need to become

Nyenrode Professor Bob de Wit on the digital revolution

Many top managers and directors in the Netherlands were taught by Professor Bob de Wit. This Professor of Strategic Leadership at Nyenrode Business University wrote the global bestsellers 'Strategy: An International Perspective’ and ‘Strategy Synthesis’, and gives dozens of lectures every year on the ‘twelve technological drivers of the digital revolution’. De Wit doesn’t sugar-coat matters.
Text Martijn Kagenaar
Photography Phillip Driessen
Twelve technologies that power the digital revolution
1Social networks
2Big Data
3Industry platforms
4Artificial Intelligence (AI)
6Sharing economy/crowdsourcing
93D printing
11Sustainable energy
12Augmented/virtual reality

‘Look beyond your own sector’

It took just one steam engine to trigger the industrial revolution. Now, twelve such technological revolutions are taking place simultaneously! Our society will change as a result. Technology therefore affects your field on three levels: the social context of your work, the industry in which you operate, and the way you work. The impact of the digital revolution can therefore only be properly assessed if you understand the future of society. You need to base your reasonings on this. Otherwise you think ‘We are essentially doing the same things, just with some new gadgets’. It’s clear to see that 3D printing and AR are very relevant to architects, but that’s when you’re viewing the situation from too close by. So many technologies are developing simultaneously at present that you first have to look at the influence they collectively have on our society. After that you can think about what that means for your sector or company. If you look at things in that order, you see what it’s really all about.

‘Homo Sapiens 3.0 in the boardroom soon’

Compared to zebras we are really smart, and that is why we now rule the world. However, we need to lose that superiority complex as soon as possible as we are creating new higher beings. One I call Homo Sapiens 2.0: the improved human being. Elon Musk will ‘upgrade’ himself within five years by adding extra memory and by directly connecting his brain to the Internet. That used to be considered science fiction, but now it’s just science. The other higher being is Homo Sapiens 3.0: the intelligent robot. It combines all the advantages of robotization with those of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Robots are stronger, available 24/7, and don’t require a pension. AI gives them an IQ of 300: more memory, computing power, algorithms and experience – the sky is the limit. Homo Sapiens 3.0 is set to play an important role in society. There are already initiatives to have robots in the boardroom. They would listen in as a kind of oracle and check and calculate everything in real time, in just two minutes.

‘We are returning to a microsociety’

Compared with robots, we are not particularly competitive. What does that mean? We may no longer have to work, and men without work can become a problem. Where should they redirect the energy that was always focused on wealth and power? As long as they can play football things are fine, but what if they can’t any more? Intelligent robots also determine the political context. For a century and a half, labour and capital called the shots: left-wing and right-wing. However, people no longer recognise left and right. Labour and capital are no longer the decisive factors. Intelligence is now the decisive factor. This requires a different way of running our country. We need to bear in mind that there will then be an elite organism above us. People will then only be allowed to perform a few innocent activities in small communities. However, the big issues will be beyond our reach. That gives rise to microsocieties that support themselves by means of a basic income in cryptocurrency: a relatively peripheral society in which we spend time having fun with family and friends.


‘Architects don’t come off well if all they have to do is calculate and draw, but they shine when their work stimulates human interaction.’

‘The construction task is becoming ever more complex.’

The number of people on Earth is an essential factor in the development of the construction sector. Biotechnology is allowing people to live much longer. We can prevent many diseases. Now that we have cracked the genome of DNA replication, ageing is no longer a problem either. With fewer deaths, the need for housing is increasing. Extra stock is therefore needed. Fortunately, we can already transform a great deal; after all, the need for offices is declining thanks to the blockchains. 90% of the work for lawyers, banks, insurance companies, and accountants in the Zuidas business district in Amsterdam is performed by algorithms. We can now start using these freed-up properties for housing. Our company Strategy Works (ed.) is currently relocating from an attractive villa to the old Shell building. Thousands of administrative workers worked there. Now there’s ‘Spaces’: the new form of offices. Working in a swarm with one restaurant and dozens of study rooms and break-out rooms etc. Everything will become smaller in scale and more flexible. The same will happen with housing. In the past, children and parents lived together in the same house. We are seeing this once again in Belgium in the form of houses with ‘granny flats’.

A tailored approach is necessary for this new construction task: a move away from the classic industrial construction style of the developer and towards a much more versatile approach. That requires great mental capacity. With a complete briefing based on budget, quality criteria, volume, family plans, and interior and exterior mood boards, a robot can draw your house and calculate everything required in just two minutes. Is that creativity or processing power? Can a robot possess creative ability? At best only partially. The music made by a robot is something quite different from the experience you enjoy with the audience and the artist at a concert. The creative professional remains necessary to provide this quality. Architects don’t come off well if all they have to do is calculate and draw, but they shine when their work stimulates human interaction.


‘Bulk architecture has a challenging future.’

Architecture is becoming increasingly data-driven. We will never be able to compete with computers where data is concerned. Even the most extreme wishes can be put into a computer model. The architect therefore needs to consider how he can add value to the drawing and processing power of computers. That added value lies in understanding and creating encounters. How does he facilitate the experience? How does his building stimulate communal activity? Individuality, independence, everything that cannot be rationalised... these are the domains of the new architect. The computer can take care of the rest. The architect must embrace AI as a tool; a tool that is becoming faster and more accessible with regard to both drawing and calculations. In ten years’ time, that human interaction will remain as the core. The architect needs to understand what drives his client and then surprise him! I am jealous of what top architects are capable of. They create experiences, give users a sense of added value in their lives, create new models of living, and come up with ingenious ways of interacting with each other and with the city.

‘The new, empathetic architect creates experiences.’

Look at what De Urbanisten - an architectural firm - achieved in Rotterdam. The Waterplein (Water Square) is fantastic! It’s a beautiful square nestled between the buildings. When it rains, the water is captured at the top of the buildings and it flows down to the square. It is not drained away; instead, it forms an experience together with the wind and the sun. Here, the architect has created a microsociety with added value. Even the most intelligent robot could never have come up with that.