Today effective management has become almost the most demanded skill. And it's unthinkable to function without information technology. We talk about the future technologies, the fourth industrial revolution, the crisis of traditional mass media and much more with innovation specialist Urkhan Seyidov, a graduate of "Technology and Innovation" Program at Stanford University and Harvard Kennedy School's "Digital Government: Technology and Public Service Innovation" Program, the first Azerbaijani to publish an article in the authoritative edition Harvard International Review.
Urkhan, for starters, tell us, what is the "digital government" we hear so often about? Are we already ruled by robots?
No, this is about something completely different. In short, it is a "government in a smartphone", when all public services are one click away from you. More specifically, it's not just about copying existing public services and transforming them into digital form. It is the application of new technologies and innovative solutions to increase the speed, simplicity and transparency of these services, minimize physical contacts and, accordingly, bureaucracy. The purpose of all this is to increase the efficiency of the entire chain of interaction between citizens and the State. Simply put, "e-government" would have to be the most convenient app in your smartphone.
Do you think digital technology affects human development? What does this manifest itself in?
On the one hand, digital technology is an absolute catalyst for human development. We are witnessing the democratization of many processes traditionally regarded as the prerogative of elite circles. For example, quality education has become more accessible: today it is possible to listen to lectures of leading specialists, by just having an appropriate device with Internet access. On the other hand, the development of these technologies exposes us to unprecedented risks, from psychological disorders and vulnerability of personal data to unemployment due to the automation of an increasing number of processes. I'm not talking about Skynet and the "rise of the machines": these are threats of a distant future. However, today this sphere also needs state regulation.
You write on social media that creativity no longer needs authorization. But what about the unremitting information noise, unreliable data, imposition of non-existent ideal images?
It's all depressing for most people. I meant that today, before following their dream, most people are waiting for someone's approval or support. However, it seems to me that in the age of mass communications no need to wait for anything – you just get started and do it! We have unique opportunities to reach out the whole world, which twenty years ago only the chosen ones could do. And depression is the least of the problems that should concern a creative person: many even build their art around depression, it becomes an inspiration for them. In a world where seven billion people live, there will certainly be those who will be interested in your creativity. The main thing is to keep going, to improve, to learn from mistakes, to try again and again. Do not wait for authorization!
Already many call depression "the plague of the 21st century", and most affected by it are those who are constantly on social networks...
We all suffer from something, everyone has their own hell. We need to try to work out immunity. The "digital detox" is very popular nowadays – it can be a solution to the problem for someone. I think that soon social media is evolving into more than just platforms for communication. Perhaps our whole life will move into a virtual space where everyone can build their perfect world?.. Imagine: the world, where will be no room for depression!
How do you feel about monopoly of information and monopoly in general?
In the long run, any monopoly is harmful. On the other hand, monopolies are formed even when new technologies are able to undermine traditional markets. Today's monopolies of high-tech companies have been formed on the basis of their human capital and through innovative opportunities; Accordingly, these companies listen more to public opinion and are more socially responsible in general. However, as we know, power corrupts. It is enough to recall the hearing in the US Congress on violation of the rules of use of private information by companies such as Google and Facebook. Not long ago, these companies made the world a better place, and today they are already accused of being too large, undermining competition, addictive and destructive to democracy.
Another industrial revolution is already well under way. Where will it lead to and when can we say it has successfully come to an end?
The fourth industrial revolution is certainly taking place, but so far it just the beginning. Its essence lies in the generation of huge amounts of data, their collection, analysis and subsequent application. Technologies of the fourth industrial revolution include the Internet of Things, virtual reality, cloud technologies, something else. Surprising fact: in the last two or three years alone 90% of all world information was generated, and less than 1% analyzed! How do you understand that there have been changes? If the fourth industrial revolution is about the interaction of various gadgets and technologies with human, the fifth is most likely a world where I will give interview to your robot assistant.
You wrote that people like to talk about innovation right now. But as we know, "All new is well overlooked old". Today we found ourselves in the world of simulacras – copies without originals. What are the future prospects, in your opinion?
A very correct remark, but I will allow myself to partially disagree. The concept of innovation is different for each country, depending on its history, culture, etc. We know everything is relative. Invention is not an innovation yet. Innovation is primarily the commercialization of an idea by improving the quality and efficiency demanded by the market. In modern world, it is important to understand the problem and try to solve it (or improve solutions that already exist on the market). As for the prospects, they are limited only by your ambitions, the creativity of your thinking, and dreams; Modern technologies are ready for almost any challenge to your consciousness. It is not necessary to create originals: as Picasso said, good artists copy, great artists steal. The main thing is to make a better copy than the original or for a more affordable price. It all depends on your market.
