissions from employee commuting have plummeted, and roads have become a little safer. Other companies have, of necessity, opened up and started working on innovations together with what had until recently been their competitors, seeking new opportunities beyond their previous business horizons. Still others, such as Iskratel, have immediately swung their door wide open to innovation and co-operation. What they all have in common is putting their community and environment first and creating sustainable innovative solutions. This change from the old normal is far from easy. Each change takes courage. And in times of major changes, it is the bold who will thrive.
A lot has been said lately about a new normal... It is time to scrap “new” and face the fact that the future has arrived a lot sooner than anticipated – and that it can create entirely new possibilities for the times ahead.
For modern humans, this might have been merely the first in a long series of sudden lockdowns. It is essential that we learn a lesson and learn to be ready for mental leaps in a different tomorrow. The new “normal” is precisely about having disruptive events arrive at a faster pace that we have ever anticipated.
Whether we can make the most of this extraordinary time when the world has stopped by resetting it and restarting it with an increased awareness of ourselves, society and the world at large, is another question for another time.
Urška Jež is the founder and CEO of Transformation Lighthouse.
The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Energetika.NET.
This article is available also in Slovene.