"Innovation isn’t just a question of technology" | KPMG | CH
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"Innovation isn’t just a question of technology"

"Innovation isn’t just a question of technology"

Trends are developments and changes with economic, political or social relevance. But how do we know which developments are relevant and to what degree? It might seem like every aspect of our lives has already been overrun by rampant digitalization. Yet what opportunities does it offer, where are its limitations and will people even be able to keep up with the accelerating pace of change in the long run? What other trends are impacting the Swiss economy and how are they being addressed? We look into these and other issues in an interview with Stephan Sigrist, founder and head of the W.I.R.E. think tank.


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Stephan Siegrist, W.I.R.E

Stephan Sigrist, founder and head of the W.I.R.E. think tank

Mr. Sigrist, what are trends and how can they be identified?

Trends are defined differently depending on which field of application you’re talking about. In essence it’s about documenting a change over a period of time which is then attributed a certain amount of relevance.

And how do you know if this kind of change will have a major impact on our lives?

There’s really no final answer to that question. It depends on what your objectives are. We live in the “Age of Big Data”, which is a fact of life that we have to address on a daily or even hourly basis. Identifying relevant information is getting trickier all the time.

But how can it be done, even despite the difficulties?

One key factor when looking at new information is the ability to see the big picture and link that new information to its potential consequences. Since a development’s relevance isn’t always apparent early on, thinking in terms of scenarios is also crucial.

So that also means it’s impossible to predict a trend’s typical half-life?

That’s right; it’s impossible to say. Depending on the nature of the trend, you’re dealing with entirely different timescales and half-life periods. Demographic change is a silent social revolution that will have a lasting impact on our society over the next few decades. If we analyze consumer trends or game apps like Pokémon Go, on the other hand, they might be "hot" just for one summer and less relevant as a result.

Did you catch the Pokémon Go virus?

No. But I’m fascinated by the social mechanisms that led up to all the hype.

What determines whether a company joins a trend?

That depends on how you look at it. As a company or organization, you’re driven by your own business activities, and those tell you whether a development should be considered relevant or not. Yet given the inundation of data and sensory overload of our modern world, identifying actual trends and long-term changes isn’t getting any easier. Even though we strive to think in ever longer terms, it’s becoming increasingly easy to get caught up in short-term issues. That’s not without problems.

When identifying trends, do you rely on the results of market research or your gut feeling?

We most definitely base our attempts at documenting and explaining the past and present on statistical data since it provides us with quantitative evidence. A systematic approach is undoubtedly important when it comes to new developments, too. I wouldn’t go so far as to talk about gut feelings, but a subjective estimation based on corresponding qualitative arguments is certainly relevant. When all is said and done, you can’t use the past and insights about the present to extrapolate the future. Anticipation is called for instead. Projections based on the current potential of technologies frequently fall short.

Which trend is impacting you personally the most at the moment?

Among others, our society’s growing flexibility: in other words the blending of work, family life and personal development. One difficulty here lies in the breadth and multitude of options that are open to us and we continuously have to choose from. Technological advances make a parallelism possible in our society, an ability to do things and satisfy multiple needs at the same time, which was unheard of a hundred years ago.

In other words, the death of either/or?

Yeah, you could put it that way. Quite possibly one of our society’s greatest achievements. At the same time, though, it’s also a burden that takes a huge toll on us.

What is the main focus of W.I.R.E.’s current activities?

We’ve always been interested in life sciences, food, banks and insurance companies, but also media and cities. Right now our activities revolve around digitization, which is not only changing our workflows and strategic planning but also society as a whole.

And where do you see your part in all of this?

Currently, our main job isn’t identifying the latest trends. Instead, we’re helping make sense of rapid changes and taking a critical look at peoples’ expectations of the digital revolution, some of which are quite high. We’re also working in depth on the consequences of increasing life expectancies, researching what options a predictably longer life could offer us. You might be able to have two careers and pursue two different educational pathways, one after the other, and generally plan your life in an entirely different way. The question at the heart of this is frequently how to successfully make long-term plans in an ever-changing world.

Which trends are currently shaping the Swiss economy?

That would have to be digitization in all its shapes and forms including the search for new business models, organizational forms and positioning on the job market. At the same time, the economy is being shaped more than ever by politics, particularly the relationship of Switzerland and the Swiss economy to Europe. Understanding societal trends plays an increasingly important role in this too. Politics, the economy, the world of research and society are all parts of the overall system and need to be linked accordingly.

How would that work?

Innovation isn’t just a question of technology. The sustainable, active shaping of social structures is a central requirement for political stability, which, in turn, is pivotal for economic growth. That means we need more integrated thinking and actions. The silo solutions we’ve used over and over again in the past come up short. I believe this realization is gaining acceptance and companies are starting to make more long-term plans and see the big picture again as a result.

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