In an increasingly digitalized world, the pressure for change on companies and organizations is growing almost exponentially. With traditional models of thinking oriented towards the individual, this pressure can be met less and less. In the view of Prof. Ulrich Weinberg, a new, networked, team-oriented practice is necessary instead. We spoke with the director of the School of Design Thinking at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, who will give the keynote of the mgm track "Embracing Digital Transformation" at solutions.hamburg on September 12, about this change.
Editor: Prof. Weinberg, you will contribute the keynote to the mgm track at solutions.hamburg. Could you please introduce yourself and the HPI School of Design Thinking?
Prof. Ulrich Weinberg: My name is Uli Weinberg and I have been head of the School of Design Thinking at the Hasso Plattner Institute for eleven years. I myself have a background in computer animation and computer graphics and was allowed to make the first flying logos for ARD and ZDF about 30 years ago. That was my personal introduction to digitization. Since then my working life has been a digital one. At that time it was still very laborious. Thirty years ago, the computing power that is now carried around in the glass plates (smartphones, editor's note) was in huge cabinets that cost millions of deutschmarks at the time. Today we have this computing power in our pockets.
I find it interesting to observe over the past few years how late some areas have only just realized how important these machines and digitalization in general will be for their own work. For me, that was very clear 30 years ago. That's also what ultimately drove me to the School of Design Thinking - here at the Hasso Plattner Institute, which is an IT institute and which, about ten years after it was founded, has saddled the whole topic of Design Thinking on top of that. Because Hasso Plattner, looking at his company SAP, understood that the transformation we are currently undergoing not only means the introduction of technology, but that digitization requires at least as much cultural change as it requires enthusiasm for technology and an affinity for technology.
What we allow here is to build bridges, to get out of one's own silos, to connect with the people who are currently travelling in other silos.
This is our topic at the School of Design Thinking, where we try to move people - first of all with a focus on students - out of the narrow, rigid silo corset of thinking into which we still force teachers, students and learners today - by strongly specializing in subject areas that are becoming increasingly narrow themselves.
What we allow here is the building of bridges, getting out of one's own silos, connecting with the people who are currently travelling in other silos, linking incredibly exciting expertises and bringing these expertises together in small teams. We call it the "Team of Teams" mode, in which it is understood how important sharing is, how important collaboration is - in contrast to competitive working against each other.
Because that is what we usually teach our students in the normal educational system: to be individually competitive, to arm their elbows as well as possible and to be the fastest in order to be better than their neighbours. We are completely turning our backs on this here in Potsdam. There is no single rating at all in the School of Design Thinking. We currently have about 120 students per semester, representing 70 different disciplines and coming from almost 60 universities from 20 nations. We basically have a small university with all faculties. There are physicians, psychologists, computer scientists, designers, business economists, lawyers - all people who bring their expertise with them, work together in small teams and learn that in this constellation solving complex problems works much faster and much better, so that in the end you get better results.
mgm: In one of your books you introduce the terms "Brockhaus Thinking" and "Network Thinking". What do you mean by these terms and how do they differ?
Prof. Ulrich Weinberg: The Brockhaus is a very nice metaphor for what is currently disappearing: on the one hand for this kind of analogue knowledge aggregation. This has long since been superseded, no Brockhaus has been printed since 2014. You can only buy it in antiquarian bookshops. He won't be printed any more because he's been relieved. The knowledge aggregation, which we used to have linearly and nicely systematically sorted and separated from each other in books, has been replaced by the networked kind of knowledge aggregation, which we now call Wikipedia or Google or whatever, where it is no longer about this separation, but rather about linking. It's more about the links between the different areas of knowledge - that's what's exciting when I'm hanging myself through them. I don't know anybody who sorted Wikipedia from A to Z.
This structure, which can be seen on the shelf in front of you, also very clearly represents the silo structure in companies - the various departments, which as a rule not only work side by side but also against each other. Then you can also map the hierarchy very nicely. These are all parts of this pattern of the old, analogue world, which is currently being replaced by a pattern of networking. The pattern of the 21st century is no longer the separating, but the connecting - not the borders are the characteristic, but the connecting lines. This is a wild network, which at first glance looks very chaotic, but in which we have been living for a long time. We have long lived in a world in which there are billions of machines, all of which are networked and talk to each other. It's only in our minds that we're still brockhäusig on the road.
mgm: How can companies succeed in transforming themselves into Network Thinking?
Prof. Ulrich Weinberg: The first thing you have to understand is that we are actually conditioned that way. Through the educational apparatuses and the many working processes through which we have run, as well as the structures into which we have grown, we sometimes have the feeling that this is natural and must be so. Our students realize very quickly that this is not necessarily the case, but that it is actually trained behaviour, trained thinking behaviour, which can also be retrained. You get to know that very quickly by working practically, in a new context, at eye level. By also saying: "We also relativize all the incentives we have. We pull them away from the individual incentives - giving marks, individual bonuses, target agreements - towards the team. We're completely focused on collaboration." We'll also have to invent new patterns. That's the first thing: that you're aware that you're still in these old modes yourself.
The important thing about taking the step towards digitisation is that we use digital technologies for the connecting and the connecting and not for digitising the analogue, the false and the old.
Then the next step is that you don't make the mistake of saying: "We now have the beautiful Silo M or the Silo K. It's analog and we're turning it into a digital one." But that one realizes that this pattern and this kind of separation disappear. The important thing about taking the step towards digitisation is that we use the digital technologies we have today to connect and unite, not to digitise the analogue, the false and the old.
But many companies are on the way exactly this way and try to make what they have trained over decades and what went analogue a little faster with digital technology, without leaning back beforehand, zoom out of the whole thing and say: "Hey, we are moving in times where a radical cultural change is necessary and we all have to consider in the company what the whole topic of digitalization actually means for each of us - for the one who sits at the gate, as for the one who sits at the top of the management floor, and for all in between. And how do I manage - and this is the challenge with which we also approach our students - to raise every single brain, every brainpower in the company, every creative potential and bring it into this process of change?"
mgm: What will the role of the leader look like in the collaborative world of Network Thinking?
Prof. Ulrich Weinberg: The role will change - just as the role of the teacher has changed for us. In the School of Design Thinking this can be observed beautifully. Everyone who comes from outside and walks through the teams for the first time has difficulty distinguishing who is a teacher here from who is a student because the teachers have changed their role. They are no longer the catheter teachers or omniscientists who stand in front of a group of 50 people and then give a lecture for an hour, but the "learning companions", because our approach is based on the principle "teaching is: we teach something".
I need to be ready for the next jump. This can only be done by maintaining the willingness to learn.
We focus on the fact that learning is the most important thing and that this willingness to learn, which we all have as children and which we tend to lose in school, is maintained and saved for the working world. Learning and working are no longer separated as they used to be: first the learning period comes, then the working period, but it flows smoothly into each other. I can no longer be really successful at my workplace if I don't continue my education, if I don't learn. It is possible that in four or five years my workplace, which I still consider to be given and which I think will certainly still have a duration of thirty to forty years, will be completely algorhythmized and replaced. Then I must be ready for the next jump. This can only be done by maintaining this willingness to learn. That's where we have to go.
mgm: How can this willingness to learn on the part of employees be supported?
Prof. Ulrich Weinberg: In my opinion, this is about two things that Gerald Hüther, a neuroscientist friend of mine, puts very high on the agenda. One is "self-organization." In terms of teams, we mean that we leave the teams much more personal responsibility and expect them to take on than is normally the case. That's something we do in college. This means that we do not define the way in which they should learn or solve a problem, but we focus on sensible people who bring their expertise together in a small group and then find a sensible way to solve their problem. It's different with every team. I can do the same in the company. I can, of course, give the working groups a completely different responsibility.
The second is "potential development". This is something that is constantly happening here: that in these teams of five or six people with very different expertise, potentials are unfolded that would not have been unfolded if one had said: "We only do this with the lawyers or only with the business economists". New potentials are released in the group and the other thing is: Each individual who gets involved in this process also discovers an unbelievable diversity of potential in himself, which was previously buried and which he did not use at all. Brain areas are set in motion which we all carry around with us, but which we do not use at all in the traditional processes which we simply leave lying fallow. The visualization potential that we all have is almost zero for most of our students. They say, "No, we can't do that." But you'll soon realize that it's working.
Editor: How can management consultancies help with this cultural change?