You studied information technology as well as international journalism. What is your assessment of the state of today's print and digital media? Is there a crisis in journalism and, if so, how to overcome it?
Yes, I studied this subject at the London School of Economics. It was taught to us by editors and journalists of such famous companies as BBC, Guardian, BuzzFeed, Bellingcat. The situation with mass media is very complex. It's all about social media. In the current world of information, anyone is a "self-made journalist": almost anyone can spread information to a multimillion audience in a matter of seconds by a single click. This opens up many possibilities, allows you to take a new look at events. But, on the other hand, it threatens to lose objectivity, moreover, the credibility of the information itself. Against this background, it gets more difficult for traditional media to hold their positions even online, accordingly complicating the monetization issue. The crisis is definitely out there, and it's deeper than I can describe right now. Every day, the gap between the modern consumer of information and traditional media companies is widening. How can we overcome this crisis? Like any other: adapt, look for new solutions. The Financial Times, for example, added the section "Puzzles", which allowed increasing the number of subscribers and keeping them on the website for longer. Experiment and then you'll find your solution!
In one of the articles, you called Steve Jobs a model of an effective manager whose leadership qualities and visionary have repeatedly saved Apple from bankruptcy. Constantly introducing innovations, he avoided the "Icarus paradox" when a company blinded by its own success ceases to develop. But interest in iPhones died down anyway, although new models are still being released. What is the mistake of Apple's current managers? And can you endlessly maintain the excitement around Apple’s products?
In terms of innovation theory, the company does everything right: every year improves its product, but exactly as much as the consumer is ready. Yes, the company now has more horizontal than vertical innovations, but thus maximizes profits – it is enough to look at its capitalization. On the other hand, we are coming to a point where the same consumer will be ready to get a completely new product. Apple is in the premium segment and cannot allow any faults, but it is at the same time its Achilles heel: while this company avoids experiments, protecting its reputation, others lure in its buyers. As for the eternal success and continuous demand, only the Bible has such results. Apple is not a religion and certainly not a word of God. Each product has its own cycling, and that's normal.
Can you become an effective manager in the 21st century, building on Steve Jobs's experience? How have the demands on the leader changed over the years?
Of course, it is possible. Leadership qualities are out of time. Leadership aims at change; The leader is a visionary with the qualities necessary to implement his ideas, his vision of the future. A leader is someone who encourages people to such a vision. And Jobs remains such, even posthumously.
What would you call the main startup of the 21st century?
SpaceX. The grandiose goal of colonization of Mars, which stands behind this startup, I consider a logical continuation of the path of human development. And the idea that we can become an interplanetary civilization is truly fascinating.
So you find Elon Musk an effective leader?
I definitely do. He is one of those who are changing the world. This is a man who manages to implement his ideas ahead of time.
Do you agree that the era of American exclusivity is coming to an end? Is there a place on Earth or a project in our age comparable in appeal to the "American dream"?
I partly agree. But not because Americans are losing ground, but because the very notion of exclusivity is no longer tied to any place: today's youth have no sense of patriotism in the traditional sense, young people move from one city to another, from one country to another. During the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a new global political economic culture is being formed, accompanied by transnational, social and political movements. These movements are driven by transnational companies rather than by States or international organizations. So, as mentioned before, all new is well overlooked old. The essence of the "American dream" will remain the same, but this dream will be realized in a new – digital plane.
What are the current challenges that the world faces in the 21st century?
Globalization. In a highly simplified way, globalization can be defined as strengthening the interlinkages between communities – so much that events in one part of the world are increasingly affecting distant peoples and societies. And, although the benefits of globalization are endless, as we see in the situation with the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, there are global risks as well that we also need to face and solve with the whole world. In modern times it is necessary to learn to think outside the borders of our state, and when making any decision, to think about its consequences for the whole planet. We don't have another home yet – we need to give Elon Musk more time...
Which books would you advise to read to form a sober idea of the modern world, to understand our place in it?
In general I advise to read at least two or three books a month, myself I try to keep the bar on five. And I would recommend to begin from these books: "The Future of Power" by Joseph Nye; "New Power" by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans; "The Innovator's Dilemma" by Clayton Christensen; "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari; "Big Data" by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier.