“When we talk about the future of work, there is this tendency to always focus, in my mind, a little bit too much on technology and too little on humanity,” says futurist Stefan Hyttfors.
The Stockholm-based speaker has traveled widely in recent years discussing how visions of the future blend with business trends and societal changes, focusing on how to lead through disruptive change. He will present on “Trust is the Currency of Interaction” at UNLEASH World Conference and Expo on 23 & 24 October in Amsterdam.
Lack of trust, Hyttfors points out, is expensive for business. In his talk he will discuss how an “implosion of trust” in institutions across the democratized world can’t necessarily be solved by more technology, but by infusing humanity into that technology. I recently spoke to Stefan and here’s a sneak preview of some of the things we can expect to hear from him in Amsterdam.
Are we losing our humanity to technology?
The answer is yes and no. Sometimes it’s almost like we pretend or hope that technology will solve all our problems. I think this is because technology is easier to predict than people. But actually trust issues are something that can be aided by technology, and decentralization is a perfect example of that. If you can decentralize power, if you can get away from hierarchies, if you can get away from inefficient systems where you have a few leading the many, then you can obviously create better efficiency and you can probably also create new systems on how to establish trust.
It can seem like social media has made the world more transparent, but at the same time there’s a sense that it has undermined trust. What do you think needs to happen in order for trust to be restored?
I think what you just said is true, but it’s only part of the truth. When you look at surveys like the Edelman Trust Barometer, you can see four “waves” in the buildup of distrust over the past 20 years. The first was around 2000 to 2005 when outsourcing from globalization led to job insecurity, then we had the 2008 financial crisis when people lost their trust in institutions and banking systems. The third wave stemmed out of disruptive migration problems, especially in the European Union, that eroded faith in government to solve problems. And today, in 2018, we find ourselves in the middle of the fourth wave, the “fake news” world.
When we’re talking about dealing with this problem, I think it’s very important to understand that this is not a social media problem and it’s not a technology problem, but it’s a trend that has been developing for the past 30 years.
So it’s not really just the tech problem as you’re describing it — it’s a much wider problem that affects society as a whole?
Exactly. Because what happens when people actually lose faith in the future, well then they get scared, and then they get attracted by protectionism. “Let’s protect our assets. Let’s protect what you and I already accomplished. Let’s protect this work, this company, whatever.” Protectionism is what we see as a growing trend in all of the Western world today. Brexit and Trump are symptoms of that trend.
This is fear and anxiety at a societal level. When trends like this are occurring, how do we build trust within an organization?
As we talked about earlier, people have less trust in policymakers, institutions and banks, but we are also seeing a hopeful trend. In the last Edelman survey, 7 out of 10 people said that they expect business to be the agent of change. Within corporations today, if we are expecting business leaders to be change agents because politicians are no longer expected to do that, then we will be loyal to leaders who improve social conditions along with economic ones.
Tesla is a great example of a conscious capitalism brand. People stand in line to buy something that’s not even on the market yet, and it’s not because they need a car. It’s also because they want to believe in a better tomorrow.
Corporations who actually bring value to the market — not only to be more efficient with their old business models, but actually to create a better value and add more human well-being to society — will be very profitable. In a world totally connected by social media, they will be rewarded with a lot of loyal fans, not only among their workers but also among customers.
If there was one thing you could do to change the world for the better, what would you want to do?
Try to make everybody understand that we need to shift our focus on problems. The problems we are talking about are not necessarily the right focus. The problems that I want everybody to acknowledge today and to talk about, the Number One problem is the planet, the ecosystem.
The problems that really need to be fixed have to do with society and inequality and the planet and the ecosystem. It does not have to do with GDP Growth or with all of the problems that we talked about from a day to day perspective.
I think if everybody on the planet understood more about the big problems and the big trends, then I think that we would be better off and in the end it would be easier to establish global collaboration. In the end that’s what all this means. If the problems are global, we can’t solve them in any other way, so protectionism will make us lose a lot of very crucial years and very crucial time. This is not about saving the planet, it’s about saving humanity. That’s what I think.