Prof. Ulrich Weinberg: The role of management consultancy is of course also in a process of change. So far, management consultancies have been able to content themselves with optimising the old Brockhaus structure and making it a bit leaner, a bit faster, a bit leaner. That's okay and so far many management consultancies still earn their money with it. However, I believe that some of the management consultancies that grow out of our company have a different approach. For these it is quite clear that the optimization of the old structures only has a certain runtime, which is foreseeable. For the company, however, it would be better to concentrate on radical change and consider: "What does that mean for me as a management consultant? Then what's my part? What do I have to do? What are the recommendations to the company?" Just no longer as before the recommendation to give: " An individual bonus model is good. Then I increase the performance of high-caliber employees." But to say: "Refocusing and redesign are more important. The bonus model must be put to the test completely. And what can it look like in the future?"
Editor: Are there already positive application examples from the business world?
Prof. Ulrich Weinberg: Yes, on the east coast of China, in Qingdao, there is the Haier company. This is the first company whose CEO Zhang Ruimin has invited me after the publication of the Chinese version of my "Network Thinking" book. And he's the first CEO to point to the front page and say, "This is my company." On the front page you can only see the network, not the Brockhaus. The German CEOs I meet always point to the Brockhaus and say: "This is my company. I have 80,000 employees and we are Silo. We are Brockhaus. We're not in the network yet." The Haier CEO, on the other hand, says: "We have consistently converted the company from a silo system over the past five years with a view to digitization. Yes, we were Brockhaus, as you say in Germany. But we're a network now." His term for this is "We are building an ecosystem of micro enterprises" - an ecosystem of tiny companies, so to speak, all of which are empowered, all of which are empowered. Every small business has significantly more power than a small department used to have. They are now responsible for their own finances, they have to keep their people together, they have to maintain customer contact and so on. That's not a theory, says Zhang Ruimin. At our meeting in Qingdao he already had 900 of these small units - and his target is 2,000 of these micro-enterprises.
The whole company has been transformed into a network mode. And his success proves him right at the moment: the company is number 1 in refrigerators and white goods, has bought an American and a Japanese company and is very present in the world market with 80,000 employees - also with innovative products. Innovation is now emerging in this ecosystem as a platform, in the small units that grow on this humus and can harness all the production, finance and marketing power of this giant company, but need to write their own history and be highly networked. I also found it very exciting that he says: "A company that grows with us will only work and continue to receive support if it not only delivers great figures at the end of the day, but also passes on some of the knowledge it aggregates to the entire network". So "The Contribution to the Network" is very important. For me, this was the most radical implementation of the network idea in a company to date. Haier is also not finished yet, one is still on the way, but on a very good way.
mgm: Have you already identified any positive examples in Germany?
Prof. Ulrich Weinberg: Of course. We don't have to look that far east. We also find good examples in Germany. There are exciting start-ups, active medium-sized companies, but also really large, internationally active companies like Bosch. A whole series of steps have been taken there. A very important step was to say that individual incentives are harmful to collaboration and to abolish them. Since 1.1.2016 the single bonus is gone. There are also no more individual target agreements with executives. There is still the Team-Performance-Bonus and the Total-Performance-Bonus, but there is no longer a single grade, as there is no single grade in our D-School. And the second thing is: they did something very similar to their colleagues in China at Haier. Together with the employees, a development process was deliberately set in motion with the aim of considering: "What does my working world actually look like in the future? And where do I want to work - spatially, but also organizationally?" The result was a very similar model to that developed by their colleagues in China - a network model. Small units, small units that are cross-functionally staffed by colleagues from a wide variety of departments, who otherwise always sit in their silos and take turns one after the other. They are now simultaneously on the road to development and will work in a team for a period of X - one year, two years, even longer - in redesigned rooms that are very similar to what we use here in Potsdam for our teams. Of course, companies also have to change their location and restructure. This has also changed the entire organisational structure - away from the silo towards a more networkoriented organisation.
mgm: What can visitors to solutions.hamburg expect from your keynote speech?
Prof. Ulrich Weinberg: I think it will be a call to understand digitalization primarily as a cultural change. Of course, I also go there to learn a lot myself. I am very excited to see what I can learn there myself from the other speakers and participants. As usual at the big conferences, an incredible brainpower is gathered there and I hope that it will be possible to mobilize it and also to move to the next step, as we all wish.