Ashkan Fardost is a researcher, TEDx speaker and lecturer in the field of innovation and digitalisation. For those who were checking out P2P sites in the early 90s he is also something of a legend – known as the teenager who hacked Napster. As an aspiring musician, he found a gap in the file-sharing program and added his own songs to the albums of world-famous artists. The wider distribution meant that his music reached more people, and soon he was able to sign record deals with both EMI and Armada Music.
20 years later he still maintains a curiosity about digitalisation, while the music has been put on the back burner.
“The basis of digitalisation is not the technology, but its impact on human behaviour,” says Ashkan Fardost.
The nerd culture to which he himself belonged when he went to Kista Library and borrowed a computer is something he now sees on a mass scale, as all children grow up with a smartphone and tablet.
“A lot has happened, but social institutions haven’t kept up with it. Making an analogue service digital is not the same as digitalising.”
To emphasise the difference, he uses the English term digitisation as the name for the technical transition, while true digitalisation also covers a social change that requires new ways of thinking on several levels. Digitalisation at a social level is about how we will reside, create, live and work. The Internet has linked up three billion human brains to create one single great collective consciousness, and this has enormous consequences.
Digital tribes spread knowledge
As a teenager, Ashkan Fardost lost respect for the knowledge served up in the news and at school when he could start searching for information online himself, comparing different sources with each other. An intuitive criticism of source emerged, as did an ability to immediately learn what he needed to instead of waiting for an adult to explain it.
“People ask me to talk about the technical process. But I have my childhood in my head. Everything that affects behaviour and expectations must also be part of digitalisation.”
This development is in many cases driven forwards by small, informal communities on the Internet. Ashkan Fardost refers to them as a digital tribal community in which you will find like-minded people to share information with, whatever you choose to dedicate yourself to. From the group that reviews hotel carpets in detail to a manga forum for young people. No subject is too narrow or too odd.
What differentiates a human being from a machine?
According to Ashkan Fardost, a human being’s driving forces are not found in the classic hierarchy of needs with its component parts such as food, love, heat, safety and money.
“That’s what we see on the surface. What people want is to resolve the conflict that we have with a consciousness that tells us that we are going to die. People do that by coming up with immortality projects.”
It is here, at the very core of existence, that Ashkan Fardost wants to observe the effects of digitalisation on mankind.
In the past, security, stability and a steady income were the most important things we could achieve in order to provide for the family and contribute to welfare. Now it can be a job at Tesla in order to contribute to kicking out fossil fuels and saving the world.
“Employers are no longer just issuers of pay cheques. With the Internet, we’ve started to look at how others achieve self-realisation. That offers another perspective,” says Ashkan Fardost.
People still want security, but if young people don’t feel that they can be creative and shine at their workplaces, they move on.
In the digital society, we create with and for each other. Everything is a dialogue. This means that consumers want nothing to do with companies that do not communicate. Loyalty arises through co-creation. Those companies who want to continue as they always did risk being overtaken by smaller, more receptive actors who can quickly identify the customer’s needs.
To name one example, Max, the Swedish burger chain, picked up a remixed version of their Oumph! burger that was circulating among vegans online.
“More and more people were going into their restaurants and placing the same special order,” explains Ashkan Fardost.
The meal is now a fixed item on their menu. Their speed of response created a totally different kind of loyalty than if they had asked a celebrity chef to create yet another variation on French fries. Consumers discovered that the company was listening and that they could have an impact.
To be able to act quickly, companies must be agile.
“They must let employees do their thing and not have such rigid structures,” says Ashkan Fardost.
One company at the forefront of this trend is the British airline and entertainment company Virgin. In 2014, CEO Richard Branson abolished regular hours of work and let his employees work where and when they wanted.
The connected society no longer requires that we sit at our desks from 9 to 5, the important thing for the employer is what employees have delivered when the week is over. Motivation arises through a shared vision and the opportunity for employees to make a creative contribution to it.
Companies that want to go on a successful journey of digitalisation are advised by Ashkan Fardost not to just latch on to the latest technological trends, but also to become aware of how the members of the Internet generation want to achieve self-realisation.