Digitalization is a global mega trend that forces almost all companies to change significantly. But what are the main characteristics of those changes around us? If we understand better, what is changing in our environment, we have higher chances to work on the right adjustments within the organization in order to reach a better fit with the environment.

The starting point is technological progress: Binary code, microchip, internet, big data, internet of things, artificial intelligence, physical products (combi of digital and reality), intelligent personal assistants etc. have and will continue to change our day to day life.

This technological progress led to some main changes in how we work and live together. On the basis of Khan’s* work we identified 6 core changes:

  1. Interconnectedness
  2. Abundance of information
  3. Increased complexity
  4.  Increased transparency
  5.  Less hierarchical, more empowerment
  6. Man Machine cooperation


1. Interconnectedness


Billions of smartphone users can interact with each other without time delay. Experts are forming worldwide research networks, crowdsourcing allows to receive many ideas, financial resources etc. with little cost and time investment.


2. Abundance of information


It can be a blessing and it can be a curse. We can access most relevant info in our vicinity or from the other side of the world. Some people rather look at their Smartphone in order to see, how the weather is than looking outside the window. Highly paid software developers are pretty good in seducing us to spend more and more time with applications and to activate the push notifications.


3. Increased complexity


With the increased speed of change and more and more people sharing the same space, complexity goes up. In most cases, organizations need to increase internal complexity in order to get along with external complexity. E.g. a retail has to build up an online shop and blend the physical and online world, find a way to balance classical retail management with the agile world of online development …

speed of change in the digital disruption

With the increasing speed of change, the complexity goes up as well

4. Increased transparency


Nowadays it is very difficult to keep a higher level of privacy. Cameras everywhere in the city, iPhone search function, Google earth, Facebook etc. make our day to day life very transparent. If somebody wants to find out, whether the spouse has an affair, this should not be too difficult anymore ?. At the same time, you can run a business on other continents with e.g. using Google docs, Yammer, Trello and many other kinds of cloud software.


5. Less hierarchical, more empowerment


In a knowledge economy, people want to have a say. And they also need to be empowered to make decisions close to the client or the technical challenge. Hierarchy is too slow. Laloux’s reinventing organizations, holocracy, lateral leadership etc. point at democratic alternatives. Hierarchy loses influence but will not fade totally.


6. Man-machine cooperation


Anorganic entities with some digital steering (programs, bots, robots) and humans work side to side. We find thousands of example in industry, medicine, business, travel etc.

In the metaphor of the Disruption Surfer, these 6 core changes describe, what the waves are made of. Each wave is unique. Nevertheless, waves have common patterns. If we know how to read them, we will be successful in picking and surfing the next wave.


Article written by Dominik Etzl und Gunther Fürstberger

*Shayan Khan/Tikkanen (Stockholm Business School 2016)

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